Tag Archives: 4×4

News: Presenting at Overland Expo 2014

Commandeering a boda boda in Uganda

Commandeering a boda boda in Southwest Uganda

I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be a Presenter at this year’s Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona, 16th-18th May 2014.

As many of you know, I was there last year manning the Charley Boorman stand with my friend Billy Ward. I had a great time meeting lots of fellow overlanders, adventure motorcyclists and 4×4 enthusiasts, and really loved the adventurous spirit and camaraderie that filled the air over those three days at Mormon Lake, about 2 hours’ ride from Phoenix.

This time round, I’ll be doing a one-hour session about my recent three-month African Film Adventure in southwest Uganda, down by the border with the Congo and Rwanda. I’ll be showing some clips and photos from the trip, talking about some of the challenges of travelling and filming in this remote part of Africa, and fielding questions about how to combine overlanding adventures with volunteering. 

I’m a big advocate of doing good while travelling and have done a number of trips now which have combined adventure with “giving something back”, including my big Sahara trek with UNICEF Ambassador Russ Malkin in 2010. This year I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Africa (most recently Ghana) as a Journalist with Comic Relief to film and report on the many charity projects that are being funded by them there.

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

I’m really looking forward to sharing my experiences with the OX14 audience, not to mention hearing about everyone else’s adventures. It will be great to be back at the Expo, which is now one of the biggest overlanding/adventure events of the year. I can’t wait to be back in Arizona – last time, I borrowed a motorbike and toured Route 66 and the Grand Canyon; this time, well, let’s just say I’m going to be having another good look around!

Details about session times and venue for my talk at OX14 are still being firmed up by the organisers, but keep an eye on the Overland Expo website: http://www.overlandexpo.com. Hope to see you there!

Lesotho 4WD Adventure

Jeanie and Nissan Patrol, Sani Pass, Lesotho

Well my latest southern Africa adventure didn’t disappoint. As well as re-visiting some of my favourite places in South Africa, I made a new discovery…Lesotho. The “Kingdom in the Sky” certainly lived up to its name – driving through the rugged mountains there, often above 1,000m, I was frequently up in the clouds, quite literally!

The highlight was, inevitably, the incredible Sani Pass. If any of you 4×4 enthusiasts out there haven’t done it, put it on your bucket list right now, it’s incredible! Approaching Lesotho from South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountain region, I headed up the pass in a trusty old Nissan Patrol, through the tiny border post about a third of the way up, and then right up to the village at Sani Top. The road was one of the most precarious I’ve ever driven – entirely gravel and rocks, numerous hairpin bends and some treacherous washouts requiring very careful manoeuvring so as not to slip over the edge into the ravine below! What rewards you at the top (apart from having survived the ascent!) is an incredible view looking across the mountains – oh and the highest pub in Africa, which does a mean toasted cheese and ham sandwich washed down with cold beer. An amazing driving adventure – but not for the faint-hearted!

As I quickly discovered, Lesotho is home to the wonderful Basotho people, many of whom inhabit remote and basic villages, subsisting on what crops they can grow at such high altitude and the wares they make by hand to sell to tourists (including the distinctive conical hats and heavy blankets which are widely worn by locals in the region).

They’re hardy and friendly people, as I discovered when I got my vehicle stuck on a particularly gnarly stretch of road on the way to the Katse Dam. Having got the car jammed somehow over a boulder in what seemed to be a very remote area, local men old and young appeared out of nowhere from the surrounding mountains to help push my car off the rocks and back onto the road. Considering most of them don’t drive cars – they get around on horses for the most part – their understanding of car mechanics was pretty spot on and having assessed my predicament they set about solving it with ingenuity and determination. Wonderful to see. 

I spent some time in a number of Basotho villages, getting to know the local customs and even learning a little of the native Sotho language too. One of the poorest countries in the world, Lesotho proved to me yet again that it’s often the poorest people in the world who are the most generous – they took me under their wing, lavished me with home-cooked food and handmade gifts, and made me feel so welcome that I didn’t want to leave.

I headed back into South Africa with mixed feelings – it would be great if more tourists visited Lesotho, as it’s truly a unique but very poor country and certainly needs the travellers’ dollars; but it’s a secret gem, still off the beaten track in tourist terms, and part of me wants it to stay hidden so that it its wonderful local charm and beautiful landscapes remain as theyare forever. I for one will return, that’s for sure.

To see my Big Earth piece on how to choose a 4WD vehicle for your overseas adventure, click here: http://www.bigearth.co.uk/experts/motoring/overlandingoverseas.html

Outback Adventure

Crossing the Canning by 4WD

Well they say the Canning Stock Route in Western Australia is one of the toughest 4WD routes you can do – and they’d be right, I reckon! My latest expedition saw me joining a convoy of eight 4x4s heading across four deserts – the Gibson, Little Sandy, Great Sandy, and Tanami – along 2,000kms of some of the remotest terrain in the world.

My trusty co-driver Greg and I were in an old aquamarine Holden Rodeo – a utility vehicle at best and definitely a bit crumbly compared with the flashier Nissan Patrols and Land Rovers that accompanied us. Still, the journey started well enough as we set out from remote Wiluna, about an hour’s flight from Perth, heading northwards into the remote and unforgiving Australian outback. We bumped along gravel roads, crossed mighty salt pans and traversed sand dunes around 10m high in places. The soft dunes gave us the biggest grief, sometimes taking several attempts to cross – hmm, what gear to use, how much acceleration…?

Each night, we bush-camped, pitching our tents or throwing down swags, building a campfire and cooking much-needed hearty dinners overlooked by a dark canopy of twinkling stars. Out here, there are no artificial lights to taint the skies and the view of the heavens is truly extraordinary, as anyone who’s camped in remote desert will tell you.

Our Rodeo took a real battering along the route. Our right hand shockie fell off earlier on but, using some amazing bush mechanics, Greg managed to do emergency repairs using a sawn-off log jammed in the rear suspension and held on with a chain. That lasted 1,500kms till the shockie gave on the other side, and the vehicle was at last deemed too unsafe to continue in. The last 500kms, I hitched a ride in one of the Nissans – luxury indeed compared with the old rattly Rodeo!

Passing through a couple of Aboriginal villages en route, it was impossible to believe that any humans could survive in such remote, dry conditions – but this is their home and they’ve lived here for centuries. As we skimmed the last stretch of corrugated gravel into Hall’s Creek, 2000kms north of our starting-point, I longed to be back out in the desert again, sleeping under the stars, drinking in that incredible, untainted star-filled sky…