Words and Images by: Jacques Marais
Mankele is very well known as a mountain mecca in South Africa. Be warned that the area is not flat or aimed at easy riding- she’s beautiful but tough.
Situated roughly four hours from Johannesburg within the heart of Mpumalanga, Mankele gets an all-round thumbs up as a proper mountain biking paradise. The Bike Park itself is surrounded by Sappi forests,
indigenous bush, open grasslands, rivers, dams, ravines, mountains and comes packaged with breathtaking
No surprises then that Mankele rates as a favourite playground for riders from as far away as Jozi or Durbs. One thing you need to know: the riding here is steep and in your face: once you run out of valley, you immediately hit climb upon gnarly climb before you level out along the aggressive lines contouring the
craggy ridges rucking up all round.
Expect loads of rocky drop-offs, slip-sliding bush tunnels and gritty, gravelly corners on the backcountry
trails. That said, the single-track is top quality, and have been fine-tuned over years of focussed trail
building. So, buckle down and grind your way to the summit, as the reward will kick in along an exhilarating
switch-back carving down amidst cabbage trees and big-ass aloes.
Accommodation is in air-conditioned, self-catering log cabins, sleeping up to eight people in comfort, each with a private braai area. Or you can opt for secluded, fully equipped canvas tents, tucked into the bush, each with private ablutions and a communal kitchen. Otherwise, pitch your own tent on the lush lawns or
designated bushveld campsites; all with braai areas and water nearby. An ablution block with hot water is
centrally located and easily accessible to everyone. Check out www.mankele.co.za for the vibe…
In a nutshell, Mankele Mountain Bike Adventures is beautifully located in an indigenous forest near the Sudwala Caves, in a valley unfolding alongside Houtbosloop River. Overall, it offers the perfect ride
location with a diverse variety of trails, all set within dramatic mountain ranges all round.
The trails range from the easy 5km Blue Trail with its fast-flowing singletrack, bridges and jeep track, specifically designed with beginners in mind. And once you’ve honed your technical skills, you have a whole
range of step-up options, right up to the gruelling 55km Purple Route, as well the Adventure Zone section.
The short (but very rewarding) Blue Trail may be somewhat technical in places and starts at the general trail hub at Reception. Once you’re out the main gate the fun starts right away, with a kiff drop-in to the right as
soon as you pass over the bridge. This immediately leads onto some awesome flowing singletrack next to the river. From here, we klapped straight into a calf-gnawing climb via the Mamba Tunnel, passing underneath the two Table Tops and onto a piece of trippy pine forest singletrack. This connected over a gravel road onto – and eventually past – the Mayo Estate. Pull your ears back as you pin into the downhill past Mount Carmel, where you turn right into yet another wheezing climb.
The good news is that from here you hit the singletrack through the bush tunnels, a ride for which Mankele has become legendary. Beware the huge drops, giving it gas as you cross the tar road onto some more
singletrack past the farmhouse on the left. Once you get to the Mikon Gate, cross the Sabie main tarmac strip and look out for a final section of singletrack 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.
Also, much of my ride description is pieced together from various sections Matt and I rode, but the good
news is that there are excellent maps available from Reception and also on the web site. 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.
The infamous Purple Trail (55km) cranks off into a non-stop 15km granny gear battle, but the magnificent
views and in-your-face singletrack is well worth the climb. The descent can be hair raising if it is your first
time blasting through the bush tunnels, but there is always the ‘easy way’ back. Take care with the
humongous drop that is definitely double-black halfway through the tunnels, and first scout this as well as the chicken run.
Finally, for the adrenalin junkies there’s the utter madness of the 1.8km Downhill Trail where switchbacks, drop-offs and rock gardens will do their utmost to blow your skull wide open with a 100%-proof
adrenaline rush. There is also the relatively new 1.8km Black Route, as well as a few special and very technical Black-Dot Sections along most of the routes to spice things up for experienced riders.