Distance: Approximately 50 km
After being stamped out of South Africa at the Mapungubwe Confluence Camp, the route followed the reserve roads down to the Limpopo River where riders crossed from South Africa, and cleared customs under a mighty fig tree on the Zimbabwean side of the river.
A short, rocky scramble led to some baobab trees and a path that led back to the Limpopo floodplain – and from there up an ancient elephant track to the mystical Sizi Spring. Swinging in a wide arc to the north and north-west riders reached the Pazhi River with its bed of black decomposed volcanic rock and sand – quite different from all of the other rivers in the region. Turning southwards again and traversing a massive granite dome criss-crossed with elephant trails worn into the rock, riders were able to marvel at an almost perfectly preserved 200 million-year-old fossil embedded in the rock, before heading back to the floodplain and the Limpopo. Cycling past the Bristow’s front gate and home, site of even more fossils, the route swung into an awe-inspiring indigenous forest filled with nyalaberry trees, ironwoods, fever trees and wild fig trees. From there it was a short hop to the delightfully cool Nyalaberry Camp, situated in the Pazhi riverbed.
Distance: Approximately 80 km
Riders departed from Nyalaberry Camp to the west, riding fast over hard-baked plains covered in mopane trees, through a mopane graveyard and across into scenic grassland and acacia trees. There they picked their way through the bush using only the tracks of the cyclists riding ahead, until they emerged into the Maramani Community Lands.
Topped up with water and light snacks at a pre-tea stop, riders flew straight across hard ground, weaving around subsistence farmlands protected by thorn-bush fences. At Shashe village cold Cokes and beers were bought, it was on to a section of bundu-bashing through a dense indigenous forest protected by a high canopy of ancient trees. Riders left Zimbabwe at the sandy Shashe River crossing, after being processed at the temporary customs post set up under a tree.
After the Shashe River crossing to Botswana – a good walk of approximately 1km through the riverbed – the Tea Team was on hand underneath a beautiful fig tree with delicious and replenishing treats.
Leaving the Tea Stop, riders entered a stunning riverine forest of majestic ana and apple-leaf trees (rain trees for our Zimbabwean guests), heading into the Tuli Concession, where riding was mostly on game trails, with the odd Jeep track. Riders passed Bryce’s Store, which was once a trading post for the Zeederberg Coach Company’s route from Pretoria to Bulawayo. Game in this section is always plentiful as there is generally water here. Heading west the terrain varied substantially, from open plains to mopane thickets and croton forests, which are generally associated with waterways.
Brunch awaited on the banks of the Majali River, where the Culinary Catering Team presented their appetising delights.
A challenging rocky Jeep track climb led to an easier section where riders followed a straight beeline west to the end of Day 2. The riverine area through which riders passed has a fairly thick bush, which elephants tend to frequent in the afternoons; here paying careful attention to Group Leaders’ instructions is vital.
Distance: Approximately 50 km
This day was the easiest of the event and riders enjoyed the scenery, taking in the beautiful setting and enjoying the adventure. It incorporated plenty of single-track riding as well as a sandstone rocky ridge. This particular area is steeped in history dating back centuries.
The aim of this day was to keep riders out of camp as long as possible; we encourage all groups to enjoy and appreciate the experience of sharing a safari on a bicycle with each other.
Distance: Approximately 75 km
We headed off into the sunrise, passing the Sacred Mountain, and beneath Mmamagwa Ruins took in the clear, silhouetted view of Rhodes’s Baobab on the skyline to the south.
Passing through the same drainage line as on Day 2 coming into camp, elephant activity meant careful attention was paid to Leaders.
After crossing the Vet Fence, riders ended up on the Cycle Mashatu Trail, where the riding was easy and fast-flowing, other than for flicking mopane branches! Swinging south towards the Limpopo River, the terrain opened up into hilly-flats, which are scattered with majestic Mashatu and shepherd trees. We eventually crossed the Jwala River into Cycle Mashatu’s River Camp for brunch.
