On Tour with Panorama Pedals
Memories of my 9-day cycling trip with Panorama Pedals
Written by Marinus J.
Earlier this year, I was invited to join Panorama Pedals for their first 9-day cycling tour of 2018. The tour was the perfect opportunity to explore the Mpumalanga and Limpopo regions of South Africa. This tour proved to be the ideal trip for guests looking to see this side of the world in an exciting and unique way since it offers a combination of safari and cycling whilst experiencing the country's culture, cuisine and magnificent landscapes.
Day One: A 10km dirt road cycle among wildlife with the likes of giraffe, impala, kudu, zebra and a couple of hippos bathing in one of the dams found on the game farm. All of this breath-taking scenery whilst getting accustomed to our tour-provided hardtail mountain bikes. It was quite a thrilling and picturesque practice run if you ask me.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better we checked into our chalets as the sun began to set ready for the hard-earned meal included with the tour. A traditional South African dish, Bobotie, paired perfectly with a bottle of red wine as our group shared stories about the thorn bush none of us saw around the final corner of our afternoon ride. It was a good way to end the first day of our tour because laughing really is the best medicine.
Day Two greeted us with breakfast and hopefully well-rested legs as we were to make our first ascent up to a viewpoint that looks over the entire Blyde dam. This time we were cycling on a quiet tar road through the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve that had us on the lookout for Nyalas, bushbucks and baboons. It was a relaxing 27km ride with a decent climb to the top. There was a museum and the option to buy some refreshments before we got back onto the bikes and enjoyed the downhill to our lunch spot. A stop had to be made as a bushbuck was crossing the road, forcing us to take another picture of us cycling among some of the most beautiful animals to walk the earth. After that, it was an easy 10km trip to where a cheeseburger and chips, accompanied by a cold beer, joined me on the edge of the river as I calculated the number of calories I burnt, and earned.
From here, the next destination on the list was the one most tourists look forward to: A night in the Kruger National Park. With the bicycles comfortably resting on the back of the trailer, and us on the lookout for the Big Five and enjoying some biltong and droë wors along the drive, we stopped at the tented Tamboti camp for a nice shower and short rest before the afternoon game drive on a Kruger National Park open-vehicle. The drive included elephants, leopards, buffaloes, giraffes, impalas, kudu, and countless more. Back at camp, a candle lit dinner awaited us under the stars with lions roaring in the distance and hyenas scavenging for leftover food, we spoke of the bicycle ride, and how exciting it was to see so many of the Big Five and the probability of running into some lions during the full-day Kruger trip on Day Three.
Therefore, Day Three: With the sound of birds chirping just as the sun began to rise, we woke to nature’s alarm clock with a cup of condensed milk coffee and freshly baked rusks. Thereafter we had to say goodbye to our tented-chalets and adjusted our eyes to spotting some more wildlife. It didn’t take long, as a few cars parked in the road, and binoculars looking to the left, immediately hinted at the sighting of something wild. Trying to locate the focus of many tourists, we laid eyes on two cheetahs baking in the morning sun and spent the next half an hour observing the fastest land animals in their natural habitat. We were content with the sighting and moved on to find a lioness crossing the road before us, jogging off into the distance probably looking for her next prey. If we were a few seconds later, we would have missed her completely and the day went on like that: Driving and stopping and driving and stopping only to feast our eyes on more wildlife either absorbing the warm African sun or cooling off under shaded trees.
It was around 5:30 pm, just before the gate to our Pretoriuskop Camp would close, where we found a rather lazy and arrogant hyena taking an afternoon nap in the middle of the tar road. Its eyes would open slightly, as if to say that photographs were welcome just as the sun was about to set.
We spent the evening around an open fire braai, with thick cuts of fillet cooking on the flames, drinking more wine and conversing about the endless dirt roads to be found in the Kruger and the countless animals we encountered around each corner. We shared stories about South Africa and the rest of the world and how important it is to travel and experience all the diverse cultures and landscapes to be found in the world. Those conversations kept us up quite late and by the time my head hit the pillow I was fast asleep.
