A Shopping Spree Like No Other

Now that the restoration stage is pretty much complete we have to get serious about adding the things that will make our Defender usable for overland travel.   This involves planning for and procuring a whole range of systems (see separate Feb. 2012 post “Planning the Outfitting Stage”)    Unfortunately, there is really nothing at all one can get in Ghana for this, nor do any of our internet suppliers include much expedition gear in their offerings.   We decided that the best way to deal with this is to go ourselves to South Africa to buy stuff   Our trip to South Africa  included the My Land Rover has a Soul Festival (see separate post “Woodstock for Landy Lovers”) and a side trip to  Victoria Falls, as well as a few days exploring the amazing Blyde River Canyon in northeastern South Africa.  But the real purpose was shopping.

South Africa is arguably  the best source for expedition outfitting gear in the world.  There are many manufacturers and many more distributors.   We had seen some of this during our first visit to South Africa in 2010 (see Jan. 2011 post on Testing the Idea in South Africa) and were able to make a list of things we might want to pick up on a return visit.  We made that return visit in late February equipped with a list of about twenty items we needed and another list of a half dozen stores/suppliers to look at.  The latter ranged from big box  camping stores like Outdoor Warehouse to excellent 4×4 outfitting specialist stores like Front Runner 4×4 or Safari Centre, as well as suppliers of specialized items like solar power systems or awning canvas suppliers.  All the photos in this post are stock photos from the suppliers, our own stuff is still on a boat somewhere en route to Ghana.

Rooftop Tent:    Our experience renting an outfitted Defender introduced us to the concept of a hard floor canvas tent that bolts to a rooftop carrier. (see Jan. 4, 2011 post, Testing the Idea)  The roof rack that came with our Defender will accommodate this very nicely. There are a few tent products available from different places, ranging from South Africa, Italy, Australia, etc.  This is the largest, (heaviest) and most costly piece we need so we invested a fair bit of time looking at the available options.     After doing lots of research we  settled on the Eezi-Awn Jazz tent, a first-class quality and tested product of South Africa.  Weighing in at 55 kilos there is nothing like this really.  Erects quickly and easily via a ladder that comes out from underneath  the floor and fills our need quite nicely.  This is what we had for our earlier test run in South Africa trip and we loved it. Now we own one.

Storage Drawer System.  As we learned from our earlier rental, the design of the Defender cargo bay supports the installation of a flat floor between the wheel wells in the cargo bay which creates a 1′ high x2′  wide x 4 ‘ deep space and lends itself well to installing drawers that then open out the back when the cargo bay door is open.  Frontrunner 4×4  www.frontrunner.co.za  in Johannesburg produces a great drawer system using simple and affordable  “ammo” boxes.

In the Defender we rented from Bushlore it was this system that they used to carry all the kitchen gear and some other miscellaneous pieces.  We liked it so much we went back to Frontrunner and bought one.  There are other makers of 4×4 drawers but we did not see anything that was as cost-effective.  I was very surprised to see a review of drawer systems carried in the Winter 2012 issue of Overland Magazine did not even seem to acknowledge the existence of this South African product.  This is likely because of the American base of that magazine, but I think they missed the best product.

 Propane and Water Storage.    One  can buy jerry cans in Ghana but they are very expensive and they do not come with harnesses to mount them.  We looked at various floor and wheel well fuel and water storage systems that Frontrunner or others make for Defender but decided these were more that we needed or could organize for and opted instead to pick up stock water and propane tank  carriers designed to fit on the side and rear exterior walls of a Land Rover Defender.

Propane Tank Rack from Front Runner

Solar Power System:   After some on-line research we decided that back up power to help ease the draw on the vehicle battery when parked is a worthwhile investment.   Like so much to do with overlanding there is enough demand for this in South Africa to support a couple of specialist suppliers.  The one we visited was Bushpower http://www.bushpower.co.za  run out of the garage of a suburban house in Kyalami on the northern reaches of Johannesburg, only about two kilometres from the Frontrunner store and factory.   The panels and related wires and switches are all imported, mostly from Europe.  We purchased an 85 watt panel with mounting and cables, together with a dual battery monitoring system.

