By Patrick Cruywagen
Land Rover may have ended Defender production at the beginning of 2016, but their popularity and prices have continued to soar. Th e 2017 Defender Trophy held in the Limpopo province provided ample proof of this. Twenty competitors and five support Defenders of varying configurations (and with every accessory imaginable) lined up at the Copacopa Lodge start, which is only a few kms from the Punda Maria Gate of the Kruger National Park. Here, the vehicles were stickered up to the max. While most of the competitors hailed from South Africa, Richard Bennett and wife Jacqueline had travelled all the way from Perth(fontein) to take part.
At the start, we were treated to a masterly display of drumming and dancing by the Venda people. Their endless energy and colourful clothing ensured a dramatic start to the 2017 Defender Trophy.
Not long aft er setting off , we hit a muddy road which caused a bit of slipping and sliding. Th e last Defender in the convoy ended up in a ditch next to the road, but was quickly recovered.
Most of the first two days of the event were spent in the Makuya Nature Reserve; we entered via its southernmost gate, which is not normally open to tourists. The Luvuvhu River forms a natural 50km boundary between the Kruger National Park and Makuya. The river was our constant companion as we made our way along the incredible rocky 4×4 tracks that the reserve has to offer. (All the teams had been given a handout with the GPS co-ordinates for the route that we were following, but for the most part we just stayed in a convoy.) Participants were also expected to answer the questions on the handout; they were all about Land Rovers and the beautiful area that that we were driving through.
The rocks took their toll on the tyres of the Defenders, and the convoy had to stop a few times so that tyres could be repaired or changed. However, the driving was not the most technical I have experienced on a Defender Trophy; most of the time, second gear low range was enough to get up the rocky climbs.
Our first night was spent camping on a massive sand bank next to the Luvuvhu River; hippos grunted their disapproval at our choice of campsite.
Day 2 got off to an early start thanks to the chirping birds and warm sun, and by 7a.m. we were ready to proceed − but not before a briefing by the event organiser Johan Kriek, who drives a 300Tdi Defender 110. Once on track, we didn’t see much game, although there were signs of animals everywhere: fresh tracks, elephant dung and damaged trees.
Our first stop was at Singo Camp, a luxury tented camp perched high on a cliff. It is one of my favourite places in the whole of South Africa, with its incredible view over the plains and Luvuvhu River below. This was followed by a stop at World’s View. I truly feel sorry for South Africans who have not seen this view, because it is better than anything you will find in Mauritius or Margate.
After a few hours of rocky off-roading, we found ourselves on the banks of the Luvuvhu River − which the whole convoy then crossed without any drama as the water was only about 750mm deep. We followed a fence line which eventually spat us out at the Punda Maria gate of the Kruger National Park. From there, it was only a few kms to Awelani Lodge, where we would be spending two nights. (What happened to the old days of Defender Trophy, where you camped in the wilderness and a swimming pool was a luxury?)
The convoy then headed north towards the Limpopo River, also the favoured swimming spot for fleeing Zimbabweans. We followed what is known as the Mdimbo Corridor − an area between the two countries controlled by the military − and passed several South African soldiers; they were friendly, and happily posed for pictures with us. The floods had destroyed a cement bridge that we were supposed to cross, so we just drove around it.
Next we entered Popallin Ranch, a 22 000- acre private safari park. Its owner, De Wet Bezuidenhout, met us in his Land Cruiser and took us on a guided 4×4 drive around his impressive property.
One of the highlights of the event was provided by the large sandy area right next to the river, which we got to play on for a few hours. It was a chance for all participants to show off their sand-driving skills – some got stuck while others had to help recover them. It did not matter, as everyone was having fun. When we tried to climb back onto the main track later, someone snapped a side shaft, but he was able to limp on.
Before heading back to Awelani Lodge for the prize-giving, we stopped to see the white lions and have a quick beer on the banks of the Nwanedzi River.
As always, the last night of Defender Trophy festivities went on into the early hours of the morning. Every team picked up some or other prize, but it was the father-and-son team of Brendon and Evann Lowe who were deservingly declared the overall winners. Not only does Brendon know how to get the best out of his standard Puma Defender 110 Station Wagon, but he and Evann were always quick to help others in distress… which is really what the Defender Trophy is all about. So, while everyone waits for the launch of the all-new Defender, owners of the older version are out having fun at events like the Defender Trophy. See you there next year!
About the Defender Trophy
The Defender Trophy event started in 2004 and the first event was held in Lesotho. Back then, it was a joint venture between Johan Kriek (who now runs the current event on his own) and Land Rover Centurion. For the next 10 years it was held all over southern Africa, including Mozambique, Transkei, Kalahari, Swaziland and Zululand. What essentially began as a tag-along tour for Land Rover Centurion Defender customers soon evolved into a tough, no-nonsense competition with a new Defender as the prize, in 2013. The event then took a break for two years before Johan decided to take it back to its roots as a tag-along tour, and eliminated the serious competition element.
Want to Take Part?
Cape event 2017: 28 September to 01 October
Defender Trophy 2018: 26-29 May
For More Details
Johan Kriek: +27 (0) 83 305 8083