Day Four we were on route to the Blyde River Canyon to indulge in the amazing scenery and views provided by the Three Rondavels – three mountain tops, very similar to traditional African homesteads. Prior to arrival we got back on our bikes to pursue another 30km ride to Bourke’s Luck potholes and a stop at a lunch spot that was perhaps the most exciting of the entire trip. It was at the Boskombuis on a small stream flowing through the mountain where an ice cold beer and boerewors and pap was served. The tranquillity of the setting was relaxing and a cool breeze was ideal for my much-needed post-cycle therapy. Not too long after lunch we stopped at the Three Rondavels to enjoy the spectacular creations of nature itself. Our accommodation for the evening was just off the edge of the mountain tops.
The following day saw us take a small hike to the top of a hill to watch the sun rest on the mountain tops for a last time before we began one of our longer rides down the mountain on route to the Echo Caves. Day Five offered the opportunity to cycle past many farming communities and it was here where we made the cross from Mpumalanga into Limpopo again. One of the hotter days for sure, but arriving at the Echo Caves and entering the naturally-formed rock formation was the most effective way of cooling off and learning a thing or two about the early inhabitants and how the caves were used during many battles between various tribes. After a quick bite, we took a short drive to Letsitele to the Junction Accommodation which is situated on the Letaba River to find refreshment in a couple of sundowners and dinner.
The Sixth Day of the Panorama Pedals Safari Cycling Tour greeted us with a cycle through citrus plantations on a few local farms where we had the opportunity to make a stop by one of the dams to watch some hippos play not too far away. Interesting fact: A hippo doesn’t mock charge like most other wild animals. Anyway, our destination was also our lunch spot - the Kaross Embroidery – where hand-crafted materials such as placemats, handbags and many other artful creations are made by local farmworkers. I had a chicken pie and salad and chocolate cake to reward myself for all the cycling I’ve done. Concluding our trip to Kaross, we jumped into the car and went up the mountain to the Coach House Hotel & Spa with a view that can’t easily be beaten by many other. Also, mentions of a spa seemed fairly suitable to my trip thus far and a massage seemed in order.
Day Seven. It started off quite relaxing with a mountain view buffet breakfast and morning mist creeping between hundreds of pine trees. Today’s ride began downhill so it only made sense that it would end with a hill, and so it did. It was kind of great. The cycling was a 30km ride among pine trees and spectacular views. It was completely different to the kind of wildlife cycling we were offered earlier in the week and having had the chance to explore so many diverse settings really made me realise that you can have it all. That night, we went on to have a nice braai with a variety of meats on offer and a great selection of wine and company. Most important of all, the bed was instantly comfortable and provided me with the rest I needed in preparation for the last day of cycling.
Day Eight had us cycling between two wildlife reserves, we had our eyes stretched widely for the possible sightings of more wild animals. We made a quick stop at the rustic Leydsdorp Hotel for a mid-ride drink. The final stretch of the ride seemed a little fictional, as the tree was much larger than I expected and considering the fact that the hollow trunk used to be a bar was something worth pedalling to. It is said that the inside of the tree could fit up to 14 miners at a time. I was kind of hoping that the bar was still open but this was a long time ago considering the tree is over 2000 years old. This stopped marked the end of our cycling and we made our way to the Tshukudu Nature Reserve for the last night of the tour.
We went on a game drive that afternoon and it was something I really wasn’t expecting. Our guide started off by showing us the ever chatty elephant herd whilst the sun began to set. It was the perfect moment for photography and I didn’t mind filling my SD card with hundreds of photos of two younger elephants playfully wrestling in the dust. Not too long after that we went off-road in search of the lions and within a few moments we found ourselves at awe with the sighting of one male lion and four females. We were about 4 meters away. The guide informed that as long as we remained in the vehicle the lions would not be alerted or bothered by our presence and he was right. Luckily my SD card had a little space left as the lions were the cherry on top. The reserve had a boma where we cooked our meat on the open-fire for a last time, and much to our surprise, we were joined by a bush baby that seemed quite curious as it hopped from one tree to the other.
Another early start for Day Nine because it was time for a bush walk. But not your average bush walk, no, a bush walk with the reserve’s cheetahs. It wasn’t long after my first coffee that I found myself posing next to a full-grown cheetah for my top Instagram upload of the week. The cheetah got up every now and then, and we followed her gracefully as she guided us through the wilderness.
After that, getting a pet cat was no longer a thing I wanted to do because getting a cheetah was just so much more interesting.
Can’t wait for the next tour, see you soon Panorama Pedals!