At the Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River plummets 128m into the gorge below and the spray can sometimes be seen from up to 50km away. Land Rover chose this seventh wonder of the natural world and Botswana’s Chobe National Park to again expose a group of motoring journalists to the capabilities of the Land Rover Discovery 3
Text: Ian Tonkin Photography: Carlie Norval
An immense 1,7km wide and twice the height of the Niagara Falls. Every minute, 500-million litres of Zambezi River throws itself over the crest and into the chasm below.
So imagine the awe of explorer David Livingstone – the first European to see the Mosi o a Tunya, “The Smoke that Rises”, when he came upon the falls in November, 1855. He named it in honour of Queen Victoria, and the name stuck.
While Livingstone might have “discovered” the Victoria Falls, the journos were here to reacquaint themselves with the Land Rover Discovery 3, meet a chrome-bedecked limitededition Discovery, and hear about plans for an entry-level Disco.
Our base was the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, 4km from the falls and overlooking the Zambezi National Park. It boasts a floodlit water-hole, attracting animals such as hyena, buffalo, kudu, impala and elephant. Lying in bed listening to the roar of a lion was a special experience.
Before getting into the Discos, the scribes had a “test drive” with a difference – on the back of an elephant at the sanctuary just outside the town. It cares for elephants orphaned during culling programmes in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
We were introduced to Domiano, the largest of the group – 23 years of age and estimated to weigh 3,5 tons.
This was nothing compared to our next adventure – a trip in an inflatable canoe down the river! We felt quite vulnerable in the skimpy craft, but thankfully our guides knew the river intimately and skirted the hippos’ territory.
The boats took us 6km downstream, where eight Discovery 3s – one petrol V8 and seven TDV6s – were waiting for us on the south bank.
The convoy then set off on a quite demanding game drive in the Zambezi National Park that saw the drivers dodging thorn trees, barely missing a leaping kudu and keeping a keen eye out for ant-bear holes. One particularly tough section was a steep and rocky incline, but by shifting to low range and twisting the Disco 3’s
Terrain Response System dial into “Rock Crawl”, we made it to the top without a sweat. Terrain Response, fitted as standard to all 7- seater models, uses a high-speed electrical network to offer different 4-wheel-drive settings for various road conditions. In “Rock Crawl” mode, for instance, the Disco 3 keeps a steady speed and doesn’t “jump” over rocks like vehicles with power-transferring traction controls tend to do. It does this by reducing the torque and throttle response and locking the centre and rear differentials to deliver power to all four wheels.
Going down the other side was easier. Keeping our TDV6 Discovery 3 in Rock Crawl mode, we pressed the large, yellow “Hill Descent Control” button, which automatically restricts speed downhill by using the anti-lock braking. All that was necessary was steer the car in the right direction and HDC did the rest.
With the sun at the right angle, we couldn’t help but notice that four of the Discoverys were quite a bit shinier than the others. “Yes,” Land Rover’s marketing director, Dawid van der Merwe confirmed, “these are new limitededition models.”
Mechanically and spec-wise the newcomer is identical to the 2.7 TDV6 HSE, but setting it apart is a lot of chrome – on the running bars, the window sills, the centre console and the side mirrors – very bling! Only 100 of them will be brought to South Africa.
Dawid said Land Rover was looking at bringing an entry-level Discovery 3 to the country. If everything goes well, this 5-seater version with the TDV6 diesel engine and 6-speed manual transmission could come in at R420 000 – about R30 000 less that the current entry-level S version.
The route took the convoy to the Victoria Falls railway bridge, where the braver members of the group were able to do the “gorge swing” over the 120m deep ravine.
A bungee strap is attached to two cables spanning the ravine, at about the halfway point. The “victim” is strapped into a harness, and the countdown begins…
“Five, four, three… whahooo”. You free-fall a stomach-churning 70m before the rope tightens, and then swing back and forth a few times before you’re hoisted up again.
Dawid van der Merwe was one of those who did the jump – “to prove that Land Rover really does ‘Go Beyond’,” he said.
Back at the lodge, the group sipped sundowners on the balcony and watched two buffalo and a lonely elephant bull slaking their thirst at the water-hole. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it…
Our next destination was the Chobe Game Lodge in the far north-eastern corner of Botswana’s Chobe National Park, overlooking the vast Caprivi floodplains.
For the game drive in the reserve, we dialled the Discovery 3’s Terrain Response to “Sand” mode. This program allows for a more aggressive response to throttle inputs, while the Dynamic Stability Control, which throttles back the engine when a wheel spins, is switched off.
The drive was not without challenges. At one place the convoy surprised a herd of elephants crossing the road, causing panic. With ears flapping and trumpeting loudly, a young bull charged towards the leading Disco. He stopped short of the vehicle and turned around, much to the relief of the lead driver, who had seven Discos parked behind him and nowhere to go. It goes without saying that this caused quite a bit of consternation among our “herd”, too!
Also on the game-spotting list were a herd of rare roan antelope, and a magnificent sable antelope grazing on the banks of the Chobe River.
Our journey was slowly winding down. The convoy arrived at the Zambia/Botswana border post where the Land Rovers were taken across the Zambezi by ferry. Then it was on to Livingstone, where our plane awaited.
The 4-day trip not only gave motoring writers the opportunity to rediscover Discovery, but also to experience Africa’s natural beauty up close. Our overriding impression was that Land Rover had indeed managed to combine excellent on-road performance with accomplished off-road abilities.
Just imagine what Livingstone could have discovered if he had a Discovery!