The monkeys are leaping between the trees and shouting out in alarm, loud enough to alert the whole savanna of a predator nearby. We rush to the window and sure enough, a leopard appears, eyeing us with intrigued as she skulks past.
Living in the bush is genuinely as exciting as most people imagine it to be; wild animals regularly walk through our living quarters, elephants break in and cause chaos (but none more so than a leopard kill in the camp) and lions and hyenas call eerily at night. As nature lovers, immersing ourselves in this environment for the last 15 years collectively has been incredible, especially as safari guides because we get the very best of it, spending hour after hour observing everything wild and wonderful.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of conservationists educating people about Africa’s flora and fauna and working endlessly to keep them safe, illegal poaching, community encroachment, and human-wildlife conflict are leading to the demise of a vast number of animals and reserves. Grant and I, feeling certain that we that we could do more to help, created our expedition ‘Wild Wonderful World’ to put ourselves at the disposal of people and projects in remote places who are in need of hands on the ground to help with the incredible work they do saving Africa’s wilderness.
And so, we find ourselves gearing up for our conservation expedition through Africa, indefinite in time frame; packing up permanently, kitting up personally and more importantly, preparing our trusty Land Rover Defender “Kuhanya” (which means “Survivor”, in Shangaan), to handle anything that the wildest parts of Africa can throw at her. Making Kuhanya not just mechanically compliant but ready to the point where we could live in her, required several “upgrades”. From a living perspective, we added a draw system, a gull wing window & storage box to use as a kitchen pantry, a fridge-freezer, a solar panel as well as a shade awning for more comfortable living. A roof rack and roof tent solved our accommodation problem as well as providing extra storage space for excess fuel and water requirements. Most of the components to this regard we sourced from Front Runner Outfitters.
Mechanically, our Land Rover Defender 110 300Tdi comes with a proven track record with regards to demanding off-road environments, so luckily not a huge amount needed to be done. That said, the combination of all our modifications (despite being lightweight in design), including a calculated weight of extra fuel, water, food, vehicle spares & personal items, increased the overall weight of our vehicle exponentially. In moving our personal items from the bush to home, we discovered that our suspension couldn’t handle even a moderate load, and bottomed out with a thud over every small bump. A serious upgrade was required! The answer? We overhauled both the springs and the shocks, for a heavier duty set up. Ironman 4×4 is known for top quality heavy duty suspension systems. We, therefore, had Ironman 4×4 Foam Cell Pro shocks with heavy springs installed at the back and slightly softer performance springs in the front. The Foam Cell Pro shocks have the widest diameter in the range meaning more oil in the shock, resulting in faster and more effective dissipation of heat – critical for shocks that will be under constant abuse in the heat of the African summer. Our new suspension also lifted the vehicle substantially, easing our worries regarding rock & road debris clearance.
Other changes we made included the lights, which we upgraded with two Ironman 4×4 Comet LED spotlights on the front, and some HID globes in the headlights. We needed to make them bright enough to see the reflection of roadside animals’ eyes far ahead of the vehicle at night. We also added a snorkel to improve air intake for the engine and a bash plate and diff guard for under body protection. Our tyres also needed to be changed. The tyres on most vehicles are designed for on-road comfort and low noise. Whilst practical in a city, such tyres wouldn’t suffice on rocky, muddy and sandy tracks in Africa. We, therefore, fitted the most serious and capable all-terrain tyres available, the Cooper Discoverer ST Maxx. They give us absolute peace of mind that our tyres will be able to handle all that Africa’s roads can throw at them and we chose steel rims to mount them on, as they are stronger than stylish alloy wheels.
Our attention turned next to recovery gear. The major focus of our expedition is finding and volunteering for conservation projects ‘off the beaten track’. What this means, in reality, is that the roads we will travel may be under poor maintenance and the chances of discovery, if you get stuck, are slim. You can kit your vehicle up to the 9’s but it will never be 100% invincible and as guides, having spent so much time off-road, we have learnt that even the best drivers are void of getting stuck. So being able to get ourselves out of trouble is critical. We again turned to Ironman 4×4 for our recovery gear needs. We have packed an Exhaust Jack which is great in soft sand or mud where a Hi-Lift Jack has its weaknesses, as well as a full set of Tow and Snatch Straps as well as a pair of Trax recovery tracks to help get us out of mud and soft sand. A tyre repair kit completes our recovery gear.
All kitted up and ready to go? Well almost. Ahead of our final departure date, which will be on the 13th November 2017, we conducted a “recce trip” to test all our equipment, giving us time to iron out any teething problems. Our practice expedition took us two hours out of Johannesburg to a reserve in the Waterberg, where we test ran not just our camping gear but our off-roading capabilities too. The result, besides being hugely enjoyable, was highly successful, with only minor additions required, such as extra plug points and the odd hosepipe! The car drove phenomenally off road, our new suspension handling the rough terrain and extra weight perfectly.
It is impossible to think of every eventuality while preparing for an expedition like this and only time will tell what we end up needing and not having, or taking and not using. It is also time that will be the true test of what ends up working and what doesn’t! In our opinion, the best thing you can do is give yourself the tools and opportunity to recover and repair failures while out there and then sit back and just see what happens!
Follow our overland expedition and read about our destinations and wildlife conservation work on our blog. We will be sharing regular photographs on our Instagram and Facebook accounts too, and follow us on our video blog for some awesome footage in the deepest, wildest Africa.
The blog is written by Michelle Campbell from Wild Wonderful World.
Ironman 4×4 is excited to support them on their wonderful extraordinary cause throughout Africa.
Fitment of the Ironman 4×4 Suspension was done by Hi Tek 4×4 Adventures in Alberton. The Platinum dealer of Ironman 4×4 in the South of Johannesburg.