bakkies and SUV s galore at banquet

There's nothing like a buffet to whet the appetite.

There's nothing like a buffet to whet the appetite.

In Gauteng and its surrounds there are a couple of classics on offer, and as a lover of good food, I've made it a personal crusade to visit as many as possible.

For breakfast, the spread at the Palace at Sun City takes some beating.

From Chinese dishes to traditional omelettes, from fresh fruits flown in from around the country to pastries made in heaven, it is all there to be savoured.

Lunch at the Sunnyside Hotel in Parktown sets the standard for midday feasts, and its fresh and wide variety makes one salivate just thinking about it.

But it was a buffet of a different sort that kept me occupied during a recent weekend ... a smorgasbord of bakkies and SUVs!

Organised by the Barloworld group, it was a 4x4 adventure with a twist.

Over a 12-hour period we had the opportunity to drive 22 different vehicles in a wide range of conditions in the tranquil and beautiful Ezulwini Valley, Swaziland.

The idea for the 50-odd participants was to drive each vehicle for 20-minute periods before jumping out and trying the next vehicle.

On offer was a wide selection - from the top-of-the-range Audi Q7, with a R60000 sound system, to an entry-level Volkswagen Tiguan - there was something for everyone.

"This is not meant to be a hard sell," said Barloworld fleet manager Kevin Lombard. "Many of these people have never driven a 4x4 before and walk away highly satisfied.

"The dealerships use the opportunity to showcase their products in an environment that is conducive to good evaluation, and also allows them to actually experience the abilities of their respective products and how they stack up against the opposition product," explained Lombard.

Swaziland at this particular time of the year is beautiful.

Cool mornings and warm days before the temperature drops again as the sun dips below the surrounding mountains.

Leaving early for our day out, a thin mist hung over the valley like a blanket, but as it lifted, the shiny roofs of houses quietly appeared like stars in a clear sky.

Locals rushed out of their small abodes as they heard the 22-strong convoy approaching ... waving, cheering and giving a welcome typical of Swazi people.

Children would rush from far and wide. "Sweeties, sweeties," they chanted as we gently made our way through their villages, their toothless smiles looking up at the impressive range of vehicles.

Although the exercise of trying out all the vehicles available can be time-consuming, it is a very innovative way of getting a glimpse of how a vehicle performs ... albeit briefly.

What it does do, though, if you are in the market for an off-road vehicle, is to help you eliminate quite quickly those cars you don't like.

And out of all them, there were very few that fell into that category.

Never a fan of the Hummer, it definitely impressed with its off-road capabilities.

Also on offer we had the likes of the Audi Q5, Volkswagen Toureg, Toyota's Fortuna and Prado, the Ford Territory and the Subaru Outback.

Putting together an event of this nature requires the assistance of the local chiefs and Swazi authorities.

"There are two specific issues that we are highly sensitive about.

"The first is the impact of such a trip on the local inhabitants. And secondly it's the impact of the vehicles on the environment," said Lombard.

"A local 4x4 expert undertakes all the negotiations with the local tribes and chiefs to ensure that they are not encroached upon and they agree to have us driving through their land," he said.

The writer was a guest of Sun International.