Land Rover Defender Night Sky Cederberg Adventure: Pt 1

The Land Rover Defender models lined up at Durbanville Hills ahead of the odyssey. Picture: Supplied

The Land Rover Defender models lined up at Durbanville Hills ahead of the odyssey. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 25, 2024


The brake lights snaked all the way northwards as far as the eye could see up the M5 highway as dawn’s crack peeked above the Boland Mountains.

I despise traffic.

But, I was oddly content in the knowledge that this congestion would eventually lead me to Durbanville Hills wine estate, from whence I would be departing on a Land Rover Defender excursion to the Cederberg.

The Defender Night Sky event was an exclusive outing to give a handful of media professionals the experience of a lifetime over three days — meandering east and west of the N7 and R27 highways along gravel mountain passes, tarred surfaces, through sleepy towns with no traffic lights, to our eventual destination of the Simbavati Cederberg Ridge lodge just outside Clanwilliam.

Breakfast at The Tangram at Durbanville Hills. Picture: Supplied

We’d set off from the Cape Winelands in all manner of Land Rover Defenders — the ultimate overlanding vehicle. I started my journey assigned to the Defender 130, the big daddy seven-seater with all the trimmings and a hulking diesel V6 under the bonnet.

Homegrown Bakery Cafe, Ceres. Picture: Supplied

You’d never guess the sheer size of the vehicle from behind the wheel. I found the Defender surprisingly easy to manoeuvre despite its size. It was nimble when overtaking, the turbodiesel showing no lag, and displaying a willing throttle response. I was expecting some wind noise too, given the dimensions and styling, but the cabin was surprisingly quiet.

Lunch at Homegrown Bakery Cafe, Ceres. Picture: Supplied

Our route took us over Mitchell’s Pass along the Dwars River into Ceres where we stopped for lunch at Homegrown Bakery Cafe in Ceres.

Gravel overlanding between Ceres and Citrusdal. Picture: Supplied

From here I jumped into the Defender 130 Outbound, a long-wheelbase model that swaps out the third row of seats and C-pillar windows for a massive luggage load area safe from prying eyes. The Outbound model had great big knobbly 20” wheels, a roof rack, and a storage pannier fitted to the driver’s side C-pillar. These caused some wind noise, understandably, but I found myself turning down the radio to hear that sweet thrum of the turbo-petrol V6 instead.

The Defender 130 Outbound doing some gravel overlanding between Ceres and Citrusdal. Picture: Supplied

There are arguments that there is little difference at this level in fuel consumption between diesel and petrol models — both are V6 engines and petrol-powered cars tend to be more responsive, but there seems to be a guarded belief that Defenders should come in diesel.

The gravel pass into Citrusdal. Picture: Supplied

I found the diesel model to be far more fuel efficient, with my 130 D300 doing around 9l/100km, while I struggled to dip below 12.5/100km in the petrol-powered model. At a stop/go just before leaving Ceres the petrol model was doing upwards of 22l/100km at idle.

The Defender 110 County is the entry point to the Defender models. Picture: Supplied

Strangely, I also found the diesel throttle to be more responsive, even if the engine note was far more muted than the petrol.

The Middelberg Pass into Citrusdal. Picture: Supplied

Hitting a stretch of loose, rocky gravel later on, I was grateful for the knobbly tyres, allowing me to tear around sandy corners with gusto, much to the chagrin of the driver in the V8 petrol-powered Defender 90 rolling on far lower profile 22”s.

The Defender 110 P400 PHEV. Picture: Supplied

Dusty and thirsty, we rolled into Citrusdal for a coffee stop before hitting the newly resurfaced N7 to Clanwilliam where we could really stretch our Defenders’ legs.

Coffee stop in Citrusdal. Picture: Supplied

The Defender’s on-road manners are truly commendable for a vehicle so well-suited to the rough stuff. Power delivery was smooth, the gearbox seldom hunting for purchase. With the sun visor open the panoramic sunroof allows an added sense of space in the already capacious cabin. The centre console touchscreen is easy to operate and connects seamlessly (and wirelessly) to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with plenty of easy-to-reach tactile button shortcuts so you never have to take your eyes off the road for longer than is necessary.

The Defender 130. Picture: Supplied

The Defender’s interior quality is exactly what you’d expect from Land Rover - tastefully appointed, high-quality materials, easily adjustable seats and steering column, and even over the most rutted of surfaces, the only thing rattling around in the cabin where the water bottles in the cavernous refrigerated armrest and the CB radio installed temporarily for this trip.

The driveway leading to Simbavati Cederberg Ridge. Picture: Supplied
The driveway leading to Simbavati Cederberg Ridge. Picture: Supplied
The driveway leading to Simbavati Cederberg Ridge. Picture: Supplied

The only concern I had was that on the digital instrument panel behind the steering wheel, the rev counter and speedometer dials seemed a little pixelated at their uppermost curves, where every other graphic on the displays was of the highest definition and quality.

IOL Editor Lance Witten at the Simbavati fire pit. Picture: Supplied

We crawled up the serpentine drive to the Simbavati Cederberg Ridge lodge at the top of a sparse rocky hillock outside Clanwilliam late in the afternoon, and were welcomed warmly by the staff and tasteful opulence of the manor house.

Dinner on the lawns of the Simbavati Cederberg Ridge manor house. Picture: Supplied

This was going to be a week to remember...

The Defender 130 Outbound. Picture: Supplied

* This article is part of a multi-part series. Read Part 2 here.