By Lyse Comins

A Durban North entrepreneur is making fast tracks in the domestic tourism sector with his guided mountain bike trails, and now he has major plans to provide tours that will have international guests soaking in the beauty of the beach, the Berg, the Big Five and the Winelands from the saddle of a bike using nothing but pedal power.

Ian Wilson, 44, founded and managed a security business in England and returned to South Africa in 2001 when he launched into the tourism sector, initially nlnning a scuba-diving operation in Port St Johns on the back of the sardine run.

Now Wilson runs Single Track Minded, a multiple division business that includes a cycle shop in Ballito; mountain bike coaching for 450 schoolchildren as well adults (he coached professional cyclists including world champion Francis Marsberg and South African cyclist Frankie du Toit); organising corporate team-building cycling events and focusing on taking tourists on mountain bike trails. He employs six full-time staff and nine retired people who assist him with his specialised ladies' cycling trails.

Wilson built the first mountain bike park in the country at Giba Gorge in Pinetown, and was also responsible for building cycle trails and guided rides in the city when he worked for the eThekwini Mountain Biking Association in Durban, including the eNanda Adventures trail around lnanda Dam that is part of the Durban Green Corridor.

But it all started when, working in Port St Johns, Wilson stumbled on an opportunity to assist friends who were working with the EU government to establish hiking, horse trails and a tourist lodge between Port Edward and Port St Johns for a new tourism project.

In love


He said he "fell in love" with the local community of Pondo people, who put up a party of four workers, who had been busy establishing the trail between Mboyoti and Mantuku, with generous hospitality when the team ran out of daylight and crashed in on the clan one evening.

"The kids scattered and came back with quart beers, they cleared a rondavel for us, we had no food and they fed us chicken and rice and they put up our horses. They welcomed us and couldn't do anything more for us complete strangers. I experienced a side of humanity that was unbelievable," he said.

Wilson then got to know more local people during further trips and discussed the possibility of setting up a mountain bike trail that would bring tourist traffic to the eco-friendly Mtentu River Lodge. The lodge had already been set up as part of the EU project run under a community trust and employs 14 people, including kitchen and maintenance staff and trail guides.

In 2013 Wilson went on to set up a four day mountain bike trail from Port Edward to Port St Johns, which is known as the Pondoland Trail, and a three day round trip trail from the Wild Coast Sun to Mtentu.



 

"I have put just about 2 000 tourists through the area and have spent this time on the domestic market, but my end vision is to be 'the Otter Trail of mountain biking'," he said.

The Otter Trail through Tsitsi-kamma National Park near Knysna is extremely popular, and tourists have to book at least 11 months in advance to secure an accommodation booking.

"I want to do the world's best mountain biking trail. And what could we do that is different? We have got the Big Five and such different riding terrain. We can do almost desert like in the Karoo, we have the Wild Coast where we take people to rural areas, we have Big Five game reserves, the Winelands and the mountains," Wilson said.

Wilson is not far from achieving his goal and plans to launch a 10-14 day tourism package that will offer just this experience.

He is just missing one link, and that's the Big Five experience, but he is negotiating with aJozini business to bring tourists to the region for game farm cycle trails.

But it has not been easy trail-blazing adventure tourism.

Wilson described as his biggest challenge as his tendency to be "ahead of the curve".

"I am very visionary, but found I have had to wait for the market to turn," he said.