Johan Kriek is a lifelong overland fan, a tour guide and the man behind the reborn (and very popular) Defender Trophy. Leisure Wheels spoke to him about overlanding, Africa, the Defender Trophy, and of course, the iconic Land Rover Defender.
It all started, as it so often does, around a campfire. It was here, while lamenting the sad but inevitable end to the production of the iconic Land Rover Defender, that the Defender Trophy was reborn. The man responsible for the original Defender Trophy decided to bring it back. And this was no idle dream. Johan was as good as his word. This popular event is indeed back, and has already enjoyed tremendous success. Leisure Wheels spoke to Johan Kriek about the event, overloading in general, and almost being jumped on by a nervous elephant.
Can you give us a bit of background about yourself, especially in terms of off-roading and overlanding?
Adventure and travel have always been in my blood. Even as a young child, I was obsessed with travel to unknown and far-away places. The off-road bug really bit, however, when I purchased a Suzuki SJ410 in the 1980s. I used it to explore the country and had all sorts of overland adventures in it. Once I had a taste of the off-road life, there was no turning back. It has been a love and a passion ever since.
Tell us about the Defender Trophy? How did its rebirth come about?
Well, I was involved with the original Defender Trophy in the 2000s. With the help from the folks at Land Rover Centurion, the idea was to create a Defender-only overland event. The aim was to create a fun and accessible outing that would be open to any Defender owner, something that the whole family could enjoy. Over the years, however, the event morphed into something quite different. Instead of being relaxing and accessible, it became a tough 4×4 test for man and machine. The focus was very different. The event officially ended in 2014, although I had already left in 2006.
Early last year, I attended a farewell event hosted by Land Rover Centurion in honour of the Defender, which was being discontinued. While chatting around the campfire, someone asked why I didn’t bring back the Defender Trophy. Instead of a brutal off-road test, which the event had become, it could return to its origins as a fun, family-oriented affair.
I loved the idea and started organising the ‘new’ Defender Trophy immediately. The inaugural event took place last year in the Limpopo Province.
So, you drive a Defender, obviously?
Yes, I drive a 1994 300 TDI. It’s basically standard, although it does have quite a few overland extras like a roof rack, bull bar, spotlights, winch, long-range fuel tank and drawer system.
Why do people love the Defender so much?
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the original Series Land Rover, which the Defender was a continuation of, was the vehicle of choice for many early adventurers and explorers. Because of this, it became the quintessential expedition vehicle. Over the years, the Defender also remained very focused. Land Rover didn’t change it too much, it remained a dedicated overland vehicle. Another fantastic feature is the fact that it is so customisable. No two Defenders are the same. Every Defender has its own extras and its own personality.
What’s been your most memorable experience since relaunching the Defender Trophy?
The 2017 event as a whole was incredibly memorable, it was a great success. We had 25 vehicles, which was the maximum we could handle, and everyone enjoyed it thoroughly. It was exactly what I hoped the new Defender Trophy would be.
What’s your favourite spot on the African continent?
For many years, Botswana was probably my favourite overland destination. However, I find the crowds to be a bit overwhelming these days. Many of the finest spots are very busy, which sort of defeats the purpose of travelling overland into Africa. Nowadays, my favourite destination is probably Zambia.
Any scary situations you’ve found yourself in while travelling in Africa?
One night, an elephant bull entered the campsite at Chobe Safari Lodge via the gate. When someone sounded the alarm, the animal panicked and tried to flee. We were camping next to the fence when this happened. The elephant ran in between my tent and our trailer in an attempt to get out of the camp, but ran straight into the electrified fence.
The bull got such a fright that he jumped and skittered on the spot, bumping the trailer backwards in the process. When he eventually fled, he literally stepped over my little ground tent. I was awake, obviously by this stage, and when his shadow fell across my tent, I really thought it was the end. Luckily for me, elephant don’t generally step on unknown objects, and he somehow retained his balance enough to avoid my tent. He struck the little tent a glancing blow, but not hard enough to damage me.
What recovery tools would you recommend to every overlander?
I would say that a good shovel is the most important tool you can have. The second is a base plate for a hi-lift jack. A hi-lift jack is great, and most Defender owners have one, but it’s hard to use in sand or on uneven terrain without a plate. Apart from those two, I’d recommend the usual stuff, like recovery straps, shackles and a winch, especially if you’re travelling on your own.
What item do you never leave home without?
My trusty Victorinox multi-tool.