On Tuesday 8th May 2012 the team departed from Foton's offices before sunrise: destination, the Maluti Mountains, Lesotho. The day was long, with multiple stops along the way to shoot scenes for the Tunland's launch TV commercial, not to mention crossing the border into Lesotho. An hour outside of Maseru, the team stopped off to meet up with the helicopter. The chopper was to be used to film the expedition’s progress from the air, as well as provide support in case an emergency occurred during the trip. While waiting for the helicopter to arrive, the team used the opportunity to take photos.
In the late afternoon the team arrived at Ramabantha Lodge in the shadow of Bobbejaans Pass. After a long day of driving and anticipation for the days ahead, the team offloaded the vehicles and settled down for a well-deserved dinner.
Bobbejaans Pass is notorious within the 4x4 community, but was less well-known by the Foton team. Had we known how perilous the pass is, the Tunlands would probably not have had the opportunity to prove themselves. But then again, if any were skeptical about the Tunland’s capabilities, they were certainly proved wrong over the next few days.
On the second day of the expedition, the team was up before the sun rose. The day was to be devoted to shooting the TV commercial, and an early start was necessary so that the best morning light could be captured on film. After a few yawns and a quick cup of coffee, our team was ready to go, setting off for the first shot of the day in the cold crisp darkness of the Lesotho highlands.
Throughout the day, the pass echoed with voices calling out "stop", "start", "do that again", and "great shot". Some great footage was taken for the TV commercial as well as some magic pictures for the advertising collateral – brochures, dealer ads and such.
As darkness began to fall after our first full day at Bobbejaans, the team drifted across to the camp fire back at base and assembled for some night shots. It was a long day but well worth the early start. Some great pictures and footage were taken and everyone looked forward to the next day's mission, driving all the vehicles up the pass itself.
On day three, up for another early start, the team was filled with a nervous excitement as the vehicles were prepped and packed with the supplies and cameras we would need for the day's shooting.
Approaching the bottom of the pass, the team encountered an odd pile of rocks. Legend has it that for every vehicle to enter the pass a rock is placed on this pile: in this way a record is kept of all the vehicles who have attempted to traverse this tortuous track.
Having placed our rock on the pile, there were a few minutes for our media partners to take a quick picture and grab an interview with Brett Soso – MD of Foton SA and the expedition’s fearless captain.
As the pass was revealed to our in view as we began driving, many an eye widened and more than few jaws clenched. The comment, "who are we to get up that!" was uttered with ever increasing regularity. If there was a sense that we were out of place, the Tunlands we were driving soon proved us wrong. They would continue to do so, over and over again in the following hours.
The going was more than tough. Every rock that rose up to meet a Tunland tyre had to be tackled with a calculated approach. There were regular stops to get shots for the TV commercial or for our media partners. Our hero vehicle underwent tasks which were far more demanding than that expected of the branded expedition vehicles. Not only was it expected to drive up the pass, but it had to drag heavy trailers, drive through rivers and maneuver back and forth over obstacles to get the right angles for the TV and stills shots.
The first day on the pass saw two punctured tyres – the changing of which required some creative jacking. This slowed us down a bit, but on a route as painstaking as Bobbejaans, these necessary bits of maintenance did nothing to curb the enthusiasm of the team as the summit loomed ever closer.
With the afternoon growing long, one last obstacle stood in the way of a successful expedition: a rock named Goliath.
Goliath's Rock is a huge slab of stone, stretching from one side of the track to the other, and there's no way around it. The rock itself is quite flat, and you would think it's fairly easy to get across. This would be true if not for the half-metre vertical 'step' you have to overcome before getting on top of the rock. After that there’s plenty of traction.
With the mighty Goliath behind us, the final ascent seemed easy despite the absolutely horrendous condition of the track, and by five 'o clock on Thursday the 10th of May, all three expedition vehicles summited. Sadly our hero vehicle, worn out by the previous two days of demanding shooting, had its left front drive shaft stripped and was forced to sit out the final summit.
The success of the expedition was not dampened by this, however, and the vehicle was still able to drive home in 4x2 mode.
At the top, with the sun kissing the horizon filled with the beautiful Malutis, the exhilaration felt by all was palpable. We placed a rock on the considerably smaller pile at the summit – proof that we'd made it – and gathered together for a victory photo, shot from the helicopter hovering above the pass. All in all, it was an experience not to be forgotten anytime soon.
Having completed one of the toughest 4x4 routes in Southern Africa with three vehicles summiting – the first time any 4x4 has achieved this feat without the benefit of locking parts in their differentials – we at Foton have absolute faith in the Tunland. You can be certain that this bakkie is ready to take on whatever South African terrain lies before it.
Foton SA would like to commend all the intrepid members of our team. A special thank you goes out to Dannie Botha from Leisure Wheels, Hannes Visser from L'at Wiel and Hans Strydom for brilliantly driving the expedition Tunlands. We can't wait for what next year's expedition will bring.