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Mountain-biking in Mapungubwe – Trunk call

Article by: Leon Kriel, from Wild Life Magazine Summer 2017/2018.

Is it a tree? Is it an elephant? The indistinct shape is barely 10 metres away and the tension is thick in the air. Welcome to cycling off the map in Mapungubwe, where cranking pedals are all about inspiring children to care for their natural heritage.

WildPedal Power Baobabs greet the cyclists as they make their way to the finish in Mapungubwe.

We’re riding through the riverine forest when suddenly our guide, Mosa Masupe, lifts his hand and comes to a dead stop. The group follows his lead. He turns his head and whispers, “Ellies, right here next to us.”

All my senses are on edge as I slowly take out my camera. I am desperately scanning the thick bush next to us for a sign of elephants. If only I could see an outline of an ear or maybe a trunk reaching up for a leaf. Where are they?

WildThe Tour de Tuli’s temporary tented camp is set up near the confluence lookout point in Mapungubwe.

Mosa slowly moves forward again. Without a word, we follow his lead in a tight formation. Mosa stops again. The nervous energy and excitement are thick in the air. “Never sprint in the bush,” Mosa reminds us. “Stay calm and follow me closely.”

WildSome curious giraffes intrigued by the sight of hundreds of cyclists.

All I can think is it will be difficult not to try and get away as fast as possible if an angry elephant pushes his head through the branches a few metres away from us. Mosa starts riding with all of us in close pursuit. The pace picks up again and slowly but surely the conversations start up about what just happened.

We’re riding our mountain bikes in Mapungubwe National Park as part of the Nedbank Tour de Tuli, an annual mountain-bike event. The tour started four days ago at the Limpopo Valley Airport in Botswana, crossing amazing terrain in Botswana and Zimbabwe, to end in South Africa in the ancient kingdom of Mapungubwe, a World Heritage Site where indigenous cultures traded and flourished.

WildRace Jury: Mapungubwe’s elephant keep an eye on the cyclists as they make their way through the park.

A few hundred metres down the dirt track, we come to a steep incline in the road. The pace is now full throttle. The stronger guys race to the front of the group. The late afternoon sun reflects off centuries-old baobab trees all around as I make my way up the hill. This is our ultimate destination: the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, the place where three countries meet. The vastness of the landscape becomes apparent when we reach the top.

We are greeted by the now-familiar sight of neat rows and rows of orange tents. We are back in camp for the final time. After a hot shower and a quick bite to eat, I make my way to the wooden decks overlooking the Limpopo River where it meets the Shashe River.

WildYet another early morning start on the last day as the tour makes its way to Mapungubwe.

On the lookout deck, as the last bit of sunlight fades into Zimbabwe on the far side of the border, 255 cyclists get together for a sundowner. We were all strangers four days ago when we arrived at the Pont Drift border post to start this unbelievable trip. Now I’ll be going home with good friends.

Every single participant makes a difference in rural children’s lives. A highlight of the tour was seeing the appreciation on the faces of young children at the schools where we handed out schoolbags. The event is about so much more than experiencing the gorgeous bush in a remote corner of the world.

Dusk is short-lived and, as twilight turns into darkness, we reflect on all the animals we saw on this trip. The herds of elephant. The giraffes running next to us. The countless antelope. The wildebeest. How a hyena looked at us from less than 50 metres away. All whilst doing what we truly enjoy doing, riding mountain bikes, a long way from the daily grind, on trails made by the animals.

Trip planner

Getting there: Mapungubwe National Park is on the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe, about six hours’ drive from Gauteng.

Accommodation: Located in the eastern section, Leokwe’s baked earth rondavels are close to the Treetop Walkway and the confluence view site, and cost from R1,175 for two people. Also in the east, Vhembe Wilderness Camp offers rustic cabins with a communal kitchen from R710 for two. Sheltered by large trees, the safari tents of Limpopo Forest Tented Camp in the western section are spacious and comfortably equipped, from R1,100 for two. Nearby Mazhou Campsite has stood with powerpoints from R285 for two. Also in the west, luxurious Tshugulu Lodge has a large guest house (from R2,075) and a cottage (from R1,275).

Good to know: There is no fuel for sale in the park and the shop sells refreshments only. The only cell phone reception is at the main gate.

Contact: SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org

A Good Cause

The Nedbank Tour de Tuli is a premier mountain-bike tour through some of Africa’s most pristine wilderness areas in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The event follows strict environmental practices and every campsite is left as it was originally found.

It raises funds for Children in the Wilderness, a non-profit organisation supported by ecotourism company Wilderness Safaris. By educating and developing leadership qualities in rural children, the organisation hopes to ensure the future of conservation. Over the last 12 years, the tour has hosted approximately 3,220 cyclists and raised R18 million. This has allowed Children of the Wilderness to host over 5,600 children on their camp programme since 2001 and over 11,000 children on their Eco-Club programme since 2012.

Children in the Wilderness believes that learning sanctuaries are required to conserve pristine wilderness and wildlife areas. To ensure that these places continue to exist, rural children need to understand the importance of conservation and its relevance in their lives. The programme focuses on environmental and life skills education for the next generation of decision makers.

Find out more at Children in the Wilderness website.

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