Closest Town: Mbabane, Swaziland
Grading: Easy to Difficult, depending on distance and route choice. | Duration: Anything from 1–4 hours
Location (Area/Province): Mpumalanga and Wild Frontier/Kruger
Configuration: Circular ride, as well as out-and-back options
Start Point: Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary camp site
Access: Guests with their own bike are also welcome to use the roads and trails within the park at no extra charge. A Day Fee of R50 per cyclist for the duration of their Mlilwane stay.
Facilities: Guided mountain bike hire is also available. Lodge, chalets, backpackers, camp sites, shop, restaurant, ablutions
Cell Reception: Yes
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We’ve always known that Swaziland boasts some cracking trails, but the full extent of superb singletrack riding in King Mswati’s backyard has been highlighted beyond any doubt by the phenomenal growth of the Imvelo MTB Challenge. This is but one of the reasons you should load up your bike and head for the Kingdom of Crank.
On your bike
The good news: most of the Imvelo MTB Challenge route is open to riders outside the actual race. The bad news: it is currently unmapped and not yet sign-posted, which makes it a bit of an adventurous undertaking. So, if you’ve missed this 69km humdinger of an event in June this year, your best option would be the 35-plus kms of jeep- and singletrack crisscrossing the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
This scenic game reserve is the only one of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks where you can safely crank or hike the landscape, as there is no dangerous game wandering about. (Except hippos, of course, but they’re generally in the lake …) But you can prepare yourself for a few painful ascents, especially if you plan to climb all the way to the top of Nyonyane (Rock of Execution) Peak. The viewpoint here was used by the erstwhile kings to fling dissenters and vagabonds to their death, and still offers an, erm … killer view across the undulating plains.
And if singletrack blows your hair back – yes, a bear does, and the Pope is – then you’ll be pleased to know that Mlilwane now boasts a good 11km purpose-cut MTB trail in addition to the various hiking- and game tracks. Wooden bridges, technical rock sections and gritty water crossings ensure an exhilarating ride and instant recovery from any granny-gear grouchiness.
Other cycling in the area
If you want to do the big game biking thing, get your butt to Hlane, where a brand new 18km return trail winds its way through the thorny brush of this Royal National Park. Keep in mind that this is more about the bush experience than about mountain biking though, but I’ll bet big bucks you won’t be complaining. And add the coordinates for the forests of Mhlambanyatsi and the grassland plains along the Usuthu River to your GPS. There is a ridiculous amount of mountain biking here, but you need to either seek out a local guide or have enough time to explore the endless network of dirt roads at your leisure.
Off the bike
If you haven’t yet explored the Swazi Kingdom, you’re missing out on one of southern Africa’s most spontaneous tourist destinations. You don’t need a visa, it is an easy weekend drive from both KZN and Gauteng and there’s no need to convert cash or learn a new language, although you could do both should it float your boat. Plus, you can get up close and personal with the Big 5, or go rhino tracking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, horse riding, caving, scrambling and off-road driving in an infinitely varied and remote country.
Telephone: +(268) 528 3944
GPS: 26°28′05.7″S 031°09′42.2″E