The seventh running of the annual Defender Trophy, a Land Rover Centurion-organised event, took place in the scenic mountains of Swaziland from 17-21 February 2010, and proved a tough test for the competitors, and a rigorous proving ground for the legendary Land Rover Defender.
A total of 18 competing teams lined up at the official start at Ekhaya Ranch, some 50 km south of the Swazi capital, Mbabane, with a total vehicle complement of 29 Defenders, including marshals and attending media.
There was an encouraging array of Defender models, ranging from late-1990 3.0 Tdis to a monster 130 V8 conversion (comically called 'Baby'), several of the current-specification Puma-engined models with the sophisticated traction control, and even a Defender 90 SVX 60th Anniversary special edition model.
The event was organised on behalf of Land Rover Centurion by Gerard van Meygaarden and Jessica Snyman from Land Rover Experience Adventures, with the intention of providing a dedicated and challenging off-road adventure competition specifically for Defender owners.
The Defender Trophy originated with the first event in Lesotho in 2004, followed by subsequent stagings on the African Ivory Route through Limpopo and Mpumalanga in 2005, Mozambique in 2006, Kalahari for 2007, Zululand in 2008 and Transkei last year.
After the initial welcome and briefing, the 2010 Defender Trophy got underway with a series of rotational tasks set out around Ekhaya Ranch, encompassing precision off-road driving, tackling muddy tracks, zooming down a foofy slide and carrying spare wheels across the adjacent river and back – all of which were conducted by group teams divided into three vehicles each.
Tired but exhilarated, day one came to a close just as the heavens opened, which didn't bode well for the 6am start the following morning and the treacherous mountains to be climbed.
The Defender Trophy has always played its part in supporting the local communities, and for the Swaziland event, the competitors donated clothes, computers and other essentials to the Heart for Africa foundation, while Land Rover Centurion handed over a cash donation.
The foundation is in the process of setting up an orphanage and a self-sustaining farming infrastructure in the rural area as a means of feeding needy people, and generating income for the community.
This is particularly important considering Swaziland has an estimated 200 000 orphans, which is a massive problem considering the total population size of just over 1-million. Around 50 percent of the locals are said to have HIV/AIDS, resulting in an average age of 18, and a life expectancy of just 29.
Once the formalities were completed, the convoy made its way up the surrounding mountain range, following off-road tracks that, prior to the Defender Trophy recce, hadn't been used for more than a decade.
If the steep, rocky climb wasn't enough to test the mettle of man and machine, the teams had to choose whether to opt for maximum points on a more difficult section of the climb, or forfeit the bonus and go for the easiest route. Penalties were applied for touching the danger tape or the surrounding foliage, wheelspinning or reversing as well as for overall safety – a theme that would be replicated in all of the tasks.
With the altitude reading on the GPS climbing rapidly, the organising team threw a spanner in the works on the next taxing climb. It featured an even more treacherous ascent, in which the first vehicle had to be artificially stranded on the left, and then passed on the right by the two other vehicles in the group, then either pulled or winched out.
Mother Nature decided to get in on the action too, delivering a light yet soaking drizzle that made the rock-strewn and sandy track exceptionally slippery and even more difficult to negotiate.
And it's here where the he benefits of the latest Defender's advanced traction control system shone through, guaranteeing forwarded momentum even with wheels being lifted high off the ground on the most hair-raising aspects of the climb.
A scenic trail drive followed for the remainder of the day, including several river crossings, which required team-work and a hands-on approach in order to get all the vehicles across.
The organisers had set up a demanding road-building exercise for late in the night, that required all the teams to work together in order to rebuild a washed-away mountain track, moving rocks and huge boulders in order to make it passable.
The final vehicle eventually made its way through the teeth-gritting track well after midnight, with everyone physically and mentally exhausted. The last vehicles in the convoy eventually arrived at the overnight camp at 3 am, after a long and arduous 22-hour day.
After some welcome rest, day three was all about scoring maximum points on another set of rotational tasks, adjacent to the campsite located along the banks of the stunning Ngwempisi River. This included a timed driving test in the river sand with the latest Puma-engined Defender, tubing down the rapids, map orienteering and a mechanical task that involved removing and refitting a rear shock absorber on a Defender.
Without doubt, though, the most strenuous test was a timed winching exercise – with an age-old manual winch. Slow and physically punishing to the extreme, it had many of the competitors gasping for breath and absolutely worn out. Accordingly, a more relaxed night next to the beautiful Ngwempisi was well deserved.
The unrelenting pace continued on the final competitive day, with a rigorous regime of driving tests involving tricky river crossings and points-scoring obstacles that had some of the vehicles teetering on the edge at times.
Keeping the teams on their toes right to the end, an important GPS navigation element was thrown into the mix, which required hunting for points along the route, including finding the name of a local school and taking a picture of a remote water fall.
This ultimately led to the finish at the welcoming Foresters Arms Hotel, accompanied by an overwhelming sense of achievement.
The awards function was a lavish affair with a staggering array of prizes for just about everyone – but it was Rob Eriksen-Miller, his son Dylan and co-driver Shane Smart that took the 2010 Defender Trophy title in their 130 diesel. They walked away with the grand prize of a R60 000 Camp Master off-road trailer, sponsored by Massmart.
Virtually no-one emerged empty handed courtesy of the generous sponsors, earning everything from a set of Cooper 4x4 tyres to a Garmin GPS, camping fridge, outdoor braai, generator, two-way radio, tents … and a whole lot more.
Although it had been a tough test for man and machine, the teams set off back to SA the next morning with a huge sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, a few hard-earned battle scars to boot, and even greater faith in the legendary Defender as the toughest 4x4xfar.