After brunch, we headed east along the banks of the “great grey, green, greasy” Limpopo River towards our final destination at the Mapungubwe Confluence Camp in South Africa. We crossed into South Africa at Shalimpo Island, where an informal border crossing was set up, and Botswana Immigration processed everyone out of the country.
The final few kilometres were a killer on already tired legs, and many riders had to dig deep. But at this point, we were almost there, with an ice-cold drink waiting for riders to celebrate their achievement after entering the beautiful Mapungubwe Confluence Camp.
FIND OUT MORE
RIDING DAY 1 – FRIDAY 3 AUGUST – LIMPOPO VALLEY AIRFIELD (BOTSWANA) TO LIMPOPO RIVER CAMP (BOTSWANA) – APPROXIMATELY 61 KM
This year our Botswana route team have managed to include as many little koppies as possible to offer breath-taking views of the landscapes showcasing the Tuli Block. This not only means that there will be a few uphills the good news it also means there will be a few descent’s too. Total accent will be 309m and decent 327m.
We will start the day by riding into the sun rise which will offer spectacular colours during the winter bushveld season. Kit-up warm as the temperatures can be pretty low. Don’t worry about having to cart your cold kit for the whole day as Strategic Point 1 is only 10 km in, and they will be more than happy to relieve you of any extra unnecessary kit. If you do give any of the support crew your kit, please collect it at the next camp from the Support Desk.
The first 15km are on flowing single track game trails. This section of the route offers huge diversity in terms of the terrain. Pay attention to the change in landscapes. Mopane thickets open into plains littered with agates and stunning Shepard trees. There is a bit of climbing (approximately 5km) before the Tea Stop and it’s a bit on the rocky side so please be cautious here.
Take your time at the Tea Stop. If you are a first time rider, the Tea Stops are one of the event highlights. However, be cautious, don’t over eat as the Tour has a reputation for great food in abundance where many a guest has left the event slightly heavier than when they arrived.
Ensure you top up your liquids at the Tea Stop, (water, Biogen Energy Supplement and cold soft drinks will be served at the Tea Stop each day) as the next 20km can become warm and there are no shabeens on the route as you are riding in private wilderness reserves.
The trail is undulating with those sneaky sandy drainage lines that have the tendency to make you do an involuntary lie down in the sand. Keep your eyes open. Shrub Mopane can be a bit of a sod so try and leave a meter or so space from the person in front of you. Mopane is a very hard wood, and if you are riding too close to your buddy, you may find your shins being lashed by the wiping action of the hard twigs. This is a lesson that all Nedbank Tour de Tuli riders soon learn.
The Brunch Stop will be located 40km into the route and is at a spot known as Bryce’s store. Bryce’s Store contains many stories dating back to the 1800’s. This was a permanent spring (and still is) where the British were controlling access to this only reliable water source in the area. Engagements were numerous between the Boers and the British – the first taking part on the 20th of October 1899 when the Boers attacked the British at Bryce’s Store. The store served as a staging post for the Zeederberg Coach, which ran from Pretoria to Bulawayo, a four-day trip. The Boers shelled the store from Pitsani Koppie. During the engagement Bryce’s store was destroyed and today bullets, buckles and other remains can be found in the rubble around the store.
For new riders, The Brunch Stop consists of a light lunch where ice cold soft drinks will be served and enjoyed under beautiful trees. Take a seat and chill – there is no rush, remember it’s a ride NOT a race and we expect you to enjoy the wilderness areas as much as the riding.
The riding from the Brunch Stop to Limpopo River Camp is without a shadow of doubt the best part of day. Rolling hills and open planes with stunning view points. Take the time and ride up Pitsani Koppie where you will have a 360 view of Tuli.
We then end up on the banks of the Limpopo River for a well-deserved ice cold beer. A word of warning! Day 2 is a going to be a long day, so too late or misbehaved evening may not be advisable.
