Laid-back Boven in Mpumalanga is pretty famous for its white-knuckle climbing routes, but the riding here in the Elands River Valley is pretty rocking, too.
– Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais
Waterval Boven – these days known as 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. It is famous for the Elands River, which plunges over the amber cliffs, a legendary nirvana for rock climbers from around the world.
Locals maintain that Boven is a ‘drinking town with a climbing problem’, but these days the same adage may just as easily apply to the mountain biking trails here. Situated in the vicinity of Tranquilitas Adventure Farm, most of the routes were created by none other than Glen Harrison, which is more than reason enough to go ride them.
Much of the riding is on a rollicking combo of purpose-built single-track – with some hiking trails and gravel roads thrown in for good measure – so you can be sure to find something suitable to all levels of riders. Embrace the super-tight, fast and flowing sections through the trippy forest sections, then stop for occasional breathers when you get the opportunity on higher ground to take in the truly incredible views.
Best you wear your Big Girl pants as there will be some solid climbs, but the ascents are eminently rideable as they contour along the ridgelines. Good news is that the elevation gain is quick and very achievable, without the need for too much Granny Time.
Now you get to the fun part. The descents are 98% rideable, and those of you with a big cojones will blast the wooden bridges and drop-offs. All in all, the routes are extremely well marked, and the Blue Trail is suitable for families. Plus there are stacks of jeep tracks around the campsite to keep the kids occupied.
Your best way to properly enjoy the Boven trails would be to get on your bike and explore. There are too many potential permutations to mention on these pages, as the complete route network can be combined in a dozen different ways.
Here’s what you need to know about the new Mountain Traverse …
There are a number of ways to access this properly wild ride and unfortunately all of them involve getting acquainted with your granny (speaking as a mere mortal, of course). There are some kiffness to keep you happy though, and Go with The Flow is one of them. This new section in the SAPPI forests features a go-with-the-flow run of 2,4km through pine trees, crossing bridges some of the forest blocks. Virtually no pedaling is required.
Don’t get too chilled: Turnminator and Stairway to Heaven awaits. Whereas the other key segments are mostly downhill runs, this is a climb of note, full of convoluted twists and turns up through stands of pine. Try doing this without dabbing, continuing onto ‘Stairway’, a kickass Category 4 climb with 120m elevation in 2km. Cruise it at a sedate pace to save you for the downhill runs or blast your lungs to kingdom come by the time you top out at 1 950m above sea level. Anyone for some high altitude training?
Next up is the glorious Magic Carpet Ride, the first in a series of 5-star segments super-tubing through the forest. This is one of the furthest segments from the camp site and the pine needles often cover the trail to deaden the sound of wheels passing over them … true MTB meditation.
The Ridgeline follows immediately after this ‘magic’, blasting you into open space on an edgy grassland trail. Majestic views unfold down into the valley, but the riding includes some tricky terrain to keep you honest. Rock hopping eventually gets you to the apex, from where you’ll start picking up speed, with 3,5km of narrow single track snaking through the high grasslands.
And then, to top it all, there is Morphine Drop. It is aptly named, as by now you’ll be in need of some mind-altering substances to keep you going along the Mountain Traverse Trail. And believe me, you’ll be getting it in serious doses along the next 4,5km of downhill single-track.
The descent comes at you at full pace, with a 320m over just 4,5km, making for an adrenaline-infused run of legendary proportions. Focus bru, if you want to survive the blind rises, sketchy drop-offs and tricky rock gardens, before you kick out on a serpentine series of fast flowing curves down to the river’s edge.
Hello Morphine. Goodbye Pain!
Off the Bike
Boven boasts a landscape blessed with dramatic cliffs, steep ridges and sweeping escarpment views. The anti-velo outdoor crowd can dip into superb hiking and trail running option, or of course go vertical on celebrated crags such as Wonderland and ‘The Restaurant’ (with a tip of the hat to Douglas Adams).
Discover ancient stone ruins of vanished civilisations at Stone Circle Museum, explore the ancient, circular monolithic stone calendar and then enjoy a fabulous country cooked meal at the Stone Circle Country Kitchen – www.stonecircletours.co.za
Hike along the amazing trail network around town or book a tour on the Num-Num trail (2-7 day options) www.thenum-numtrail.co.za.
For climbers, Boven rates as a must-climb site by the planet’s top climbers. It is a climbing mecca of note and boasts more than 700 routes varying from beginner scrambles to bolted climbs and two-pitch routes with serious exposure – www.rocrope.com.
The Boven Trout Lodge, with three dams, is an excellent fly fishing spot.
Best time to Visit
This region makes for an excellent year-round ride spot, but you can expect it to be darn hot and with a chance of thunder rolls in summer. And on the flipside, those winter mornings can be especially frosty, so layer up, muchachos.
FAST FACTS BLOCK
|GRADING:||Intermediate to advanced|
|START POINT:||Tranquilitas Adventure Farm|
|GPS COORDS:||25°40’38.29″ S / 30°21’48.56″ E|
|TERRAIN:||Forest Trails, 4×4 track and technical single-track, bridges|
||Extreme heat, so stay hydrated; lightning in summer|
||Shamrock Arms – 013 257 0888|
||Day permits available from Tranquilitas Farm|
|CELL RECEPTION||Reasonable reception along most of the route|
How to Get There
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.
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