Note: This article originally appeared here on Traveller24.com.
To say I was annoyed, would be an understatement. My outbound flight was delayed by three hours, which meant I’d miss some of the opening proceedings of Land Rover’s 70th birthday celebration in Shongweni, near Durban. I was mostly frustrated because I’d be missing the speech by Kingsley Holgate, someone I admired deeply. Irritated, I left the check-in desk and turned the corner only to discover that standing right before me, was the man himself.
His towering frame and generous white beard were unmistakable. I realised he too would be late for his speech, and so breathed a little lighter. Introductions were made, and with a little luck, I’d managed to arrange alternative flights for us. We sat down to a hearty Mugg and Bean breakfast, and so began my weekend with Kingsley and his team.
A deep love for Africa and an unrelenting hunger for adventure, are two of the core characteristics of Kingsley Holgate, a man admired by many and affectionately dubbed the most travelled man in Africa. An explorer, author, TV personality, fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and as I would soon discover, so much more. Kingsley is well known for his relationship with Land Rover, having been a proud ambassador for the brand for many years. The relationship is more than just one of convenience – it’s one of deep trust: in some of the harshest conditions, Kingsley and his team’s lives depended on their Landies.
More significantly though, this relationship has led to humanitarian efforts that have improved the lives of so many. I was blown away to discover how his quest for adventure is not a self-serving one, but one powered by philanthropy and a love for the continent’s people. For Kingsley, these endeavours are not just charity, but simply a way of life.
Using Adventure to Save Lives
Kingsley regaled me with the pragmatic beginnings of his humanitarian work: “We started our adventures for the pure joy of adventuring, many of which were world firsts. Very soon we learnt from our own experiences: I’ve had Malaria over 50 times! You get to a village where a child is screaming, and a mother not knowing what to do and it was natural fit… a natural progression. We felt we needed to change our journeys into Africa, all of them to have a purpose, hence we coined the phrase ‘using adventure to improved lives.’”
This mantra aligns closely with Land Rover’s ‘Hope crosses any terrain’ campaign. As a result, the Kingsley Holgate Foundation was formed, which now has various humanitarian arms always linked with expeditions. The stats speak for themselves: over one million people have been impacted over the years through the distribution of life-saving mosquito nets, water purification LifeStraws and Rite to Sight spectacles, and more.
Land Rover’s 70th celebration would comprise two important parts for Kingsley: gathering the Land Rover community, and of course, launching an expedition. Bagpipes proudly announced our arrival at Stonehaven Castle in Shongweni, as the community cheered on with deep admiration and pride for this legendary man. Both Kingsley and his son Ross gave speeches, celebrating the relationship with Land Rover, but more importantly the great philanthropic fruits it had borne. As night fell the raging campfire was accompanied by stories from these intrepid explorers, further fuelled by the generous mugs of Captain Morgan and Coke that flowed freely.
Expeditions of Hope
The following day I joined the start of the expedition, which involved several community outreaches. At one location, I discretely watched Kingsley assess a woman’s eyes. She was unable to properly read the material before her, but once she was given the correct spectacles, her face transformed from shock to joy as she was able to read. I stood aside and wept at this emotional experience – even more overwhelming when I later discovered that she was one of over 147 000 people who had received glasses. At other locations LifeStraws were given to offer communities safe drinking water, and educational toys distributed in aid of early childhood development.
The two days quickly concluded, and I couldn’t help but leave with an encouraged and enlarged heart. Kingsley Holgate is in every way a larger than life character, whose passion for the continent and her people has taken him further than anyone else I’d met, both geographically but also altruistically. Proof that hope can indeed cross any terrain.
Shortly before leaving, Kingsley shared with me a recent campfire experience: “I remember when we did the outline of Africa, 449 days, 33 countries… it was a bit of a race to get back to the Cape of Good Hope in time for Madiba’s birthday. I called the team together, it was raining softly, and I said ‘If we had to do this again, would you rather just concentrate on the geographic challenges and leave the humanitarian elements out?’ They all said the expeditions would lack their soul, a heart – a sense of purpose if we took the softer side of the journeys away. And so that has become second nature in all our journeys. Every single journey we do has a sense of purpose.”