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Riding through Big 5 Country

Riding through Big 5 Country

There’s nothing like mountain biking through big game country to get the heart pumping. And the annual iSimangaliso MTB4Day offers that, and more…

Words: Fiona McIntosh

Pictures: Shaen Adey

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Riders inspecting the fossils in Phinda Private Game Reserve.

It’s over a decade ago, but I still remember the thrill of riding through Big 5 country on the inaugural Tour de Kruger, which took groups of intrepid mountain bikers through Mozambique’s Great Limpopo and the northern Kruger national parks. Granted, riding in a guided party (with some carefully positioned rangers) we didn’t see too much dangerous game but when the start of the tour was changed to Botswana’s Northern Tuli Game Reserve (and renamed Tour de Tuli), I rode again, experiencing incredible sightings of elephant, and passing close to a lion kill, with attendant cats!

So when the iSimangaliso MTB4Day, through the South Africa’s first World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, was launched three years ago I signed up immediately. The 260km multi-stage race follows ancient migration paths taking participants from St Lucia, through the Eastern and Western Shores section of the Wetland Park that are not accessible to other visitors, before traversing the exclusive Big Five Phinda Private Game Reserve to the finish in the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso.

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Riding up to the viewpoint in Vlei Loop.

4. iSimangaliso crossing the fence between Phinda and Mkuzi, copyright Shaen Adey 2016-01-23 09.28

Crossing the fence between Phinda and iSimangaliso’s uMkhuze Reserve, both big five territory.

It was the ride of a lifetime, on which – in addition to other activities in the park and in the surrounding villages and reserves – we spied elephant, buffalo, rhino and hippo, as well as abundant plains game and magnificent birds. But what made the event so unique is that, unlike on Tour de Tuli, there were no guides. Rather, after a thorough briefing, we rode in pairs, wearing tracking devices so that the organisers knew where we were. Safety was paramount, with rangers sweeping the area beforehand to check that there were no lion on the route but, even so, our hearts were in our mouths at times as we sped quietly past dangerous game. If you need to add spice to your riding, put the iSimangaliso MTB4Day on your bucket list.

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The iSimangaliso MTB4Day is a unique opportunity to ride through the vast Phinda Private Game Reserve. About 60% of the ride is on single track; most of the rest is on fast jeep track.

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