The girl who ran across Africa

Emma Timmis is a climbing instructor, expedition guide, illustrator and public speaker based in Queenstown.

She’s got a thing about running and in 2014, Emma Timmis became the first person to run across Africa; 3974 km from Namibia to Mozambique.

Her adventure was inspired by an uninspiring lack of women’s sports coverage – something she thinks is holding young athletes back.

“I don’t feel that it’s fair that girls don’t see much women’s sports. I didn’t at a young age, so it took me longer to get into what I do now. Even as a teenager, I remember trying the whole make-up thing and not enjoying that, but I felt that it was what I was ‘supposed’ to do. Really, I enjoyed climbing trees and running around the park. So, it’s my mission to get more women into sport.”

As part of this mission, she’s written and illustrated a children’s book called ‘The Girl Who Ran Across Africa’, to inspire youngsters to dream big. It’s also about following through with your plans, even when the going gets tough.

Emma’s first big run was a 2500 km trail across South Africa, to raise money for a wildlife rescue centre. She was the first female to complete the trail.

“I’m not much good at baking,” she says “so I thought I’d do some running, though I’d never ran further than a half marathon before.”

“I got back from South Africa and I thought: well, I’m not doing anything like THAT ever again. People have normal lives where they go to work and do their hobbies and that’s a nice life, I’ll do that… this lasted about a year,” she jokes.

Like any good story, does, Emma’s African adventure started with a bottle of tequila (note – this part isn’t in the children’s book) after watching the Banff Film Festival with her climbing friend Aysha Mahda.

“There were a lot of films about men, there was even a film about a dog… but not one film about women. So afterwards, we drank tequila and had a rant.

“I mentioned my South African run, which Aysha didn’t know I’d done. She asked me if I’d do something similar to raise money for The Seed Project in Zimbabwe and I said yes, because I’d had a lot of tequila.”

Aysha took the idea seriously and organised for Emma to do the 3974 km run from Namibia to Mozambique, via Zimbabwe. The drunken conversation was in 2013 and by 2014, she was running though deserts and jungles, past elephants, cheetahs, lots of giraffes, zebras and the occasional group of warthogs.

Snakes were a concern, particularly during evening runs, as the road surface collects heat during the day and provides a warm place for the snakes to snooze at night. To ward off lions, Emma’s team gave her a can of pepper spray (thankfully, she didn’t need to use it).

She broke the run down to around 50km per day, in three sessions; pre-breakfast, pre-lunch and an evening session to avoid the midday heat. It’s detailed in the book, in beautiful full-colour illustrations, with an easy-going rhyme. The book is fun and positive, but it doesn’t shy away from some of the more difficult parts of the journey, like when Emma fell very ill on the final few days of her run.

Find out more about Emma’s mad adventures (including crossing Australia on an Elliptigo and

roller-skating across the Netherlands), the book and her running adventures at


© 2019