On the last day of July, Amanda (Jeremy’s sister and the Gauteng Painted Wolf Wines promoter) and I set off from Johannesburg in the Painted Wolf vehicle, laden with what seemed like way too much stuff. We were making a dash for the border, specifically the bit of the border that includes Mapungubwe National Park. Our mission was to join the crew at the last stop of the Tour de Tuli, in order to promote our wines, and also discover if our intrepid  winemaker, Jeremy had made it through the grueling four days of bicycle bush-wacking.

Amanda had done the same trip last year, but for me, this was an adventure into parts of the country that I had never seen before. The N1 after Polokwane veers slightly to the east and we wanted to head north so we took the road  to Alldays and from there, to Pontdrif before turning east and skirting the southern edge of the park. This is really the road less travelled and it was hard to imagine the small army of cyclists and support people that had populated this road just three days before.

There is something quite alluring about travelling along a deserted road in the middle of nowhere, until I noticed the Google Maps app is showing a red section of road ahead. “It can’t be a traffic jam?”, I said, still wearing my city hat. A few seconds later I discover that google is reflecting every app user on the road, suddenly braking when confronted with more potholes than road.

Despite the potholes, this is a beautiful part of the country. The Park landscape is dotted with dark red koppies and majestic baobabs all the way up to the riverine forest on the banks of the Limpopo. Once in the park, we meandered towards the Confluence Picnic site, which is the location of the massive Tour de Tuli camp. Before we got there, we stopped off to stretch our legs at the Treetop Hide – essentially an elevated walkway through the riverine forest at the edge of the Limpopo river. It is simply beautiful to walk along and smell the deep greenness of the bush. The hidden birder in both of us came to the fore when we spotted a Meyer’s parrot, White fronted Bee eaters, a Lilac Breasted Roller, some ox peckers among all the winged creatures flitting between the fever trees.

The Limpopo River is unfortunately, not the image of Kipling’s  description from the Elephant’s Child Just So story – ” the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees”.  This sad trickle is our northern border with Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The Limpopo River – just a trickle

We moved on to the Confluence Picnic site, which is situated on the top of a koppie, and accessible up a rather steep road. I thought this was fortunate, as we had just passed a large family of elephants and I was happy for them to be wandering around at the bottom of the hill. The Tour de Tuli camp was almost finished with various tent villages for  cyclists and  support people set up ready to be used. The only thing we had not really planned on was the lack of a kitchen. Last year Amanda had been with her family at the park accommodation, this year we were part of the crew and the food service people were still one camp away with the cyclist.

Amanda and our wine vessels

The sparse crew that was on site generously shared their pap, stew and butternut with us. Not wanting to deprive them, we filled up beforehand with peanut butter and Provita crackers scavenged from the Borg family road trip supplies  (the bakkie had just taken the family to Zimbabwe) . Add a VERY nice bottle of Madach,  delicately sipped out of travel coffee mugs, and our odd camping dinner was complete.

Who needs an alarm clock when you can have a helicopter? When a whirly bird lands behind your camp, you know it’s time to get going as it indicated that the previous camp was up and running, and the cyclist were on the move. Support crews would arrive as soon as they had packed up at the previous camp and driven over, and the race was on to finishing setting up before the first cycling group arrived. The most impressive aspect to this, was the food crew who fed the cyclists and support crew, packed up and zipped across to us, set up, cooked lunch and had it all set out for the support crew to eat before the first cyclist arrived.

a gazebo with a view – we were careful not to step back hastily

Our gazebo went up with the help of an amazing crew of guys from Children in the Wilderness and we started looking for ice to chill wines. No problem – there was a truck load of it. There was a certain level of panic about the amount of wine we had and whether it would be enough as the bar had sold out of the day’s allocation at the previous camp. In addition to setting up the bar, we also got to help set up the wines we were giving to each cyclist as they finished the race.

Each bottle is beautifully adorned with a beaded bracelet made by one of the children supported by the Children in the Wilderness charity as this event is their major annual fundraiser.  All the gift wines are Pelotons because they are our cycling inspired blends, but the bar had a mix of den wine and some premium reds. Every bottle of Painted Wolf Wine on the Tour de Tuli was donated. The wine sales every evening at the bar result in 100% donation to the charity which provides conservation education, sponsorship and leadership training for the children in the communities around Wilderness Safaris camps. We believe that education is one of the most effective ways to uplift communities , help ameliorate human wildlife conflict and stop endangered wildlife from unnecessary loss.

Jeremy returned in less than pristine condition (see above), having thoroughly enjoyed his four days of cycling.  Before our bar got hectic, we had a chance to walk up the koppie to the lookout points and watch the sunset. I actually quite enjoyed watching the watchers and getting this photograph of a person on the cliff getting buzzed by the helicopter.

This whole enterprise was awe inspiring. The number of people who volunteer their time, talents and product to support Children in the Wilderness is truly mindboggling. And the task of making sure it all runs smoothly is staggering. Somehow it works like clockwork with food, coffee, medics, massage therapists, physios, tents, portaloos, shower blocks (which are awesome) generators, marquees… drinks of all sorts and of course, wine all getting from remote camp to remote camp as if by magic. Huge shout out to our neighbours – Bean There – who sponsored all the coffee. Their arrival was viewed as a much needed pick me up for flagging support crews and their mid morning fruit cake was a life saver – thanks!!!

We had one more night in our tent city, now fully occupied and departed on the Tuesday to once again traverse the road less travelled. This time Google maps did not predict our 20 minute traffic stop shortly after leaving camp. An intimidating elephant crossing guard held up the long line of departing vehicles until the last herd member had strolled across the road.