Airlink

Riding for Rhinos in the Karoo Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

I’ll bear the scars for a few weeks – deep gashes in my leg from a stumble as I negotiated one of the many stream crossings on my mountain bike.  But the smile on my face will last far longer. 

You see I had the pleasure of joining 149 other mountain bikers and trail runners on a weekend program of wild stuff in the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve near Cape Town.  Funds raised were donated to ‘Forever Wild’ to assist with rhino anti-poaching efforts across the sub-continent.

Rhinos are what the ‘Sanbona Forever Wild Weekend’ was all about. Photo © Alouise Lynch

Steep dirt roads, winding jeep tracks and technical single tracks made up an awesome route through this arid Karoo landscape, with rocky stream crossings to keep things even more interesting.  One bloke did the entire 56km marathon on a single gear bike (my bike has 20 gears) – his T-shirt declaring boldly that ‘Ironman is for pansies’ and his animal print satin boxer shorts looking slightly odd amongst his more suitably kitted out compatriots.  This is like climbing a stepladder without using your legs and only having one arm.  Why do it, you may ask?  Probably just because.  I dunno, but I do know that he had huge fun, as did the rest of the competitors (myself included).   My ride was briefly halted when I snapped my chain powering up a rocky single track, but a kind samaritan came to my rescue with running repairs.  Thanks Barry.

One of many stream crossings in thickly vegetated kloofs. Photo © chrishitchcock.co.za

The night ride was huge fun, and this time I was a spectator.  I hitched a ride in the lead vehicle as we swept the dark Karoo bush ahead with a spotlight for hippo, elephant, buffalo and anything else that might pose a threat.  Behind us weaved a procession of alien-esque lights, amidst a sound track of heckling banter and squeals of delight on the fast downhill surges into the inky black Karoo darkness.  Luckily the big dangerous animals stayed away that night, but my heart did skip a beat when a Smith’s red rock rabbit bounded across the road ahead.  My first thought was of riverine rabbit, one of the world’s rarest mammals, found only in the Karoo – and present at Sanbona.

This event is a rare one and it was a true privilege to ride in this fantastic Karoo reserve and to explore the more remote corners not accessible to the public.  Hats off to the organisers Race Interface for meeting the strict environmental code placed on them by the reserve managers. Also a big-up to Sanbona for agreeing to host the weekend.

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My last few hours on the reserve completed the circle for me, reminding me of why we all took part in this event.  During a brief game drive we saw 4 large white rhino on two separate sightings, plus elephants, and many other things you would expect to see in these remote kloofs and wide river beds.

If you could take 2 lessons from this blog post, make it these:

  • First, go mountain biking and trail running – it will get you fit, keep you outdoors and improve your social life.
  • Second, get to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve – it’s genuinely wild Karoo country and the big 5 are truly free and living the life. Amongst the lion population are free roaming white lions.  The reserve has a few lodges, catering for everybody from families to couples seeking seclusion.  The food and comfort levels are excellent and the staff and rangers are superb.  This is a true story of previously farmed land now behaving naturally.  It’s all good, and worth supporting.

Thanks to Jody, Kerry, Tarryn and the rest of the Race Interface team – you guys rock!  Please put my name down for next year.  Also huge thanks to the worker-bees from Sanbona who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep us safe and able to focus on completing the events.



Simon Espley

I am a proud African, of the digital tribe, and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, real people with interesting stories and elusive birds. I live in Hoedspruit, next to the Kruger National Park, with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells. When not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered account, but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter.

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