Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Living the landy life in maputaland

Enfolded between the azure shimmer of the Indian Ocean in the east and the rugged Lebombo Mountains in the west, Maputaland offered the perfect backdrop to the most recent Defender Trophy event.

Where is Maputaland? Are we going into Mozambique? Do we need passports? Is this event based on the Camel Trophy? Will I damage my Defender? These are some of the questions I was bombarded with when Defender aficionados started registering for the event. The answer to all of the above was a loud and resounding no. This is a family-friendly event for Land Rover Defender enthusiasts. Driving skills and fitness levels don’t play a role. So where is Maputaland then?

Encompassing a vast swathe of northern KwaZulu-Natal, this pristine wilderness area stretches from the scenic splendour of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in St. Lucia in the south, to the South African border with Mozambique in the north and is home to a number of the province’s bestknown reserves. The name was probably coined way back in the day by the hunting fraternity who frequented these game rich areas around the Usutu River, which becomes the Maputo River as it flows deeper into Mozambique towards the Maputo Bay. But that is the interesting part – the origin of the name Maputaland remains shrouded in mystery…

Anyhow, the Bundutec Defender Trophy Maputaland started from the lovely little Nyalazi campsite, situated just outside the Nyalazi Gate of the iMfolozi Game Reserve. The latter was established in 1895, which makes it the oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa! It is also the traditional royal hunting ground of the Zulu kingdom, where Zulu kings like Dingiswayo and Shaka hunted and put in place the first conservation laws. Fascinating stuff indeed.

The event kicked off in all earnest as the 16 participating Defenders entered the Park, driving on the edge of the iMfolozi wilderness area. This is where Operation Rhino took place during the late 1950s to 1960s. It is widely acknowledged that this initiative by Dr Ian Player and the then Natal Parks Board was responsible for saving the white rhino from extinction.

The convoy of Defenders saw game aplenty, before exiting the Park. Still in Zululand, as we had not crossed over the Lebombo mountains yet, we traversed old 4×4 tracks as we explored the rural area. The recent heavy rains had turned some patches into mini swamps and some of us did get stuck. However, part of the philosophy of the Defender Trophy is to educate, and the winching exercise that followed was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how such an operation should be planned, and safely executed. The rains also prevented us from crossing the Mkuze River as the water level was still way too high for us to safely drive through on the riverbed. As this had also been the case during the final recce, a detour to the nearest bridge had been found, and this came in very handy during the event.

We were soon on the northern side of the Mkuze River, from where we entered the community owned Somkhanda Game Reserve. Shortly after entering the reserve, we encountered a pack of 15 wild dogs – what a way to start our first night’s wild camping in the bush!

Natural beauty in abundance

On day two we exited Somkhanda, before crossing the Lebombo Mountains into the beautiful Mkuze Game Reserve. This is another gem in the area and the reserve is renowned for an astonishing diversity of natural habitats; from the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains along its northwestern boundary, to broad stretches of acacia savannah, swamps, a variety of woodlands and riverine forests, as well as a rare type of sand forest.

The reserve’s namesake, the Mkhuze River – with a beautiful stretch of fig forest along its banks – curves along the reserve’s northern and eastern borders. Since the reintrodcution of lions to the area in 2013, Mkhuze Game Reserve is a popular Big Five destination. After exiting the reserve, we proceeded to the nearby Bushbaby campsite, situated in the sand-forest of the KwaJoba community. We were the first group to be welcomed to the area and it was a great privilege to wild camp in this pristine environment!

Day three of the adventure was short and sweet, with very little intensive driving involved. When in Maputaland, how can you not allow time for people to enjoy the warm azure blue waters of the Indian ocean? So, it was only a short hop before we arrived at Sodwana Bay for lunch and an afternoon at leisure to enjoy this well-known diving destination. It was also our first camp with proper ablutions – what a joy (especially for the girls!) after two nights of wild camping.

On the next day a long trek faced the group – not in distance but in driving time. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, proclaimed as a world heritage site in 1999, is one of the most renowned natural wetland and coastal sites in Africa. Covering an area of 239 566ha, it includes marine, coastal, wetland, estuarine, and terrestrial environments which are beautifully scenic and virtually untouched by humans.

From Sodwana, the convoy headed north past Lake Sibaya through the coastal dune forests in the iSimangaliso conservation area. We had plenty of fun driving on the sandy tracks through the pristine bush, before arriving for lunch at Black Rock beach (probably one of the bestkept secrets of Maputaland). We turned away from the coast to follow the sandy tracks in a northwesterly direction to Manguze. The convoy skirted the town and the extensive road works, before hitting the tar road in a westerly direction towards KwaZulu- Natal‘s birding paradise – Ndumo Game Reserve. This splendid reserve is home to 430 bird species and shares the Usutu River with neighbouring Mozambique. We camped in the recently upgraded campsite, and although the ablutions were not yet completed, the participants took it in their stride.

Our last day took us away from the marshlands of Ndumo as we drove through rural Maputaland to Border Cave at the top of the Lebombo Mountains, on the border between South Africa and Swaziland. From here you have magnificent views into Swaziland, and one can only try to imagine what the area must have looked like when ancient man lived here 2000 years ago… It is in this area where homo sapien skeletons, stone tools and chipping debris, dating back 2000 years ago, were found. The site produced not only the complete skeleton of an infant, but also the remains of at least five adult homininds. Also recovered were more than 69 000 artifacts and the remains of more than 43 mammal species, three of which are now extinct.

After a quick lunch-with-a-view, the Defender Trophy convoy drove out of the Lebombo Mountain Range and across the Jozini Dam wall, before arriving at the lovely Baobab Inn, close to the town of Mkuze. This was the perfect venue for our prizegiving and final dinner.

The Defender Trophy is an event for people with green blood running through their veins. It is a family oriented overlanding trip, and each participant receives a daily questionnaire that covers local history, culture, fauna and flora. The team with the highest score after three days are declared the winners. This time around, the father-and-son team of Chris and Tean Joubert from Roodepoort were the proud winners of a Bundutop electric rooftop tent, sponsored by Bundutec. The second prize, a set of BF Goodrich tyres, went to Steaphan and Belinda MacDonald from Durban. Peter and Monica Wood of Hermanus scooped up a R10 000 gift voucher from Front Runner for their third place.

Participants

• Danie de Kock and his three daughters

• Johan and Melinda Coetzer and their two small kids

• Chris and Tean Joubert (father and son)

• Andre, Emma and Dawid Mouton (with Jesus Saiz, a Mexican visitor)

• Peter and Monica Wood

• Sibusiso Buthelezi, Kgomotso, Bongane and Zonke (four friends)

• Wilhelm and Elize Burmeister and their two small kids

• Antonie and Melinda Swanepoel

• James and Tony Birkholtz (father and son – James flew in from the Caribbean to attend the event!)

• Steaphan and Belinda MacDonald

• DJ and Santie Rautenbach, with passenger Willie Pienaar

• Nick Smart and Tiffany Blignaut (crew)

• Johan and Heidi Fouche (crew)

• Graeme Stonebank and Andrew Jameson (media)

• Marius Roberts (media)

• Johan Kriek (event organiser)

*For more information about the next Defender Trophy event hop on to www.defendertrophy.com

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