The beauty of Mankele as a riding destination is that the trail network promises fun for everyone.
| Words and images by Jacques Marais & MTBroutes |
The natural trails and gravel roads offer more than 160km of riding, with everything from classic downhill sections to calf-crunching ascents to gritty sections of singletrack. It is therefore no wonder that it rates as a training destination of choice for many top riders, and weekend adventure destination where you and the family can ride, trail run or hike in a secure and safe environment.
Trails are well-marked and color-coded, with warning signs for obstacles. The Sappi Boskop Loop (with 35km or 50km options), is currently the core route at Mankele. This is one of those rides where you can utterly lose yourself in nature, with breathtaking views across the bars as you navigate the pine-scented plantations and indigenous forests.
Leave Mankele main gate and turn right towards Sudwala Caves along the tar road till it turns to gravel after 4km. It is a flattish pedal past Thulani depot, where you turn left to follow the Boskop Loop signs into the plantations. Your first proper wake-up call for your calves will come at 14km, where a lung-busting ascent kicks in. This is fortunately followed by a flat recovery section to allow your heart rate to settle, with a winding crank through pine forest for the next 4km or so.
Gradual climbs await as you approach the 20km marker and you’ll be happy to know that this will be the last of the serious climbs. Take time out to enjoy the mountain views and surrounding forests, and then get ready to pin your ears back! The final 12km down to Mankele is a downhill blast of note, and is just the medicine to satisfy your inner speed freak. Total ascent equals just on 600m.
This longer ride follows the same route as the 35km for the first 20km, but this will be where the hard graft starts. Keep right instead of returning to Mankele, with a flat first kilometer to lull you into a false sense of security while enjoying the view.
The vasbyt starts now along the ‘MEGA-UP’ climb; good cadence and steady spinning is the name of the game here, as anything faster will test your fitness. This 4.5km ascent will be the last climb until you reach the 26km mark. Time for a breather, so stop and take in the magnificent views. The good news is that a white-knuckle downhill awaits as reward. Watch out for deep, loose dust in places as you bomb down the Sudwala side of the mountain, before crossing over to Schoemanskloof on the left.
The descent will bang you down to just above the ‘Joubert & Seuns Padstal’, with one or two pedal sections amidst much free-wheeling fun. Enjoy the views when you have time to look up from your front wheel up to the 40km mark, then gooi mielies along the final 10km down to Mankele. The 50km Route equates to about 1200m of total ascent. Both these routes are designed to focus on fitness and time-in-the-saddle rather than technical riding, and is completely rideable for all levels of riders.
Those keen on gritty singletrack can go for a play on the XC Course circumscribing the campsite. You start off on an easy pedal onto the 5km Blue Route, with a mix of flowy track, wooden bridges and jeep track perfect for those keen to test their technical skills. Short but ultimately rewarding, this ride starts from Reception and dog-legs out of the main gate. The fun starts once you cross the bridge; immediately drop into singletrack to your right for an awesome stretch of cranking along the river. You cross the stream after a kilometer or so, pedaling into a short climb before following some flat jeep track leading back to the campsite. From here, you can continue into the Adventure Zone, up Mamba Koppie, and then return along the river’s edge to the start.
Off the bike | Mankele boasts superb hikes and trail run routes, too, with a wealth of animal and birdlife. Families can relax or join in some of the other adventures on offer, with options from bass fishing, river tubing, play on the water zip-slide, or just relaxing around the pool and braai area. There is no shortage of interesting places to visit in the area, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on Sudwala Caves. You can opt for a touristy wander around the main cave system (the oldest in the world!) or do the 4-hr ‘Adventure Caving’ Tour – more information here Also check out the Dinosaur Park, the superb indigenous Botanical Gardens, visit the chimpanzees at Chimp Eden, or visit world-famous sites such as the Blyde River Canyon and, of course, the Kruger National Park.
Best time of year | A fantastic year-round destination, summer riding can be a hot, dusty and sweaty business.
Getting There | Leave the N4 at the Sudwala Caves (Sabie) off-ramp and travel 6km towards Sabie on the R539. The entry to Mankele will be on your right. Enjoy!