Lights:   The front headlights on our Defender are not the brightest I have seen and our comfort driving at night will be greatly facilitated by additional lights.  It is quite common for  4x4s  to be equipped with an extra set on the bumper or roof rack.  I had been looking at 70 watt  Lightforce from Australia but the only place I saw them they were very expensive relative to other quality options.  We opted for a product called KC, which I believe is an American company based in Arizona.   These were recommended by the Safari Centre store in Centurion which carries a range of very high quality 4×4 products. 

Because it gets dark at 6:00 PM here we also need to have an area light for meal prep and eating at night.    We happened to notice one type in particular on the backs of three Land Rovers in parking lots our first couple of days in Jo’burg and when we saw exactly the same light in Frontrunner we figured it must be good so we picked it up.

Canvas for Awning:   There are a number of roll-up awnings available in the market, including a range manufactured by Eezi-Awn tent producer.   There is value in having something to provide protection from the sun and rain, but the  manufactured awnings all seem expensive and require quite a bulky, heavy case that mounts permanently to the side of the vehicle.   I came up with our own awning design (see separate Awning Made to Measure post for details) for which we needed some material.   We thought of this when we saw a store that sells awnings for windows and decks and went in to have a look. As it turned out they did not sell material itself, but the helpful woman in the store referred us to a place called Home Hyper City near Pretoria, where she said we should see Uncle Joe.   The store was the largest fabric store we have ever seen two floors the size of a football field, really incredible. We found Uncle Joe and explained what we were looking for to which he replied “oh, for your baakie?”  A baakie is the term South Africans use to refer to what North-Americans know as pick-up trucks,  but the term can also be used to refer to any 4×4.  He led us to a row where they had a range of weights and colours of canvas and we picked up a couple of metres of canvas in two colours that will look good together and complement our own “baakie” quite  nicely.

Miscellaneous:  We bought a few things that were not on our list to supplement the miscellaneous items we had purchase in December 2010.    A funnel, speaker wire, fastening straps, an ammo box for the roof with a water proof cover to hold sundry items like souvenirs purchased along the way, silicone spray for the awning, etc.  When the shipment finally arrives in Accra we will no doubt be pleasantly surprised by things we have forgotten we purchased.  It will be like Christmas, hopefully it won’t take that long to get the stuff!

By the time we were done we were glad we had bought the fridge and other outfitting gear the first time we came to South Africa from Ghana because after 3 days of nothing but shopping we had run out of time and had to go back to Ghana.  The purchase of  all these items came in the last few intense days of our time in Johannesburg, after our trip to Victoria Falls and the Blyde River Canyon.  The most difficult part was arranging shipping.  We had started the process weeks before we left Ghana through a company that brings things in to Ghana from South Africa and this led to a recommendation to rent partial space in a container to be sent by sea as an inexpensive option.  It was indeed a very affordable option, unfortunately the Jo-burg forwarder we had been referred to turned out to be non-responsive and we had to go back to the original contact to try to get their attention and this led to referral to another forwarder. They turned out to be much more responsive, but it all took awhile to arrange and it not until our last couple of days in Jo-burg we had settled with them.  We had to impose upon the Safari Centre 4×4 store in Centurion (between Johannesburg and Pretoria) where we bought the tent, second battery, lights and other accessories to hold all our things, not just what we bought there, but everything from all the suppliers, until the forwarder could come by to get it.  They agreed to do so, and we delivered all our other sundry items to them the day before we left,on the understanding that the forwarder (Synergy) would retrieve it in the next couple of days.  It actually took Synergy more than two weeks to get around to picking the stuff up, which also meant they missed the sailing of the boat they had initially said we could use.  Thanks very much to the Centurion Safari Centre for helping us out in a jam.

Now we are waiting to get our things to Ghana.

A Woodstock for Landy Lovers

Who ever heard of such a thing as a Land Rover Festival?  But there it was, featured on the sheet on the counters or walls of the various overland outfitting shops we visited in the first couple of days in our recent trip to Johannesburg in South Africa.  Apparently, part of the idea of the festival was to try to break the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of Land Rovers in a single convoy.   An added incentive for us to attend there were a large number of suppliers offering on-site sales, including a “boot sale” which is the British/South African/I’m not sure where else equivalent of a flea market.