RIDING DAY 2 – SATURDAY 4 AUGUST –LIMPOPO RIVER CAMP (BOTSWANA) TO NYALA BERRY CAMP (ZIMBABWE) – APPROXIMATELY 82 KM
DO.NOT.FORGET.YOUR.PASSPORT! – No mercy will be spared at the fines meeting if you forget your passport in your luggage bag. This is the longest day of the Tour so please ensure you are prepared and have filled up all hydration packs and water bottles. (Hydration packs are compulsory and each rider must have a minimum of 3l liquid carrying capacity.)
Please remember this event is very different from most, we are riding in hot African dry conditions and riders will be out on their bikes for a minimum of 5 hours. This means you need to increase your liquid intake and remain hydrated.
We will bumble along the Limpopo for a few kilometres where you can take cheesy sunrise selfies. We then turn north towards the crossing point into Zimbabwe along very well used elephant paths. Elephants use the same migratory paths for centuries where they pass the information down to future generations of the herd always knows the path to food and water during the drier winter months.
Since these elephant trails have been used for centuries they are hard packed creating perfect fast and flowing riding routes. The temptation to Gun-it will be overwhelming. Fight it. Rather slow down and absorb the beauty of your surroundings as we only have a short stint in this magic part of Tuli. As you can see by the elevation it’s rather flat and a lot less sandy than day 1. However Zimbabwe looms in the distance with the mighty Shashe River to cross.
The Tea Stop will be situated under a massive fig tree offering ample shade on the Botswana side of the informal border before you cross the Shashe River – we have fondly named this spot ‘Fig Tree Crossing’. We ask you to please be patient at the informal border. This border crossing point has been set up especially for us and we ask that you consider that it’s not their normal working environment. The border officials are genuinely excited to be involved with the Tour so please ensure you great them and thank them for their extra work to make this event possible.
After crossing the vast, sandy Shashe Riverbed (and checking into Zimbabwe at the friendly customs table) you will tunnel through the riverine indigenous forest and emerge into the sunlight at The Shashe Village. You will be treated to community owned and farmed orange orchards which are irrigated with massive central pivot machines. These activities are helping to transform an otherwise desolate, desperately poor area. Pause and absorb the stunning views of the Shashe River as you track up its left bank, venturing into Pioneer Column territory, and think about what it was like for Mzilikazi when he led his migrating Zulu clan from the lush Valley of a Thousand Hills in Kwa-Zulu Natal into unknown territory. You will visit the kids and teachers at the Jalukange School and then turn east to pick your way through ancient volcanic terrain.
The first Brunch Stop in Zimbabwe is situated at a well and pump alongside a pristine cattle kraal. Enjoy that fast flowing, winding jeep track all the way to the impressive Big Donga, and then cross the Pazhi River. Notice the black volcanic sand, completely different from the Shashe and thank your lucky stars that you are trudging through it at the end of winter. In the heat of summer it gets hot enough to melt your shoes. Enjoy the game tracks and the natural bush until you get back to some rugged jeep tracks. Swing past a lonely Sentinel baobab tree which crowns a low koppie. From here you can see the flat-topped mesa right at Nyala Berry Camp – your final destination for the day.
Plain sailing from here across the Mopane Graveyard and straight home through the massive, ancient Nyala Berry Trees that have given their name to our brand new camp.
RIDING DAY 3 – SUNDAY 5 AUGUST – NYALA BERRY CAMP LOOP (ZIMBABWE) – APPROXIMATELY 53 KM
Cross the Pazhi River again and move straight into a fascinating region of sandstone koppies, rocky outcrops and old elephant trails. The whole area has been criss-crossed by elephants for centuries and they are the very best scouts to open flowing cycle trails just for us. Stop and explore the Tobwane Dam along the way before tracking along the ridge that separates this region from the Limpopo flood-plain.
A small hike at the Tea Stop will reward you with sight of the grain bins in a cave – used to store grain by the Venda and to protect their food resources from the nasty Mzilikazi and his Zulu impis as they marauded their way to Bulawayo.
