See the bush from the seat of a mountain bike

Posted by Melanie van Zyl on 10 January 2019

See the bush differently (and a little faster) from the seat of a mountain bike.

Image credit: Melanie van Zyl

‘Will there be lions?’ my mom asked, when I told her I’d be riding a bicycle through a game reserve. Yes, and buffalo and elephants too – big ones. Between Hoedspruit and Phalaborwa, the 10,000-hectare Maseke Game Reserve shares an open boundary with the Kruger National Park, so wildlife moves freely.

I met up with my host, Gareth Putter, and Michael Stone, our armed guardian and guide, on a fresh bushveld morning for coffee and rusks. Then, with saddle adjusted and helmet clicked in, I hopped on and followed Gareth down the meandering dirt road.

I hadn’t been on a bicycle in years and had forgotten what a wonderful sensation it is to pedal through nature, open to the elements. There were a few uphills but gradual enough to still enjoy the exhilaration of a climb, and we stopped often, resting bikes and butts to immerse ourselves in the surroundings.

I could listen out for the alarm calls of oxpeckers (a telltale sign of big mammals nearby) and stop to examine fresh tracks and lion scat. We also tried to coerce baboon spiders from their woven tunnel nests, and identified other spoor that criss-crossed the roads – jackal, impala, kudu, the snaking trunk track of an elephant that had dawdled down the same route.

All the cycling was along roads (mostly firm sand or gravel) and we rarely strayed, except to inspect a tree up close or enjoy a viewpoint. Despite the reserve being an elephant hotspot, thanks to the abundant mopane trees, we didn’t bump into any on this ride. But we did encounter several giraffes, and the rich botanical variety and interesting scenery meant there was plenty to enjoy.

Image credit: Melanie van Zyl

Guts factor

6/10 – it is ‘Big Five’ territory, after all. Yet it requires no more courage than doing a bush walk. The guide has a rifle but will use it only as a last resort. I never felt unsafe.

Verdict

You cover way more ground (so you’re likely to see more) than on a bush walk, but still enjoy being immersed in the wilderness. It was perfect for an amateur like me, as the cycling gear was in good nick and of high quality. The guides are keen cyclists, though, for those after something more demanding. Avid mountain bikers will love the three-night slackpacking-style MTB trail launching soon.

Cost

R850 per person morning ride (up to four hours), R550 per person afternoon ride (up to two hours). This includes a mountain bike, helmet, water bottle and trail mix, plus coffee or a drink.

The details

It takes about half an hour to drive from Hoedspruit to the meeting point. Morning rides start at 5.30am (7am in winter) and cover up to 12 kilometres; the afternoon ride starts at 3.30pm (2.30pm in winter) and covers up to eight kilometres – distances depend on game sightings.

Book

0615857380, masekemountainbiking.co.za

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