Fantastic riding, riveting rock climbing, world-class trout fishing and some of SA’s best hiking trails … damnit, what are you guys waiting for?!? Photographs and words by Jacques Marais.
Waterval Boven (now Emgwenya – or the ever-so-scary sounding ‘Place of the Crocodile’) used to be an old railway town, but now masquerades as a scenic tourist spot perched on the very edge of the Highveld escarpment. The Elands River plunges over the cliffs here right alongside this little Mpumalanga dorp, situated roughly 260km from Jo’burg. Locals say it is a ‘drinking town with a climbing problem’, and the dramatic crags immediately make it obvious why Boven is internationally famous as a rock-climbing destination.
There are a handful or so guys out here in South Africa who you can trust implicitly when it comes to all things mountain biking. Glenn Harrison is one of them and, if you know the name, you will immediately understand why you need to make a plan to go and ride his new trails at Tranquilitas.
Most of the routes consist of a rollicking combo of purpose-built single-track, hiking trails and gravel roads, and will therefore suit all levels of rider. Enjoy the super-tight, fast and flowing sections, especially through the Zorro swerves in the forest and take occasional breathers to enjoy the many viewpoints and historical landmarks.
There will be climbing (yes, I am warning you), but the ascents are pretty smooth and rideable, following the contours of the landscape. The up-side of it is that the elevation gain is pretty quick – and very achievable – without too many gear changes. Plus, you get to zig into those goodly downhills once you reach the top…
Again, the descents are 98% rideable, even for a dodgy codger like myself, and those of you with a dare-devil attitude will blast the wooden bridges and drop-offs I agonised over. All in all, the routes are extremely well marked, and the Blue Trail is perfectly suitable for even kiddies with geared bikes. And as a back-stop, there are also those jeep tracks around the campsite to keep the young ones occupied…
Routes for all:
Forest Loop – 7km (Intermediate): Start at the entrance to Tranquilitas Farm and follow the blue arrows up the single-track via the forest and onto the escarpment. It’s an enjoyable ride with great views, followed by 3km of fast downhill single-track through forest and grassland until you get back to the farm gate.
Old Coach Road – 11km (Intermediate): Follow the Red arrows along a solid climb, then enjoy the speedy sections of trail through the forest. A newly completed addition takes you out onto the high plateau with endless views down the Elands valley. A steep climb to the top of the koppie follows before you blast back down to the farm gate.
Big Dipper – 4.5km (Intermediate): The trail has some rocky drop offs and steep bridge drops and a fast downhill Enduro-type track looping back to the start.
Follow the Dog – 3km (Easy to Intermediate): A cool little warm-up from the campsite, with a circular loop up behind the camp and around the front of the escarpment. It’s short and fun, with superb views over the valley towards Waterval-Onder.
The Tranquilitas Rim – 8km (Intermediate to Advanced): This route runs close to the cliff edge and has some fantastic and fast runs through the grassland. Rocky drop-offs are encountered at speed, so be sharp. (Can be ridden both ways).
Boven Mountain Loop – 11.5km (Strenuous): This superb trail contours along the steep mountain overlooking Waterval Boven. (Can be done both ways).
Follow the N4 towards Nelspruit, then turn right after Machado Toll Plaza into Boven. Pass under the bridge in town (down the main road – 3rd Ave), then turn right to follow a road up the mountain. This becomes gravel after about 2km, but keep going for another 7km until you see Tranquilitas Farm on your left.
Sus the Stats: Tranquilitas Trails
Grading: Intermediate to Advanced
Duration: 30min – 4hrs
Configuration: 6 trails: both circular and out-and-back options
Start Point: Tranquilitas Adventure Farm
Beware: Rocks on Rim Trail; extreme heat, so stay hydrated; lightning in summer
Post-Ride Beer: Shamrock Arms – (013) 257 0888
Must-Do Event: Switchback Series (Sept); Boven Rock Rally if you’re a climber (Sept) – www.rocrope.com
Access: Day permits available from Tranquilitas Farm (R30)
Cell Reception: Reasonable reception along most of route
Accommodation: Tranquilitas has four rustic, S/C chalets, six permanent tents, a stunning 3-bedroom farm house and a campsite with a large pool – www.tranquilitas.com
Local Contact: Glenn Harrison – (082) 7601218; Gustav / RocnRope – (013) 2570363
GPS: 25°40’38.29″ S / 30°21’48.56″ E