Head north to Limpopo, the Rainbow Nation’s most unexplored province, and you are sure to discover some mountain bike destinations of note. Nthubu, one of the camps making up the African Ivory Route, is a case in point. Photographs and words by Jacques Marais.
Although Nthubu is not one of the African Ivory Route’s BIG 5 Camps, I would not blame you if you guessed otherwise. As soon as you enter the pucker bush veldt of the Masebe Nature Reserve, you get that African safari feel, and start expecting to see ellies or lions prowling the woodland savannah surrounds.
Masebe is, however, free of dangerous beasties (and of malaria, to boot), so you’re free to go mal amidst the rocky outcrops and thorny thickets. (This is code for: ‘You should pack your bike and trail shoes, of course). The good news is that the nature reserve teems with a range of plains game species, making for excellent encounters on any outride.
The well laid out camp boasts raised safari canvass tents and with a braai area-kitchen-dining chalet set upon a reedy wetland. Both the birding and star-gazing is of the highest order, but make sure you buy whatever you need before you get to Masebe.
Your exit spot from Nthubu Camp is along a lekker little wooden bridge on stilts straight onto a singletrack strip to the parking area (500m). Keep following the entrance road on which you came in, but keep an eye out for a sandy dual-track to your left just on 1km. A gradual climb continues for about a kay till you crest at a rocky plateau to the left (2km).
Here, you could head along a serious 4×4 route to your right (the tracks are very faint), or drop down before you hit a gnarly climb along a field of baby-head rocks. Persevere, as you soon hit a downhill onto a grassy wetland area (3.5km). From here, a 500m section of sandy riding along a gradual ascent awaits, before you bomb onto a lekker downhill with rugged cliffs to your right (5km).
Keep an eye out for bushbuck, impala and other game here, as we had veritable herds pelting alongside us on the stony down-crank into a thorny, savannah thicket. This is also where we spotted the resident pair Verreaux’s eagles, so cast the occasional eye skywards while you skitter along the gnarly terrain.
Around the 7km mark, the road starts dog-legging to your right, and a kilometre later you will T-bone onto the main reserve track leading in towards Nthubu Camp. Keep your speed up on this section as it winds along the ridgeline to your right; it is pretty sandy in places, and momentum is your only friend.
Fortunately there is a fair bit of incline as you start approaching the wetland area near the camp, so you should be able to crank most of the route without having to push. Around 12km into the ride, keep left to re-join the camp entrance road, and crank back over the bridge and down to where the cold beers are waiting in the kitchen fridge.
If you’re keen on a more substantial ride onto the higher-lying ridges, the 4×4 tracks will allow you to take on a good 30km of additional riding. The terrain is pretty steep though, with lots of gravel and loose rocks, so make sure you’re fit enough to handle the many challenges the Waterberg is sure to chuck your way.
Although you are only 110km from Mokopane, you can expect this to take at least two hours. For full directions and GPS coordinates, take full note of indications on the website – I would suggest you print them out before your visit.
Sus the Nthubu Camp MTB Route
Grading:Intermediate (loose, rocky surface)
Duration: 1hr – reserve loop / 3hrs – plus 4×4 route
Configuration:Circular/Return Options: 14km / 44km
Start Point: Nthubu Camp (
Terrain: Gravel road and sandy dual-track
Post-Ride Beer: Make sure you take your own!
Must-Do Event: The African Ivory Route is considering an epic multi-day ride linking 6-8 of their camps; we’ll keep you posted!
Access: You need to book an overnight stay at Nthubu Camp to ride these trails.
Cell Reception: Nada to niks to bugger all
Accommodation: Safari-style, self-catering tented camp; try those bucket showers!
GPS Coordinates: S23°38.402’ / E28°31.443’
Where are we?
Nthubu Camp is situated in the Masebe Reserve, which doesn’t have the Big Five, making it perfect for hiking, trail running and mountain biking. It’s located in the heart of the Waterberg, which is renowned for its spectacular views and San rock art. Another notable attraction in the area is the Makapans Valley, one of the country’s most significant archaeological and palaeontological sites.