Africa is special. Having spent half our lives growing up there, for my wife, Anka, and I, the continent will forever have a hold on our hearts. Bikes consume the other half of our lives; whether it is racing them, travelling with them or shooting them. Being able to combine the two and share the experience with a group of friends was the perfect way to spend a bit of the off-season.
Anka hatched a plan for a few brave souls, telling them very little, other than the need for sunblock, passports and lots and lots of tubeless tyre sealant. The group consisted of newly-married James and Tracy Richards (formerly Moseley), Enduro World Series shredders Jérôme Clementz, Pauline Dieffenthaler, Iago Garay and Anka, as well as Kiwi friends Simon and Anah. Fellow photographer Duncan Philpott joined me on camera duty.
After flying into Johannesburg, South Africa, it was a five-hour drive to the Botswana border and our destination of Mashatu Game Reserve. Mashatu is part of the Greater Mapungubwe Trans Frontier Conservation Area that spreads over Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
We would be going to the middle of nowhere, no distractions, no internet, no 3G, no electricity, nothing but wild animals and the African bushSven Martin
Anka and myself keep coming back here with new groups of friends. Every trip is a new experience, you never know what you'll see or what will happen. You are as far removed from racing as one can get. Instead of looking for race lines, you weave your way through wild animal droppings and keep a look out for a different types of wildlife.
The campsite was a reality check for the first timers on the trip. No fences, no walls, just a thin tent and a fire to ward off hungry predators or curious beasts. With fresh lion, hyena and elephant tracks visible around the campsite and seemingly amplified night calls, roars, squealing and other imagination invoking never-heard-before wild animal sounds, it was a restless night for some.
For this trip of a lifetime we were in the hands of experienced bush guides, Joe and Mario. Both had spent their lives in the bush as trackers, guides and conservationists. Now with Mashatu MTB Safaris they have incorporated mountain bike riding into their safari outings.
We were thoroughly briefed on what to expect and what to do in different situations and circumstancesSven Martin
One of the two led with a rifle at the front of the riding group, with the other bringing up the rear. At all times they made sure the group were close together. Our relaxed daily routine throughout the trip involved an early start to beat the heat, a midday siesta, followed by a late-afternoon sundowner ride and ending each day in a new camp.
The trails undulated between scrub, bush, grass plains and mopane forest. We very seldom used any tracks other than those the wild animals had left. While we were lead by Joe and Mario, who were constantly monitoring animal spoor (tracks and droppings) and keeping a check on wind directions (crucial when approaching wild animals), we also had some freedom to roam. For instance, if we saw a herd of elephants we'd switch to one direction then change to another direction to follow a tower of giraffe.
We had a big adrenaline spike when we chanced upon a leopard that had just made a kill on an impala. It was a quick reminder of the power of natureSven Martin
Mountain bikes are the ultimate 4x4’s of the bush. This leads to some great wildlife spots, as well as some sweet discoveries of natural terrain that had to be detoured to and sessioned for a while.
The last night was spent having a memorable sundowner session on some magical slab rock formations of moab sandstone. A magnificent giant baobab tree presided the this area. Far too soon though it was back to the reality of border crossings, airport rushes, the internet and a lot of unopened emails.
This is a must do bucket-list ride destination. Something you truly can’t do or experience anywhere else in the world. Even if you're a well travelled MTB adventurer or just looking for something or somewhere different to visit on your bike, get a group of friends together and try this.