Closest Town: Tzaneen
Grading: Difficult to Extreme | Duration: Various
Location (Area/Province): Limpopo and Olifants Valley
Configuration: 15/18km one way ride, depending on where you start
Start Point: The Magoebaskloof Hotel
Access: Most of the route is on public access roads, so generally there is no fee payable. For off the beaten track, then get permission from Komatiland forestry. Gray Braadtvedt can also guide.
Beware of: Vehicles on blind corners
Facilities: The streams are all potable, so you can make as many water stops as you like. The Debegeni Falls picnic site has ablution facilities.
Cell Reception: Yes
The Debengeni Downhill is actually the off-road parallel to the famous Magoebaskloof Pass Road. Riders engage in self-flagellation annually at the Magoebaskloof MTB Classic, when they ride up the Debengeni downhill. Up or down? Your choice.
On your bike
Off-road: Debengeni is a stunning 15 to 18 km downhill ride with a drop of 1,000 m depending on where you start. Resident mountain bikers have reached speeds of between 70 and 85 km/h. If you want to blast it, put on body armour; if not, it is fun anyway. Fitness and skills are no issue if you just want to take it easy. With gravity as your friend, you can relax and admire the secret valleys and emerald mountains unfolding before you. Don’t be tempted to ride faster than you should and dice with the locals on home terrain. As this downhill is a district road in parts, it may be shared with vehicles so keep left on all blind corners and anticipate the unexpected.
The general course is down Forest drive. As some of the local riding gems lie just off the beaten track, a guided ride with Gray Braadvedt is recommended. Gray is an accomplished guide and cycling coach, so you will get the best if you go with him. He does not charge a fee as it is not his profession, but a pie at the Pot and Plow would please him.
The ride begins in commercial forest, winding through tropical forest past seasonal streams and waterfalls, the most famous being the ride’s namesake, Debengeni Falls. It ends next to the Magoebaskloof dam which is surrounded by the neatly manicured Sapekoe tea plantations.
On road: There are hordes of road rides in the area. The most infamous is the Magoebaskloof Challenge, an organized ride held in May each year. If you want to try it on your own, here’s how :-
Start at the Magoebaskloof Hotel which has been rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 2003. Ride 11 undulating kilometers towards Haenertsburg and then turn left onto the R528 Georges Valley Road. This takes you up around the top of the Ebenezer dam, one of the most picturesque mountain reservoirs in the country. A fast 15 km plunge down Georges Valley will increase your average speed, heart rate and insurance premiums. Riders boast of doing speeds in excess of 90 km/h on this section. Another 15 km of undulating road gets you to the outskirts of the town of Tzaneen. Turn left onto the R36 which will carry you over the Tzaneen dam for 4 km. then turn left again onto the R71. You will pass through manicured tea plantations and past the Magoebaskloof dam to within 6 km of your starting point. There is a catch, however. Those last 6km take you from around 800 m to 1,400 m above sea level. Hence the name “Magoebaskloof Challenge”. Remember to put sunblock on the back of your eyeballs!! Most of this route is reasonably safe riding. The lower 15km of Georges Valley must be ridden single file and well to the left.
Off the bike
If the Downhill plummet or the Magoebaskloof challenge hasn’t finished you off, the Death by Chocolate cake at the Sapekoe Tea Plantation Restaurant will. Or if you don’t have the requisite sweet tooth, drive back up to the top of the pass to consume the most delicious pies at The Pot and Plow. Alternatively, if you haven’t worked up an appetite yet, immerse yourself in quality arts and crafts at nearby Haenertsburg.
Website: www.magoebaskloof.co.za / www.magoebasklooftourism.co.za
Telephone: +27 (0)83 442 7429
GPS: 23° 53.314’ South / 29° 59.747’East