Where To Ride: Mpumalanga

Head east for some fast trails and big climbs

In Swazi, Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu, Mpumalanga literally translates to ‘the place where the sun rises’. It’s a mountainous area featuring the Drakensberg escarpment in the west and low-altitude subtropical bushveld in the east. Thanks to its varied terrain it makes for great riding. Here are a few of our favourites:

Variety of MTB trails: Mankele Bike Park, Nelspruit

Mankele Mountain Bike Park in Mpumalanga South Africa

Mankele has been a mainstay of the Mpumalanga trail riding scene for a long time and with good reason, it’s a favourite among pros and weekend warriors alike and features trails for a variety of skill levels. The terrain is rugged, rocky bushveld and features steep, technical climbs, bush tunnels, bridges, boardwalks and tricky descents. The multitude of trails and loops range from the entry-level, 4.5km blue trail to the 45km purple route with some 1149m of ascent which will take experienced riders over 5 hours to complete. There are also DH and XC-specific trails (which have hosted various races and events). In addition to spectacular escarpment mountain biking (read climbing and descending), the park offers top-class camping facilities and self-catering chalets. There are also a lot of other family activities in the area, from quad-biking and hiking to exploring the Sudwala Caves next door. Learn more

For longer, forestry roads: White River Trails 

White River Trails in Mpumalanga South Africa

Much of the eastern part of Mpumalanga features expansive forestry plantations and this means a well-developed network of dual tracks and service roads. The White River Trails wind their ways through a massive area of some 6 000 hectares, taking in some spectacular scenery and challenging riding with a variety of distance options. It’s not technical riding but good for long base miles or an easy morning coffee loop. While most of the riding is on dual-track there are some neatly crafted singletrack sections. Permits are available through MTO. Learn more

For forest trails and waterfall swims: Sabie Trails

Sabie Trails in Mpumalanga South Africa

The trails around Sabie are well revered by those who have ridden in the area. There are routes to suit all levels of skill and fitness and those after a full day of serious training can combine various loops to crank some serious mileage. As with most of the riding in Mpumalanga, it can get super snotty in the wet, but that is part of the area’s charm. The trails were developed and are maintained by a joint venture between SAFCOL Forestry landholdings and the Sabie Chamber of Commerce, driven by Joy Comley (Merry Pebbles) and Dennis Lawrie (Forest Ventures). Day permits and route maps are available from the shop at Merry Pebbles.

For altitude: Crystal Springs

Crystal Springs in Mpumalanga South Africa

Crystal Springs Mountain Lodge is situated at the top of Robber’s Pass outside Pilgrim’s Rest. It offers various riding options, for MTB, gravel missions and road rides. There is direct access to a game farm nearby which features dual track and forest trails as well as longer gravel routes to Graskop, Sabie and beyond. For epic road rides, the infamous 150km Three Pass route heads down from Crystal Springs through the town of Pilgrim’s Rest and then up another short pass to Graskop, turns right at Sabie before tackling the spectacular lung-busting Long Tom Pass. The 57.2 km pass carries heavy traffic and the area is prone to heavy mist causing low visibility so caution should be taken and having a follow vehicle is ideal. From the top of Long Tom, it is a steep descent into Lydenburg from there is a route via Orighstad road back up Robber’s Pass. Learn more

| IMAGES: MTO, Mankele, Facebook |