I’m finally proud to say that I became a Front Runner Pride ambassador earlier this year. Obviously, the Front Runner team wanted me to provide feedback and praise, but I’m always cagey when it comes to promoting gear! It’s easy to say ‘yes, I’ll be an ambassador…’ but does the gear actually work?

I drove to JHB to have Grunt (2011 Troopy Landcruiser, Diesel) outfitted. Some miracles from Jaco (fitting manager) and his team, and two days later, I was back on the road – heading for the Baviaans Kloof to collect some camera trap footage of Leopards – with roof racks, rooftop tent, awning, potjie pot holder, water tank and gas holder, sliding drawer system, nifty flat pack boxes and Fridge Freezer combo – all fitted and ready to be put through their paces.


What was clear from the get go was that the all the elements had been designed from years of overlanding experience. Firstly, there was no rattle or squeak. Might sound like I’m being obtuse – but if you do thousands of kilometers a year, that squeak, squeak, squeak, can drive you insane – and is a sure sign that something is wrong. Secondly, my new kit could take punishment. Mountain passes, corrugated roads, bad dirt roads, 4×4 routes – I might as well have been on tar. I stopped en-route (as you should), to make sure that nothing was shaking its way loose – to make sure that all the bolts and nuts we’re sitting solid and doing their job, 12023 kilometers later – I’m yet to have tighten a bolt. It’s those little details that make a huge difference to travelling….

The first trip, my mate, Richard Walker and I camped at Geelhout Bos (Yellowwood Forest) in the heart of the Baviaans. For those of you that haven’t had the privilege of doing the kloof –  it’s a must do bucket list item. Especially if you love the outdoors, and want to take your pavement hopper into the bush to do what she was built for.

That first night, I slept in my rooftop tent. Lots of people love 5 star experiences, me I’m more into million star experiences. To fall asleep at night surrounded by the cacophony of nocturnal creatures, the song of the frogs, the crickets, the leopards bark – to be so attuned to wild nature with just a canvas sheet between you, and the natural world is absolutely breath-taking.  In fact, if you can only afford two bits of gear when kitting out your baby – I’d go with the roof rack and rooftop tent every time. One, you get loads of extra load space. Two, to have a pop up roof over your head that can sleep two adults and two young children in comfort – is a godsend, not only for when I’m filming in remote places, but for when I take the wife and kids camping. I don’t mind roughing it up – but the missus likes to glamp. And you know what they say, “happy missus, happy life.”

Hooked and Cooked…

Next was a trip up the coast to film a pilot of a new show I’m working on. 8 guys, fishing gear, filming equipment, food – all the gear we needed – packed to the rafters in Grunt for three days of old school mates and fishing. The epiphany after this trip was that we no longer needed to have a base to film from. Grunt had become a mobile, self-contained filming machine. I could go anywhere, anytime, with all the whistles and bells, in style with all the creature comforts, and suddenly, those end of the road remote locations had all become possibilities without the slog of complicated logistics.


Lastly, there was the 10 day recce for season 6 of the Ultimate Braai Master. Myself, Petarj (producer) and Andrew Faber aka slim Faby (director) travelled from Cape Town, through the winelands to Breede River, onwards to Wilderness and across to Uniondale –through the Baviaans Kloof up to Port Elizabeth, into the Wild Coast and back again. Besides a blow out on tar and having to deal with thieving monkeys at Rooihoek, I must add a very important note: If you want cold beer, plug in your fridge.

So there it is, 12023 kilometers and counting with my Front Runner Kit.

This is what I’ve learnt:

The lego-like mindset of the gear:  Add to, remove from, personalize. Front Runner’s kit is cleverly designed to make an outdoor experience amazing and is extremely user friendly.

Manuals: Might sound silly, but they now live in Grunt. So often, installers leave you in the dark and like that first time you take apart a watch and then try and remember how to put it back – the manuals make it easy to self-install or personalize your setup. In fact, I’d recommend that you install the gear yourself to get a proper handle on how clever the gear actually is.

The Braai Grid. What great idea! Just remember to clean it before hitting the dirt road, or it quickly becomes a greasy dust trap.

The campsite chairs: Clever, clever, clever. Solid. Robust. But initially took a while to figure out. My only bugbear is that they are quite heavy – and I’d love to see a water proof cover for them so that I can keep them on the roof rack and have more space for other necessities in the load space.

The fold out table. Love it. Except the wood used for the chopping board is lightweight, and being a cook, I’d rather see a heavier, less absorbent cutting board. Ply is good for weight, but not for slicing tomatoes.

The tables and washbasin: Part of my brief to the Front Runner fitment crew was that I didn’t want anything to go into the body of Grunt, so the tables were a revelation – they clip in under the roof rack and are easy to whip out for a quick picnic, or when you need a download station in the heart of the bush.

