Tour de Pafuri 2014, Part I
Nick Galpine recces then rides this year’s Tour de Pafuri – three days of wilderness biking in far northern Kruger National Park and an important event on Children in the Wilderness’ fundraising calendar…
Not so long ago, in a concession far, far away, a hardy bunch of riders took to the trails for the Dimension Data Tour de Pafuri 2014... rounding up not stray cattle but donations to Children in the Wilderness (CITW). Beset on all sides by the tyrannies of thick sand and the after effects of the dreaded (but delicious) bran muffins, they dropped gears, plugged holes, and battled on. The jeep tracks and game paths held many challenges, not least an impressive pile of mystery poop the identity of whose owner was hotly debated, marauding herds of buffalo and elephants hiding out in ambush alley.
A badly injured leopard reminded us of the hazards of the bush, but Nature put him out of his misery, mercifully quickly. Our hardships however were still to come...
Before the Dimension Data team arrived, we drove the Makuleke Concession roads flat to recce the route – and in a Land Cruiser, they really did seem reasonably flat. Take away two wheels and an engine, however, and suddenly the inclines become a little more apparent. But we were young and fearless and our legs were fresh!
Reviewing all the proposed routes like this gave us the perfect opportunity to enjoy the incredible diversity of the far northern Kruger. There can be few other places on Earth that combine so many different ecosystems in one stunning mosaic. At different moments you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the Okavango, or the Linyanti, or even further afield in Tarangire. Suddenly it made a whole lot of sense that all Limpopo Province vehicle registration plates feature a baobab tree.
The effects of the 2012 and 2013 floods were very apparent, from the washed away tar road near the Park Gate to the 80cm deep sand deposits on the (former) airstrip... we were some of the first people in a very long time to make it all the way along the riverine road to Crooks' Corner, where we got to gaze out over Zimbabwe and Mozambique – and look out for giant crocs. A traditional smuggling route for guns, ivory and worse, all we were packing were energy bars and gels – which probably should be declared contraband on taste grounds alone!
Nearby were the remains of Fernandez' Store, demolished when everyone in the area was relocated in 1969 to make way for the Kruger National Park extension. This ruined retail emporium was promptly renamed Rodriguez’ store because after all that sand we really needed some sugar, man. The Limpopo River, after some long dry months, was more a collection of puddles between sandbars than the “great grey-green, greasy” river imagined by Kipling, but was still very much “all set about with fever-trees” – and beautifully so.
Concession Managers Rob and Landi Burns have clearly lost none of their organisational flair and the Pafuri Walking Trail Camp was a perfect balance between rustic charm and comfort – although after a day in the saddle we could probably have slept on beds of nails! A constant supply of cold beers and hot showers was somehow conjured up, answering pretty much all our needs. We won’t mention the Coke shortage scandal of the final evening…
End of Part I
Read Part II here.
Words Nick Galpine
Photos Nick Galpine, Janet Wilkinson