Kick-ass climbs, bush tunnels, rumbling thunderstorms, outback trails and superb single-track… that’s Mankele MTB Park for you. If you and your bike ever get to Mpumalanga, this is one stop-over you can’t miss. Photographs and word by Jacques Marais.
Mpumalanga is proper Africa. Black mambas, big five beasts, head-high grass, a pissed-off sun and epic electric storms are the order of the day. Cappuccinos and delis and yuppies, well, not so much. So if you decide to saddle up and ride, get ready for gritty mountain biking that will test your technical ability as well as your climbing capacity. Off the bike, your money will get you some of the best game parks, mountain hikes, bird watching (and red meat!) on the planet. And the best news of all is that you can do all of this at Mankele, a destination that epitomises the phrase ‘great outdoors.’
If you’ve ridden (I’ve not) or heard (who hasn’t?) of the Isuzu Three Towers MTB Stage Race, annually held in Mankele, chances are that your calves will involuntarily spasm every time someone mentions this. It is one tough ride, I believe, especially if the combo of the Red and Green Route I rode recently is anything to go by.
We decided to forgo the ‘easy climb’ along the tarmac, rather dropping onto a single-track just to the right after exiting from the Mankele main gate. Synch into a flowy section of finely scalped trail following the river’s edge, then cross the river before keeping left at the next split.
Get psyched right about now, because a calf-gnawing climb awaits you as you granny-gear your way up to the Mamba Tunnel and underneath two Table Tops. Follow a short section of farm tarmac onto a split left along some jeep track, and then it is a Right-Left-Right once you get to the top. A piece of pine forest single-track will get you onto a gravel road, through a low tunnel (watch your head!) and eventually past the Mayo Estate.
Pin back your ears as you zig into the downhill, keeping an eye open for the Mount Carmel sign where you turn right, and then right again into a wheezing climb. And now, finally, you are about to get sucked into single-tracking Nirvana as you follow the single-track down into the bush tunnels.
Beware the huge drop (there is a chicken run to the left, if you’re sane like me), then give it gas through this enclosed emerald passageway. Take care as you cross the tar road, looking out for another gut-thumping drop on the other side. Follow the road until you reach some more single-track (to your right), passing a farm house on the left.
Once you get to the Mikon Gate, cross the Sabie main tarmac strip and look out for a final section of single-track to your right. Sit back, relax and let gravity take you all the way home to the start. The above description may sound bitty, as there is actually too much information to fit into a short article like this. We also mixed-and-matched sections from various routes, so this is pieced together from their website. The best advice is to get out and ride it really.
The good news is that there are excellent maps available from Reception, and also on the website at www.mankele.co.za. You can also download both Google Earth and GPS Track Files on the site, so there’s no one to blame except yourself if you get lost.
Look for the R539 off the N4 – you will find Mankele MTB Park along the Sudwala Caves and Sabie off-ramp.
Sus the Mankele Green Route:
Grading: Moderate (Some Technical & Steep parts)
Duration: 2-3 hours
Configuration: Circular Ride – 20km or so
Start Point: Mankele Main Gate
Terrain: Single-track of note; some jeep-track; (go-easy tarmac options)
Beware: Slippery sections after rains; can be like proverbial soap in the tunnels.
Post-ride Beer: Around the fire at your cabin – bring your own!
Must-do Event: Isuzu Three Towers Stage Race – www.3towers.co.za
Access: Day entry is a ridiculously cheap R35
Cell Reception: Reasonable reception along route
Accommodation: You choose – log cabins, permanent canvass tents or camping
Local Contact: Keep this emergency number in your phone – 082 338 9533
GPS: S 25° 23´ 19.45” / E 30° 42´ 43.36”
For a larger version of this map, please go to www.issuu.com/fullsussa