Wilderness Safaris will be expanding its ecotourism footprint in Rwanda by opening a new camp in Akagera National Park in mid-December 2018. In partnership with the Rwanda Development Board and conservation group African Parks the six-tented camp, called Magashi, will be situated in the north-eastern part of Akagera overlooking Lake Rwanyakazinga. The long-term funding support of The Howard G. Buffett Foundation to African Parks for the protection and development of Akagera has made this further investment by Wilderness possible.
“As we celebrate our 35th year of changing lives in 2018, we are proud to announce this exciting partnership with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and African Parks, further demonstrating our commitment to pioneering sustainable and authentic ecotourism in Rwanda”, commented Grant Woodrow, Wilderness Safaris Chief Operations Officer. “This new Classic Camp will not only offer our guests an extraordinary savannah experience, but one that is strongly rooted in a core Purpose – to help conserve Rwanda’s last protected savannah ecosystem and species like shoebill and black rhino”.
The 100 000-hectare Akagera National Park is situated in eastern Rwanda, bordering Tanzania, and has been managed by African Parks in partnership with the RDB since 2010. It comprises some of the most scenic savannah in East Africa – open plains, woodlands, lakes, swamp, and grassy low mountains. The intimate Magashi Camp will be set on the shores of Lake Rwanyakazinga – home to one of Africa’s highest hippo densities, some very large crocodiles, and (hidden within its wetlands) the secretive stitatunga and shoebill stork. Akagera has undergone an incredible transformation in the last eight years where poaching has essentially been eliminated and wildlife is now thriving. African Parks reintroduced lions in 2015 after a 20-year absence and reintroduced the black rhinoceros in 2017.
Guests will be able to view a range of wildlife on expertly-guided game drives, walks and boating trips, including buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant, giraffe, spotted hyena, zebra, topi, roan, eland and more. The Park also boasts almost 500 species of birds including the spectacular shoebill with its implausibly massive bill and the near-endemic red-faced barbet.
“There is no doubt that to date the overwhelming focus on gorillas has caused many travellers to miss beautifully scenic and productive savannahs of Rwanda. Now, with the launch of Magashi, our guests will have the ideal opportunity to combine an extraordinary gorilla experience at Volcanoes National Park whilst staying at Bisate Lodge, with a spectacular savannah safari at Akagera. Add to this the prospect of viewing chimps and other primates of the forests in the western side of the country and Rwanda offers a complete standalone high-end safari experience”, added Woodrow.
“We’re extremely pleased to be partnering with Wilderness Safaris on the opening of Magashi Camp which would not have been possible without the support of The Howard G. Buffett Foundation to African Parks in helping to protect and realise the economic potential of Akagera”, said Jes Gruner, Park Manager for Akagera National Park. “In just eight years, Akagera has become almost 75% self-financing due to tourism, which also supports surrounding communities. More than 36 000 visitors came through the parks’ entrance last year – half of whom were Rwandan nationals. This is an extraordinary recognition of the importance of Akagera and Rwanda’s natural heritage, and the role tourism plays in the long-term sustainability of this extraordinary landscape”.
This forms part of Wilderness Safaris’ vision to build sustainable conservation economies in Africa. “The opportunity to use our model of responsible ecotourism to contribute to positive conservation and community empowerment in such a unique and exciting Rwanda environment is exactly why we do what we do”, he concluded.
Tomjachu Bush Retreat is a pristine nature reserve located within the Lowveld region of Mpumalanga, 20 minutes from Nelspruit and is a one-of-a-kind destination for couples, small families and groups of friends looking to experience the tranquility of the bushveld while surrounded by subtle nuances of home. Besides the amazing views, superlative accommodation and excellent service, Tomjachu Bush Retreat have extensive and abundant birdlife on the reserve, with over 265 recorded species so far.
A variety of stylish accommodation options are on offer, ranging from the cottages located across the property, each allowing for a private bush escape, to the Homestead with its magnificent rooms. Valbonne Villa a is the 5-star jewel which offers unrivalled vistas looking down over the reserve towards the Crocodile Valley gorge and allows for bigger group getaways amongst the pristine natural terrain.
A daytime experience
Besides the amazing views, superlative accommodation and excellent service, Tomjachu Bush Retreat has a plethora of plains game that can be seen on the property. And guests can expect to encounter Kudu, giraffe, zebra and even warthogs, amongst other game. Tomjachu Bush Retreat is also home to an over 265 bird species, making it a must-visit destination for birding enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
The reserve has varied terrain, which forms a number of diverse habitats allowing a high diversity of birds in a relatively small area. These range from open grassland where the Black-bellied bustards lie low in the grass, and the Long-crested Eagles perch high in the acacias scanning for their next meal, to deep riverine where you can spot the red flash of the Purple-crested Turacos swooping through the canopy, and may be lucky enough to see the dazzling colours of the Narina Trogon.