The awning: If you’ve ever been in the Karoo in mid-Summer – you know what I mean. To be able to sit in the shade, with a cool breeze blowing over you while the rest of the world is melting, is a god-send.

Aftersales service: One word. Legendary.

The sliding draw system:  Love it. Except that I sometimes want a go to box, of bigger items. So I’ve taken out two of the ammo crates and put my own go to box in. 

Thinks I’m still getting my head around:

Mainly from a space issue. I’ve got a great freezer fridge combo, but it sits in the back of the load space, and isn’t quite practical. This you learn after you try and get to those ice-cold beers after a long day of driving. I think what I’m going to do is take out the backseat, put in two single seats, and move the fridge forward so that it sits between the two back seats and the front seats. That way, there is always easy access to the goodies in the fridge.

Sadly, the cruiser has two wheel arches in the load space – this makes utilizing that space awkward. Front Runner has a great system whereby you can add shelving, to level off the space, creating a hold space, but I still feel like it is wasted space that could be better utilized.

The 12v system. Works a bomb, keeps the beer cold, provides light in the darkness, but doesn’t charge batteries, and when I broke a part – I had to hunt around for a replacement. Guess that’s my own fault though – I should’ve made sure I had spares…. Next, I’ll have to install a heavy duty inverter system for 220 volt power. Nothing kills the joy of being in a remote place like a generator running all night to charge camera batteries.

Locks. Travelling in Africa means there is always a chance of someone trying to help themselves to your kit. I found the that the holes provided for locking equipment off didn’t really leave space for a decent lock…. maybe something to work towards?

Suggestions to the Front Runner R&D team.

Some of the bolts and nuts were steel instead of stainless. I live close to the sea – and have had to use Q20 to loosen up the awning clips…

The Potjie pot mount: I found that over long trips, the potjie pot rusted, and some-times even got water in it. I’d love to see a waterproof cover for the potjie pot

What I still Need:

I’d like to extend the roof rack over the cab. I found that when you’re in the rooftop tent, you want a space to sit and admire the sunrise, without climbing down, and I certainly could do with the load space…

I’ve have another troopy, Donkey – a 1984 HJ47 ex-army ambulance that I’m busy restoring – and I know that the Front Runner kit would work like a bomb in her… but there’s a couple of months of painstaking work before this is a reality and that’s another story….

On the scale of taste explosions, not a lot comes close to the full flavour of the humble West Coast black mussel

The West Coast is   known for many things – from the friendly people to the endless beaches and rugged coastlines. And of course it is home to one of South Africa’s culinary treasures: the West Coast black mussel.

On the scale of taste explosions, not a lot comes close to the full flavour of the black mussel – especially if you make it in a potjie over a fire, serve it with freshly baked bread and eat it with good friends . . . you get the picture.

One of the perks of living by the coast (like I do) is that if the weather and the tide allow it, you can flex your muscles and get your own for free. Well almost…

Mussels are really easy to harvest. You don’t need bait. You don’t need to sit around and hope for a bite on the other end of the line. All you need is a knife or screwdriver, tackies (so you don’t cut your feet on the rocks), and either a big hat, a bucket or even a pillowcase for your pickings, and you need a permit (obtainable in SA from the post office). Make sure to check with the local fishermen whether there’s a red tide. Wait for low tide, trek down to the rocky beach and pick as many as you can find, keeping in mind the bag limit of your permit. Here’s what you do.

  1. Pretend you’re a klipspringer and make your way down towards the water’s edge.
  2. Have your screwdriver or knife ready (hopefully it was safely tucked away in a lappie, in your hat, bucket or pillowcase).
  3. Look around for mussels – if you’re at a good spot they’re easy to find.
  4. Using the blade of your knife, slip it in behind the back of the mussel and cut through the beard (the strands that attach the mussel with super glue-like strength to the rocks). No knife? Grab the mussel and twist it off the rock. Works just as well.
  5. Chuck the mussel in your hat, bucket or pillowcase.
  6. Repeat steps 2 to 5 until your hat, bucket or pillowcase is filled to the brim
  7. Keep an eye on the waves – you don’t want to be lost at sea. If you see a big one approaching, run like hell! (Which reminds me, it’s probably a good idea to let your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend know what you’ll be getting up to.)
  8. Once you’ve got enough mussels, go back to the shore and tend to your scraped knuckles, then soak the mussels in a bucket of fresh sea water for a couple of hours to allow them time to spit out sand or grit.