As shopping for items for the outfitting stage of our own Land Rover  project was the main reason for our trip to South Africa, the opportunity to hang out with other Land Rover owners in what is arguably the world centre for Land Rover overlanding is not something easily passed up.   Despite the attraction, the fact the so-called festival was taking place during the time we had booked for a 3 day trip to Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe, one of Africa’s premiere destinations presented  no small dilemma.  Victoria Falls is a place that I have wanted to get to for a long time and we had decided to priorize our time for Vic Falls in what may be our last trip to South Africa before our Ghana posting ends this summer.   The solution we chose to resolve the dilemma was to split the difference.  Delay the trip to Victoria Falls by one day to  catch the first day of the two day Landy festival (missing the Guinness record shot convoy)  but still be able to spend two nights at beautiful Victoria Falls.

Our shot of Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwean side

The timing actually worked out very well.  Laura decided to hold to the original schedule and go to Victoria Falls on Saturday morning and I was able to reschedule my flight by one day and take Laura to the airport in Jo’burg in our rented Volvo at 8:00 AM on my way out to Vaal, the rural district south of Jo-burg where the festival was scheduled to take place.  It is worth mentioning the Volvo because it was, without any doubt, the only one present at the Land Rover Festival.

As usual, getting there was half the fun.  I had obtained directions on-line how to get to the Malojeni Guest Farm, which was  the site of the festival, from the Oliver Tambo Airport in Jo’burg.  Unfortunately I learned too late that for some reason my Blackberry could not download the full directions file so I had instructions about two thirds of the way.   I ended up in the middle of a very pleasant Vaal town called Meyerton.  After unsuccessfully trying to get directions from a service station I was able to close the distance simply by following a Land Rover I saw driving by.   It was while en route at this point that the Woodstock analogy first occurred to me.  The line “going down to Yasgur’s farm” from the CSN song popped into my head at a small country junction where three Landys coming from three different directions converged and all headed up the same road.  Clearly, I was headed in the right direction.

Registration Line at 11:00 AM on Saturday

The South African love of Land Rovers is such a phenomenon because of a couple of factors.  The South African Armed Forces was/is a big user of Landy’s, and thus a source of slightly used “surplus” product for the population at large over a number of years.  Another factor in all of this is the South Africans’, specifically the Afrikaaners’, love of overlanding. This is one of the features of Afrikaan’s culture that we have really come to appreciate through our visits here and the knowledge of history that comes with that.  One of the defining moments of the Afrikaaner’s history was the “voortrek”, the overland journey taken by the Dutch settlers in the 1840’s to get away from the Brits that were encroaching in the more accessible areas around Cape Town where the Dutch had first settled a couple of generations earlier.   The Afrikaaners are a fiercely independent people and extremely proud of their heritage.   The “voortrek” became an fundamental part of Afrikaaner history and culture and by carrying through on their love of adventure and exploration of remote areas the Afrikaaners played a huge role in defining the African overland experience through pioneering trips into the some of the more remote areas of southern Africa, including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and points beyond.  The vehicle of choice for most of this overlanding has been the Land Rover Defender. It is really an incredible cultural phenomenon, one that has led to the proliferation of a huge number of overland outfitters and suppliers in the country, not limited to Land Rovers of course but certainly favouring them.

This title of the festival was “My Land Rover Has a Soul”,  (MYLRHAS’ is the acronym).  This illustrates the passion that South African Land Rover owners  have for their vehicles and that passion was very evident at the festival.  There were hundreds and hundreds of vehicles there on Saturday,  every model ever made well represented, Series, Defenders, Discoveries and big 130s, all boasting their own particular style and personality.   Some were very stock, others very customized and colourful.  But it is not really so much the vehicle, the Land Rover has just perchance become a modern day  expression of the Afrikaaner`s love of overland travel.  Afrikaans was the first language at the MYLRHAS festival, and the festival was really less about the specifics of Land Rover mechanical or body design than it was about overland equipment outfitting: tents, awnings, cooking equipment, storage, water systems etc. all things which the very functional Land Rover design is conducive to.  There was even an expedition wine carrier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other elements of South African/Afrikaans culture were well represented  at the festival.   Virtually all the food came off from the “braai”, the ubiquitous SA barbecue.   Indeed the air was so thick with charcoal smoke, whether from a couple of communal braais or the many individual ones at the various campsites,  that it was sometimes difficult to breath.  South Africans are crazy about braais, for boerwurst sausage, or burgers or steak.  They are also crazy about beer.  Canadians also love their beer, but here virtually everyone was walking about visiting the shops and displays at 11:00 o’clock in the morning  with a beer in their hand.   This is not a culture I have any difficulty adapting to.