Bird enthusiasts can venture to the water’s edge alongside South or North Dam to enjoy utter tranquility, keeping an eye out for the Giant and Pied Kingfishers hovering high and darting into the water. If lucky enough, you may even catch a glimpse of the mighty Fish Eagle as it swoops in and gracefully snatches a fish from just below the surface!
Soon the Tomjachu bird-hide will be up and running, which will give bird watchers better opportunities to get closer to our wonderful, colourful and melodious feathered friends.
Adventures under the stars
At Tomjachu Bush Retreat, guests can choose to experience a unique bush dinner hosted at the lapa deep in the reserve. Here the bushveld comes to life under the spectacular starry skies, with the calm hoot of the Giant Eagle Owls, and the beautiful trilling of the Fiery-necked Nightjar echoing through the valley, accompanied by the natural orchestra of a plethora of other night-time creatures. This is an experience not to be missed.
The Abu Herd continues to grow with the arrival of another male elephant calf, born to Paseka in the early hours of Friday, 27 April 2018 – a mere three months after Lorato gave birth to Motlotlo in January 2018. The calf has been named Shamiso, which means ‘Surprise’ in Shona.
“Whilst we had our suspicions that Paseka was pregnant, we were not sure when she had conceived and were therefore delighted to be greeted with this wonderful miracle on Friday morning, after lots of trumpeting and noise in the boma at about 4:30am”, said Ipeleng Pheto, Abu Camp General Manager. “Both mother and baby are doing well, and Shamiso has been welcomed into the Herd”.
Paseka, meaning ‘Easter’ in Setswana, was named for the time of year that she was found – in April 2009, Abandoned by a wild herd after being attacked by hyaenas in the Okavango Delta, she took refuge in the generator room at Seba Camp which is situated in the Abu Concession. She was then brought to Abu Camp where her wounds were treated and Sirheni, who was lactating at the time, duly adopted her into the Abu Herd.
Abu Camp guests now have a unique and wonderful opportunity to meet both Motlotlo and Shamiso during two set and carefully-controlled periods of elephant interaction each day. These interactions take place from 06h00 to 08h00 and 17h00 to 18h30, with the strict controls being necessary to avoid any danger of stress to the calves or to the other Herd members.
According to Elephant Manager, Wellington Jana, “It’s wonderful to have two male calves at the same time, which is important for their social skills. They are already inseparable and really naughty, creating an amazing atmosphere in the camp. The privilege of interacting with the young elephants in their natural environment is an experience that very few people can say they have had – a once-in-a-lifetime encounter”.
The birth of Lorato and Paseka’s first calves is a further testament to the important elephant conservation and research work being done at Abu Camp. While they are a part of the Abu Herd, each elephant is an eloquent ambassador for the conservation of its species and the habitats on which elephants depend.
“Although it is early days yet, we hope that our new calves will ultimately be introduced into the wild, along with the other Herd members that have chosen to return there of their own accord; this forms an integral part of our conservation programme at the camp”, added Wellington.
By introducing elephants from the Abu Herd into the wild in Botswana’s remote and pristine Okavango Delta, Abu Camp is making a direct contribution to the future of Africa’s elephants. Each introduction also represents a rich learning opportunity, as local researchers can then track the now-completely wild elephants and learn more about their movements, interactions, and where they choose to spend their time.
This further demonstrates the commitment of Abu Camp’s owner and philanthropist, Paul Allen, to pioneer elephant conservation research in Africa. The results of the Great Elephant Census – the largest Pan-African aerial survey conducted since the 1970s, which was pioneered by Paul Allen – has shown a 30% decline in elephant numbers in 18 African countries over the last seven years. The need for active elephant conservation initiatives thus remains of vital importance.
Revenue from Abu Camp also funds an anti-poaching team, the development of UAV technology for anti-poaching use and a conservation research station with an active elephant research programme. Various community development programmes in the Habu area west of the Abu Concession have included the provision of water to the village and education programmes through Children in the Wilderness’ Camps and Eco-Clubs. Through its association with Wilderness Safaris, the Camp also provides numerous staff empowerment opportunities at all levels of the business through internal and external training mechanisms.
Situated in the 125 000-hectare Linyanti Wildlife Reserve on the border of Chobe in northern Botswana lies Duma Tau Cam. The camp has recently received an extensive refurbishment, including upgraded rooms and a new deck in the main area.
The new-look tents comprise a sliding gauze door on the rear of the tents to improve airflow through the rooms. Bathrooms have been modified to include a sliding fabric wall that can be closed to ensure absolute privacy. In addition, new decking has been added to the dining, bar and lounge area with the bar orientated in such a manner so as to maximise the sweeping views of the expansive Osprey Lagoon and Linyanti floodplains. The central grill has also been removed to create additional space for family dining. A second pool will be added to the western side of the camp by August 2018, to ensure that each side of the camp offers its own secluded pool area.
