Stealth Safaris

By Mountain Bike

    Photo: Corbis

To become truly intimate with the animals of Africa, you must travel as they do: under your own steam. A mountain-bike safari is a great way to explore the bush, and southern Africa is the most bike-friendly of safari regions. At the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mkhaya Game Reserve in Swaziland, a five-hour drive east of Johannesburg, I rented low-tech mountain bikes and rode with local Swazi guide on a network of good dirt trails that ranged from relaxed to technical. From my bike saddle I saw zebra, impala, giraffe, hippo, and the rare black rhino, and rode in the middle of a pack of bounding springboks. Mkhaya's accommodations are comfortable safari tents, while Mlilwane's digs are more rustic—thatched "beehive" huts and cabins.

For more creatures and comforts, head into South Africa. Faw-Mbili Game Lodge in the Thornybush Nature Reserve adjacent to renowned Kruger National Park, is a friendly, luxurious bush lodge that accommodates up to ten guests. You can take a guided walking safari in the morning, a mountain-biking tour midday, and a Land Rover safari after dinner. The terrain here consists of easy, sandy roads, and the wildlife is abundant—I rolled among the "Big Five": lions, elephant, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos. Which means that the guides pack pistols along side their CamelBaks.
Guided mountain-bike safaris at Mlilwane cost $6.75 per hour (including bike rental), and park lodging is $5 per person per night for camping, $13 per person per night for beehive huts, and $28-$32 per person per night for cottages (including breakfast). Mkhaya accommodates groups of five or more in luxury safaris tents for $87 per person per night, including meals and safaris. Contact Big Game Parks at 011.268.404.4541; www.biggame.co.sz. Kwa-Mbili Lodges charge $113 per person per night, including all meals, bikes and guided safaris (walking, biking, and driving). Contact 011.27.15.793.2773; www.kwambaili.com.

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