The one constant in our overlanding trips is our self-drive vehicles. They provide transport, offer shelter and enable adventure. It’s small wonder we start thinking of them as our most trusted travelling companions.
There’s no question about it. If you’re an overlander, your vehicle is crucial to the success of your trip. It not only needs to be able to safely cross the terrain on your route. It also has to accommodate occupants, equipment and supplies. So it’s natural to develop a strong bond with the vehicle that takes you places.
Also read: Choosing the right vehicle
In fact, you might even call your trusty people-carrier by a specific name. Or talk to it when the going gets tough. Thought you were the only one to do so? Tracks4Africa reached out to some overlanders to hear the stories behind their vehicles.
Lara the Landy
Lara belongs to Kate and Ben, an adventurous couple based in Johannesburg. A week before lockdown started in 2020, they upgraded their Jimny to this Land Rover Defender 2.4 Puma. “We love the Defender’s power, beauty, go-anywhere-ruggedness, Bluetooth connectivity, sound system and comfort,” says Ben. (Judging by the last three items, it’s clear he has a good sense of humour.) Lara does boast some added extras, though. “We recently had a Front Runner gull wing installed to help with fridge access. Currently we’re saving up for new tyres and a new auxiliary battery. Not that exciting but it has to be done.”
Why Lara? Kate thinks of Lara Croft as a feminist icon. Ben admits he’s thinking of Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. Either way, Lara powers the couple’s monthly weekend breaks. “With work and life it’s not always easy to get away, but the Waterberg is a gem on Gauteng’s doorstep.” They also try to do a big overland trip once a year. Botswana’s Khwai area ranks among their most memorable expeditions. “It’s not all about the animals there. It’s properly wild and beautiful, which is what we love.” Next on their list are Zambia and Gonarezhou.
Also read: Khwai Community Camp vs Moremi North Gate
Like other overlanders, Kate and Ben have been known to talk to their vehicle. “Normally as we are coming up the hill to our house after a long trip. That’s when we tell her well done. Saying anything earlier might jinx it!” Luckily, they haven’t had any serious mechanical setbacks on the road. “We’ve always been able to tap into the Landy community via WhatsApp to find helpful mechanics.”
Follow Lara’s adventures on Instagram: @kateand_ben
Hamba the Hilux
For all of 2021, a 2012 D4D 3.0 DC Toyota Hilux was effectively home to the Fogg family. Katie, Devlin and their two kids spent the year travelling across Southern and East Africa. Their overlanding trip took them to Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Namibia.
Where does #hambathehilux come from? In Zulu, ‘hamba’ means to go. “For us this signified: go on an adventure, go away, go to lekker places … just GO,” they say. And that is exactly what they did.
“Uganda as a country was our best destination while South Luangwa (Zambia) and Amboseli (Kenya) game reserves were our best parks. They beat the Mara and Serengeti hands down!” Other experiences that stand out were Lake Turkana, Tiwi Beach (north of Diani in Kenya) and the Liuwa Plains in Zambia. Namibia’s Kaokoland was also a highlight.
Also read: Discovering fertile Uganda
“Hamba carried us safely to all these places with very, very few incidents or expensive fixes needed along the way. What was so awesome is that no matter where we were, be it some tiny village in Uganda or a game reserve in Zambia, someone could always fix our Toyota!” Fortunately, they didn’t need major repairs on their trip. Although the rear leaf springs on the vehicle broke, these were the originals and probably due for replacement, they feel.
A veteran overlander
Hamba was already a veteran overlander with 130,000km on the clock when the Foggs purchased her. To get the Toyota ready for the trip, 4×4 MegaWorld helped with kitting her out. Modifications included under vehicle protection, Kenda Klever MT tyres and Old Man Emu shocks to cope with rugged road conditions. She also got a T-Max winch, snorkel, offroad rear bumper and RSI SmartCap canopy, among others.
After a year on the road, the Foggs have even more respect for their overlanding vehicle. Hamba’s versatility is just awesome, they say. “You can be doing 120km/h on the highway in perfect comfort and then immediately turn off and be doing 10km/h on radical off-road terrain. The Hilux is happy at either end of the spectrum and everywhere in between.”
When you rely on your vehicle so completely, it’s no surprise if a strong bond develops. The Foggs reckon they talk to Hamba all the time. “When she has conquered a tricky section of road, for example, like getting down the famously rocky Van Zyl’s Pass in northern Namibia. When she was hoisted by a crane onto a ferry on Lake Victoria. When we left her for a few days to go to Pemba Island on a boat. And we often thanked her for keeping us safe over the 38,500km of our trip.”
Follow the Foggs and Hamba on Instagram: @4ina4x4
As the founder of Endless Africa, Joubert Tulleken aka Juba needs a rugged overlanding vehicle. “I travel every month as my business is taking people on guided self-drive overland tours. This year I already have five trips planned to the Kalahari. I’ll also be going to the Richtersveld, West Coast, Mpumalanga, Cederberg, Tankwa Karoo and Southern Cape.” His 2008 Land Rover Defender 110 2.4 Puma CSW is more than up to the challenge. It’s been converted into a camper, with pop-up roof and custom storage system in the back. This includes a gas stove, sink, bench, fridge, solar system and dual battery system. It also has long-range fuel tanks and built-in water tanks.
