When you’re a world-renowned wildlife photographer who relies on your vehicle in order to make a living, you’re sure to have some stories to tell.

Jaco Kirsten asked HANNES LOCHNER more about his vehicle.

Story: Jaco Kirsten from Drive Out / Pictures: Hannes Lochner (extract from Drive Out)

The Ark Of The Kalahari Escape Gear

Questionable quotes

After almost three years of work on Colours of the Kalahari I was looking for a vehicle with more space for all my camera gear, especially because Noa, my better half, was going to be accompanying me. My Hilux D4-D had become too small and I gathered quotes for a rebuild so that there could be enough space for everything.

In the end, all the quotes were so excessive that I decided to look for another vehicle for my next project instead – where I would take night pictures in the Kalahari – the result of which is the book Dark Side of the Kalahari. During a safari in Namibia a friend of mine, Dr Etienne Bruwer, told me about a 1998 Land Rover Defender Tdi 300 that was selling for R120 000 at Dietmar Fleiss’ garage in Swakopmund.

The Ark Of The Kalahari – Escape Gear

It was his own vehicle that he had converted himself. Interestingly enough, it had the galvanised chassis of a 1984 V8 petrol Defender. I drove to go and look at it. I knew that I definitely wanted to own this vehicle! First I had to create a hatch in the roof and open up both sides so that I could have a panoramic view for my photography work. I also needed to be able to fold down the windscreen. The vehicle’s load bin was made wider, the sides were opened up and a few other small modifications were made.

After all the alterations, I headed back to Cape Town to pack for my next adventure. Although I paid R50 000 more for the  defender than its actual market value, the final cost of R150 000 once all the modifications had been done was still less than the quotes for a rebuild on my Hilux.


Where did you find the Defender?

A friend of mine saw it for sale in Swakopmund, Namibia, for around £8000 at Dietmar Fleiss’ garage and so I went to have a look at it. It was his personal desert travel vehicle and I knew straight away that I wanted it. Maybe the fact that it had a galvanised chassis from a 1981 One Ten V8 had something to do with it? We had to convert it into a film vehicle and Dietmar did the conversion for me.

Tell us what he did?

As you can see from the pictures this is not a standard Defender, it’s about 10 cm wider on each side. Doing coffee table books is not a very lucrative business and so we had to watch our pennies with the conversion. We had to create something that was comfortable for working in as you have to spend every single day in it for years on end. While Dietmar’s Defender was desert orientated we needed something that would be comfortable in water, especially when we moved to the Delta. I changed the dust snorkel to one for water. Other major changes included: the opening in the roof, rooftop tent and the side panels which fold down. I need all round panoramic views for my photographic and Noa’s film work.

It’s basically a hard top but you can take the windows, panels and windscreen down or off. Once Dietmar had finished all the mechanical work we tackled the interior and built the cupboards that we needed. Seats were replaced with pelican cases or boxes plus mounts all round for the cameras. Now it’s the ultimate Defender wildlife filming and photographing vehicle.

The Ark Of The Kalahari – Escape Gear

Do you return to base camp each night?

We’ve spent lots of time shooting at hyena dens and will then just sleep in the roof top tent while on location. The reason for this is that you want to be there for the rare moments when the cubs come out of the den and so you have to be there all the time. It’s a stakeout of sorts really. We did the same when shooting leopard cubs in the Kalahari. While shooting in the Delta we spent several nights at an elephant carcass to see who would be coming to visit it. The smell was not great and it made sleeping hard. It’s not always pleasant being a wildlife photographer. Noah is just an extension of us and what we do. It’s our office and our world.

You’ve been living in the bush with your Defender for eight years now. What’s the best off-road tyres? In the Kalahari we used Bridgestone All-Terrains. They were not cheap and we lost loads of tyres.

To order Hannes Lochner’s book Okavango Delta see planetokavangobook.co.za

Hannes and Noa would like to thank their generous and loyal sponsors Outdoorphoto, Tracks 4 Africa, Safari Outdoor, Hannibal, Escape Gear and Supa Quick.

The Ark Of The Kalahari – Escape Gear