Mountain bike adventure with a difference
Words: Marieke Viljoen. Photos: Gerrit Viljoen. Article from the DO IT NOW Online Magazine.
My husband, Gerrit, and I breathed a sigh of relief as we left Joburg and the rat race behind, just after 5 a.m., on Friday morning. We were privileged to have been invited to try out a brand-new mountain bike package that is offered as part of the Shayamanzi Houseboat experience on Lake Jozini.
The drive to Jozini is a really enjoyable one as you travel through the lush, picturesque grasslands of KZN, which is peppered with a variety of livestock that share the side of the road with the ever-vigilant traffic officers. And when you pass the colourful rural villages, you really do feel as if you are in the heart of Africa.
Arriving at Shayamanzi Tiger Lodge, we meet up with the rest of our group. The relaxed, social environment soon has us chatting away and this is when I discovered that we stayed around the corner from one of the other couples. What are the chances?
After a delicious lunch, our mountain bikes and luggage were loaded onto the transfer vehicle. We then headed headed towards the two houseboats that were awaiting our arrival. We boarded Shayamanzi II, the bigger of the two boats, and immediately felt at home after the warm and friendly welcome, and glass of champagne, we received from the captain and his crew.
As we settled in, the houseboat set off for Hippo Bay, where we would anchor for the night. The boat is amazing, with a lovely lounge area and a long table for all the scrumptious meals, which are prepared by the on-board chef. The cabins have big sliding doors so you can see the dam and the stunning surroundings, and there is even a jacuzzi on the lower deck.
Cruising along on the glass-like water, with the sound of birds all around and the water gently lapping again the boat, all the stresses and strains of city life slowly began to leave my body, to be replaced with a content, happy feeling that comes with being outdoors.
That night, we had a braai for dinner, accompanied with some excellent red wine, and got to know each other a little better before retiring to our beds for a good night’s sleep.
At six the next morning, we were off to try our hand at catching some tiger fish from the carrier boats. You don’t have to be an expert fisherman, as the captain puts on the bait and casts for you if need be. While waiting for the fish to bite, we swopped stories and I especially enjoyed the captain’s hilariously entertaining story about his life. As the sun slowly rose over the dam and the water sparkled with sun rays, 11-year-old Luke caught the first fish of the day.
A couple of hours later, we returned to the houseboat and Gerrit caught a real beauty from the side. This ‘dog of the water’ with its razor-sharp teeth soon had everyone excitedly clicking away on their cameras, capturing this victorious moment.
This was all followed by a full English breakfast, which is exactly what we all needed before our mountain bike ride. Once all the bikes were loaded onto the boats, we geared up for a ride along the scenic lakeside terrain of the Pongola Game Reserve.
We made our way across the dam to the reserve, where we were briefed by the wildlife guide, who advised that we stay in a tight group as there are rhinos, buffalo and elephants in the park.
There are two distance options to choose, that of 25 km and a 42 km round trip. The routes are predominantly along the shoreline so that game can be viewed from a safe distance, and riders are accompanied by a qualified ranger as well as a mountain bike guide to assist with any mechanical issues.
Once all the bikes were optimally adjusted, we pedalled off into the bush and rode at a steady pace on the flat terrain, passing buffalo, zebra, ostriches and waterbucks. Although flat, the 24 km trail is rocky and in some places grassy, but it’s not too technical, so you can enjoy the environment and wildlife without having to focus on the road too much. It’s a good thing that we all had tubeless tyres because there are loads of thorns on the trail. The riders in our group ranged from those who had ridden the Epic to those who just rode for fun, and were between 11 and 54. It really is a trail for everyone, and the wildlife and environment make it a truly unique experience.
We stopped at Nkwazi Lodge for drinks, which has a stunning view up the Pongola River, before returning to the houseboat. Back on board, we took a refreshing shower and then sat down to a delicious lunch of fresh fish and chips, followed by drinks on deck.
The calmness and relaxation is intoxicating, and it really doesn’t get much better than this.
At 5 p.m., we returned to the water’s edge to do battle with the tiger fish once more. Relaxed and happy, the jovial mood was further heightened with jokes being made about being ‘fishstrated’ and the crocodiles being in an ‘eating meeting’. Later, a small curious hippo blew bubbles right next to the boat, while a fish eagle flew across the dam, its famous cry ringing out over the water as the sun set.
Dinner was a feast fit for kings; we started with salmon and sardine pate, which was followed by Chicken Pie and then Chocolate and Berry Sundae for dessert.
On Sunday morning, everyone was free to do their own thing before. While some went fishing, the hard-core bikers opted to go riding again before we headed back on the three-hour boat trip back to the lodge. Passing a variety of wildlife, including some rhinos, we all agreed that the past 48-hours had been fantastic and much-needed food for soul.
Bidding farewell to our new friends, we returned to the city, refuelled and ready to meet the rat race head on once more. I would like to thank Shayamanzi for the opportunity to enjoy this unique experience.
So if you’re looking for a mountain biking adventure with a difference, then look no further than the Shayamanzi Houseboat and mountain bike experience.
What you need to know
The mountain bike tours include all boat transfers, fishing, accommodation on-board Shayamanzi, all meals, a qualified mountain bike guide and ranger, and a contribution to the Space for Elephant Trust and levies for cycling in the Pongola Game Reserve.
|More info on the town of Jozini||More info on the Elephant Coast area|