When Juba got the Landy from its first owners, Hand and Elizme Swart, Mkulu had already been named. “One of the agreements when I bought the vehicle in 2018 was to keep the name and the legacy of Mkulu going. The name means ‘big’,” he explains. (In Chichewa, spoken in Malawi and Zambia, it is the word used for the chief.) And the respect is deserved. Mkulu has been to 34 countries in Africa and has only been used as an overlanding vehicle.
A grand expedition
With his previous owners, Mkulu travelled from Morocco to South Africa via the west coast of Africa. Juba’s own grand expedition followed in 2019. “My wife and I did a trip from Cape Town to Malawi and back over a seven-month period. We covered just over 20,000km through South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The trip is special because it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience visiting mainly wildlife parks.
“As soon as I embark on a trip, I tell Mkulu where we are going and that he needs to bring us home safely. During a trip I also talk to him before taking on an obstacle such as a high dune, river crossing or driving through mud. I tell him I might have to push him, but that it will only be for a short period to get us through the obstacle. I also thank him every time we arrive back home after a trip.”
See what Mkulu gets up to: @jubasjourney
Also read: Adventures with my Landy – the story behind the Tracks4Africa expedition vehicle
Jimnothy and friends
In 2019, Cape Town-based creative duo Amy and Andrew bought a 2016 Suzuki Jimny JB43 (Generation 3). Even before they took receipt of the vehicle, they started referring to it as Jimnothy (said Jim-othy). “It started off as a joke and then it just stuck! We really can’t imagine him being named anything else,” they say.
Since then, Jimnothy has taken them to all the major national parks across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Along the way, they’ve taken to chatting to their ride. “Usually when we’re low on fuel in the middle of nowhere, or when conquering tough obstacles offroad. We like to give him words of encouragement and, of course, praise,” they say. The Jimny has mainly impressed with its offroad capabilities and fuel efficiency, but the looks don’t hurt either.
Jimnothy’s biggest trip came last year, as Amy and Andrew did 7,500km to explore Botswana. “We took a month off, and set off just as the borders opened, Covid test in hand.” Their trip included Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Moremi, Khwai, Nxai Pan and Baines’ Baobabs.
Modified for overlanding
To help the compact 4×4 handle the challenges of overlanding Africa, they carried out several modifications. “We bought the vehicle with the Front Runner roof rack already fitted, so naturally fitted the Front Runner Rooftop Tent with the quick release brackets. Great value for money and super light. African Sky Adventure Company strengthened the rack so it could accommodate two jerry cans, increasing the range to ±800km. We upgraded our suspension with the Des Sol 50mm lift kit and installed 32mm wheel spacers. This helps the Jimny cope following the wide tracks left by all the bakkies that travel the region.”
Other enhancements include a modular, removable fridge box slider and drawer system by John Leyden. This perfectly fits the fridge and battery box they rent from African Sky. There’s also an under roof rack table and a drop-down table fitted to the back door, both from Front Runner. African Sky custom fitted the latter, replacing the gas strut to help the rear door open wider.
All the updates have made Jimnothy a very comfortable home away from home. “We both work full time as freelance creatives so the plan is to eventually work remotely as much as possible and travel more.”
Keep up with Jimnothy on Instagram: @Jimnothy_and_friends
A truck called Wanda
After doing several short trips in hire vehicles, Dave and Nicki knew what they wanted for their own overlanding truck. Their choice? A Toyota Hilux Invincible D7 3ltr diesel 2015, named Wanda. “The name is a play on our desire to wander,” they say. That this couple from England have the wanderlust is undoubtedly true.
After shipping Wanda to Durban in a container at the beginning of 2022, they are now embarking on a trip across the continent. “The dream would have been to drive London to Cape Town. But after weighing up the risks and difficulties of travelling through Egypt (cost of depositing 8x your vehicle value) and the uncertainty in South Sudan, we chose to start in South Africa.”
Having grown up in Kenya and Malawi, Dave has always hankered to return to Africa. Their trip will take them to Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda before heading south again through Tanzania into Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. “We are fortunate in that we have only the visa requirements in each country as our time frame for travel,” they say.
An integral part
The couple bought Wanda as a used vehicle in July 2020 and spent six months in 2021 modifying her for the trip. Among other things, they added a winch, 140L fuel tank, Alu-Cab canopy and Front Runner double roof rack with Tuff Trek roof tent. The canopy has a drawer system and slide for the Snowmaster fridge-freezer. “Our favourite has to be the fridge: big enough to take a week’s worth of food, including cold beers – essential for sundowners. Although the most useful gadget is the handy step for access to the roof rack.”
“When we started out on this adventure, we knew the truck was an integral part. We have had a few mechanical issues and the repairs were not cheap so Wanda has had a stern talking to. But at the end of a long day on the dusty road we definitely thank her for a great trip. As she is heavily laden, she needs encouragement up some of those steeper hills!
After 30 years devoted to their careers, Nicki as a midwife and Dave as a police officer, they are ready for a big adventure. “I am most excited about returning to Malawi and revisiting some of the memories from my time growing up. But, really, it is the whole adventure that is capturing our imagination, from the simplicity of life on the road to the challenges along the way. It is also the experiences we will have and the people we will meet that makes this journey so important to us.”
See where Wanda takes Dave and Nicki: @a.truck.called.wanda
Do you have a name for your vehicle? Let us know in the comments or share your story on Instagram by tagging @tracks4africa.