Wamkilekile, Mankele!

The beauty of Mankele as an MTB destination is that the trail network promises fun for everyone. All the natural trails and gravel roads offers more than 160km of riding, with everything from adrenaline-inducing downhill blasts and calf-crunching ascents to gritty sections of singletrack.

Good news from the ‘Province of the Rising Sun’! Yup, the popular Mankele MTB and Adventure Park in Mpumalanga has officially been re-opened, which means you have some kickass riding waiting just on 4hrs from Jozi …

                                                          – Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais

 

Local Buzz:

Mankele has been one of the favourite playgrounds for up-country mountain bikers for well more than a decade, so when management issues saw it close its gates a couple of years ago, local riders were certainly not happy about it.

Who could blame them? Suddenly, those extensive Sappi forests, indigenous bush, grassland ridges, rivers and mountains were out of bounds. No more enduro and cross-country tracks, or gravel 100-milers, or family outrides, or breath-taking views … let’s just say it sucked.

Fortunately, there was a local man with a plan, and that man was Danie Botha. He approached Sappi to suggest a trail take-over and – under the auspices of his company, 2D Adventures – brought the joy of riding bikes back to Mankele.

“We needed to change the mountain biking model, though”, explains Danie. “The trails here have always suited only an elite few riders, with gritty rock gardens, bush tunnels and technical obstacles which challenged your Average Joe. Our plan was to make it more accessible, so that all levels of riders could come and have fun”.

The idea was not to lose the core trails, but to rather add A, B & C lines, thus allowing riders a range of choices on any given segment. “We also wanted to draw more families on our outrides and found that the forestry gravel tracks allowed young and old to plug into that old Mankele Magic”, says Botha.

That certainly does not mean the riding is easy … One thing you need to know about Mankele is that most of the routes are steep and in your face. From the valley floor, you will soon feel the need for your granny gear, with gnarly ascents waiting before you level out on the aggressive lines contouring those craggy ridges rucking up all round.

The rocky drop-offs, slip-sliding bush tunnels and switchbacks have taken a backseat for now on the back-country trails, with a focus on the plantation tracks. That said, the XC singletrack around the camp site still makes for quality riding for those out to test their skills.

Good news is that the accommodation is still top class, with air-conditioned, self-catering log cabins sleeping up to eight people in comfort, each with a private braai area. There are also secluded, fully equipped luxury tents tucked away in the bush, each with private ablutions and a communal kitchen.

Happy campers can pull in and pitch their own tent on the lush lawns or in hideaway campsites, all with braai areas and water nearby. There are brand-new dorms for school groups, too, within easy reach of the ablution block, swimming pool, a dam with a zip slide and a lekker pump track.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Go check out www.mankele.co.za and get ready for all kinds of lekker!

On the Bike

The beauty of Mankele as an MTB destination is that the trail network promises fun for everyone. All the natural trails and gravel roads offers more than 160km of riding, with everything from adrenaline-inducing downhill blasts and calf-crunching ascents to gritty sections of singletrack.

It is therefore now wonder that it rates as a training destination of choice for many top riders, as well as a 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 colour-coded, with warning signs for obstacles.

The Routes

On the Bike
The beauty of Mankele as an MTB destination is that the trail network promises fun for everyone. All the natural trails and gravel roads offers more than 160km of riding, with everything from adrenaline-inducing downhill blasts and calf-crunching ascents to gritty sections of singletrack.

It is therefore now wonder that it rates as a training destination of choice for many top riders, as well as a 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 colour-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.

35km Route: 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 surroundings 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.

50km route: 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 kilometre 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 26kmmark.

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 obstacles, and is completely rideable for all levels of riders.

XC Singletrack: Those keen on gritty singletrack can go for a play on the XC Course circumscribing the camp site. 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 kilometre or so, pedalling into a short climb before following some flat jeep-track leading back to the camp site. From here, you can continue into the Adventure Zone, up Mamba Koppie, and then return along the river’s edge to the start.

Mankele MTB Park on Trailforks.com



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 at www.sudwalacaves.com.

Also check out the Dinosaur Park (www.dinosaurpark.co.za); the superb indigenous Botanical Gardens (www.sanbi.org); visit the chimpanzees at Chimp Eden (www.chimpeden.com); or visit world-famous sites such as the Blyde River Canyon and, of course, the Kruger National Park (www.sanparks.org.za)

A Look Around

Squirt Top Trail

FAST FACTS BLOCK – Mankele trails
GRADING: Easy to Intermediate
DURATION Various; 45min to 6hrs
CONFIGURATION Interlinked trail network
START POINT: Trail Centre Kiosk
COORDINATES: S 25º 23′ 19.45″ :: E 30º42′ 43.36″
TERRAIN: Dirt roads & jeep tracks, some singletrack
MAP: Available on web site
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Entry fee per person; open seven days a week
FACILITIES Coffee shop, swimming pool, ablutions, camp site and log cabins
CELL RECEPTION: Yes
BEWARE OF: Snakes, ticks, sunburn; thunder storms
 

 

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.

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