Well-stocked and highly skilled off-road shops can be hard to find in the remotest regions of southern Africa. Most of Botswana definitely qualifies as remote, and specialists with the knowledge, personnel, and inventory who can help you build and maintain your overland vehicle are few and far between.
This is in high contrast to Botswana’s neighbor South Africa, a nation whose overlanding tradition and long list of well-known big players in the market – like Frontrunner, Alu-Cab, RSi, Eezi-Awn, among others – essentially defined the term. Botswana historically has been the overland destination, not necessarily the place to go to build your dream vehicle.
In Gaborone, however, there is a small but growing community of 4×4 specialists that are catering to the adventure travel crowd. There is one that stands out among the rest.
Hi-Range Safari City has been quietly building off-road, overland, safari, and working trucks for over a decade. From full-on, thoughtfully executed adventure builds for all makes and models, to simple roof-tent installations or bushing maintenance, to restocking the essentials in your camping kit, Hi-Range does it all. Those top-tier brands I mentioned above? Hi-Range stocks their products, not to mention Tough Dog suspensions, Opposite Lock off-road accessories, and Light Force lighting.
We have been privileged to partner with Hi-Range and their sister company Wild Wheels on several projects over the last year and a half. This weekend, they are formally unveiling their brand new showroom and workshop at their location in Gaborone West Industrial.
If you’re in Gaborone, be sure to stop in on Saturday. Check out our photography featured on the wall panels in the showroom! We’re thrilled to have some of our images from around southern Africa lend a sense of adventure this amazing space.
A while back, I corresponded with Chris Thompson, Hi-Range’s Managing Director, about the company’s origins, how Hi-Range approaches their work, and how they always put the customer front and center. Chris has some serious adventure chops traveling across southern Africa, and he’s a candid and engaging guy.
I really love his answer to the opening question.
(Responses edited for length and clarity.)
Venturesome Overland: Who are you, and how did you develop an interest in adventure travel in Africa?
Chris Thomson: Ever since I was a kid, we have done a fair amount of adventure travel in Southern Africa and it has always been a fascination of mine for many different reasons. The freedom of being out in the wild, and having to be self-sufficient for few days is both an adventure, as well as having the exciting intimidation factor thrown in.
You know what the plan is, but the chances of “everything” going to plan is very slim, and it’s the variations in the plans that generally make the trip memorable. Once you get on the road, there are no boarding calls, connecting flights, or transfer bookings to think about. You are on your own and left to your own good or bad choices.
The diversity of experiences are also on the top of the list for adventure travel. There is nothing better than packing the vehicle with all of the different “toys” needed for the various stop off points on the trip. Packing Fishing rods, Bicycles, Kayaks, Wet suits along side a one night hotel bag, is a really satisfying feeling and sets the mood for a great trip! Followed by a sleepless night of wondering if you have remembered to pack everything, because once you leave that’s it!
VO: Where are you from?
CT: Born in South Africa, but grew up in Gaborone, Botswana.
VO: What is the history of and Hi-Range Safari City and Wild Wheels?
Wild Wheels launched early in 2017 as an exclusive self-drive safari company for those clients wishing to explore Africa on their own time, with the luxury of having a fully camp kitted 4×4 vehicle to do it in, as well as having our experienced booking staff sorting out all of the bookings and reservations on their behalf…
Hi-Range Safari City caters to the rugged off-road market and prides itself on providing tough products to suit the terrain of Botswana. Together with [Wild Wheels’] experience in the safari and tourism industry, and Hi-Range Safari City’s in-depth knowledge in the off-road accessory market, it made perfect sense for us to join forces to cover all aspects needed for a successful self-drive safari company.
VO: Why Botswana? Why Gaborone?
CT: Botswana has always been my home, and I love living here. In my opinion, there are not many places the can beat Botswana for an “outdoor-loving lifestyle”. There are so many places to explore in Botswana, and so many things to see.
Gaborone has been my base for most of my life, and is the main hub for the rest of the country… Gaborone itself is a great place! It has grown astronomically over the last few years, but it still holds its community values which is a rare quality to keep going even though it is expanding rapidly!
VO: What is your approach to building an overland vehicle for a client or for rental?
CT: The initial approach to doing any work on a client’s vehicle is to get all of the details pertaining to its application… What will this vehicle be used for? How can we best pair the relevant products to this application? Just one example – the overland, or camping vehicle:
- What will the vehicle be used for?
- Is this purely an off road vehicle or will it be used day to day as well?
- What fuel capacity is needed?
- What water capacity is needed?
- How much storage space is required?
- How many people will this vehicle need to accommodate?
- Do we need to allow for back-up power?
- Does the vehicle travel at night?
- What are the refrigeration requirements?
- How much extra weight will be added to the vehicle after the build?
- Will the tires need to be deflated and inflated when traveling on the intended terrain?
- Is under-body protection required?
- Will this vehicle be required to do any water crossings?
When we have compiled all of the info, we are now ready to spec the vehicle to what we feel is optimal for its application.
[Then], we consult with the client and give feedback on what we feel is the way forward for this build. We prefer our clients to kit their vehicles slowly, so that it is a gradual and constructive process rather than getting one year down the line using the vehicle, and then realizing that they should have done things differently. A full vehicle build can be an expensive exercise, and this is another reason we prefer clients to do it in stages.
VO: If you had one piece of advice for someone planning a self-drive safari, what would it be?
CT: Do a lot of research before booking your itinerary! This is the foundation of your whole experience, so take time to chat to [Wild Wheels] booking staff and read up on the various locations and facilities to make sure that you select the right places for you and your party.
Again, everyone has their own preferences, so what works for some, will not work for others. There are many different flavors in southern Africa, but it’s up to you to choose the ones that best quenches your “adventure thirst”.
VO: What is the biggest misconception about overland travel in southern Africa?
CT: I would have to say distances between attractions. A lot of people have seen pictures relating to southern Africa and just assume that it’s all a stone throw away from each other. When, in reality, this is simply not the case. There are some incredible places to visit, but be prepared to travel. While doing those long commutes, try to take it all in, because there is so much to see along the way!
VO: What is your favorite place to travel in Botswana?
CT: Too many to choose from!! There is such an array of completely different experiences in Botswana, from the lush Okavango Delta and Chobe regions, to the dry Kalahari and the vast Makgadikgadi Pans.
But for me personally nothing would beat a trip through the Central Kalahari Game reserve –> traveling up to the panhandle of the Okavango delta for a spot of fishing and birding –> into the Moremi Game Reserve –> Chobe Game Reserve -> boat cruise on the Chobe River -> from there, either a trip into Zimbabwe or Zambia to see Victoria Falls, and then heading back home.
VO: Toyota or Land Rover? [Question optional.]
CT: I am glad this is an optional question! I would have some angry customers whichever way I went on this one! I am going to play it safe and say that… they both have huge pros, with very few cons.
We have used both, and I can honestly say that we have [seen] great performances from both Land Rover and Toyota! This war of wit will never end, but at the end of the day, they are both fully capable [trucks].
Hi-Range Safari City’s Grand Relaunch is on Saturday, November 24 from 8:00am – 4:00pm.
Plot 22021, Gaborone West Industrial, Gaborone, Botswana
For more information, call +267 3187003 or email email@example.com