By on January 29, 2016

land rover defender africa expedition kamil kaluski 2

After 67 years, production of the iconic Land Rover Defender ends today. It’s an amazing feat that the Defender has lasted this long. It was a utilitarian vehicle developed at a time when going off-roading meant just going. It helped Europe rebuild after World War II. And it explored Africa, where often the Land Rover was the first automobile ever seen by locals. It continued that way for years, undergoing constant but slow evolution, rather than complete revolution.

Until today.

Rather than boring everyone with interesting quasi-factual trivia about Land Rover’s most iconic model, I’ll bore you with my own personal experiences.

It was the summer of 2000 and I was about to enter my final semester in college. It was going to be a tough one; I needed to complete 21 credits that fall to make up for all the car fixing and skirt chasing I did when I should have been studying. Being that it was likely my final year in school, this would be my last proper summer as a student before entering the exciting world of engineering.

So, I decided to make my summer special.

Through a group of worldly travelers and explorers I’d met though my mother, I managed to book a four-week-long trip to southern Africa. It wasn’t going to be a vacation; it was going to be a safari — an expedition, if you will. No hotels, no restaurants, no lounging on the beach. We, a group of 11 and two tour guides comprised of a husband-and-wife team, would be going into the wild with two vehicles: a Land Rover Defender 110 and a Toyota Land Cruiser 70 series.

africa map

The diesel Defender was a 5-door wagon equipped with a water tank in the rear bumper, a big roof rack, a brush guard, off-road lights and a new set of all-terrain tires. In the back was a fridge and storage for camping and vehicle essentials. Tents and luggage, limited to one bag per person, would be strapped to the roof. Five people would ride in the Landy. Being the youngest and fittest, I was assigned the duty of loading and unloading the roof-mounted accoutrements.

land rover defender africa expedition kamil kaluski 3

The Land Cruiser was a regular cab pickup with something resembling a camper on its back — except said camper housed six seats. Headrests, seat belts and roll-over protection were absent — and no one cared. Its huge roof rack held more luggage. There were no winches, special skid plates, light bars, oversized tires, or any of catalog-ordered off-road junk people love to slap onto their 4x4s. Six people sat in the camper and one in the cab beside the driver/guide.

We started in Cape Town and ventured north to Namibia, which is easily one of the most beautiful places on earth. It was there we stayed at Etosha National Park, a quintessential wildlife reserve teeming with animals living uninterrupted by man. Campgrounds were fenced in. Watering holes were amazing theaters where animals, after patiently waiting until their natural predators disappeared, carefully walked onto the stage for a drink.

land rover defender africa expedition kamil kaluski 5

Throughout the trip, which took us further north and east along the Angolan border, we stopped at numerous parks where we camped on open ground. We were even occasionally visited by hyenas that would attempt to steal our food. Leaving the tent at night was a strict no-no, as many mornings we would awake to animal tracks left by lions, elephants and all kinds of animals that walked within inches of us as we slept soundly.

It’s a funny thing with those animals; they seem to think of cars and tents as rocks. Except for some elephants and ostriches, no animal ever approach the cars. Same with tents, unless they’re left open; animals would just walk on by. I found that amazing.

Okavango Delta is a place you might have seen on Top Gear’s Botswana special. It’s a vast open area of grass and water with random islands of trees in between. It was here that we encountered the African animal most dangerous to humans, the hippopotamus, and saw a pride of lionesses hunt their prey with frightening efficiency as if they were Special Operations Forces taking down laser-painted targets. It was a place where time stopped. It made me wonder and re-evaluate everything about life — and the world in which we live.

land rover defender africa expedition kamil kaluski

We continued east towards the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. There, near the city of Livingstone, are the famous 300-foot high Victoria Falls – which are not tallest or biggest, but certainly the most spectacular. The city itself is an interesting mix of people from all over the world, with crazy young Aussies gathering the most attention. It was there we did something amazing: white-water rafting on the crocodile-infested Zambezi River. While that may seem dangerous, the crocs were only near still water pools, and not the rapids where many of us ended up once we were tossed from the boat.

Our trip concluded in a rather unglamorous way at an airport terminal in Johannesburg, South Africa. Over the course of that trip, our vehicles climbed mountains, drove through fine desert sand, and forded rivers. They were our homes and our ultimate mobile entertainment. Without them — without the first Series I, its grandson that was our mighty Land Rover Defender, and the other vehicles that the Series I inspired — this trip and many like it would have been impossible.

