The second iSimangaliso MTB 4 Day powered by Nashua proved a resounding success, with the 280 mountain bike riders emerging a little muddier and wide eyed from the event having taken part in an unforgettable experience.
“This is nothing short of a bucket-list experience,” one rider was heard remarking on Sunday August 24th as the riders finished the 270km ride that took them through iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s uMkhuze, False Bay, Western Shores, Lake St Lucia Estuary and Eastern Shores section of the park, as well as Phinda Private Game Reserve (Munyawana) and Hluhluwe River Lodge.
The ride has raised just over a quarter of a million rand towards one of iSimangaliso’s conservation goals this year – the re-introduction of eland into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Eland are the last of the historically occurring species to be re-introduced into this World Heritage Site. The funds were raised via a compulsory conservation donation built into the events entrance fee for iSimangaliso’s Rare and Endangered Species Fund. This fund assists in monitoring, protecting and reintroducing animals into the park. To date it has supported rhino, oribi, cheetah and lion re-introductions.
Among the myriad of features that turned this year’s iSimangaliso MTB 4 Day into a one-of-a-kind event were the many animal sightings, plant and bird species that peppered each day’s ride – with the sighting of breaching whales on the final day an undisputed highlight for the happily exhausted riders.
The final day was a 43 kilometre ride through iSimangaliso’s Eastern Shores, towards Cape Vidal, in a circular route past Mission Rocks and through lakes, pans, coastal dune forest and grasslands including iPhiva Pan and Zindondwe Pan which provided an opportunity for close up hippo sightings. The final stretch ended at the rider camp at iSimangaliso’s St Lucia Estuary where the category leaders were honoured.
The event attracted riders from various fitness levels with most agreeing it is an adventure and experiential ride to be enjoyed and not raced. Participants included a celebrity team consisting of SA Premier Soccer League player Gordon Gilbert, and Matthew Brittain, South African Olympic Gold Medal rower who really enjoyed the event. In an Instagram posted by Gordon Gilbert he wrote “Amazing! Probably one of the best experiences ever”.
Four riders made history this year as the first development team to participate in the event. The iSimangaliso-Boundless Southern Africa supported team included Mbusi Motsa (Swaziland) who is a social rider who calls himself a ‘weekend warrior’ and spends many hours cycling through Swaziland’s protected and rural areas, Michael Ndwandwe who works in St Lucia and Bonginkosi Nwgane from kwaMduku bordering iSimangaliso who use their bikes as their primary transport to and from work.
It was at iSimangaliso’s spectactular kuMziki lookout point, which provides a unique view of both Lake St Lucia and the Indian Ocean, that the breaching whales were sighted by the riders. “It’s moments like these that confirm iSimangaliso Wetland Park as a unique wildscape experience,” said an upbeat Andrew Zaloumis, CEO of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority. “Where else in the world can you mountain bike through a World Heritage Site that transverses eight interlinking ecosystems and see a rhino and elephant in one day, followed by whales the next?”
The rhino, elephant and whales were among a myriad of wetland species sighted by the riders, with impala, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, lion and many different bird species also making up the rider’s daily experience. One of the riding teams made their ride even more enjoyable by monitoring and recording the number of different bird species spotted along the route.
The 230km long iSimangaliso was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in 1999 for its ecosystems, bio-diversity and global beauty. The iSimangaliso MTB 4 Day powered by Nashua covers 270kms of sheer adventure and awe-inspiring nature in ‘Big five’ country with the biggest stretch of 95km’s taking place on Day two (Friday August 22nd) commencing in uMkhuze through Phinda Game Reserve before reaching the False Bay section of iSimangaliso. While Day 3 an easier 78km stretch took cyclists through the Nyalazi floodplains with spectacular vistas of the lake teaming with flamingoes.
With the emphasis on raising funds for conservation in the park as well as the experience of riding through the different ecosystems, experiencing iSimangaliso’s world heritage values and seeing animals from the saddle of a bicycle, the teams from many parts of South Africa and neighbouring countries left the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on Sunday evening knowing they had been part of a unique experience – one that has all the makings of a world-class eco sports adventure tourist event.
A waiting list fir next year’s event has opened on the website www.isimangaliso-mtb.co.za.