9 Surprising Reasons To Cycle Southern Africa
Cycling in Southern Africa, especially the section from Victoria Falls to Cape Town, can bring you to some of the world’s most iconic sights – Lake Malawi, Victoria Falls, the towering Red Dunes at Sossusvlei and Cape Town’s Table Mountain.
All well and good but we thought, perhaps, you might be interested in some of the area’s lesser known attractions.
1. Tanzanian Village Radler
We all know the story of how Radler was ‘invented’. In the summer of 1922 an owner of a bar, short on his supply of beer, became threatened by a group of cyclists because they were very thirsty from their long travels. The bartender solved the problem by mixing the little beer he had with cold lemon soda, and the Radler was born.
During the 2006 Tour d’Afrique Swiss rider Urs ‘Hunter’s Gold’ Hausermann, while cycling through Tanzania’s isolated villages, became fed up with drinking warm Fanta grapefruit soda or even warmer Kilimanjaro beer. In a fit of pique, or brilliance, he decided to combine the two. The result, the Tanzanian Village Radler, a delicious and surprisingly refreshing combination. You can’t find it anywhere else in the world.
2. Cross the Historic Bamboo Bridge
Chitimba Beach, on the sandy shoes of Lake Malawi, is a wonderful place to spend a couple of days relaxing after cycling in the hot African sun. With virtually no internet connection, much less electricity, it is a place to sit in the shade and watch the local fishermen as they bob up and down on the gentle swell.
If you are cycling south towards Mzuzu, your route will begin with with a stunning, if challenging 1000m climb up onto the country plateau. Congratulating yourself on making it to the top, you might just miss one of Malawi’s, if not Africa’s, hidden gems – a bamboo bridge first constructed in 1904. WTF – that makes it 114 years old. Each year the local villagers get together and make the needed repairs, ensuring it lasts for another century or so.
3. Five Hundred Metres, Four Countries
The Kazungula River Crossing is the only place in the world where you can ride across 4 countries in 500 metres. It is officially a crossing between Zambia and Botswana but, as the ferry struggles and smokes from one side to the other during the 8-15 minute crossing it pushes upstream towards an island that is in Namibia before drifting downstream to the other side. Incredibly, the landing on the Botswana side happens on a spur that is actually Zimbabwean soil!
Worried about a bridge being built and thus missing out on this unique experience? Don’t sweat it. Way back in 2012 Zambia and Botswana entered into an agreement to conduct a feasibility study for a road/rail bridge and a “one stop border crossing” but constant political bickering has meant that nothing has come of this 6 years later.
4. Visit Planet Baobab
Let’s pretend you are cycling down Botswana’s A3 Highway, keeping your eyes peeled for the inevitable elephant waltzing across the pavement, when you suddenly see what appears to be a giant Aardvark. Yes, a giant aardvark.
If you turn left down a dirt lane and follow the signs for just over a kilometre, you will be amazed to find, set amongst 4,000 (yes, thousand) year old baobab trees, a funky bar/restaurant, refreshing pool and comfortable Bakalanga-style huts. Unbelievable!
5. Play Solitaire
Cycling through the Namib desert, the oldest desert in the world, hundreds of empty kilometres from nowhere, riders will be delighted to find themselves pedalling into the tiny, aptly named, settlement of Solitaire (pop. 100). The highlight is the bakery. Founded by the late, great Percy “Moose” McGregor, it continues the tradition of making one of the world’s best and freshest apple pies.
For those cyclists who have eaten too much apple pie and wish to return home, Solitaire offers frequent, convenient connections to your home town.
6. Shake it Off
At the end of a long, hot day’s cycling in Africa, sitting in your bush camp overlooking some of the world’s most stunning scenery, a cold beer can be something rather magical. Each country offers a national beer that can tickle your tastebuds and refresh your soul. Fair enough, but if you want to try something different, something local, something you are not likely to soon forget, try Shake, Shake.
The ‘beer’ gets its catchy name from the need to shake the contents vigorously before drinking them. It is based on African home made beers and it was first brewed during the 1950s. It has a powerful yeast flavour that is offset by a lemony tang, surprising given the colour. When the liquid has been consumed and you reach the bottom of the carton, standard practice is to slurp up the pile of sludge that remains. Best consumed in a hot, run down bar in a small town in the middle of nowhere in either Malawi or Zambia.
7. Please Stop at the Crosswalks
As cyclists we all know how it feels to have to stop at a crosswalk and let some pedestrians amble listlessly across. You just feel like charging through them and continuing on your way.
In southern Africa, it is a good idea to give the locals crossing the road a little more respect, even if you can’t see the crosswalks.
8. Naked Mile
There is a isolated stretch of a gravel road, deep in the Namibian wilderness, where each year a sacred rite is undertaken. Cyclists strip down, shedding their clothes and inhibitions. They pedal effortlessly for a 1 mile and maybe many more, blowing shamelessly past amused ibex and the occasional horrified tour bus.
Just a friendly FYI for the current US President who may wish to attend the ceremony. It takes place in Namibia, not Nambia. See you there. It is gonna be yuge!
9. The Little 5
Most everyone comes to Africa in search of the Big 5 – Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros Elephant and Cape Buffalo. A noble goal, for sure but don’t forget the Little 5…
…the one step forward, two steps back chameleon…
…Martian road anthropod…
…dirty, dirty dung beetle…
..and Adam Ant.