It’s all about the beauty. And the beast …

Into the wild on two wheels

Sunrise … The Kruger National Park’s Phalaborwa Gate has just opened. Excited and expectant guests are in and out of the reception office, booking in, getting ready to drive into this world-famous haven of wildlife boasting the Big Five: elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and the king itself … lion. A handful of rather threatening beasts. Therefore the rule that visitors have to stay in their cars make sense.

Then suddenly these guests see something that look odd. Kind of out of place. They see a group of cyclists casually peddling towards the gate. And through it. Into the Park. Into the wild on two wheels. The Kruger any which way is always rather adventurous. Imagine what it will be like to do it on a mountain bike. You can.

The three day adventure starts at the Bushveld Terrace Guesthouse (200 metres from the Phalaborwa Gate of the Kruger National Park). Just to get you going, on Day One you’ll do between 30 to 40 kilometres at a leisurely laid-back pace, skirting around the Kruger, getting used to the idea that tomorrow you’ll be on the other side of the fence. Around sunset it becomes clear that this adventure is not all grinding and no grandeur when you are treated to sundowners, watching the African bush preparing for the night. The pleasure continues with a lovely dinner back at  Bushveld Terrace before making for bed. And dreaming about you, your bike and all sorts of beasts all around you. “Can I cycle faster than a lion?” you think, lying in your bed. Forget it, you can’t, but you don’t have to. You just need to cycle faster than your fellow cyclists. Only joking, you’ll be pretty safe. Exposed yes, but safe. With experienced armed guides and all.

Meeting said guides and listening to their safety briefing, makes you realise you’re in good hands. Yet, with those first few peddles in the Park, every shadow and strangely shaped bush are growling at you. But you feel good. This is the right stuff. Priceless … Pretty soon you give yourself over to this wonderland, forgetting about the potential danger and learning about birds, animal tracks, geological formations and fabulous flora.

Then suddenly a lone elephant bull emerges between the acacia trees, slowly sauntering across in front of you. “Why is it so big?” you wonder. So much bigger than the last one you saw from your car. It’s weepy eye casually casts over homo sapiens on their funny looking ponies. What amazes you most is that all six tonnes of the beast glides through the bush, making less noise than you can ever dream of. The guides keep calm, keeping you guys calm. Still the calmest of all is that elephant over there, gliding away nonchalantly using its trunk to flick dust over it’s shoulder.

Shortly after that you realize that all this adrenaline is making you hungry. That’s when the perfectly packed breakfast prepared by Bushveld Terrace is presented in the shade of a Mopani tree. After about 40 – 45 km in a northerly direction along the Malompeni River to a junction with the Letaba River (Doesn’t these names just sound like something from a great expedition diary?), you will suddenly arrive at a well set-up wild camp. A dome tent and your luggage at the ready. More importantly, there is a bush bar serving ice cold beer and soft drinks.  Relax on the sandbank next to the Letaba River, or even inside the river, to cool down. Later in the afternoon enjoy a sundowner on the riverbank while dinner is being prepared on the fire. Dinner will be served after sunset. Afterwards it’s time for a cup of coffee with the stars as company. Wind down, be happy. You are in the best place on earth right now. A hyena howls its heart out, challenged by the chilling cry of a silver backed jackal. A night owl joins the symphony with it’s special prayer. “Good Lord, deliver us …” Then you sleep.

Just before your eyes open you hear the francolins chatting away and scrabbling in the shrub. In the distance a fish eagle greets the day. Your day. In a special place. The smell of the morning fire and coffee invites the excitement of the day. After a full breakfast the group sets off on your bicycles. The back-up team will meet you guys after two hours with refreshing cool drinks and water along the dry Malompeni River. Too soon, and without realising you’ve done another 40 kilometres, you see Phalaborwa Gate looming up in front.

It’s the end of the route for now. But once you’ve done it, this adventure never leaves you.

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