Volkswagen Magazine

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diary of a record drive.

Three men aim to drive a Touareg from Norway to South Africa in less than 28 days. Over the course of 10,500 miles they encounter everything from urban chaos to muddy wilderness, experience a veritable crash, and ultimately a great triumph.

Text and Photos Rainer Zietlow
Infographics C3 Visual Lab

day 1

Start in the north Kristina Hansen, the mayor of North Cape, presses the start button in the Touareg shortly after three. We set off in snow-covered Norway to drive straight down through Scandinavia. The tyres show amazingly good grip on the icy roads. That same night we reach the ferry going from Rødby, Denmark to Fehmarn, Germany.

Straight through Scandinavia

From Norway we drive through Finland, Sweden and Denmark, then on to Germany.

The team

Rainer Zietlow and colleagues Marius Biela and Matthias Prillwitz are record-holders in long-distance drives. Their first tour in 2011 took them from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska in 11 days; their second in 2012 went from Melbourne to Saint Petersburg in 17 days. In late September 2014 they set off on their longest record attempt so far – driving a Volkswagen Touareg from the northernmost tip of Norway to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of South Africa. We present some of the highlights from Zietlow’s travel log.

day 2&3

Traffic jam in Prague At the outskirts of the city we are met by Czech employees of Volkswagen, who guide us through the congested rush-hour traffic in Prague.

 

Hello Bratislava The Touareg’s home city, where Volkswagen employees also accompany us for a few miles. Around 18 hours later we reach the border with Turkey and set our course for the Bosporus.

On through eastern Europe

From Germany we head to eastern Europe, through the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria to the Turkish border.

day 4 

Up in the air An Antonov 74 cargo plane is waiting for us at an airport in south-eastern Turkey. It has plenty of room for us and the Touareg. We’re going to Africa by air, and allow ourselves a short nap. We’ve been driving non-stop for 70 hours.

Hello Africa Two hours later we arrive in Egypt, in Mersa Matruh. Cows and camels greet us on the motorway.

From Turkey to Egypt

From the Bosporus, the strait that runs between Europe and Asia, we drive right across Turkey. Southeast of Ankara we then board a plane for Africa.

day 5

Desert It’s getting warmer. After passing Cairo and reaching the temples of Luxor in the south, our on-board computer shows 43 degrees Celsius. Then comes the Sudan. For hours we see nothing but sand. We are rewarded at dawn by the most beautiful sunrise yet.

 

Chaos Driving habits in Ethiopia take some getting used to. Cars drive alongside each other on four lanes of a wide road. Some weave in and out, others just blare their horns and nobody knows whether they want to overtake on the right or the left.

 

Through East Africa

We drive straight down Egypt, then on through Sudan.

day 6 

Ethiopia It’s getting greener. Ethiopia has fertile plateaus and many small villages. We have to watch out because we meet many field workers and children, and a lot of activity takes place on the roads here.

Straight through East Africa

From Sudan we head toward Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

the crash

The crash Bumpy ground and flooded roads in Iringa. Through no fault of our own we are involved in an accident. No one is hurt, but after six days of driving we’re forced to take a break. There are Volkswagen mechanics in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania some 310 miles away. There’s hope though: the engine isn’t a total write-off, but we have to wait several days for replacement parts from Vienna and Bratislava.

Involuntary break in Tanzania

Through the national parks of Kenya and Tanzania, repairs in Dar es Salaam.

day 19

Launch Our crash took place 13 days ago. Now we’re finally heading off again. We can hardly believe that the engine is actually working. The mechanics from Dar es Salaam were able to get it running at least provisionally with the replacement parts. We’re hoping that the Touareg can handle the final 2,500 miles to South Africa. On rough roads we can only drive at walking speed.  

From East Africa to the south

From Dar es Salaam back through Tanzania. We continue on through Zambia and Zimbabwe.

day 20&21

Final leg The Touareg now hums along smoothly. Luck is on our side in Zambia and Zimbabwe, the roads are surprisingly well-surfaced, and the weather is also favourable. We strike a victorious pose shortly before our destination: Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of the African continent. We made it.

From East Africa to the south

From Tanzania we continue on to the south, through Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Conclusion

Yes, we made it. We arrived at our destination on Saturday evening at 8:42 p.m. Cape Agulhas. Despite the accident we completed the journey of 10,500 miles in 21 days, 16 hours and 36 minutes. That means we were well under the world record time of 28 days set in 1984. And the most incredible thing of all: without the accident we would have arrived in the time of eight days and ten hours. A huge thank you to the Volkswagen employees in Europe and Africa, we would not have made it without you. We are looking forward to our next attempt at a world record with the Touareg!