The Nedbank Tour de Tuli is one of the greatest events on the southern African mountain bike cycling calendar. The logistics for the four-day, five night 375km cycling safari for 330 participants through wilderness areas, are an absolute triumph.
This year’s tour – from 28 July to 2 August – followed elephant trails on the Mapungubwe Route through the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), including the Tuli Block. The Greater Mapungubwe TFCA straddles South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
‘It is a rare privilege to freely traverse these areas across national boundaries, with temporary border posts in the bush set up specifically for the riders. The access we enjoy is all part of the magnitude of the organisation over many months that goes into to making the tour so unique,’ says Nedbank Sponsorship Manager, Kelly Thompson.
This is the fourth year that Nedbank has been the title sponsor of the event, together with Wilderness Safaris.
The primary goal of the Tour is to fundraise for Children in the Wilderness Programme (CITW) Programme – a non-profit, leadership and environmental education programme for children from communities in wildlife areas, supported by the ecotourism company, Wilderness Safaris.
The minimum sponsorship amount per participant is R24 900 and the tour has raised an average of R2.5million per year for CITW over the past three years, which helps to develop schools and Eco Clubs in rural areas adjacent to wildlife areas in southern Africa and to educate learners about the value of wildlife and conservation. Several of the learners from the CITW programme now work for Wilderness Safaris or are on bursaries to study further.
‘The sponsorship and our partnership with Children in the Wilderness, reaffirms Nedbank’s reputation as South Africa’s green and caring bank,’ says Thompson.
On the Tour de Tuli the 330 participants were divided into teams, with team leaders and experienced field guides assigned to each team. It was a tough ride through thick sand and bushveld in wildlife country where riders encountered a range of animals, including elephants, giraffes, eland and hyaenas, and heard the inimitable sound of lions and leopards calling close by at night. A fresh leopard kill in a tree close to one of the camps, was another reminder that this is a wild place.
‘When the cyclists encountered elephants, the field guides advised whether they should stop or slowly ride away. The guides also have what are known as ‘bear bangers’ with them – if triggered, they make a loud bang to scare off animals in dangerous situations but no one used them,” explains freelance photographer and field guide, Mike Sutherland. He was part of the 150 volunteers in the support team required to manage the tour, which includes teams to set up camp, chefs, a medical team, cycle service teams, vehicle service teams and people from all walks of life – advocates, farmers, construction industry workers and trail guides.
The camps are set up in the middle of the bush and then packed up without a trace and moved to the next location. Military precision is required to ensure that every detail is perfected: delicious meals, drinks, freshly ground Bean There coffee, hot showers, comfortable tents, facilities to wash down all the bikes every night and everything that goes into making sure it is a completely amazing tour and ‘one big jol’.
En route the tour stopped at Lentswe Le Moriti Village and Primary School in the Tuli Block in Botswana. “This small village is in the heart of Mashatu Game Reserve and they have wild animals passing through all the time. Living in the wild as they do, it is so important for them to be environmental custodians of the future. The children participate in a range of programmes run by Children in the Wilderness, including the Youth Environmental Stewardship (YES),” explains Sutherland.
‘It’s an amazing encounter when the cyclists ride in, carrying backpacks with pens, crayons and lunchboxes for the children and food gifts for the community,’ says Nedbank Tour de Tuli volunteer from Wilderness Safaris, Caroline Culbert,
‘The cyclists and the community members equally enjoy the encounter; the children ride their bikes or they give the children rides if they are small, and they all ask each other questions and get to know something of each other’s lives.’
Culbert said another highlight was spending time with Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama II who joined the tour for dinner on one of the nights. ‘What an engaging, charming man. He has cycled the Tour before, he loves mountain biking and he really loves Botswana’s wildlife and is committed to its conservation. He is also a big supporter of Children in the Wilderness.’
Thompson adds: ‘Sharing these encounters and time spent on the Tour with our Corporate Investment Bank and Wealth clients and our fellow corporate sponsors, brings people together in a very special way.
‘Tackling a tough ride, staying alert because you are in a wildlife area and having fun at the same time, creates deep bonds and strong relationships that participants take back with them into the working environment and into our collective effort to make South Africa a better place.’
Sutherland adds that the tour is also an excellent networking opportunity: ‘Cycling is the new golf. People get to know each other on these great outdoor events and it leads to big things!’
Thompson extends a special thanks to the Children in the Wilderness Team ‘for all the time and incredible effort they put into making the 2016 Nedbank Tour de Tuli such a success. We can’t wait for next year!’