The second Desert Knights tour of 2015 was held in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park from 24-30 September. The demand has been such that the park's management committee, the hosts of the tour, this year set two tour dates.
Francois Snyders from Namibia Wildlife Resorts, the overall event coordinator, commented that ‘both the April and September tours were a resounding success and the tour is now a permanent fixture on the calendar of events for the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld’.
He added ‘we have come a long way since the inaugural tour, which took place in 2010. We have made a significant investment in equipment required for the tour, improved aspects related to the camp set-up, created a number of short-term job and training opportunities and established an innovative and sustainable way to raise funds for conservation activities in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park'.
The registration of the 120 participating cyclists, and a few non-cycling spouses and friends, took place in Sendelingsdrift and Hobas on 24 September. Participants were then transferred to Hobas with their bicycles and gear bags. There was much excitement at the starting line for the first day’s 35 km loop from the Hobas campsite to the Fish River Canyon viewpoint, with the support staff in the camp lining up to cheer the cyclists on their way. Cyclists were treated to a spectacular sunset as they cycled along the canyon edge to the viewpoint, and then got their first experience of cycling under the moonlit sky, back to Hobas. A key feature of the Desert Knights tour is that most of the cycling takes place in the late afternoon into the setting sun and under the full moon. This allows participants to experience the spectacular landscape and sense of place of this transfrontier park from the vantage point of their bicycle saddles.
Days 2 and 3 saw cyclists covering the route from Hobas to the Ai Ais Hotsprings Resort and then on to the spectacular camp set against towering rock cliffs in the Gamkab Canyon. A wide range of activities were offered to participants during the day, ranging from a four-hour guided walk, a scenic drive to a number of viewpoints of the Fish River Canyon, a popular visit to the nearby Canyon Roadhouse and for some, a hike to top of the mountain overlooking the Hotsprings Resort. A highlight at Ai Ais was the performance of a local Nama dance group. These activities are included in the tour to give participants an insight into the natural and cultural diversity of the transfrontier park.
A welcome change to the cycling route came on Day 4 with the 20 km kayak leg along the Orange River to the De Hoop campsite in the Richtersveld National Park section. Paddlers enjoyed a longed-for break for lunch at the Richtersberg campsite and were welcomed into the camp at De Hoop with ice cold drinks including home-made ginger beer. A traditional Nama feast, prepared by a local catering team, was a culinary highlight of the tour.
The final two days of cycling from De Hoop to Hakkiesdoring and then on to Sendelingsdrift included some newly-created single track sections. These added a new dimension to the mountain biking experience. Cyclists saw the full moon rising as they made their way to the Hakkiesdoring camp, and it created an impressionable backdrop the next morning as it was setting. In total, 280 km were covered over the five cycling days.
Participants of the September tour came from as far afield as Sydney, London, Windhoek, Gaborone and provinces throughout South Africa. Altogether 40 couples signed up for the tour and participant ages ranged from 14 to 73 years. A number of development cyclists from Songo, the Diepsloot Mountainbike Academy and Klein Karas also participated in the tour, most of them using their new passports for the first time. Christo van Staden, one of the participants from Mpumalanga wrote the following after the tour: ‘Just a short message to thank you to your team for a fantastic time we had in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld. It truly was an unforgettable few days in the desert. The food, accommodation and all the arrangements were superb.’
A team of 70 support staff ensured that the tour ran smoothly – from the camp set-up and breakdown, to the provision of catering in the camps and along the cycling route. The support staff were made up of teams from SANParks, Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, SANParks Honorary Rangers and service providers. Financial support from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Peace Parks Foundation contributed towards the purchase of some of the equipment required to run the tour successfully, as well as the building of new ablution facilities at De Hoop and bike mechanical training of two local cycling enthusiasts.
The dates for the 2016 tours are 18-24 April and 12-18 September. The September tour is already sold out, and only a few places are available on the April tour. Visit the website for more information.
Story by: Roland Vorwerk Boundless Southern Africa