Escorted by a team of chanting Zulu dancers, Mike Nixon – one of only four South Africans to have conquered the world’s seven summits – leads his mountain bike team forward, carrying the symbolic Zulu calabash.
The drums beat and the Zulus chant as Miss South Africa gracefully cuts the starter ribbon. The blue lights flash as a police motorcycle unit escorts the 100 strong Land Rover convoy out of Durban – the Boundless Southern Africa Expedition has begun.”
Boundless is a journey across the continent, from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, linking nine countries, seven transfrontier conservation areas, 30 national parks and reserves and the communities adjacent to these areas.
It’s all about nature, culture and community.
Since that first day the expedition has travelled into the Drakensberg foothills of the Giants Castle uKhalamba World Heritage Site, the first of the Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TCAs). There they examined rock art, and discussed the tragic history of the San people.
Later the expedition organised its first soccer tournament, an event that will be repeated at regular intervals on the trip. It’s a rural soccer world cup for conservation, joining communities in the TCAs. They then judged a conservation-themed art competition at the local school, handed over mobile libraries, and provided laptop desks to scholars.
From there it was on to Lesotho, where members of the expedition team took Basotho ponies up Bushmans Neck Pass into Sehlabathebe Transfrontier Area between South Africa and Lesotho, their first crossing of a border within a TCA.
Then it was across Lesotho, up the Matebeng Pass, then south through the Maluti Mountains following the banks of the Senqu River, on to Mokhothlong and then back to the edge of Drakensberg escarpment to rendezvous with the mountain bike team at Sani Top. From there was a symbolic ride down and back up the pass. Sani Top is an important part of the expedition and the vision for the entire escarpment to become a Transfrontier Conservation Area.
A military helicopter had been organised for a flight from the Maloraneng Chalets to a community event near Katse Dam, but when the expedition woke up they were told that the pilots couldn’t even start the engines, it was so cold!
Kingsley describes that morning: “Huddled around the Landies – gloves, beanies, scarves and thermal undies, the team discusses logistics. There’s an entire community waiting for us on the Katse Dam and we can’t let them down. We make the call – it’s a twelve-hour turn-a-round dash in the two faster Land Rover Discoveries. We’ll meet the rest of the team back at the historic Liphofung Caves.
“Twists and turns, iced roads and frozen waterfall stalactites bring us to the almost 60km long Katse Dam. Colourful horsemen and cow whisperers with their cattle draped in bells and plastic bags lead us in to one of the most exciting community days yet – traditional dance, and speeches of thanks.
“Mashozi distributes spectacles to the poor-sighted in a campaign called Rite to Sight. First in line is 84-year-old Edward Qhali who, with a ramrod stiff military bearing, tells us that he’s a WWII veteran of Tobruk and El Alamein.
“Mike Nixon presents two bicycles to the community to patrol up and down the pass to clear fallen rocks, there are lap-desks for the school kids, and boxes full of learning materials donated to the expedition by Shelter Box.”
From there the expedition passed though Swaziland on its way to the next TCA on the agenda: the Tembe Elephant Park. The Tembe Elephant Park is situated in the sand forests of Maputaland on the KwaZulu-Natal boundary with Mozambique.
There, Kingsley and his team were personally welcomed by Inkosi Mabhudu Israel Tembe, monarch of the Tembe tribe, and whose grandfather, Mabhudu, the area was named after.
The Boundless Expedition had organised another community day, and a team of 4×4 MegaWorld adventurers had already arrived to prepare a soccer field, complete with goals, nets, whitewashed lines, whistles, and even Boundless Expedition shirts for the players.
A team from Grindrod Ltd, the Durban-based shipping and logistics company, handed over a 40-foot container library and environmental centre, complete with roof, shelves, air-conditioning, doors and windows, all part of using the Boundless Southern Africa Expedition to link communities to conservation. And there was an art competition too. The theme? – well that’s obvious: the Elephants of Tembe.
“While Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the KwaZulu-Natal conservation service, manages the precious biodiversity of the area, its ancestral custodians, the Tembe tribe introduce you to the real wilderness and the richness of their own culture. That’s what tomorrow is all about,” says Kingsley.