Closest Town: Phalaborwa
Grading: From easy to intermediate to difficult. | Duration: Depends on route chosen
Location (Area/Province): Olifants Valley
Start Point: Olifants Camp
Access: Camp guests only. Visitors must ensure they reach the entry gates in good time. Camp and reserve entry gates close at 17h30 in winter, and 18h30 in summer. Latecomers will not be allowed in until the next day.
Beware of: Kruger Park is in a malaria area. Pay attention to the instructions of your field guide as you are in Big Five territory.
Facilities: Chalets and camping facilities available
Cell Reception: Yes, in most of the park.
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On your bike
Not many people can lay claim to having cycled with Big 5 beasts in one of the world’s premier game parks, that’s for sure. So, if you do find yourself at Olifants Camp, this is one adventure you should definitely have on your bucket list.
Catch a ride to the start of the trail in one of the open game viewing vehicles, all under the watchful eye of your two highly skilled (and armed, of course) field guides who will lead the trail. You can use one of the stock bikes from national parks (or bring your own) while even backpacks, water bottles, cycling helmets and snacks for the day are supplied. Below are your route options :
Hardekool Draai Ride (21.4 km): Green Rating
This easy return route option starts off with a gentle ascent along a slightly rocky rangers’ road doubling as as a firebreak. You will pass through dense stands of mopane, with views every now and then of the Olifants River. Venture off-track at any time, and you’ll find the ground covered in a carpet of thorns of all shapes and sizes … so don’t! If you bring your own bike, make a 1000% sure it is PROPERLY puncture-proofed. Hardekool Draai may well be a “novice ride” by some mountain bikers’ standards, but the riding here in Kruger Park is aimed at integrating your sport with your surroundings, rather than proving how skilled you are on your bike.
Olifants/Letaba River Confluence Trail (12 km): Black Rating
Follow the S44 gravel road beyond Olifants River view point for just over 10km from camp, and you’ll find an unmarked, dual-track road which will whip you away on an unforgettable mountain biking experience. Rocks, branches and tight turns will keep you fully focussed on the ride, to such an extent that you may forget that at any moment you may bump into elephant, buffalo, lion, nyala, water buck, giraffe or zebra, to name just a few of the park’s 147 mammal species. The route is not strenuous, but participants need to be skilled riders to appreciate the ride, as the terrain is graded intermediate to difficult.
Klipkoppies Mozambique Border Trail (24.8 km): Red Rating
Olifants Camp is situated a mere 22km from the Mozambican border, and a short drive on the S44 past Olifants River viewpoint will take you to the Letaba River. Cross the river on a fire-break road to your starting point, and crank off along the trail leading south-east. You will be heading towards the Lebombo Mountains to eventually ride along the border fence with Mozambique. This circular ride is an Intermediate to Difficult ride, so would not really be suited to inexperienced mountain bikers.
Off the bike
Olifants Camp is perched high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Olifants River. Bring your binoculars for long, peaceful hours alternately spent reading, napping and viewing game in or near the river below. Bird-watching opportunities are amazing in this camp as the birds are so accustomed to guests they almost eat out of your hand. Unfortunately, the same applies to baboons and monkeys and this is why all the fridges are turned back to front and the pantry cupboards have locks. Book for a guided night drive or an afternoon walk.
How to Get There:
Follow the N4 to Nelspruit, then take the R40 northwards via Hazyview, Bushbuck Ridge and Klaserie to Hoedspruit. Continue on the R40 to Mica, splitting right to Phalaborwa Gate. Once in the park, follow the signs to Olifants Camp. You can also approach from Gauteng by following the N1 north to Polokwane and turning right onto the R71 towards Tzaneen, about 40km before you reach Polokwane. Olifants Rest Camp is 83km away from the gate. Allow about 3 hours for the drive to the camp, however if you want to enjoy the game viewing possibilities give yourself more time!
Best Time of Year:
The Kruger is a summer rainfall area, so unless you like it hot and muggy, rather opt for autumn, winter or spring. The temperatures in summer can be extreme.
Website: www.sanparks.org / Tel: +27 (0)13 735 6606/7 (Olifants camp)
GPS: 24° 00′ 18.45″ South / 31° 44′ 24.82″ East