‘Essentially, Emgwenya is a rock-climbing town with a trout-fishing problem,’ says local adventure operator Gustav Janse van Rensburg of the area’s most popular activities. However, anglers aren’t the only outdoor folk to gather here, with more and more mountain bikers arriving to sample the single-track trails created nearly single-handedly by local MTB guru Glenn Harrison.
The ride at Elands River Valley
The MTB trails looping along the cliffs are consistently changed and diverted to allow for erosion control. This means new trails are constantly popping up, so you should chat to Gustav of Roc ’n Rope and Tranquilitas about the latest route information. Three existing loops appeal to both trail runners and riders, with enough altitude gain to ensure a good bit of granny cranking.
Stick to the 11-kilometre Mountain Trail for a steep and zigzaggy ascent along gravel before circling back to town with views over Steenkampsberg. Seven kilometres of single-track will get your blood pumping before gently dipping westward via subtle cutbacks through the ravines. Gear down and cruise past what are thought to be ancient stone circles before following the single-track to Camp Trevor Youth Camp.
The fast, funky five-kilometre Forest Loop zips along sublime switchback single-track and can be accessed along the jeep-track across the way from Tranquilitas Adventure Farm. Pass the gate and, for a ride to remember, look out for the blue arrows leading left into a wattle plantation.
The Rim Trail (around 20 kilometres) immediately kicks into downhill mode along a gritty run roughly parallel to Slaaihoek Road, then heads back to town along six kilometres of singletrack on the edge of the escarpment. Keep it tidy along fast, rocky sections en route to Dwaalheuwelspruit, then climb steeply until the single-track ends. From here, you have either a gravel-road option back into town, or you can sneak a two-kilometre tarmac shortcut.
Need to know about the trails at Elands River Valley
Trails are marked with metal signs or stone cairns, so keep an eye out for these. If you’re riding in summer, beware of high-intensity electrical storms and possible flooding.
Off the bike in Elands River Valley
The raison d’être luring outdoor folk – most of them are rock climbers – to Emgwenya is to get hang time on the cliffs at The Restaurant or Wonderland. Gear hire, information and guides can be found at www.rocrope.com. The region is also a fantastic fly-fishing destination.
Getting to Elands River Valley
Head east to The Land of the Rising Sun, as Mpumalanga is known, along the N4 from Pretoria. Continue past Witbank and Belfast. You’ll reach Emgwenya after 250 kilometres.
Elands River Valley route facts
Grading: Easy to intermediate
Duration: 45 minutes to three hours
Configuration: Three circular routes (30 km in total)
Start point: Tranquilitas Adventure Farm car park
Terrain: A selection of dirt roads and steep, purpose-built single-track
Entry requirements: Daily permit from Roc ’n Rope costs R25
Cell reception: Good coverage along most parts of route
GPS Co-ordinates: S25° 40’ 21”, E30° 21’ 43”
Contact: Cell 082-753- 3695, www.tranquilitas.com
Great mountain biking gear
The new GoPro HD HERO2: Outdoor Edition (R3 999, www.omnico.co.za) is perfect for mountain bikers, rock climbers, trail runners and outdoor heroes keen to capture their fresh-air shenanigans. It comes with a range of extras, including mounts, suction cups and harnesses, making it one of the world’s most versatile cameras. Capture 11-megabyte photos and video at up to 1 080 pixels
Mountain biking trails in South Africa
For detailed information on mountain-biking trails across South Africa, go to www.mtbroutes.co.za.