“The spectacular transformation of the main area and upgraded rooms has not only given DumaTau a stylish new look and feel, but one that still embraces its exceptional wilderness surroundings”, said Kim Nixon, Wilderness Safaris Botswana MD. “The camp is situated in one of the best wildlife areas in this massive private reserve, offering the perfect base from which to explore the Linyanti and experience its diverse array of wildlife on a range of land- and water-based activities; it is the amount of effortless space, privacy and seclusion that truly sets the Linyanti apart”.
Meaning ‘roar of the lion’, DumaTau comprises ten spacious en-suite tents, which are raised off the ground to take advantage of the fantastic river view. Built with an extremely light eco-footprint, the camp is 100% solar powered, involved in elephant conservation projects and a Long Run Alliance member, dedicated to sustainability through the 4Cs (Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation). DumaTau also drives sustainable conservation through its pioneering reforestation project, which has already seen over 1 000 trees of a variety of species planted on the DumaTau site to date.
“As a company proudly born and bred in Botswana 35 years ago, we remain committed to pioneering authentic and sustainable ecotourism in the country; we are therefore thrilled to have begun this reforestation project at DumaTau. In time, our guests will be able to help plant trees from the nursery to make a meaningful contribution to the ongoing habitat restoration of this pristine area. We believe that “Purpose is the new luxury” and that it is important to weave this maxim into our guests’ overall experience. In addition to experiencing a life-changing journey to the Linyanti, they will leave DumaTau knowing they have made a positive impact to the conservation of this extraordinary wilderness area”, Kim added.
DumaTau is located close to the source of the Savute Channel, between two elephant corridors, offering an exclusive combination of land and river experiences, including morning, afternoon and night game drives in open 4×4 Land Rovers, boating excursions, nature walks and excellent birding opportunities. Famous for its high concentration of eagles and raptors, the area is internationally recognised as an IBA (Important Bird Area).
Nedbank Tour de Tuli (NTDT) pro, Chris Ellis, shares his Top 10 tips to help cyclists prepare for Africa’s ultimate mountain bike adventure:
Spend as much time on your bike as possible in the buildup to the event. The terrain usually does not have much climbing (which is great) but equally, that means no free kilometres of coasting on downhills over the course of the four days. You will pedal for all 300 km! You will get tired! You can’t enjoy any event if you haven’t trained for it. Make riding the bike the easy bit by doing the work before you get there.
I’m amazed each year to see a few MTB novices arriving to ride the NTDT. And when I say novice, I’m talking about the “been riding for a few weeks” and “my bike’s still in its plastic” novice. You are going to ride for six to eight hours a day, in the hot African sun, with a group of 14 to 18 other cyclists. Please don’t ruin it for the other team members by coming underprepared. This event will seriously test your strength and resolve.
Think of the NTDT as a four-day game drive on your bicycle. While you are training, get used to looking around and noticing the birdlife, animals, trees and the landscape. You will be biking through some of Africa’s most pristine wilderness areas, in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Don’t miss these sightings by getting too caught up in the ride alone!
This event is out in the tough African bushveld, traversing through Botswana, Zimbabwe and South African bush that takes no prisoners. Make sure your bike is set up for a comfortable four days of riding. No team leader or teammate wants to spend the day adjusting your bike or tweaking things when there are elephants around the next corner, or a hyena sighting ten kilometres down the trail. Make sure you are one with your bike when you get there…
While there are great Hot Spots Cycles mechanics on site each night, with most of the team leaders also being fairly proficient in bike fixing and getting you to the end of each day, it’s no one else’s job other than your own to ensure you have brought enough spares for the event.
The quality and durability of your tyres will make or break your entire journey. You will need tough tyres with plenty of sealant (try double the normal amount). Also, it will be to your advantage to come to the official route launch to check out how your tyres will fare out on the 2018 route. The route launch will be held on 27 June 2018 – further details to follow.
Riding with a Camelbak or hydration pack is compulsory at NTDT. Practice riding with one – they are heavy when filled with litres of water, but are necessary as you will be riding long distances in high temperatures over a few days… so make sure you take your hydration pack with you on your training rides.
Every year I eat more and more at the NTDT. Early breakfast, tea stops, brunch, recovery shakes, lunch, dinner and a healthy supply of drinks throughout the day – the food is unbelievable… all day (there about 11 meals a day… I can’t keep up), so make sure you come hungry!
NTDT isn’t just about the riding. Yes, you can’t beat the four days on the bike, but the whole event is an experience, from sunrise on the bike to sunset on the mountain top. You want to experience it all so make sure you arrive with enough sleep under your belt to enjoy the nights as much as the days.
