Searching for the Spirit of the Great Heart

Words: Daryn Hillhouse | Photos: Courtesy of Mountainshak Adventures

Inspiring People

Even though I’ve lived, worked and soldiered overseas, my heart has always been here in southern Africa. I’m most at peace when I’m sitting next to a campfire outside my tent, thinking about the incredible sights I’ve seen that day and the amazing people I’ve met along my journey. I’ve wanted to share these simple yet beautiful pleasures with people along the way, and a great deal of time has been spent thinking about how to get people with adventurous spirits out of their comfort zones and into their cars to enjoy all the amazing things that southern Africa has to offer.


Searching for the Spirit of the Great Heart


That’s why the Put Foot Rally was started two years ago, and why I’ve taken it one huge step (or is that a whole journey?) further this year, with the launch of the first-ever Mzanzi Trophy. The challenge is a rugged, rough-around-the-edges social adventure that will see 30 teams of up to five people travelling 8,000 km through six countries in 20 days in August. It’s an expedition for off-road and 4x4 enthusiasts who actually want to find out what their vehicles can do on roads, in sand, mud, and water, and driving through areas where there simply is no road - that, and a burning desire to see what’s at the end of the day’s driving.


While the Put Foot Rally was created to prove that you don’t need a 4x4 to enjoy the best that southern Africa has to offer, the Mzanzi Trophy sets out to lead adventurers right off the beaten track, giving them the opportunity to go places and meet people that are completely untouched and unseen by more conventional and commercial expeditions. My aim was to create an expedition that will give people the space to find their own way around, while still offering the security of an organised expedition and the social element of meeting up every evening to chat about the day’s adventures.


Setting up such an expedition takes a whole lot of planning, and I’ve been laying the groundwork for the Mzanzi Trophy over the last two years, in-between setting up and running three Put Foot Rallies and launching the Put Foot Foundation, with the help of an incredibly passionate team.


As a firm believer that you should never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself, I did a complete recce of the route over 25 days, finishing in mid May 2013. I did it solo, with no support team, to prove that you don’t have to be a professional rally driver to complete the adventure. I travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Swaziland, and was inspired all over again by the beauty of the landscape, the incredible animals seen along the way, and the wonderful people I met.


Awesome though the experience is going to be, we’re limiting the number of teams to 30 for the first year. The challenge allows for up to five members per team in a vehicle, which gives us a maximum of 150 participants. It will be tight this year to make sure that everything goes well and to keep it an intimate and authentic experience. If it proves to be the success I think it will be, we may expand it in coming years, but our priority will always be to safeguard the authenticity of the experience and make sure that the size of the group doesn’t impact negatively on the landscapes we drive through and the people we encounter along the way.


The Mzanzi Trophy is more than just getting from point A to point B and stopping to admire the scenery on the way, but it’s not a race either: it’s an adventure challenge. Each morning, participants will be given the GPS co-ordinates of that evening’s Harbour Area, where they can set up camp, unwind and share the day’s experiences with the other teams. It will then be up to them as to which route they choose to get there and how they go about completing the tasks, puzzles and challenges we’ll set for them. Points will be awarded for each challenge and the team that has the most points - not necessarily the fastest team - will be announced the winners of the challenge when the participants reach the secret finish line.



The distance travelled each day will be reasonable, but with the scenery and opportunity to experience Africa at its most authentic, it’s hard to believe that anyone will be tired. Challenging though the recce trip was, I loved every minute of it and woke up every day excited to see what was in store.


This brings me to the crux of the challenge: if people are interested in taking part, they should pick their teams carefully! You’re going to be travelling, eating, sleeping and breathing in very close quarters with your team for nearly three weeks. So make sure that you know everything good, bad and ugly that there is to know about your fellow adventurers because if you don’t know it before you leave, you will certainly know it by the time you get home!


As much as this adventure has been created for people to experience the awesomeness that is southern Africa, I’m determined to leave nothing but footprints, as the old adage goes. However, I want to leave footprints of a different kind, which is why our participants will be taking part in a shoe drop at an underprivileged school, in support of the Put Foot Foundation, a charity organisation that I set up with fellow adventurers Mike Sharman, Daniel Nash and Bob Skinstad. We’ll be putting brand new, 100% leather school shoes on the feet of 500 children, because a child with new school shoes has hope, pride and dignity, thus laying the foundations for a positive future.


I’m really excited about the Mzanzi Trophy. It’s an extraordinary 4x4 adventure created to bring people out of their comfort zones and get them to use their beloved 4x4 or off-road vehicles to see the world through different eyes. It's also about proving that travelling through the region is fun, affordable, safe and, most importantly, completely doable.



• The Mzanzi Trophy challenge takes place
from 12 to 31 August 2013.

• The challenge departs from Cape Town and finishes at a secret location, six countries later.

• Entry fees are R19,000 per team of up to five people.

• You should have extra money with you to pay
for accommodation and supplies along the way.

• You will need a 4x4 or a reliable off-road vehicle
to participate in this challenge.

• For more information, visit