For those seeking an active safari, where the experience is heightened by your method of transport, then a cycling safari may be perfect for you. You can move at your own pace, completely under your own power; a truly satisfying safari experience!
Going on safari need not be about sitting in a 4x4 vehicle, (preferably with open top and sides) and doing twice-daily game drives. Whilst these are indeed fabulous and great for getting close to wildlife sightings such as a lion kill, I also enjoy safaris that use alternative forms of transport.
For me, cycling is an activity that really adds to the enjoyment of a safari! You have the exhilaration of being active and moving under your own power and the added benefit of being able to reach areas that game drive vehicles may not be able to take you. These are my selections of amazing places in Africa to go mountain biking or on a cycling safari…
Cycling is not what many people imagine when they first start planning their safari, but this is such a rewarding experience. Although this does usually tend to be cycling on the fringes of a game park or reserve, there are indeed exceptions. For example I have had a wonderful mountain biking experience in the Mashatu Game Reserve in the Tuli block of Botswana.
It was an exhilarating journey, and more than once I was fully focussed on cycling, completely ‘in the zone’ when suddenly the guide called to stop fairly quickly when he saw a lovely herd of elephant grazing nearby. The elephant do tend to look at you with great curiosity! You spend your days cycling amongst the big five who are habituated to mountain bikes – very important!
I have also cycled in the far depths of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park on mountain bikes (one needs the chunky tyres because of the sand). It is not only a great work out, but knowing you are the only people for literally a 100kms away from the next nearest safari camp and village, the sense of adventure certainly pushes you on. We stayed in the delightful Jozibanini, a small camp which gives an untamed wilderness experience.
What I loved was the silence; the only sounds were the bird song and my fellow cyclists, puffing away on the bikes when moving over deeper patches of sand, then stopping at the sound of a breaking branch. We waited for a moment, breath held, when suddenly a bull elephant emerged from the dense acacia. He munched casually, paying no attention to us at all. He may very well have known we were there, but we were of no interest to him.
Amalinda Lodge, nestled amongst the rocks and formations of the Matobo Hills, is another fantastic base from which to cycle in Zimbabwe, in this instance through the villages and homesteads in the foothills of the magnificent Matobo National Park. Its rock formations are breath taking, with rocks balancing upon each other and strange boulders perched across hilltops, whilst black eagles soar overhead. These hills harbour more Bushman rock paintings than anywhere else in the country.
Amalinda’s charitable arm, the Mother Africa Trust is based in the Matobo area and is an extraordinary project that assist the peoples and communities in his region. One can visit various members in the communities whilst cycling around villages in the area and discover what life is like for them.
The Trust assists with monthly and supplementary food so that any remaining monies available to families can be used to send their children to school and to support those local children with disabilities. They also support the Ethandweni Home for Orphans which is home to 35 abandoned children who lost their families due to AIDS. On the conservation side, the Trust has made large contributions to the Matobo Rhino Fence project, helping to protect the precious and endangered rhinos in the Matobo Hills.
In Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park some friends, John and Carol Coppinger, own and run a super bush camp. Tafika camp is situated on the remote northern edge of the park and is an exclusive, personal camp where older children are welcome. The camp is ideally located, nestled in the shade of giant Leadwood trees and situated on the banks of the Luangwa river.
There are a range of exciting activities available. In the morning you have the option of taking a walking safari with an expert guide and tracker to see all the details of the bush on foot, or you can take a drive in a 4x4 game drive vehicle. After you have returned to camp for refreshments and a rest, you can take mountain bikes (necessary because of the sandy ground) and cycle to the villages lying outside the park to meet the local communities and interact with the people.
Zambia is truly incredible and game rich and the people are warm and friendly. As one cycles to Mkasanga School you are likely to be welcomed and be asked to visit the school. The Tafika Fund supports the school in many aspects – from school renovation, supply of books and stationary, payment of teachers’ salaries and assisting in scholarships for some students. They also have built the outpatient clinic in Mkasanga, which acts as a first aid centre for the 2000 residents of the area.
There are also other slightly more unusual places to mountain bike in South Africa including the famous Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, where Mount Anderson is located. This unique 8000 hectare reserve, situated in dramatic mountain landscape, protects some of the main river catchments which serve the Kruger National Park. The reserve has been carefully rehabilitated over the years since the 1980s and is a fantastic location to explore the landscape by mountain bike.
The terrain is beautiful and undulating and there is plenty to see; there is a variety of wildlife and indigenous plant life here as well as great fly fishing across the variety of weirs, lakes and rivers. The manager, Trent, is an avid and amazing mountain biker himself and all mountain biking excursions are professionally guided. They will cater to your level of expertise so children and beginners can be accommodated, and there are support vehicles on hand in case you want to skip some of the more challenging sections of the route!
Whilst in South Africa, a fantastic extension to your safari is gentle cycling and wine tasting in the Vineyards of the glorious Cape, and then taking a long cycle ride to Hermanus, where you can stay along this fabulous coastline with the possibility of seeing the southern right whales give birth in the bay after their migration from Antarctica.
From Gansbaai you can take a boat into the ocean to see these whales up close. Cycle through the most incredible plant life – indigenous to this part of the world. It has the greatest concentration of wild flowers not found anywhere else and the whole place comes alive in a riot of colour.
During your safari to Rwanda, a wonderful way to spend a day is to cycle between villages along the coastline of Lake Kivu, meeting the welcoming Rwandan villagers and fishermen on your way. One can also kayak around the shore of the lake and take a picnic on an uninhabited island to finish the day.
There are no shortage of options for those who wish to travel on safari in a more active and engaged way; to escape the engine noise and get truly off-the-beaten-track. From canoeing to walking, cycling to riding, there are so many more ways to travel on safari which enhance the experience! Please do feel free to contact me if you would like any more information.
Images kindly provided courtesy of:
Tafika Camp (including background image), Amalinda, Wild Horizons (headline image), Imvelo safaris, Mashatu, Mount Anderson Water Reserve