Bounce down a rocky ridge and head for the newest, grandest dam wall in the whole of Zimbabwe. Marvel at the engineering – built as a reservoir to store water which is pumped using solar power out of the Limpopo River into this dam, already teeming with water-birds, fish and even hippos and crocodiles. The new wall is a kilometre long.
Pause at the hyena restaurant, the Baobab Pub with the tailor made serving hatch and Skeleton Rock – the scene of the murder of a child by the local pride of lions many years ago. Take a little climb up to the world famous fly-camp and gaze south towards the Limpopo River, over a small pan teeming with elephants and by night, screaming with baboons. You will come back home to Nyala Berry Camp through Mopane trees, river beds and thick acacia groves, again following in the footsteps of countless elephants.
RIDING DAY 4 – SUNDAY 5 AUGUST – NYALA BERRY (ZIMBABWE) TO MAPUNGUBWE (SOUTH AFRICA) – APPROXIMATELY 61 KM
A feast of sights: Say goodbye to the Nyala berries and head south to the riverine indigenous forest area of Sentinel. Look out for elephants, and try to imagine the age of the massive hardwoods that grow out of anthills – the seeds planted there by baboons many generations back.
Ride past the home of our hosts, the Bristow’s and track alongside the Limpopo River until you peel off to a short stony climb to the most fascinating dinosaur fossil site. Try to imagine life here two hundred million years ago – a full one hundred and forty million years before the great dinosaur extinction. That is how long ago this very big ex-lizard lived – give or take a few million years either way of course.
After the fossil site visit, scratch and bump your way onto a massive granite plinth, observe the eroded paths and potholes, all aeons old. Take some time to test your technical cycling skills before you reach a mysterious wooded kloof where you will have to carry your bikes and help each other. Mind the dassies.
Cross the Pazhi River again and pull up to a viewpoint where an old ox-wagon came to die. Think about the owners who would have abandoned it – possibly having to find alternative means for carrying loads of freshly harvested ivory. This probably dates back to the 1850s – before anyone even thought about the Pioneer Column.
Enjoy tea on the riverbank, and then swing around across fast flowing plains with no tracks at all. Look out for plentiful game including a den of bat-eared foxes. You will get into some red Kalahari Sand – keep smiling because you get to soak up the atmosphere emanating from the baobabs and ancient rock-figs. You will emerge right at the legendary Sizi Spring where you can be granted everlasting youth by imbibing the sweet water directly from the source as it bubbles up from mother earth.
You will again follow the navigation skills of the elephants as you climb down to the Limpopo floodplain. Look out for game, commune with the cliffs and massive baobabs, clatter up to another little portage and then track down to the most efficient customs post in the land. Brunch will be served at the border crossing point.
If you listen very carefully you will hear the Kolokolo Bird telling you, with a mournful cry, ‘Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.’ (Rudyard Kipling).
Don’t forget to stamp out of Zimbabwe before crossing the mighty Limpopo River back into South Africa.
This year we are going to show case the magnificent Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site in South Africa. The route will take you past the Shroda dam look out. This is a magnificent viewing point showcasing the beautiful Park.
Due to the sandy terrain in the Park we will stick to the Park roads. The views and vistas you will experience whilst riding through the Park are breath-taking. This year, the cycle route will include a stop at the Park Museum where the famous Mapungubwe Rhino can be seen.
After the visit to the museum you will drop into a valley and follow game trails to the official archaeological dig sight of the Mapungubwe Ruins. We urge all of you to stop and take short walk to the top of the mountain where you will get the opportunity to see how this ancient civilization lived. From the site, it is a short ride to the last night’ camp at the Mapungubwe Confluence Site where you can enjoy a well-deserved sun-downer whilst reflecting on your time on Tour with us. We urge you all to stay this last night and celebrate a wonderful adventure shared together with new friends.
RIDING DAY 1 – 28TH JULY – LIMPOPO VALLEY AIRFIELD (BOTSWANA) TO AMPHITHEATRE BUSH CAMP (BOTSWANA) – APPROXIMATELY 65 KM
Head out of the Limpopo Valley Airfield in an easterly direction into the sunrise which is always spectacular. Some warm kit is recommended for the mornings which you can either carry with you or hand over to one of the trusty volunteers to collect later at the Support Desk.
