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African love adventure

You will be hard-pressed to find any South African who hasn’t heard of legendary adventurer Kingsley Holgate. Who you may not know about, however, is his son Ross and daughter-in-law Annelie, who are as passionate about the adventures and expeditions they go on to save and improve lives in Africa as Kingsley.

I am captivated sitting on the deck of this Zinkwazi home with the ocean just a stone’s throw away. I could sit here for hours. The view and the gentle sea breeze are lovely, yes, but it’s the stories of adventure and the passion with which husband and wife Ross and Annelie Holgate share them, that have me completely enthralled.

“I’ve always been an adventurer at heart. It’s all I’ve ever known,” says Ross, sipping his coffee and leaning back into his chair. Right from the start of our interview it’s immediately apparent that he, like his legendary father, thrives on sharing his love for and stories about Africa and her people with others.
A week from now, they tell me, in the same year they celebrate their 10-year anniversary, Ross and Annelie are embarking on another expedition together. In fact, it’s an expedition Ross has done once before, travelling from East to West Africa, from the mouth of the Zambezi to the mouth of the Congo.

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A Mursi woman in southern Ethiopia adorned with a traditional lip plate

African adventures are born
Ross tells me about his first expedition with his father Kingsley, in 1992. “My dad took a sabbatical from the corporate world and decided to go on an expedition that would take him from the Cape to Cairo, along the waterways of Africa. I attempted to go to university, but the sense of adventure instilled in me from young had me yearning to join in the expedition. I watched them all hunched over maps, planning and tracking their route and I had serious FOMO!” Ross asked his dad if he could come along and he agreed on two conditions: that he add value and be useful on the trip, and that he pay for himself. “He insisted I have a ‘purpose’ on the trip. I spent time at a hospital learning basic first aid, like stitching and putting up a drip. I learnt how to fix an outboard motor and did a quick mechanic course.” Once Ross rustled up the funds, he was good to go. The trip, he says, completely changed the course of his life.

“It was a year-long journey which set in stone how the rest of my life would play out.” The trip ended in 1994 and Ross spent the next few years adventuring through Africa, including living in Kenya for seven years, working as a travel guide. He then joined his dad on another expedition. “National Geographic bought the documentary and suddenly our adventures through Africa became a business. We found a market by tapping into the sense of adventure in everyone’s hearts. I learned a number of other skills, including photography, videography and editing. My role was to document our trips.”

Saving and improving lives

In 2002, while on an expedition to follow the Tropic of Capricorn (the imaginary line of latitude), Kingsley’s adventures took on new meaning. “We came across an elderly man in a village in the Amazon who the locals told us had nearly burned the village down because of his bad eyesight. My mom handed him her reading glasses and, suddenly, he could see. She decided then and there that we would distribute reading glasses on every expedition we went on.” And so, just like that, the Right to Sight campaign and the humanitarian side of their adventures, was born. “It changed our entire outlook – we were now using our adventures to save and improve lives.” Since then the team’s expeditions have seen them distributing reading glasses, thousands upon thousands of mosquito nets, as well as water purifying LifeStraws.

Risking lives to save lives. The Holgates often travel into extremely dangerous territories to carry out their humanitarian missions.

An African love story . . .Growing up on a farm in the Eastern Cape and passionate about the outdoors, Annelie had never left South Africa until she met Ross in 2003. She has degrees in Sport Science and Journalism and worked at various newspapers before going into marketing. “The company I was working for donated money towards the Kingsley Holgate Foundation’s mosquito net initiative and they invited us to join in for a portion of one of their expeditions. They were sailing to Mozambique in a restored dhow, distributing thousands of nets. So, I went along!” After spending just two weeks together, the couple fell in love. Anna moved to Zinkwazi to be with Ross at the end of 2006. “It was a whirlwind romance. I invited Anna to join us on the Outside Edge expedition, where we were going to spend a year circumnavigating the entire African continent.” Instead the trip took 449 days, after which, Ross says, they knew they would be together forever. It took a while to adjust to a life of adventure, Anna says, but with mentorship from Ross’s late mother, Gill, she quickly learned to bath using just a 2l tub of water, pack very lightly and cook with whatever fresh produce they could muster up in the local village. They were married in 2009 and Anna fell pregnant with their first daughter in 2010.

The Ma Robert pontoon boat ferrying Land Rovers across the mighty Zambezi River and allowing the team to reach remote villages desperate for humanitarian assistance.

Settling down
Now a mother of two young daughters, Mia Bella (8) and Scarlett (6), Annelie’s life of adventure has slowed down somewhat, but she still enjoys joining Ross on expedition from time to time. For the last couple of years her role has become more of an admin one. She is charged with handling all the ‘HQ’ duties for the foundation, such as arranging visas, finding sponsors and marketing. She has also helped Kingsley with research and archiving for his latest book.

“It is hard to be apart, but we make sure we see each other at least every four weeks. The girls are getting older, which means I am able to join Ross on expeditions now and then. We are nurturing and teaching them so they can join us on expeditions one day too,” she says. Although he is now the expedition leader and heads up the Kingsley Holgate foundation, Ross says his dad is still very involved and completely hands-on.
When they are at home, Ross says they hardly ever go out. They prefer enjoying beach bonfires, fishing and spending time on the Zinkwazi lagoon. “We really do love everything we have here. Our travels have taught us to be humble and to appreciate everything we have. We have an amazing lifestyle . . . the best of the best is right here.”
Looking back out over the warm Indian Ocean as I get up to leave, I have to say, I agree.

Annelie and Ross heading up Sani Pass into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

Text: Leah Shone

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