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06 May, 2015

Fishing For A Ride

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Imagine cruising on a houseboat on South Africa’s fifth largest dam? Then perhaps a bit of mountain biking in a game reserve, with a bit of tiger fishing thrown in for good measure? Add some of the best food afloat into the mix and you’ve got a mountain biking experience with a difference. Modern Cyclist checked it out.

Twenty, perhaps 30 buffalo grazed peacefully on the grassy patch between the bush line and the shoreline.

There were 10 of us, on our mountain bikes, and we viewed them from a jeep track about 100 metres away.

Because we were on mountain bikes, and as silent as a group of journalists can be, we had snuck up on them and we hadn’t disturbed them.

Earlier that morning, we had been off loaded from Shayamanzi House Boat, bikes and all, and had started our 25 kilometre game viewing experience in the Pongola Game Reserve from the “southern shore jetty”.

Guided mountain biking rides through game reserves shouldn’t really be a “racing snake” experience. Our qualified field guide Mitchell told me the ideal speed for spotting animals is probably around the 10 kilometre per hour mark, which makes sense.

The first 10-odd kilometres of easy-going trail took us to a curious set of buildings which Mitchell told us was called the “Loose Mongoose”. Here, under the shade of a canvas awning, we admired the local way of creating decorations with bottle tops, plastic containers and fishing wire while we enjoyed cool drinks and shade. After that, we carried on with our wildlife quest.

After a quick detour to return a “troubled” rider to the houseboat, we continued and, at an open stretch, we found our second but definitely larger herd of buffalo.

After the obligatory photographic session, we continued. Onward and upwards towards a lookout point overlooking the Phongola River as it winds itself around picturesque topography before emptying itself into the vast expanse of water, known by many as Lake Jozini but probably more correctly as Pongolapoort Dam.

A short but even sharper climb and we approached a lodge.

“Beers are on me!” said our host and keen mountain biker Roger Blevin, the managing director of Shayamanzi House Boats as we rode down a sharp incline towards Inkwazi Lodge, one of a few upmarket lodges in the Pongola Game Reserve area.

Although the Shayamanzi House Boats were started for, and primarily caters for fishermen, the potential for mountain bike adventures was enough to warrant the creation of this interesting adventure-based tourism product.

Mountain bikers and their bikes are loaded onto the house boat from Jozini Tiger Lodge at lunch time on day one of the cruise. The bikes are stored on a custom made bike rack on the stern upper deck of the boat while bikers themselves enjoy the relative luxury of two single or double beds in their en suite cabins.

After the short cruise to Hippo Bay, where Shayamanzi moored for the night, guests enjoy a bit of lounging or take up the challenge of tiger fishing before supper and welcome rest.

Early the next day, those keen on yet more fishing are taken out for another bout of bait casting and “photographs-with-fish” (if they are lucky) before returning to Shayamanzi for a proper eggs-and-bacon breakfast. Cyclists then don their lycra and head off to the Southern Shore Jetty for the morning’s ride.

It’s a rather exciting steep decline from the Inkwazi Lodge to the water’s edge and transfer back to the ever-welcoming Shayamanzi, which is made all the more interesting by the beers consumed on that lodge’s beautiful wooden deck. The transfer back onto the houseboat is smooth and cyclists have showers and a late lunch.

Siesta time follows but those with activity in mind can play darts, enjoy bubbles in the on board Jacuzzi or laze around reading magazines until the late-afternoon fishing expeditions depart.

Yet more cuisine follows after the fishermen return, and a restful sleep.

The cry of a resident pair of fish eagles signals the start of yet another adventurous day, and those that feel as if they haven’t caught enough fish head out into the bay with yet more bait on their hooks.

Those wanting a more challenging, second ride assemble and, after enjoying a light breakfast, take their bikes onto the game reserve’s network of roads. This second, 35-odd (depending on which lodge is visited) kilometre ride is definitely not for game viewing as it includes some pretty steep climbs and plenty of high speed dashes. Stops could include the 1920s style White Elephant Lodge for coffee, before dashing back to the southern shore jetty.

At a sedate eight kilometres an hour, the challenge is on the cyclists to ride as quickly as possible so that they get to that jetty before or at the same time as the houseboat so minimum time is wasted.

A transfer to Shayamanzi where a shower and a full breakfast awaits the cyclists while the houseboat aims for the ‘poort and its moor at Jozini Tiger Lodge, near the impressive dam wall.

After the mooring procedures are completed, mountain bikers, luggage and bicycles are again transferred to the jetty and taken to the secure parking where cruise guests leave their vehicles while onboard.

During the game viewing experiences (both mountain bike and from the boat), a distant elephant, nyala, kudu, impala, reedbuck, waterbuck, warthog, zebra and wildebeest were seen. Various bird species were also seen, including fish eagle, darter, white heron, crowned heron, African jacana, marabou stork and Egyptian goose.

And, although the wildebeest herd rushed passed the group with an urgency probably caused by some sort of predator, the buffalo herds at the water’s edge were probably the highlight of the game viewing experience.

With their curious eyes, herd behaviour and curvy horns, Southern Africa’s Cape buffalo can be dangerous, especially when its injured or old/sick but the chances are highest that they don’t have a clue what these strange contraptions are that we call mountain bikes. They definitely enjoyed the grass at the fertile water’s edge though.

Cyclists wanting to take part in this unique adventure are advised that their tubeless tyres have enough sealant which avoids all but the most severe puncture stops. Check out www.shayamanzi.co.za or call 034 413 2299 for more information.

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |

Editor