The new thing for tourists is cycling through the Karoo.
The unspoilt Karoo with its vast open spaces has a magic that makes every participant return home, bubbling with enthusiasm. And it is not limited to cyclists.
Tourism Update assembled a team of very rusty tourists to see if they could enjoy what was originally devised for cycling enthusiasts. The group of eight were mainly people in their early sixties, three of whom had last been on a bicycle over 45 years ago. Only one still owned a bicycle. This meant training was more or less ruled out as the group would only get their rental bikes at the start of the trail.
What precautions could be taken, were taken. Gel seats were purchased. A second back-up car was arranged. The message was clear: failure to complete the 45 to 50 kilometres of trail on each of the four days would not be shameful. Cycle as much as you want and retire to the back-up vehicle when you have had enough.
The group had heard good things about the organisers, David Southey’s Great Karoo Cycling. David has pioneered six routes that start from the Middelburg and Colesberg area.
He is a stock-broker in Johannesburg who comes from the well-known Southey Karoo farming family. He still owns his own farm near Middelburg with a guest house which is used for some of the routes. He has used his farming contacts and knowledge of the area to devise trails that are off the beaten track but where guests can be treated to something special after every day’s ride. Sometimes cyclists overnight at farms and sometimes at guest houses. His team handles all the organisation.
When the Tourism Update group started out from Colesberg on the Gariep trail, some had difficulty even cycling around a tree. By the end of the first day, though, all eight had cycled at least half the way. Yes, bums were very sore, but by day four everyone had gained confidence and cycled the whole way.
The Gariep Trail is most remarkable and will quickly become a favourite. On two of the days the trail took us through isolated reserves teeming with hundreds of head of game on wide grassland plains. It is like cycling through the Serengeti. The remoteness is such that the group saw no other tourists as they meandered along relatively flat trails.
At a leisurely pace at about 10kph, the cycling is over by lunch time. Great Karoo Cycling organises local specialists, from raconteurs and tour guides to farmers, to show off the Karoo at its best. This may include a cheese-making demonstration, river rafting or a private recital by an international concert pianist.
The conclusion of the group was that while this experience was a must for the growing number of people who have taken up cycling, it was possibly even more successful for untrained rusty cyclists who had the rush of achieving something they had long ago given up on.
They emerged a cohesive group, justifiably proud of what the team had achieved.
Read here how one of the participants experienced it.