Cheers, old mate.

land rover defender africa expedition kamil kaluski 4

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32 Comments on “Four Weeks in Africa with the Land Rover Defender...”

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Great story Kamil. I would love to achieve a trip like you have done.

    Maybe you will come down to crazy and party country of Australia and become involved in an expeditionary style month or two.

    It’ great when you have 1 000s of kilometres of track to traverse with little or no assistance other than a sat phone or powerful C/B.

    The moments you witness can are incredible.

    I do recall the time I was along the coast and watched a sea eagle, dive, catch and tumble through the air with a plover in it’s talons.

    Here in Australia with the development of the mining industry over the past couple of decades has improved many of the tracks which are now graded dirt roads and tar.

    Australia is slowly losing it’s great overland trails. But I hope new ones will be made, or just make them yourself.

    Thanks again for the good story, and a story that will last your lifetime.

  • avatar

    Sounds like you had a Defender Westfalia. I also wonder if the Defender broke down about 6 times to the LC70’s one-half a time.

  • avatar

    Also I see accoutrement spelled sometimes with “er” rather than “re.” Is one Canadian vs. US? I prefer the re version, as er looks dopey.

  • avatar

    As much as I will miss the mighty Defender I won’t be viewing its demise as a bad thing. Land River are on a roll right now and will shortly be replacing the Discovery and most likely will introduce a mid size Rang Rover. But in 2018 will come the first of a new range of Defenders, which will no doubt include 1 or 2 pickups. By replacing a key model like this they will be sending a clear message to Jeep and Toyota – we want what you’ve got. In other words they will rock up with new metal and take on the Land Cruiser and the Wrangler models directly. But this time they’ll do it with brand spanking new technology. As long as the new Defender can do what the outgoing model can do off-road then I confidently predict Land Rover will sell bucket loads of defenders which they haven’t managed in years.

  • avatar

    I want one of these similar to Jerry Seinfeld’s.
    It’s too bad they stopped producing it, Land Rover literally has nothing interesting left, their American offerings are overpriced junk that can’t leave a road. I’m sure what ever replaces this won’t measure up to be half the vehicle if the rest of the offerings are any clue.

    I would be interested in knowing how they manage to make the Range Rover L405 at almost 82 inches wide (with mirrors?) look like a midsize vehicle.

    …on the other hand if they do manage to build something interesting (cold day for sure) there’s a very high chance of it reaching American shores since the whole point of the redesign is to make it compatible with current regs.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      I hate to be the first to advise you that a Rangie and Disco are probably better off road than pretty much most off roaders you guys have in the US.

      A Grand Cherokee or Wrangler is good, but is not in the same league as the Rover offerings.

      • 0 avatar

        The Grand Cherokee isn’t exactly an off-road vehicle, and there in lies the problem, all of RR products still offered compete solely with the GC in off-road setup – that is to say – they suck for anything more than rutted paths and other well established paths.
        The Wrangler on the other hand is an actual off-road vehicle with the capability of being modified very easily.

        Can you even get a Range Rover with off-road tires? The local dealer seems to only stock the low profile street tires? The Wrangler is available from factory with Mud tires, mechanical lockers, and of course decent UCP.

        Unfortunately the likely hood of going 15,000 miles without a CEL or pther failure in a modern LR is low. At least the jeep will still get you home.

        Maybe your discovery is our LR4, because our discovery is a joke, the LR4 at least has an option for a two speed transfer case and rear locker. The RR is just a mess, with more electronic controls than the first space shuttle, there’s no room for any modifications.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          A tx case an option on a Disco???

          Do the car yards rip them out and sell them on the black market?

          • 0 avatar

            I don’t see an option for a 2 speed transfer case on the US LR site for the disco, it looks about as crossover as a Honda CRV, I’m sure it has AWD and probably some trick work with the brakes, but I doubt it’s a RWD based setup.

            Just go to the American LR site, type .usa

          • 0 avatar

            Yes I just double checked your Discovery is our LR4.

            To get a two-speed transfer case you have to select the laughably worded “Heavy Duty” option, if I’m to understand the options catalog correctly. Apparently having what every light duty 4WD truck in America has makes it heavy duty.

