Words & Photo: Debbie Cooper
Dressed in jeans (no nappy-padding or lycra here), slops and a floppy bush hat, 55-year-old German national Josef Winzig is slowly touring the world alone in bite-size chunks of 4-6 weeks a year in between his work commitments – all on a basic bike with a custom-built gear box, a couple of duffel bags and a spirit of adventure.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park CEO Andrew Zaloumis spotted Josef and his bike at an Illy coffee shop near Hluhluwe, halfway through the latest leg of his journey around the outskirts of the park. “I just knew that the owner of a bike like that had a story to tell – and he had good taste in coffee!” said Andrew, who promptly invited the traveller to stay with him overnight and visit the world heritage site.
And so it was that a visibly excited Josef saw his first ever rhino outside of a zoo. Better than that, he had the privilege of joining Andrew on a test cycle through the Western Shores section ahead of its official opening to the public, sampling a portion of the route covered in the annual iSimangaliso MTB 4Day* which was held for the first time in August. The early morning cycle through sweeping grasslands, wetlands and virgin forest brought plenty sightings of giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, wildebeest and reedbuck, narrowly missing a snake and a hippo on a morning stroll.
Josef was also taken by local tour operator Kian Barker of ShakaBarker Tours on a leisurely cycle through the popular iGwalagwala Trail, through verdant estuarine forest on the edge of Lake St Lucia, as well as an estuary boat cruise on the ShakaBarge.
The well-travelled adventurer, who has covered tens thousands of kilometres through Europe, Asia and Africa (clocking up over 30 000km on this bike alone), declared iSimangaliso “an amazing destination!” And he should know.
As visitors began queuing at Dukuduku Gate to be the first into iSimangaliso’s new Western Shores on the opening day, Josef bid farewell with a final wave as he pedaled off on his trusty iron steed towards Lesotho, from thence to reroute to OR Tambo airport and a flight home.
*Entries for the iSimangaliso MTB 4Day 2014 (20-24 August 2014), open shortly at www.isimangaliso-mtb.co.za.