EXPERT’S OPINION: Kingsley Holgate (Adventurer and humanitarian)
Cooper tyres have been an integral part of our journeys for many years, which have taken us to every country on the African continent. Over 30 humanitarian and geographic expeditions, many of them world firsts.
Using Cooper tyres, these journeys of discovery have taken us to some of the world’s most inhospitable places, including the Danakil Depression (hottest place on Earth), the Sahara (largest desert in the world), circumnavigation of the globe following the Tropic of Capricorn, traversed the length of Africa’s 5 000km Great Rift Valley, and embarked on a single 449-day journey that outlined the African continent through 33 countries.
In 2015, and with Cooper tyres fitted to the three expedition Land Rovers, we succeeded in locating the geographic centre of the African continent, deep in the vast 200 000Km² rainforests of the Republic of Congo – a discovery verified as a world-first by the International Geographic Union.
However, one geographic goal remained: the most extreme easterly point of Africa.
In 2017, using two new Land Rover Discoverys and our faithful Defender 130 (all fitted with 18” Cooper tyres), we embarked on the Extreme East expedition, one of our most dangerous journeys to date. The objective was to reach the most easterly point of the African continent in war-torn Somalia and, by doing so, become the first exploration team in history to reach all seven of Africa’s extreme geographic ‘poles’.
The exact location is a tiny promontory called Ras Xaafun, which juts out like a whale’s tail into the Indian Ocean, 115 kilometres south of the tip of the Horn of Africa. Surrounded by thousands of kilometres of inhospitable desert and mountainous terrain (and cut off from the rest of the world by conflict) it is one of the most inaccessible places on Earth.
Because of the very volatile situation in Somalia, this expedition was shrouded in secrecy right from the start and the security of our expedition team was paramount – threats of kidnap and ransom by the Al Shabaab terrorist group or Somali bandits were very real. For our own safety, we had to be absolutely sure of our vehicles, and particularly the ability of the tyres to handle the extreme conditions we would be traversing. A puncture or burst tyre really could become a life or death situation.
Protected by a contingent of 25 heavily armed troops in vehicles mounted with light machine guns, we had to travel at high speed to avoid detection across desert and difficult mountainous terrain to reach the remote, rock-strewn Ras Xaafun headland. It involved days of high-speed, nerve-wracking driving, racing past desert villages and swerving around thorn trees and dry gullies that made for ideal ambush points; the billowing clouds of dust so thick that the other vehicles were largely obscured from view.
The return journey was another high-speed drive back through the Somali desert, followed by an adrenaline-filled dash through the disputed stretch of no-man’s land into independent Somaliland, and then a 3-day drive across more desert terrain following camel paths and a seldom-used rocky track through the Galgadon Mountains to reach Djibouti. Despite the punishing conditions of this 12 000km journey, our Cooper tyres helped us achieve another world-first goal without a single fault.
In 2018, and using the same three Land Rovers now fitted with S/T MAXX tyres, we embarked on the 17 000km Cape Town to Kathmandu transcontinental expedition. This included traversing the high-altitude, snow-bound passes of Georgia’s Caucuses on the border with Russia, following ancient Silk Routes through the mountains of Armenia in below-zero temperatures, crossing the vast deserts of Iran, traversing the militarised Baluchistan region along the border with Afghanistan, conquering the famed Khyber Pass and 800km Karakoram Highway (one of the highest paved roads in the world) in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges, and finally, the Himalayas of Nepal before negotiating the crazy, congested roads of India to reach Calcutta. Again, despite the extreme temperatures, high-altitude mountainous terrain, and desert crossings, our Cooper tyres never let us down.
2019 was another world-first for the Kingsley Holgate-Cooper tyre partnership. Following an emergency flood relief expedition to Mozambique to bring aid to victims of Cyclone Idai, a few months later (in partnership with Doctors for Life) we set off on a humanitarian mission to distribute spectacles and reading glasses, and to return the gift of sight to people living in the vast Zambezi River Delta.
Still using the Cooper S/T MAXX tyres, the two well-travelled Disco 5s then set off on their toughest journey ever: east-to-west across Africa from the mouth of the Zambezi to the mouth of the Congo River – a gruelling 10 000km route that included 2500km of continuous 4x4 conditions. The return journey encompassed crossing the vast Plains of Iona and countless boulder-strewn river gullies in southern Angola, the entire length of Namibia and the Kalahari.
Now in 2020, we again used Cooper tyres for the ‘Riding High on Sky’ adventure through Lesotho and South Africa – completing 125 of the highest, toughest and most historic mountain passes in just 30 days, including the infamous Road to Hell pass in the northern Cape. We threw every type of rough 4x4 terrain at the Land Rovers, and the Cooper S/T MAXX tyres held up to torturous conditions – not one puncture on this home-grown expedition.
And even during the Covid-19 lockdown crisis, our expedition vehicles haven’t had time to rest and have been part of a mission called ‘Feeding the Wildlife Community’, delivering over 420 000 nutritional meals to rural homesteads bordering game reserves – where hunger has become widespread due to the Covid-19 lockdown layoffs of breadwinners in urban centres and the complete collapse of tourism-related jobs.
Carrying tonnes of vitamin-enriched porridge packs and hundreds of food parcels, the Land Rovers on their now well-travelled S/T MAXX tyres have journeyed to outlying areas along broken roads to reach deeply remote communities in northern KZN, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
Without hesitation, the Cooper S/T MAXX remains our tyre of choice: tough enough to criss-cross Africa in the footsteps of the great explorers and in all our journeys of discovery to improve and save lives.
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