Passion, camaraderie, teamwork and Defenders are the cornerstone's of the Defender Trophy, an exciting and challenging event, testing the technical agility of man and his machine.
The Land Rover Centurion Defender Trophy has come a long way since its inception eight years ago. What started out as a fun weekend out in the bush, navigating through unchartered territory and tricky terrain, has now become all that and a whole lot more. To add to the fun and competitive sportmanship of the Defender Trophy, the organisers have introduced some additional scoring sections and requirements to the competition. One thing, however, will always remain the same and that is the core value of the event – the passion for the Land Rover Defender.
One of the recently introduced requirements involves a technical assessment of the teams and their vehicles in a pre-selection process held at Land Rover Experience Gerotek. On the 15 January, the various teams arrived at LRE Gerotek to work through some trials, testing their technical competency in winching techniques, vehicle recovery, water crossings, to name a few. The vehicles were also checked to ensure that any additional equipment fitted and modification made to the vehicles, were done correctly and complied with the safety standards required by organisers. All the teams received a detailed report after their Defenders’ evaluation.
The pre Defender Trophy selection process is done to ensure that all competitors are technically capable to handle the rough and challenging terrain and environment they will be faced with during the Defender Trophy - It is the ultimate test of man and machine!
Tucked away in the northern most part of South Africa, the 'Venda' region holds breathtaking and truly unique scenery within Southern Africa.
Day 1: Wednesday, 16 February 2011, saw an eager group of 22 Defender teams head off into the dense green Venda bushveld following the GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates provided to them at the start - the Big Tree, one of the world’s biggest Baobab trees located in the former Venda Republic, today part of the Limpopo Province.
After a briefing by the organisers and a welcome from the local Chief and his traditional dancers, it was time to get serious. Teams set off at three minute intervals, guided by a list of GPS coordinates and clues for tasks which were to be completed at various points along the route. These included purchasing fire wood from one of the local homesteads.
Following these way points, competitors were confronted with a river crossing. The Mutale River was flowing fast due to the recent good rains. After a while a backlog of teams had gathered at the river. It was agreed that the crossing was passable but it required everyone to work as a team to ensure that all the vehicles crossed safely. Competitors formed a human water break to slow the flow of water down as the first vehicle entered the river. Once on the other side it was set up as a recovery vehicle, if needed. As each vehicle made it to the far bank of the river they were handed a clipboard with further instructions and the way points for the rest of the day.
The various GPS coordinates led the teams to trees, plants and other land marks that team's needed to identify correctly as part of the scoring criteria for the Trophy. As evening approached, the teams realised there was still much to do before the end of day one. There was one more surprise too, they had to negotiate a 4x4 obstacle en route to base camp.
Land Rover South Africa is a proud sponsor of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Wild Dog Project. As a result of this involvement it was decided to add another element to this year’s competition that would allow competitors to do a number of environmental awareness exercises. On Day 1 competitors had to identify spoor and scat from different endangered animals like the African Wild Dog, Cheetah and Leopard as well as their prey.
Once at base camp competitors first had to hand marshals their bag of fire wood, collected along the way, before identifying one last tree in camp before dinner. The teams then set up camp in one of two specially cleared sites on the banks of the Levubu River, literally a stone’s throw from the Kruger National Park across the river.
Day 2: started with an early morning breakfast and briefing. It was explained to competitors that the day’s activities would consist of group events. The groups had been randomly selected the day before by the marshals. The points accumulated by each group were added to the score of the teams that formed that particular group. There were 22 teams, 6 teams of three vehicles each while the 7th consisted of four vehicles.
The day’s activities covered a large spectrum of skills including winching exercises, bridge building and environmental awareness tasks. One such task involved retrieving a bird’s egg from a tree – the ‘bird’s egg’ happened to be a numbered chicken egg in a cooler box, high up in a tree. They were tasked with getting one member of the group safely up to the ‘nest’ using their own safety equipment and/or vehicle to retrieve their ‘eggs’ and return him safely to the ground without damaging the egg that was required for two further tasks later in the competition.
EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust) played a major part in the day’s activities with two further exercises testing different skills of each group. They had to identify different members of a Wild Dog Pack and also radio track a Wild Dog. Both tasks involved a cardboard cut out of a Wild Dog to give competitors an idea of what the dedicated staff from EWT are required to do on a daily basis.
