De­fender Tro­phy

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.

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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...

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