Every Man's Land Rover
First experiences always hold firm in the mind and can be recalled later in life with all kinds of triggers, from music to aromas, ‘as if it were yesterday’.
One of my memorable ‘firsts’ was that of the ‘legendary Landy’. Mine, like many others, goes back to my youth, when, along with other boisterous teenage senior Scouts, we put a 1950s-something, short-wheelbase Land Rover to the test in the security of Buckmore Park Scout Camp in England’s once ‘Garden of England’ county, Kent (before North Yorkshire took that title away in 2006). I recently had the privilege of upgrading that fond motoring memory when invited to participate in the launch of the fabulous Land Rover MY14.
In spite of such remarks from a more experienced motoring journalist who it drives like a ‘Victorian wardrobe’, I found it totally replaced my near lifetime memory, sown all those years ago in Kent.
After a few words of welcome and a thorough driver briefing by the ever-efficient Land Rover hosting team, those of us with less experience in such modern devices as sat nav, received a one-on-one introduction to the dashboard and its controls. I later used the guidance system to return from our first destination and found it more useful as confirmation that I had made the correct decision, rather than informing me of the turn ahead. But thereafter, the system seemed to perform effectively.
My first drive from newly revamped Livingstone International Airport was indeed a remarkable experience – on this particular link to Victoria Falls and back to the hotel, I was privileged to drive The Fabulous Evoque. As to the remarkably innovative and unique sat nav system, developed and installed in the very eye-pleasing dashboard layout, I have only one regret – we weren’t able to utilise its full potential, since it covers 22 sub-Saharan nations and over 720 000 kilometres of roads and tracks, which account for 90% of all routes travelled by tourist self-drive journeys. It combines the iGo primo system and SD card software and map updates.
How I would relish the opportunity to punch in a destination such as Malindi, Kenya and then relax into the superplush comfort for a sure-fire safe and direct route on the 5 000 kilometre cruise! The drive through bustling Livingstone was notable for the number of heads which turned to admire the clean, exciting lines of the Landy. Obviously, the general public in Livingstone knows a new brand in bush vehicle when they see one.
The first impression was obviously the sense of supreme comfort of the stitched leather seating and appealing interior. But then, during the driving experience, it was the remarkably seamless gear transition, made possible by the all-new, nine-speed torque converter. This masterpiece of engineering also adjusts to skipping two gear changes, both up and down the train, when the driving-style sensor indicates ‘this driver likes quicker driving’.
My local knowledge of the Falls area, as a result of my birthday celebration there last September, made reaching my destination unaided by sat nav easier. Ending the destination was also made simpler by the huge plume of ‘smoke’ issuing from Mosi-oa-Tunya (Tokaleya Tonga: the Smoke that Thunders), first exposed to Queen Victoria and our forefathers back in 1854.
As a matter of little known fact, the Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world, not by width or height, but by volume of water cascading over its rim in flood. We all met beside this rim of the Falls, literally roaring with millions of tons of foaming water, which I had seen only six months earlier as a completely dry rock pathway out to Livingstone Island. As tempting as it was, I resisted the urge to take a dip in the Devils Pool, popular with many reckless visitors.
The walk down to the Knife Edge Bridge was a refreshing contrast to the extreme heat of the viewpoints above, but resulted in many wet shirts from the immense spray from the Falls a mere 50 metres away. With full use of the sat nav, we separately found our way to our first night stay, the very comfortable and picturesque David Livingstone Hotel and Spa, sited literally on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River.
From this base, we enjoyed a very pleasant sunset cruise in light speedboats, from which we had good sightings of crocodile, hippopotamus and the prolific bird species inhabiting this most beautiful region of Africa. The cruise ended with an exciting high-speed zip back to the hotel dock area. We were treated to an informative technical and commercial discussion on The Land Rover Company and its wide range of products available, both in Africa and globally. Interesting to note is that Land Rover sells three out of every five 4x4s over R500 000.
A long morning drive to the Zambia/Botswana ferry crossing, demanded an early breakfast call. We began our first real ‘road trip’, a 68-kilometre journey starting on good-quality tarred road, then bush tracked to the Kazungula Ferry. This was my first introduction to the cosmetically modified MY14, which to my simple mind, shares the same degree of comfort and handling as the Evoque. The ferry is quite amazing, is seemingly held together by wire and rope and presents a pretty daunting challenge to those of a nervous disposition.
With the influence of Land Rover, we were able to glide to the front of the queue and after a brief delay, boarded the rickety craft. Under the power of two mighty diesel engines strapped to the sides of the vessel, plodded our way across the vast Zambezi. My sympathy went to the unbelievably tolerant truck drivers, parked in an almost endless queue which meant days of waiting until they found a berth on one of the empty pontoons.
The delay at the Botswana border post was expected and it was interesting to note that only a couple of hours from the relative First World society of ‘tourist Livingstone’, we were now witnessing rural Africa – elderly ladies toting huge bundles of sugar cane and other possessions with no mechanical or male assistance.
Eventually, all our passports were returned. The very expensive Yellow Fever certificates, usually demanded by border controls, were completely ignored. Our journey progressed and as the conditions deteriorated, so the fun increased. It was soon evident how effective and beneficial the mud-rut sensors were, making driving through deep water much smoother and controlled. I was particularly impressed by the feeling of complete control of the vehicle on all surfaces from tar, through loose gravel to knee-deep, water-filled ruts.
We detoured for lunch at Ghoha Hills Lodge and apart from the fabulous buffet – typical of all the food on this trip – we were treated to the most amazing vista of the African veld. Travelling on, we encountered more and more water, following record rainfalls in the month prior to our excursion. At one point, our host informed us that a track he had driven along nine days ago was now a river, possibly 1.5 metres deep. Detours were indicated with fallen branches which, though passable, were still pretty wet and muddy. Again, this proved no serious challenge for the Land Rover, which drove as smoothly as my road car down a country lane.
Just by the by, an interesting fact was revealed while checking out the Closing Vehicle Sensing and Reverse Traffic Detection. I observed that the LED daytime lights are seen as a ripple of running lights, apparently due to different frequencies between the cameras and LEDs.
In good time, we made it to our campsite. I parked the vehicle and with some trepidation, followed our host to the place of rest for the night. No need for trepidation, as this was camping at its very best. A huge sleeping area with a very comfortable single bed and en-suite with a shower and flushing loo. This is an excellent example of what is known in Europe as glamping, very far removed from the sloshing around in the mud of my Scouting days at Buckmore Park.
To my delight, the evening was made even more spectacular as a result of meeting and being amused by the inimitable Kingsley Holgate and a dance group that had travelled a considerable distance to entertain us. All catering was of the highest standard and this evening was no exception with its delicious food and good quality wine.
In spite of a hippopotamus trundling through the campsite that night, I personally enjoyed a very comfortable sleep and was ready for the last leg into Maun International Airport. This included a short flight, low over the swamps, where we picked up fresh vehicles for the last few kilometres of our journey. Apart from the brilliant Land Rover drive experience, as well as good food and comfortable accommodation, we were also treated to excellent game viewing, especially in Botswana.
All in all, we experienced a brilliant two days of bush driving with hosting that couldn’t have been better – thank you Land Rover South Africa.
OUT OF OFFICE | CAR REVIEW
by Nigel Sweet
* Prices as at date of publishing