Kitting out the Defender and heading up the east coast

When I began my trip in May 2009, I envisioned traveling from Cape Town to Cairo over roughly one year; to do it primarily solo and via public transport.

Ten months later having made it only one quarter of the way to Cairo while traveling around southern Africa via mostly minibus taxis, hitching and a few stints with a rental car, I have found a comfortable pace. Many of the best experience have been in places less-traveled - in the countryside away from the cities - places that are difficult to get to via public transport.

It was great to be back in Cape Town
and meet up with family and friends
Making it from Cape Town to Cairo via public transport and hitching is certainly doable, but I began to think that if I want to continue to spend time zigzagging around off the main path and complete this trip in a timely fashion it would be best done with my own vehicle. That thought was cemented as I spent a week with fellow overlanders Steve and Roxy in Tofo, Mozambique. They had come down from London via the western coast of Africa in an impressively large overland truck and raved about the benefits and freedom of doing the trip with their own vehicle.

I returned to South Africa to look for a vehicle and after a few weeks of searching I settled on a 1994 Land Rover Defender 110. It came with some overland gear and 308,000km on the odometer. After a few thousand kilometers of driving, a hole in the radiator and a cracked head cylinder it needed some work. I slowly made my way back to Cape Town to get a stock of spare parts and a new head cylinder put on the engine.

Spending time with the locals in a
shebeen outside of Port Elizabeth
With the Defender back at 100% I am now making my way north with three friends. My sister Liz took a three-month leave of absence from her job in New York and came over in early February. Friends Jon and Victoria came over in early March. Together the four of us are going to spend the next couple months making our way up the eastern coast and traveling throughout the interior of South Africa.

Our first stop was the winelands of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl. We experienced some incredible wine and by the time we left Stellenbosch we had accumulated a few additional boxes of it. With the extra load, space inside the Defender became a little tight. Jon and I found some large containers to mount to the roof rack and clothes, books and camping gear were moved upstairs.

Getting a little work done at our mobile
office at the Simonsig Vineyard
We all pack lightly when it comes to clothes but are a rather tech heavy and wired group. Among the four of us there is a handful of macbooks, HD video cameras, D-SLRs and point-and-shoot cameras, GPS units, 3G modems and over 6TB of external hard drives to store all the photos and video.

With the amount of tech gear we were carrying in the car and security issues in some areas some additional modifications to the Defender seemed to be in order. The rear sliding windows of Defenders are not incredibly secure and are held shut by a small plastic latch.
With a dual-battery power inverter and 3G
modems we can connect almost anywhere
Over the past few months I've seen a number of ways people have tried to make Defender rear windows less attractive to uninvited guests including tinting the windows, installing mesh wire security grates or mounting sand ladders over the windows. I spoke to a few shops and was going to have brackets made to lock sand ladders over one side and a rack for jerry cans over the other. The week that I was going to get the work done I came across a Defender with a far more unique solution - remove the rear window and frame entirely and rivet in a diamond plate aluminum cabinet to hold glasses, mixers and a few bottles with a door that folds down to make a mobile cocktail bar. We found the shop that did the work and the following Monday we brought the Defender in at 8am and waited the entire day as they drilled out the rear side windows and installed the custom fabricated aluminum cocktail bar.

With the new in-car bar stocked and a battery powered refrigerator/freezer to make ice for cocktails and a fridge to keep the whites cold the four of us happily began our journey up the east coast.

IMG_9289.jpg IMG_9306.jpg IMG_9326.jpg
Removing the window Installing the cabinet Riveting on the new door

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Wow, you are starting off on what is essentially my life long dream. The Cape To Cairo Overlander. I am so jealous!

I spent almost 2 years between SA, ZIM and Namibia working with endangered wildlife. What are you planning for Sudan?

Hi Robert,

I am having the time of my life running around here. I find that I continue to travel in circles around the southern half of the continent, but am looking forward to heading up north in the near future. I have heard a number of stories of overlanders having difficulty obtaining a Sundanese visa, but have two friends who were recently able to get a two week transit visa in Addis (which can be extended in Khartoum) in one day. As far as the security situation, they didn't find it to be a major obstacle on the route they took. Here is a link to their blog post on their time in Sudan: OverAfrica - Sudan


John, congrats on the trip! How did you secure this web site? I set it up with James Moriarty for a trailer trip that a group was hoping to make. I am happy to see that someone is using the site and that you have successfully completed as much of your trip.

Good luck to you!

Hi Bonnie,
It is good to hear from you. I purchased the domain from James after a few months of discussions via email. I picked up on your Cape Town to Cairo trailer trip by seeing incoming traffic to the site from blogs that talked about the plans for the trip. Yesterday was my 365th day on the road and it has been an incredible year. Although I still have a bit of ground to cover I am thoroughly enjoying the slow pace. Please do let me know if you get a group together for the trailer trip. I would be interested in following the adventure.

Its best to get your Sudanese Visa in Nairobi. It only took 2 days and you did not have to have your Egypt visa to get it. However, as of May 2010 onward, Ethiopian visas are much harder to obtain we had to send our passports to our home country via DHL to get them! Be warned!


Wow John I have been reading through your story about your Journey it is amazing. In a months time I will be packing my entire life and leaving for Dubai. To see that you have done it and are enjoying it enspires me more. I am planning on attending both the Zulu Reed Dance and the Swazi reed dance when I come to SA to visit

There is obviously a lot to learn about this. I think you made some good points in your article.

Its a great article. I really like this info about on Traveling from Cape Town to Cairo over roughly one year; to do it primarily solo and via public transport. I think its a Great fun adventures stuff. I would like to say cary on brother.


Hi John

Your trip sounds awesome. I am looking to do something similar in about 6 months. Can you let me know how easy/difficult it was to find the right vehicle for your journey and what sort of price I should expect to spend on one suitable for the journey.



Hi There,

I just came across your and found it quite appealing. I would request to please provide us email id of your webmaster so that we can work together to promote each other’s websites.



Hi , I see you interessting route that your'e on . We are 4 guys planning to to a solo trip with with Bicycle's from the Karoo in South Africa to Kairo . Would like to know which routes you would suggest and where not go . We only started Planning now.

Please give me some feedback . Anybody out there can also help.

Waiting to hear from you .


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Taking off to some unidentified place in the heart of Africa – somewhere with no electricity, no running water and at least one week’s journey from anything resembling a city has been a long time dream of mine.

My name is John Bradley and in May 2009, I left my job in Chicago, sold my car, moved everything else I owned into my grandma’s basement and flew to Africa. I plan to take roughly one year to overland on a budget from Cape Town to Cairo. I do not have an itinerary; I have no idea where I will be five days from now. My path is guided by the attempt to balance the urge to see and experience as much as I can with the desire to travel slowly and close to the ground.

This is where I will post my stories, photos, and videos as I move along on my journey. Feel free to post comments or send me an email with any thoughts or suggestions.

Current location: Coffee Bay, South Africa

Distance traveled: 42,790 km

Days on the road: 366

(last updated 5/16/10)

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