While the rest of the world celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Land Rover Defender, 27 examples of the iconic 4x4 were making their way through some of Limpopo’s wildest, most remote areas.
We join the (wild) party in Limpopo
This is the story of the Defender Trophy.
Some say a Land Rover Defender doesn’t leak oil, it simply marks its territory. Others say the reason a Land Rover Defender has a heated rear window is to keep the owner’s hands warm when he’s pushing it.
Ask any of the 27 crews who took part in the 2018 Defender Trophy in Limpopo about such trivial observations, and they’ll laugh it off. Instead, they will elaborate on the Landy’s illustrious history, the fact that it is the quintessential vehicle to explore the wild African bush, and the character of it.
The Defender Trophy brings people of the same ilk together, on a three-day adventure in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, taking in several national parks, and some private ones, too. Instead of sticking only to fancy lodges, the Trophy ensemble camp wild for two nights so the teams have to be fully selfsufficient and carry all their own supplies.
The event officially kicked off in the Blouberg National Park, where all the teams gathered on the eve of 26 April. The Trophy is, unlike the legendary Camel Trophy events of years gone past, not a hardcore 4×4 test of man and machine. Instead organiser Johan Kriek’s Trophy is more aimed at a fun family affair, with young and old getting in on the action.
Each team receives a route schedule per day, with GPS waypoints and a questionnaire. There are questions about fauna and flora, about road signs and sometimes even mathematics, like counting the number of railway crossings between certain points. The vehicles drive in convoy, and everyone is in radio contact with each other. The chances of getting lost are thus rather small.
After the three days, the points are tallied and an overall winner is decided. But, in a typical Defender way, there are many prizes up for grabs, including the
customary ‘oh dear’ ones.
Back to Blouberg National Park, and the first day.
Day 1 – fuel for thought
On this morning, co-sponsor MBT’s fuel bowser rolled into the campsite and commenced filling all the Landy’s fuel tanks with diesel.
From Blouberg, the long convoy made its dusty way to the Burgerrecht Clinic for an important stop. One of the Trophy regulars, former British soldier Ivan Cooper, had raised funds in aid of the local community, ahead of the event.
Even some high-placed officials from the Limpopo government rocked up unexpectedly as Cooper and company handed over soccer balls, bags of maize meal and, most importantly, school uniforms for local learners.
The Defenders eventually landed up at the Ratho Bush Campsite, in the darkness, and set up camp. It had been a long day, and the teams tucked in relatively early ahead of many more hours behind the wheel.
Day 2 – Some unexpected visitors
The next morning, the early risers discovered some interesting tracks and drag marks in and near the camp. An elephant had paid the camp a visit sometime during the night, unheard or spotted by a single soul.
More unnerving though, was the evidence of a crocodile that had also decided to check into camp. Meeting up with an elephant in the middle of the night is one thing; a croc is a much more unpleasant thought.
So, with the camp abuzz with the news of the visitors, and some of the international guests keeping a weary lookout for any animals that could crush or eat them, the convoy headed off again, this time making its way to the Mapungubwe National Park, a surreal, beautiful wild camp on the banks of the Limpopo, with Botswana but a rock’s throw away.
This is Big Five territory, so everyone – and not only the
international tourists – kept a lookout for any wild visitors.
Day 3 – the last stretch
The next morning, the camp was woken in the most spectacular way: a fish eagle, welcoming the new day with its distinctive call and jackals calling each other in a spine-chilling chorus that filled the air completely.
This was wild Africa at its finest.
On this last day, the teams, armed with their daily route schedules and questionnaires, first aimed for a dry riverbed, filled with deceptively soft sand. This sand caught a couple of drivers napping, with not enough momentum garnered, causing their Landys to bog down.
This in turn resulted in some spades appearing, as the Defenders were extracted from their sandy sinkholes.
Eventually, the teams landed up at the upmarket Evangelina Game Lodge near Alldays. The Trophy was done and dusted, and all that remained was the customary prize giving, with prizes from various sponsors up for grabs.
The overall prize went to Dale and Lauren, who won a brand new set of BFGoodrich KO2 allterrain tyres for their Defender.
That was it, the end of another successful Defender Trophy.
And here’s to another 70 years for the legendary Land Rover Defender.
This image: All the Landys lined up, on the banks of the Limpopo River. Below left: Oh dear! The ‘full speed ahead!’ message didn’t reach this driver fast enough in the soft river sand. Below, right: The Defender Trophy is not a hardcore 4×4...
Below: A cold one, on the banks of the mighty Limpopo River. Opposite page: The 27 Landy Defenders making their way through the wild Limpopo bush.
Clockwise from top: Overall winners Dale and Lauren, who bagged a set of BFGoodrich all-terrain tyres. At the Ratho Bush camp, in a lager. Sundowners next to the Limpopo River. An all-girl team competed, too. Oops. When you have to dig yourself out...