That said, the wonderful Balancing Touch team of massage experts will be ready to help you unwind and relax at the end of each day with a 20-minute massage.
Be prepared to be blown away at the NTDT. Don’t think of this as just another MTB event that you can tick off your list… once you’ve done it, you will want to do it again, and again, because every year is so different. Be prepared for an amazing experience that is unique for everyone.
Popular stops along the route are our brunch and tea stands.
Avid mountain bike rider, Chris Ellis, shares his personal account of why riding a Tour is better than competing…
Most mountain bikers will at some stage in their MTB ‘career’ ride a race like the Sani2C, Wines2Whales or Berg & Bush. They will ride it with an eye on the clock, with batch start times and cut off points, Strava segments and will measure how many metres of climbing they do over the two or three days…
We race from start to finish, beating our mates, and doing all we can to better the previous year’s record times. But in the midst of the racing adrenaline, we forget, more often than not, to stop, smell the desert roses, and look around at the routes that have not only been crafted to be physically challenging in all the right ways but are also located in some of the most pristine wilderness areas.
We forget that, unless we are one of the elite few who get paid to ride our bikes, whether we finish 53rd or 298th, it’s the same race for everyone, and we need to enjoy it as much as possible. When you consider how much effort we put into the training, how much money we put into the gear, how much time we spend talking about the event… If we are not enjoying it then we are wasting a huge amount of energy and time!
For many years I’d heard stories of the Nedbank Tour de Tuli (NTdT) and about how it was a ride, not a race. In my mind, this made it sound like an event for beginners, not for serious mountain bikers. For me the first stop was Wines2Whales (W2W), then in a few years, the Cape Epic. Onwards and upwards. I wasn’t going to go backwards in my progress and only ride. I wanted to race.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for pushing yourself (and the bike if need be) on the day, and there have been times when I’ve raced as hard as everyone else. We spend most of our riding time staring at Strava, analysing our PB’s and every segment.
But there came a time, doing my third W2W, when I was waiting for my partner in a field of flowers on day two, when I realised for the first time how truly beautiful the scenery I was riding in was. For the first time I actually got off my bike, sat down and just soaked it up.
I started thinking about the difference between riding W2W and racing it… because for five years before that I had doubted my friend and NTdT veteran, who trained at NTdT pace year after year, while I waited ahead for him, having trained at VO2 max and race pace.
While I went off and did the races, he admirably stuck to the NTdT and each year he came back with mythical stories of elephants, zebra and giraffe during the day, and hyena and lion calls at night, of GPS and game trails (this event was the first to use GPS and no trail markings), of stopping under a tree at high noon and just watching the animals go by – a true MTB event following Africa time!
“That’s not mountain biking. That’s not what it’s about!” I said. “You’ve got to push yourself,” I thought… “Test the barriers of speed and take your body to its limits.” At least that’s what I thought was important.
But Graham was always happy when he came back from NTdT. Always at peace. And then it happened. I asked to join him on the 2015 event as a volunteer guide. I remembered my last W2W experience, of riding and not racing, and thought about a change in pace. Maybe just one NTdT to “tick the box”, so to speak.
So I committed. We trained at NTdT pace (to be fair I still struggle with this but experience has since taught me its value). I arrived at the 2015 NTdT nervous (I may have fudged my wildlife knowledge a bit to get in the door) but from the moment I arrived, I fell in love with the event. Four days of riding – not 1 km of racing – through the African bushveld.
Four days of soaking up every experience. No Strava segment to push through (only the occasional sandy riverbed), no technical zone to hammer through, no mountains to climb, just riding my bike for the sheer thrill of riding a bike. The very reason we all fell in love with riding in the first place.
But as an African with the bushveld in my blood, this was a new kind of cycling high, a new euphoria. Long days in the African sun (my first intro to NTdT was an August heat wave with highs of 42° C), we sat for hours each evening, tired yet exhilarated (70 km on a MTB with no downhills means there are no free kilometres… you pedal all day), and although we didn’t do one bit of racing, I came back from my first NTdT exhausted, having ridden my bike for the sheer joy of it. A ride, not a race.
Having now completed three Tours, I have memories of each and every day out there, all of them so different and unique. I have ridden my bike for the sheer thrill of riding a bike, starting each day watching the sun come up as my legs warm up slowly, breathing in African dust and actually hearing the birds, seeing the elephant tracks, looking for game, all the while having made friends for life and had wildlife encounters that still give me goosebumps. I have partied, I have chilled and I haven’t raced once. All the things that I could do on a ride, most of them I couldn’t do on a race.
I will still do races, I will still push myself on my bike. I still give my training schedules tough days, and still spend time checking out segments on Strava.
But NTdT has changed the experience of every kilometre on a bike for me. Because just like life itself, it’s a ride, not a race!
Written by Chris Ellis.