AO Expedition team and partners at the send off from Lesedei Cultural Village
AO Expedition team and partners at the send off from Lesedei Cultural Village

By Angus Mackintosh

I had the good fortune to attend the send-off for Kingsley Holgate Foundation’s Afrika Odyssey Expedition on the 21st of June, held at the Lesedi Cultural Village in Lanseria. Hosted by Kingsley Holgate and his expedition team, I couldn’t help but feel envious of this arduous and fascinating journey about to be undertaken.

Kingsley Holgate is a big guy, with an even bigger beard and an imposing presence.  What struck me the most was his absolute passion for the African continent, its conservation, environs and communities. At 77 years old, he is still full of drive and adventure, and as a bonus, he gave us a taste of his legendary storytelling.

The expedition – the 41st Kingsley Holgate geographic and humanitarian expedition – is a legacy journey-of-purpose with a theme of conservation, culture and community.  Estimated to take 18 months, the expedition will travel through 12 diverse African countries and aims to showcase the revival of 22 national parks under the management of African Parks, a non-profit NGO committed to conservation management in Africa.

Starting in the ancient Namib desert of Iona National Park in the south-west corner of Angola, the journey will encompass Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique, Rwanda, DRC, the Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, South Sudan and Chad in north Africa, and conclude in Benin, West Africa.  

Carrying a Scroll of Peace and Goodwill for Conservation to all 22 parks in 12 countries, the team will collect messages of support from traditional leaders, local community beneficiaries, park rangers, conservation partners, government envoys, VIPs and other supporters met all along the way. 

Land Rover have provided two new long-wheelbase Defender 130s for the expedition. This will be the first real-life test on African soil for this model and they will be tackling an estimated 30 000 kilometres over some of the harshest terrain and off-road routes on the continent.

Ross Holgate, Kingsley’s son and expedition leader, said, “This expedition is going to be one of our most challenging journeys ever attempted. It’s not just the long distances we’ll be travelling on dirt roads, goat tracks and probably no tracks to reach all of the Parks that are, understandably, in very isolated regions and in difficult-to-reach terrain. We’ll also be tackling dense Congo forests, heart-in-mouth, seat-of-your-pants river crossings, vast desert and rocky mountain terrain where water and fuel will be hard to come by, and wetlands that are near-impassable, especially in rainy seasons. The logistical issues of this expedition are extreme, to say the least.”

A truly demanding, honourable and worthwhile rite of passage for the new Landys. Being 13 inches longer, they have more roof-rack space to store more than a hundred additional mosquito nets for distribution in high-risk malaria areas. Other humanitarian activities include eye tests and reading glasses for poor-sighted, mostly elderly people; and conservation-focussed education for school children to instil a passion for protecting Africa’s iconic wildlife.

After a festival of Zulu dancing and entertainment, a feast for the farewell was enjoyed by all.  The expedition set off at about 2:30 in the afternoon, led by the dancers and praise-singers, from the parking area to the gate onto the R512. The 300-metre journey took about 30 minutes and my only wish was that the pace for the other 30 000 k’s is going to be quicker…