South Africans love their Beer and Braai

                                        

M&M’s product line includes leather “expedition wine cases” for your Pinotage 

 

There were hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people, plenty of families with kids.  In addition to the food and expositions there were helicopter rides, and an air show.   No  flying Land Rovers, rather some old, loud, single engine  planes that were unspectacular but steady, like Land Rovers would be if they had wings.   I sat down with my boerwoerst and beer lunch to listen to the live singer/guitarist musician whose repertoire included Van Morrison, Simon and Garfunkel, Sting, and, incredibly, Led Zeppelin.  All good music for the white, baby-boomer audience in attendance,  But after he was done with the boomer stuff the musician switched to Afrikaaner folk songs and the response was enthusiastic, to to say the least.  I was treated to a real Afrikann`s culture moment, complete with beer and braai and songs about independence and overland travel.    If there were any blacks there I did not see them, this seems to be  exclusively a white South African, Afrikaans cultural phenomenon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the cultural experience, I was able to benefit from the collection of overland outfitters and suppliers.   In addition to a better knowledge of the market I came away with a floor-mounting safe for our vehicle, as well as a lovely Land Rover cap that I have always wanted but never came across.

I did miss the Guiness Record shot.  The convoy apparently had 1007 Land Rovers of various vintages and models, ranging from Series from the 50s and 60s to just-off-the-line Discovery 5s and the new euro-styled Range Rover Evoque.  The line stretched for 24 kilometres between first and last Landy.  Apparently they are waiting to hear from Guiness if they have the record, but I can’t imagine anyone every getting more than 1,000 Land Rovers in a convoy before.   There are some videos on youtube…….

I would have loved to have been able to stick around to overnight and to participate in the Sunday convoy, but my rented Volvo would hardly have fit in, so heading back to Jo`burg to catch the Sunday morning flight to Victoria Falls was easy to do.

The Smoke that Thunders

Testing the Idea in South Africa

 

Morning at Natal-Drakensberg Park en route to the pass

 

I am not particularly knowledgeable about Land Rovers (there is an understatement!)so before going too far Laura and I thought it might be a good idea  to try to gain some exposure by going to South Africa and trying it out. We rented a 2005 Defender from Bushlore, an expedition outfitting company, and took it from Johannesburg in the north-east part of the country and down through Lesotho and back.   It was slow, noisy, and wonderfully functional.   We had a tent on the roof, propane tanks installed on the rear,  a good fridge and lots of kitchen gear stowed in a drawer system inside.

 

 

 

We were most impressed by its road worthiness.  In this big, heavily  laden vehicle with a relatively small 2.5 Litre diesel engine we climbed the 3,000 metre Sani pass up into the Drakensberg range between South Africa and  Lesotho, which is also known as the  “mountain kingdom”, on a road that is not really a road at all, rather a very rough steep, track, full of quite tight hairpin turns.  As we ascended this valley bounded on both sides by cliffs we honestly could not figure out where the road was going to go to get us out of the steeply walled valley, until we realized we were just going to go over the top.

 

 

 

 

The  road just gets steeper and kind of transforms into a scree slope with tracks until you emerge out the top.  Voici lepass.  Driving our Defender 110 up that mountain was a delight, it simply clambered up the 40 degree slope, made all the tight, switchback turns and kept going, past other vehicles that had stopped dead in their tracks and were being pulled, by other Land Rovers.  In 4WD low it felt as if we could climb straight up.  Unfortunately we did not think to take pictures of the road when it really got tough.

 

 

 

 

At the Summit at the Lesotho border, we really needed those jackets

 

 

When we reached the summit there were only about six other vehicles, all Land Rovers,  (I am not joking – there are a lot of Land Rovers in South Africa) parked at the Sani Pass Inn, which bills itself as the highest bar in Africa.

 

 

 

Road Coming Down into Lesotho From the Sani Pass - as steep and winding as on the SA side, but at least its paved

 

After a well-lubricated pub lunch and a great conversation with the fascinating owner we drove another 100 km to an alpine town and flipped upon our roof-top tent under the stars. We were really enjoying the Land Rover experience.

Mokhotlong Rose Garden Campsite in the Mountains of Lesotho