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HomeLEISURE DRIVEDrive, Forester, Drive!

Drive, Forester, Drive!

Sappi, established in South Africa 85 years ago and now the biggest manufacturer of dissolved pulp globally, recently received the first-ever Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) forest management certificate in South Africa for its local forestry operations. To find out more, we journeyed to the Sappi plantations in Karkloof, KwaZulu-Natal… in the new Subaru Forester 2.5i S ES CVT, of course.

Why in the world would one want to undertake a 1,600 km road trip in one day? Well, when presented with the opportunity to learn more about best forestry practices, distance does not really matter.

To do so, we had to drive from Cape Town to KwaZulu-Natal – a 3,200 km round trip – but, not easily deterred, we left the Mother City at the crack of dawn and headed towards our destination of Thistledown Country House and the Karkloof Country Club near Howick.

The long-awaited bigger-engine Forester extends the 2021 range with the more athletic Sport model and the range-topping ES model representing the classic, contemporary Subaru traits of safety, practicality, and adventure. Its direct-injection 2.5-litre four-cylinder Boxer engine delivers 136 kW of power (an additional 21 kW over the 2.0-litre engine), with maximum torque of 239 Nm (up by 43 Nm).

This may not sound like much, but on the open road, it made a material difference – particularly when overtaking the convoys of trucks on the N1. Mated to the lightweight Lineartronic CVT transmission with Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI Drive), torque delivery from the engine was more linear, making it easier to maintain momentum.

Inside the cabin, the 8” touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility was easy to use. The rear seat pockets are designed to fit smartphones and tablets alike, with convenient USB ports for rear passengers. In addition, the wide-opening motorised lid made it easy to load our gear into the 520 litre, rubberised boot. 

With its easy gait at highway pace, Karoo towns like Beaufort West, Richmond, and Hanover sped by, and by lunchtime, we were close to Colesberg, with our fuel consumption averaging just under 9 ℓ/100 km (Subaru claims 8.5 ℓ/100 km). In Bloemfontein, we filled up again, and at Winburg, we diverted onto the N5 over Senekal and Bethlehem towards Harrismith and the N3.

The Sappi Chronicles

Now in the passenger seat, I had time to go over the Sappi chronicles, and what I discovered was fascinating. Founded in 1936, Sappi has evolved from a traditional pulp and paper company into a diverse business, now operating on six continents, with customers in over 150 countries, making it the biggest manufacturer of dissolved pulp in the world.

Sappi Forest, a sub-division of Sappi Southern Africa, has access to 534,000 hectares of plantations, of which 394,000 hectares are owned or leased, and approximately 140,000 hectares are contracted supply.

We were still about 400 km from our destination when we hit a series of huge thunderstorms, but the Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system and Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) with Active Torque Vectoring worked a charm in the wet, slippery conditions. 

In the poor visibility conditions, the award-winning EyeSight driver assistance system kept us safe. However, sadly, during very heavy downpours and in the huge plumes of spray caused by big truck wheels, it stopped working, as the cameras got covered by streams of water.

With the rain coming down unabatedly, the final stretch on the N3 over Van Reenen’s Pass and into the Natal Midlands was even worse, exasperated by atrocious driver behaviour in the dark, and numerous road works. 

Karkloof MTB trails 

The following day we made our way to the Karkloof Country Club to meet Matthew Drew, a top-notch mountain bike rider involved with the Karkloof Mountain Bike Club, Sappi, and tourism initiatives through Active Escapes, a company promoting tourism activities in the Midlands Meander region.

Drew was instrumental in establishing the Karkloof MTB Trails in collaboration with Sappi (as part of the Sappi Trails Programme) and local landowners. Having explored virtually every inch of Karkloof on his bike, he showed us the best places to access the plantations.

The trails are graded from easy and moderate to advanced, making them popular with professionals and weekend warriors alike. The Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival, this year (provisionally) scheduled for October, also takes place on these routes. 

With its vast boot, class-leading 220 mm ground clearance, all-wheel-drive with X Mode, two driver-selectable programme modes (Snow/Dirt or D Snow/Mud), and Hill Descent Control, the Forester was in its element in this environment and looked right at home in the forest setting.

After our photo session, we headed back to Thistledown for a sumptuous lunch and met up with Zelda Schwalbach, Sappi Corporate Communications manager for KwaZulu-Natal, Andrew Pool, Management Forester at Shafton Sappi Forests, and Werner Bosman from the Karkloof Country Club.

Over lunch, Zelda explained that the Karkloof Trails project is part of the Sappi Trails Programme initiated a decade ago to formalise the relationship between Sappi and stakeholders who were using Sappi land for mountain biking, walking, and running. The overall aim was to minimise risk while maximising benefits for both trail users and Sappi.

Resulting in a world-class network of trails, it is now a highly valuable feature, benefitting tourism businesses in the area, stimulating job creation, and uplifting local communities, thereby setting the bar for all partners committed to growing sustainable tourism around Sappi-owned land.

Sappi Khulisa

According to Andrew, all wood grown on Sappi-owned land is Forest Stewardship Council-certified. Approximately 135,000 hectares have been set aside to conserve the natural habitat and biodiversity in the forestry areas, including indigenous forests and wetlands. 

He added that sustainable forest management requirements, as set out in the PEFC-endorsed SAFAS (Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme) standard, also make forest certification more accessible to small landowners, including participants in the Sappi Khulisa tree-farming scheme.

Started in 1983, the scheme was established in KwaZulu-Natal. Since its inception, it has expanded to the Eastern Cape and now has more than 4,000 participants, working over 27,000 hectares of land. It is now a successful job creation and entrepreneurship development model to create sustainable livelihoods in rural areas, with more than 1,100 indirect rural jobs established. 

According to Werner, the country club – with facilities such as safe parking, hot showers, a place to wash your bike, a café, and a bar – is ideally situated to enjoy the recreational activities in the area, as all the routes begin and end there, and the Forester – aimed at people with active lifestyles – fitted in flawlessly.

The following day, we tackled the long road back. With glorious weather and much less traffic on route, it was a pleasant journey. Even after spending 14 hours in the car, we were still fresh and relaxed, which is testimony to the comfort of its electrically adjustable leather seats and the drivetrain. 

The only distractions were the over-eager Lane Departure and Pre-Collision Throttle Management alerts, which sometimes interfered when not expected, and the intrusive engine noise when accelerating hard (due to the CVT). 

Much like Sappi, Subaru is now considering sustainable mobility solutions, as embodied by a new hybrid model in the Forester range (not yet available locally) – the Subaru Forester e Boxer. However, after this trip to Forester’s paradise, I can understand why owners are so fiercely loyal to the nameplate. 

The Forester may be considered bland to some, but it is honest, able, and reliable – and the new 2.5 model adds on-road substance and proven off-road ability, making it an enjoyable long-distance cruiser.

Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © RYAN ABBOTT

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