Misty Valley rates as one of South Africa’s more established MTB trail destinations, and the recent upgrades to the trails means there’s now all the more reason to go ride here. Photographs and words: Jacques Marais.
A scenic cruise through the high-lying grasslands of Mpumalanga gets you to Misty Valley Bike Park where it languishes at 2 000m above Emgwenya (New SA code for Waterval Boven). High altitude riding means you may have to deal with anything from savage thunderstorms to icy mist, so it’s lekker to know that you can duck into the ‘Mad Dog in the Fog’ Pub or ‘Knight & Boar’ Restaurant for a post-ride cool-down (or warm-up). Other activities include game viewing, fly-fishing, trail running, tennis, bird watching, archery, horse riding, or a visit to the Sudwala Caves.
The beauty of Misty Valley is that location atop the plateau generally makes for a flat and very fast blast, but with a whole bunch of delightful little swerves and switchbacks thrown into the mix to keep your ride punchy. Local trails guru Garth Flanders is in charge of the show here, and a lot of work has gone into some nifty new bridges and boardwalks amidst the rocky outcrops in the build-up to last year’s Misty Valley 24hr Event.
A range of well-marked trail routes start from the Bike Wash area, mostly spider-webbing out in the direction of the main entrance to Misty Valley. Wooden directional markers are colour-coded, so finding your way should be quite straight-forward if you keep paying a bit of attention as you blast along the purpose-built single-track.
The most difficult thing about Misty Valley will probably be which of the trails to go ride… If you’re keen on an Easy option, the non-challenging Stonehenge Loop meanders amidst the archetypical Misty Valley standing stones. The route combines a bit of everything, with some gravel road, jeep- track, single-track and no less than seven wooden bridge crossings.
Another route perfect for beginner riders is the Loch Ness Trail; this ride takes you on a looped circuit of the upper property, or you could link onto the Ambleside Trail to go and explore lower down. Intermediate rides include the Hadrian’s Wall Route, with numerous bridges, some technical sections through the rocks, tight single-track and a few sharp but short climbs.
My riding partner Matt and I played to our heart’s content on both Hadrian’s Wall as well as in the Fingal’s Forest section, where game footpaths loop in tight turns before blasting onto a handful of bridge crossings and some funky drop-offs as you crank at speed back to the start area near the lodge itself.
Up the ante a bit along a few tough climbs on the Munro Bagger Trail, but with the best views in the area as a just reward. And then – if you rate yourself as a bit of a hard core cranker, there is always the ‘Gorge of the Gods’, featuring loads of big-ass drop offs, steep climbs, rocky sections, technical descents and narrow paths. You’re going to need your sense of humour for this one, and preferably a proper dual-susser to soften the knocks.
Good news is that there are some pretty okay bikes for rent at Misty Valley. They come in a full range of sizes, so if you’re ever up here without your bike, feel free to pop in!
Follow the N4 from Witbank to Belfast, then turn right at Machadodorp. From here, follow the Badplaas Road (R541 for 13km, then turn left on Slaaihoek Road for a further 12km till you see the Misty Valley Lodge entrance.
Grading: Beginner to Extreme
Duration: 30min – 3.5hrs
Configuration: Nearly a dozen trails: circular and return options
Terrain: Gravel roads, dual-track, purpose-built single-track, wooden bridges
Beware: Summer thunder storms; boardwalk sections when wet
Post-Ride Beer: Definitely the ‘Mad Dog in the Fog’ Pub!
Must-Do Event: Misty Valley 24 Hour – www.mistyvalleymtb.co.za
Access: Day permits available from lodge
Start Point: Misty Valley Lodge
Cell Reception: Reception along most of route
Accommodation: All your accommodation needs – from basic camping to luxury, fully-serviced rooms – www.mistyvalleylodge.co.za
Local Contact: Garth Flanders – (079) 404 5858
GPS: S25˚45′ 14.5″ / E030˚ 26′ 08.3