From Nel’s Vlei we head north-west on single track into open plains scattered with shepherd bush trees. From here we will start heading south into the famous sandstone ridges to test your mountain bike skills. Brace yourselves for a bit of sand once you get into the sandstone hills. The tea stop (which is approximately 20 km from camp) will be situated at Pride Rock – the lovely Janet and her team will be ready to welcome you with a variety of delicious treats. Please ensure that you reapply sunblock at this stop.
On to brunch; this section includes a short but magic section of sandstone where after we will head north into shrub mopane. Keep a good gap between yourself and the rider in front of you as the mopane branches have a nasty sting. This section has the most climbing of the whole Tour with some rocky little climbs which are, however, 100% rideable. That said, don’t be shy to walk should you feel uncomfortable riding it. Remember, this is a tour; not a race. On top of the plateau there is a lone baobab with the second-best view on Tour. This is a great spot for a panoramic shot on your way to the brunch stop. Brunch will be asemrowend guaranteed. Please fill up with water as the last stretch of the day can be warm. Remember to reapply your sunblock at the brunch stop too. The distance between the tea and the brunch stop is about 19 km with about 150 m of climbing.
Homeward bound to Amphitheatre Bush Camp on single track through mopane bushveld. This section is fast and flowing but care needs to be taken as there are a lot of elephants in the area. Please ensure you keep a watchful eye on your Cycle Leader so you don’t miss any communication signals they may be making.
The last stretch into camp is sandy so brace yourselves for this last push. The ice cold beers waiting for you at the camp should motivate you to push through this sandy patch. Brunch to Amphitheatre Bush Camp is roughly 17 km, with a 40 m climb.
RIDING DAY 2 – 29TH JULY – AMPHITHEATRE BUSH CAMP LOOP (BOTSWANA) – APPROXIMATELY 50 KM
We head west out of camp where we will start off with a river crossing to warm up the legs. After crossing the Motloutse River we move into open plains on well-used ellie tracks. Be warned, this area is rather chilly in the morning so a warm top is highly recommended – you can drop it at tea if you are extra nice to Janet. The first 10 km will take us through true wilderness areas where we will explore the Tuli Wilderness Reserve. We will then cross back over the Motloutse River again, heading east to tea which will be situated under large apple-leaf trees. Tea is located approximately 19 km from camp.
From the tea stop we cross over the vet fence into some loose rocky terrain to test your technical riding skills. This stretch is very diverse as the bush changes all the time from mopane to open plains to leadwood thickets, with tricky drainage lines to cross. Brunch is under a majestic mashatu tree, approximately 18 km from the tea stop.
So who’s up for a challenge?
For some of the front teams we dare you to ride a Qhubeka Buffalo bike for approximately 5km from brunch via the Lentswe wall to the village of Lentswe-le-Moriti to put a smile on some kid’s dial. This is the average distance that most rural children walk to get to school each day. A humbling thought as you struggle to manoeuver your Buffalo bike through this section of the route.
From brunch we drop into the Limpopo River under the Lentswe Wall, a natural marvel. There are two portages in this section but nothing too serious. This entails a quick visit to the school and back into the wilderness, popping out under Mmagwa Ruins. Demand that your Cycle Leaders take you to the top. This is the best view of the Tuli area you will ever experience and there’s a great photo opportunity under the Cecil John Rhodes Baobab. The ride continues west to Solomon’s Wall, yet another spectacular natural marvel. Ice cold beers aren’t too far away and will be welldeserved after a long day in the saddle. From the brunch stop back to camp it is approximately 16 km.
Ladies and gents, the temptation to have a moerse opskop once you arrive in camp is very inviting but PLEASE remember, Day 3 is going to hurt.
We will once again overnight at the Amphitheatre Bush Camp.