To make the Mussel Pot:

You’ll need

a couple of hatfuls of mussels
a handful of fresh parsley

a splash of dry white wine


black pepper
a couple of cloves of garlic – crushed
fresh chopped chilli
a chunk of ginger – peeled and grated

First, heat up a potjie, chuck in the mussels, the parsley and a good splash of white wine. Put the lid back on and steam the mussels until they open. You can eat some of the mussels straight from the shell just like that – really simple and delicious. But please keep some for the main act.

Throw away the ones that didn’t open, and reserve a bit of the sweet cloudy mussel juice at the bottom of the pot. Clean the mussels by pulling off the beards and removing them from the shells.

Heat up another potjie, add a generous knob of butter, a good squeeze of lemon, black pepper, crushed salt, the garlic and all of the cleaned mussels. If you want mussels with a bit of a bite, add some chilli and grated ginger and a ladle of the sweet mussel juice. Let it simmer for a moment, give it a good stir, then tuck in.

Best served with fresh bread which is ideal for soaking up any juice left behind in the potjie.



Justin Bonello_Greenhouse

Water is a precious commodity. We can survive without food for 3 weeks, possibly longer, but can only last for 3 or 4 days without water. We need to learn how to use water frugally…

As I write this, Cape Town is in the depths of the worst drought of my memory (possibly in recorded history). I’ve been trying to do my bit by harvesting rainwater, my ‘grey water’ is being recycled to keep my vegetable garden going and I’ve been working really-hard at reducing my and my family’s consumption. We’ve become very mindful of every drop we use, so thought I’d do some amateur science and spent a week working out what my family of 4 uses on a monthly basis, to see how we’re actually doing. Let’s break it down:

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 5.26.40 AM

TOTAL OF 5250 liters a month, 63000 liters a year

That’s a total of 5250l a month – approx. 63000l a year. So I’m looking ok! Or am I? There’s a hidden water cost to everything I consume and it’s called my water footprint. This includes what I use at home (out of the tap), but includes the water it took to produce the food I eat, the products I buy, the energy I consume. I may not drink, feel or see this virtual water – but it actually makes up the majority of my water footprint, and even worse, the food I eat is responsible for more than 2/3rds of this  footprint.

When I add my families virtual water cost to our out of the tap consumption, our water use rockets exponentially. As example, let’s take a look at what it costs for a beef and cheese sarmie without butter.


Virtual water cost of a Beef and Cheese sandwich: 610 liters


One sandwich has a virtual water cost of more than 600l. Now the maths becomes horrible and my amateur science less sure – but the principle is right. Assuming that we only eat beef and cheese sarmies, 3 times a day, x 4 family members  x 365 days, our virtual water bill is 876000 liters – that’s more than a 1000% of my families out of the tap annual usage. It takes 2.5 million litres to fill an Olympic size swimming pool, and with a little of my bad science, and without taking into account the virtual water cost of fuel, electricity and a whole plethora of other criteria, I could fill this pool with my virtual water usage by just eating the above-mentioned sarmies in 3 years. 3 years….

If we ever do get out of this water crisis, we need to plan and live like disaster is always around the corner…

In the words of my mate Graham Brookman, ‘we don’t value water because it’s so cheap, because it’s invisible.’ And he’s right. We don’t value that that we get for ‘free’. It has no value because we no longer harvest it for ourselves and don’t have to manage what we have harvested for own sustainable use. We don’t grow, harvest and process our own food; we’ve become increasingly reliant on the system to provide for us (instead of providing for ourselves) and in doing so, we have all proven to ourselves that we are fools. We are to blame for our current water crisis. Not government. Not council, not the DA, not the ANC. US.

We are to blame for our current water crisis. Not government. Not council, not the DA, not the ANC. US.

Fresh water is scarce and rare, yet we treat it like it’s abundant. We should’ve planned for disaster.

All of us. Should’ve installed rainwater tanks to harvest rain. Should’ve reduced our consumption years ago (not just when there’s a crisis). Should’ve replaced European imports with water-wise indigenous plants. Should’ve got rid of that egotistical monoculture, the useless inedible green lawn years ago. Should’ve planted our own edible gardens…

Fresh water is scarce and rare, and we need to look after it…

Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve…

Instead of flushing it away post haste we need to re-think how we see water in the Urban biome. When the rains do come (and I’m on my knees now), we should be harvesting every drop that we can. We should be recycling our grey water. We need to grow our own food. We need to lobby our local councils to sink the water into the ground and into our backup systems, the aquifers of Cape Town, instead of flushing it out to sea as quickly as possible through storm water drains. We need to bring our springs up to the surface where we can all use nature’s bounty and if we ever do get out of this water crisis, we need to plan and live like disaster is always around the corner. Fresh water is scarce and rare, and we need to look after it.

If we do this, then maybe just maybe, we can avoid a future crisis.