            Our discovery is your discovery sport.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            Almost, we only have the heavy duty option if that is the case.

            The same applies for most any vehicle we receive, especially EU/British vehicles.

            What we receive in standard trim is options for you guys in many cases.

            The US tends to have a more limited range within, say, BMW. We seem to have many more variants of models and number of models.

            The same applies for your pickups, you can buy a 4×4, for example, to have a 4×4 with all the traction aids, etc you must option up your vehicle. Our base model pickups tend to come with most of what a mid to high level 4×4 pickup comes with.

            The Disco is as much a CUV as a Corolla.

          • 0 avatar

            Really there isn’t any difference between a $22,000 4×4 V8 pickup and a $52,000 4×4 pickup as far as capability is concerned. Just order the auto-locking/LS rear axle and as close to a 4:00 ratio as possible and they’re both just as capable of one another. Computer controlled traction aids only help the unskilled driver when your going < 25MPH. And honestly all of those aids are included in the base price, you don’t have to pay extra for those options.

            Yes I will agree your Disco and our LR4 is a bit more than a common CUV. The rest of the LR crowd doesn’t stand behind that same deal however.

          • 0 avatar

            “$22,000 4×4 V8 pickup”

            But how much on top of that does the use of a time machine cost to find a new one at 22K?

          • 0 avatar

            Truck incentives change so dang much ya can’t keep up.

            Here’s a 4×4 V8 for <$25,000

            Have to wait til truckuary for more discounts for the $22k I suppose.

            The Chevrolet version at $25.8k has an honest to goodness floor shifter, didn’t know those were still available.

            Of course Ford is the most expensive at $26.4K.

            I don’t know if this one is damaged or what but here’s. 4 door V8 4×4 Ram for $21.7k

          • 0 avatar

            Now that’s a truck.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            Really, you writings are the same no matter what tag you use.

            More common?

            There is no such a thing as a HD Land Rover Discovery.

            The CUV to true 4×4 comparison you make is so DenverMike I rolling around with laughter.

            This imaginary new V8 4×4 for twenty grand another bullsh!t burst.

            When are you ever going to stop?????

          • 0 avatar

            I don’t know who the heck your talking to, but I’m just posting what I found on the LR site, take your beef up with them, not whoever you believe your talking to.

            And I was off by the price of a V8 4×4 by $2,500 probably won’t break the budget, the incentives can put these at $22k depending on the time of year.

          • 0 avatar

            BAFO, I questioned the 22K 4X4 V-8 and Hummer convincingly backed-up his claim. If he’s off it’s not by much and only seasonally.

            (I hope nobody is watching me talk to this brick wall)

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            I really don’t give a fnck.

            Read his comment.

            It’s factual ………. not.

            They guy is a real drip, by the comment you have submitted to me, much in your mold.

  • avatar

    During all the time I spent in Africa, I always wanted a Land Rover Defender. They always had certain look and aura about them that the more capable Land Cruisers lacked. That, and theoretically, they were slightly better in the most extreme conditions, such as theoretically climbs up muddy and rocky riverbanks.

    Never could justify the it when the 70 series Land Cruiser was the other option. In more or less every way that mattered, starting with reliability, the Toyota always came out ahead in the practicality department.

    I still want a crew cab Defender 110. The first thing I’d do is fit it with a roll cage. Defender roofs had all the structural integrity of a soda can that someone had cut holes into to use as a bong.

  • avatar

    You say no winch on the LC70 but I see the cable guide for one on the bumper clear as day.

  • avatar

    This brings back memories – I lived in South Africa for five years and have been to most of these places. Although most of our trips were in BMW 3 & 5 series and towards the end of our stay with Land Rovers (after BMW bought them).

    There is nothing like getting stranded in the middle of Etosha National Park because the rented camping trailer blows a tire and there are no tools included to replace the tire (no, the BMW set did not fit, different lug nut sizes)…

    Or driving through Kruger National Park (three 3 series sedans at the time) and having as Elephant bull step out onto the gravel road right in front of the lead car. Nothing like three cars trying to back up on a gravel road while an Elephant bull is charging you.

    I should write up some of this stuff at some point.

  • avatar

    Now that’s a truck.

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