After dinner the evening was rounded off with a presentation from the EWT staff which gave everyone more insight into just how important the EWT’s work is in South Africa and how important the Wild Dog Project is. They are proudly protecting and maintaining the species so our children’s children will be able to see the beautiful Painted Dog in the wild.
Day 3: started bright and early, with a good old fashioned breakfast, before everyone packed up camp and prepared for a long and testing 4x4 convoy drive to Mangwele Camp. The route from the Levubu River camp site out of the Makuya Reserve took us to some serious 4x4 country.
Soon teams had to work together to get all the Defenders under a low bridge in a dry river bed. Marshals selected different teams to lead the convoy and when an obstacle was reached, that team was tasked with making sure that everyone made it safely over or around the obstacle. As we wound our way through the northern part of the Soutpanberg on a very rarely used cut line, minutes started to feel like hours. We went up and down mountains and hills where loose rocks, thick vegetation and even loose sand had to be traversed.
By lunchtime we reached one of the few cell phone towers in the area which served as the ideal stop for another challenge - a food challenge this time. Over the last two days competitors had collected items from marshals and other staff on the event, including their egg that had to be looked after during a number of challenges, including a drive over the egg challenge. Other items collected included the head of a match in a match box, Mopane worms, an onion and a tomato.
The challenge was to simply use the match head to start a fire and cook some sort of a meal with the ‘ingredients’ they had collected. You would not believe some of the creations the teams came up with - from Mopane Omelets to scrambled eggs with Mopane worms and many other concoctions. The teams had to eat the Mopane worm too– well done!
After the lunch stop it was back to the slow climb, up hill and down dale, mountains, over rocks and streams. Darkness was setting in when the Mangwele Pass had to be negotiated. This is difficult enough during the day with sheer drops on one side and tyre eating rocks to contend with, making the descent to the camp a very slow affair. The rather tired teams set up camp after their 12 – 14 hour drive and still had to present their team flags as part of the competition.
Day 4: the final day and many competitors seemed to be deeply saddened at breakfast that the 2011 Trophy was drawing to an end. The last day seemed a bit more relaxed which allowed competitors to experience some of the Bavenda people’s holy sites, like Lake Fundudzi and the sacred forest of their ancestors and healers.
One final task awaited in the Nwanedi Nature Reserve – a muddy quarry where the teams could make up or lose points. This took every last ounce of energy the teams had left to make it through the obstacle without having to be wrenched out.
From there it was one last set of GPS points to the overnight stop. This included a visit to the Tshihovhohovhos Falls that allowed competitors to cool down and wash off the mud whilst also experiencing the beauty of the area.
The prize giving was held at the Nwanedi Resort that evening. Land Rover Centurion Dealer Principal, Craig Rohland, congratulation all the competitors before introducing guest speaker, Kingsley Holgate. He is a man very familiar with the Defender’s capabilities and a legend in his own right after his lifesaving work in Africa’ distribution Mosquito nets in a bid to stop Malaria Africa’s biggest killer. Kingsley presented all the Land Rover Centurion Defender Trophy Venda 2011 awards. The overall winners, Team Motor Dogs made up of driver Colin Gallop and co driver Bruce McDonald, took their Defender 90 to a five point lead over Team Nyati of Paul Fouche and Radie Kotze. Team Motor Dogs walked off with a R50 000 accessories package from L.A Sports.
Three special awards were also made : the Roger Rouessart Team Spirit Award which went to Team Bairy Hollocks : Warren Vos and Peter Healey; the prize for the most photographed team went to Team The Wild Dogs : Freddie Cronje and William Botes while the Most Enthusiastic Team award went to Team Vlakvark of Nick and Rob Smart/ Arche and Jaco Coetzer.
The EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust) team took the opportunity to have a spot auction with prizes which included two long weekend trips. The highest bidders would spend the weekend at one of the Wild Dogs research projects either in the Kruger National Park or the Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park interacting with the EWT staff on their daily routines as well as tracking Wild Dogs.
The Land Rover Centurion Defender Trophy Venda 2011 once again proved that passion friendship, camaraderie and the Land Rover Defender all go hand in hand to make the event a huge success every year.
Congratulations to organisers and sponsors for a fantastic event. The only question that remains is where to, next year?
Roy Griffiths - Land Rover Experience Gerotek and
Published: March 2011