Final points and prizes:
1st Place 2679 points Rob & Dylan Eriksen-Miller and Shane Smart
2nd Place 2629 Walter, Gerhard, Gerber Strydom & Stephan Eysell
3rd Place 2598 Nick & Darren Smart & Archie Coetzee
4th Place 2520 Mike-Ericksen-Miller & Brent Snaddon
5th Place 2499 Michael Jnr & Michael Snr Terreblanche
6th Place 2489 Freddy Cronje & William Botes
7th Place 2472 Chris Ash & Miss Du Toit
8th Place 2460 Eben Visser & Josua Oosthuizen
9th Place 2446 Luis Dionisio & JC Preller
10th Place 2399 Anton Van Der Mast & Mauritz Van Der Walt
11th Place 2387 Jean-Luc Conradie & Tony Kriel
12th Place 2372 Warren Vos & Peter Healey
13th Place 2362 Etienne Van Niekerk & Dave Barrow
14th Place 2313 Jan & Liza Killian
15th Place 2232 Hanief Kader & Ismail Noor-Ally
16th Place 2087 Tian & Rina Smith
17th Place 2057 Justus Stals & Johan Swemmer
18th Place 1458 Christopher & Tim Farrell & Kimberley Ross
1st Prize Points 2679
Rob Eriksen-Miller & Team - Defender Trophy Swaziland 2010 Overall Winner Trophy (sponsored by Shades of Ngwenya) + Camp Master Dakar Off-Road Trailer (sponsored by Massmart) + A3 Personalized Hardcopy Landscape Photo-book (sponsored by RRAD Photography)
2nd Prize Points 2629
Walter Strydom & Team – Cooper Off-Road Tyres (sponsored by Dunlop/Cooper Tyres) + Cadac Hamper which includes Handi Chef Skottels, Potjie Pots and Cadac Skottel (sponsored by Cadac SA).
3rd Prize Points 2598
Nick Smart & Team – BF Goodrich Tyres (sponsored by Autowiel Hatfield)
4th Prize Points 2520
Mike Eriksen-Miller & Brent Snaddon - Set of Melvill & Moon Canvas Seat Covers (sponsored by Melvill & Moon)
5th Prize Points 2499
Michael Terreblanche Jnr and Michael Terreblanche Snr - Nuvi Garmin 1410 GPS (sponsored by Avnic Trading)
“Roger Rouessart Team Spirit Award” – Freddie Cronje & William Botes - Roger Rouessart Team Spirit Floating Trophy (sponsored by Roger Rouessart) + Tyre Gift Voucher from Kumho Tyres 75% off on the next purchase of tyres (sponsored by Kumho Tyres) + 40 litre Engel Fridge (sponsored by Lazfin Finance)
“Team Award For Team Hlane” – Michael Jnr & Michael Snr Terreblanche, Walter Strydom, Gerhard Strydom, Gerber Strydom, Stephan Eysell, Nick Smart, Archie Coetzee, Darren Smart - SA 4X4 Subscription Gift Vouchers (sponsored by SA 4X4 Magazine)
“Massmart 4x4 Extreme Challenge” Etienne Van Niekerk & Dave Barrow - Campmaster Fridge/Freezer (sponsored by Massmart)
“Most Improved 4x4 Driver” Hanief Kader - Set Of Branch Deflectors (sponsored by Big Country)
“Most Photographic Vehicle” Jan & Liza Killian – Photo Package for Team Bosvark (sponsored by RRAD Photography)
“Most Impressive 4x4 Ladies Driver” + “Best Team Flag” Rina Smith - Ladies Hand Blown Glass Vase Trophy (sponsored by Shades of Ngwenya) + Cadac Patio Entertainer Outdoor Gas Braai Unit – 3B Stainless Steel Meridian (sponsored by Cadac SA)
“Best 4x4 Couple” Chris Ash & Miss Du Toit – Hot Air Balloon Adventure (sponsored by Hot Air Ballooning SA) + Big Country Metal Light Protective Shields (sponsored by Big Country)
“The Gentlemen’s Award” Anton Van Der Mast & Mauritz Van Der Walt - 900 Watt Honda Generator (sponsored by Solihull 4WD)
“Best Sounding Vehicle – for their V8 Defender 90” Warren Vos & Peter Healey - Lobatse Canvas Dome Tent + Unit Kit Bags (sponsored by Lobatse Canvas)
“Best Food Award” Jean-Luc Conradie & Tony Kriel - Lobatse Canvas Dome Tent + Duffle Bags
“Best Mascot Award” Eben Visser & Joshua Oosthuizen - Big Country Drawer Rack System (sponsored by Big Country)
“Most Called On The Radio” Christopher & Tim Farrell and Kimberley Ross - Dragon 29MHZ Two-Way Radio (sponsored by Christopher Robin)
“Most Impressive Novice Driver” Tian Smith - Big Country Spare Wheel Carrier (sponsored by Big Country)
“The Award For The Most Stuck Vehicle On Defender Trophy 2010” Justus Stals & Johan Swemmer - R500 Land Rover Gear Gift Voucher (sponsored by Land Rover Gear) + ARB Portable Compressor (sponsored by Red Heart Rum)
“First Person To Guess The Correct Starting Point For Defender Trophy Swaziland 2010” Justus Stals - R500 Land Rover Gear Gift Voucher (sponsored by Land Rover Gear)
“Shewee Award” Luis Dionisio & JC Preller - Eezi Awn Awing For A Defender (sponsored by EEZI AWN)
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