If you have ever visited the Addo Elephant National Park, making your way along the public access roads through the park. You will know it is a fairly dense, typical Eastern Cape “bushveld” environment with loads of animals scattered over the park. But you know those jeep tracks marked with the typical “NO ENTRY” signposts along the main gravel roads, I know for a fact I always think if I could just wonder down that path a bit in my vehicle, imagine the wildlife I will be able to see! Well, I had the chance to do just that on the Tour De Addo, on my bicycle I may add, in May this year when I got asked by the team from Red Cherry Events to join them on their first partnership Tour with the Honorary Rangers of SANParks.
Most of us adventurous types out in the world are always looking for that “wow” factor when venturing. That one experience we will tell our kids about around the campfire. You almost never admit it, but while packing your bags and preparing for an off the grid trip you most likely have that tingly feeling in your tummy of excitement, subconsciously thinking, what the “wow” factor will be on this trip?
I can tell you that combining remote off the grid tented villages, riding tracks and roads through protected concession wilderness areas, knowing the Big 5 could be lurking around every corner. Topping it off with hearty meals and campfire stories, make for more than enough opportunity for that “WOW” factor to kick in somewhere along your 6-day journey on Tour De Addo.
Back to those “No Entry” jeep tracks, the feeling of riding your MTB on them with an official vehicle in front and one at the back, all the while Rangers checking for dangerous animals, might sound a bit like you’re living on the edge, but it is quite the opposite.
The SANparks Honorary Rangers are absolute gems, with a wealth of knowledge about the environment you are riding in. Firstly, they have a good idea where the danger is, with the ability to track “spoor” and tell where you should be looking to view the animals and they use every opportunity to transfer some of that in depth veld knowledge over to you. Yes, we saw lions, from the saddle of our bicycles, elephants, buffalo, zebra, kudu, eland, just to name a few and those experiences sure made it to the “wow” factor book of bucket list experiences.
However for me, where the real treat lies are the history stories and the vegetation knowledge from the people you are with, the Honorary Rangers. These guys volunteer their time and experience to help build and protect our National Parks in an effort to conserve our beautiful natural planet.
The flora knowledge transfer from the Rangers probably was more evident when the Tour ventured from the dense bushveld in the Southern section of the Addo National Park where your first 3 days are spent, over to the Northern section at the Darlington Dam.
It is a complete change of scenery; you drive over the Olifantskoppas and immediately you are in the Karoo. The Darlington Dam section is more specifically known as the Noorsveld. This is a typical desert area named after a specific succulent that grows here called “Noors”, it changes your spectrum of riding completely.
After spending 3 nights in the bush with lions roaring and Jackals crying at night, your mind is almost unsure what to do with the vast open space all of the sudden. Red Cherry has once again gone out of their way to create a unique and intimate tented village under the Akasia’s on the banks of the Darlington Dam. The sunsets and sunrises from this campsite were absolutely amazing. I must say, I for one was in my element in this open space, not that the surreal experience of riding your bike along the Big 5 wasn’t a highlight of my life, but it was the perfect way to close off the last couple of days of riding on the Tour De Addo. Giving you that breathing space and leaving you with a sense of a true journey of what the Addo Elephant National Park has to offer.
Words and Images – Zane Schmahl