RIDING DAY 3 – 30TH JULY – AMPHITHEATRE BUSH CAMP (BOTSWANA) TO MARAMANI COMMMUNITY CAMP (ZIMBABWE) – APPROXIMATELY 70 KM
Today we will leave as early as it is safe to do so as the first section of the route is renowned for interactive ellie encounters. So when your Leader makes a bee-line for the main road please don’t hesitate to follow as they are more than likely avoiding a large herd of ellies. I think we should reiterate the importance of listening to your Leaders and ensure you do not overtake the front Leader. The first section to the tea stop is 95% single track with a lot of mopane. It is best to keep your following distances in mind, as the whipping effect of the lower mopane branches does hurt somewhat. The pace may tend to be erratic as the bush is rather thick in areas.
We cross the Majale River twice and the banks are very steep so walking them may be the better option. At the tea stop Janet will once again be her most accommodating and hospitable self. Distance from camp to tea is approximately 23 km. There will be a few sandy patches today that you will need to get through. This is a great opportunity to practice your sand riding. The next couple of kilometers after tea will be quite warm so please ensure you top up your water/32Gi supplement at the Tea Stop.
Heading into the heart of Mashatu the game encounters here can be amazing and the area is truly magnificent so take a moment to absorb the beauty. As we get closer to the Shashe River crossing there is a dramatic change in landscape and vegetation, and riding will become a bit more challenging with thick bush, rocky descents and the odd drainage line to throw a spanner in the works. Brunch is served on the banks of the Shashe River on the Botswana side. Here we bid farewell to Botswana, where you will clear customs and after a short walk across the Shashe River, and enter Zimbabwe.
Get your passport stamped after you trudge across the sandy Shashe River. The Zimbabwean section of the route is approximately 24 km. Take a shady single track through the riverine forest, filled with lala palms, massive ironwood, fig, mashatu and fever trees and head north through Shashe Village. Feel free to stop and sample an ice-cold beer from a local store before heading up to the Shashe Primary School. Swing south and speed across flat hard single track – just remember to duck for the lower branches of the trees waiting to smack you on the helmet. You will reach the sandstone kopjes that guard the Limpopo from the interior, swing around a sandstone spur and you will be at your next home for the night – the delightful Maramani Community Camp on the banks of the Limpopo. Relax and enjoy.
RIDING DAY 4 – 31ST JULY – MARMANI COMMUNITY CAMP (ZIMBABWE) TO MAPUNGUBWE (SOUTH AFRICA) – APPROXIMATELY 68 KM
Head out of the Maramani Community Camp to the north; there is easy fast riding on Jeep track all the way through community lands to tea set in cool shade on the banks of the Pazhi River. Cross the river and head north and then east across game-filled acacia and mopane bushveld. Look out for giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, eland and impala. Pause to enjoy the Saltpan and two remarkable riverbank cuttings with hardy trees growing out of the walls. These spots will be perfect for group photos.
You will swing south along a fast jeep track all the way past the Sentinel Rock Camp back to the Pazhi River. You will need all of your muscle power to force your way down the black sandy riverbed for a few hundred meters until you climb out into a glade of massive ironwood, fig and mashatu trees for a delicious brunch.
Cross the main Shashe road, a short sprint down a turnoff and you will swing around to enter the riverine forest that flanks the Limpopo River. Weave your way through massive trees that have been there just forever (keep a look out for elephants), and pass the Bristow’s house, where you will be shown a display of 200 million year old fossils collected on Sentinel. Follow the river bank, swing inland and take a short sharp rocky climb to the fossil site – there you will meet the oldest and biggest lizard you have ever seen.
Power through a short sandy patch, traverse a plateau while you soak up the atmosphere created by the ancient baobabs that surround you and emerge right at the Sizi Spring. This is an age-old meeting point for all animals, and is the likely source of permanent water for the Iron Age era Mapungubwe Kingdom. From here – a short, slightly sandy, ride awaits you to the border crossing and over the Limpopo. You will soon be in South Africa on graded roads all the way to the Mapungubwe Camp – keep a look out for elephants.