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More precious than rubies – cycling in Loskop, Mpumalanga

Text: Adèle Tait. Article from the November 2014 issue of Ride Magazine.

Forever Resorts owns more than 20 properties in South Africa. They have hosted fishing contests, walkers, runners, horse riders and road cyclists for over a decade, but there hadn’t been many options for mountain bikers. Well, saddle up, says Adele Tait, the wait is over.
More precious than rubies
Cycling hours

The trails are open seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset, but riding after dark is certainly unsafe where leopards roam.

Weather

Mpumalanga’s highveld is much drier than the lowveld. The days can be scorching hot, and the wind makes hills that are not visible on an altitude chart – you’ll soon understand why there are swimming pools all over the resorts and why sunblock is a necessity. Riders who don’t aim to enjoy the wildlife and scenery will need to carry plenty of liquid. Although Exxaro plans to send its Absa Cape Epic riders here to prepare, the natural environment also justifies a more leisurely ride, and the 40km distance is quite deceptive. A refreshment stop at the Isiyala Game Lodge around the halfway mark is certainly recommended.

On the day we went to ride the Ruby Trail, my club mates and I saw blesbok, springbok, zebra, rooi hartebeest, kudu, a jackal and albino baboons (all pretty common); but even the clock chasers found their brakes when some rare sable antelope and piles of rhino dung appeared. This is a very special environment, and we have not even started talking about the actual cycling trail or the hospitality options on offer. The Ruby Trail winds over several properties in what is broadly known as the Forever Resorts Loskop Country, between Middelburg and Groblersdal in Mpumalanga. It goes up and down the gradients around the Kranspoort mountain pass and the scenery runs from the slightly harsh highveld to rocky ridges and valleys, where the climate becomes mild and subtropical like the rest of the lowveld, in the blink of an eye.

The Riding

The ridingWhile little child-friendly tracks, shortcuts that eliminate the more technical portions and options to extend the distance on farm roads and further trails are available, the jewel in the Forever crown is the Ruby Trail.

The starting point is the Ruby Cliff Horse Ranch, a Forever Retreat with self-catering and camping facilities. Although it is hard to miss the dramatic red mountain cliff after which the ranch is named, the ride starts over some gentle singletrack on the grassy lower portion of the property. After a gentle warm-up, riders have the option to turn onto Matombu Wild.

This resort offers five-star accommodation and some dramatic terrain: bushveld with sections of steep and rocky jeep track. Cyclists who are not blinded by sweat might be lucky enough to spot some interesting reptiles and birds or even a rhino.

Around the 14km mark, the trail returns to Ruby Cliff. There are sand patches and a few rocks, ruts and steps, but the gradients here are more gentle, so it is possible to recover a bit and enjoy the views over the valley.

Just watch where you are going, though, because warthogs like to dig holes, and baboons move rocks. The trail is maintained, but these animals are very energetic.

Another 6km on, riders pass through the gate leading to Isiyala, a four-star Forever game lodge, and now the trail reveals a dramatic landscape with indigenous forests and gorges. More than 100 species of game occur here, but they might go unnoticed unless you go at an eco-ride pace.

Pic 2bSoon after the 22km mark, a board warns of technical challenges and the riders find themselves on a 2km climb with portions where the gradient exceeds 10%. Even the downhill sections are an adventure; the trail builders had to construct really intricate structures to get the riders across the more marshy patches.

Around the 25,5km mark the trail calms down again as it heads into the Silver Falls estate.

Cattle are the most common animals here, but wildlife also enjoys the grass, and the riders have a chance to recover on some smooth singletrack and farm road even as they pass the altitude marker that indicates the highest point on the route.

Pic 3bAt the 33km mark the trail passes back into Isiyala, and now it runs over some rocky steps up and down, as the valleys and gorges brimming with plants and animals return. Soon after the 35,2km mark the riders start to roll down the most spectacular 2km descent. Although it is pretty smooth, the edges on the last portion are rutted, so hold your line.

A farm road leads to the Isiyala lodge. A refreshment stop here is really recommended because there are a few more adventures ahead. At around 38,5km the trail plunges down several dual-concrete strips that have not seen many cars. The reason soon becomes apparent in the off-camber sweeps on gradients that peak at -18%.

By the time this dramatic descent is over, there is less than a kilometre to ride, but the trail is quite loose and sandy as it winds through dense forest. The climb is doable, but the descent is a bit less secure. You can try to ride it, but walking is the recommended option.

Directions

The Loskop Country Forever Resorts lie in Mpumalanga, about 225km east of Johannesburg. Most of this distance is covered quite easily along good tar roads, starting with the N4. From the Middelburg off-ramp, follow the N11 towards Groblersdal. Soon after you enter the Kranspoort Pass, the gate of the Ruby Cliff Horse Ranch appears to the left. All the other resorts mentioned here are situated within the next 12km along the same road.

Contact details

Information about all the facilities mentioned here is available on the Forever Resorts, Lodges, Hotels and Retreats website, www.foreversa.co.za. Scroll down to the footer and click on the required resort. Central reservations will also be able to offer information on 012-423-5600, or via email.

For further information about the Ruby Trail, visit the Loskopdam website.

Riding rates and access

Pic 4bAccess to the Ruby Trail is free for guests at any of the Forever Resorts in the area. Because this really is the wilderness with frills, your details need to be available if anything goes wrong. A completed indemnity form needs to be swapped for an entry bracelet every time you ride. Day visitors pay R50, and bookings need to be made via the Loskopdam Resort. The easiest way is to click on the Book Now icon at the top right of its web page.

Riders who steal track are not as much of an issue as poachers here, and anyone caught on the trail without an entry bracelet will face a R500 spot fine. The money funds anti-poaching initiatives in the area.

The most convenient access point to the Ruby Trail is via the Ruby Cliff Horse Ranch, 36km north of Middelburg on the N11. There is secure parking just inside the gate of this Forever Retreat.

Restaurants and other facilities

The menu at the Isiyala Game Lodge around the halfway mark of the Ruby Trail offers everything you would expect from a four-star venue, but even the camp and self-catering venue at the Ruby Cliff start/finish will have toasted sandwiches, steak, drinks, showers and a bike wash facility.

Matombu Wild is only open to guests, but if you have enough energy for a short drive down the N11, the Waterfall Safari Lodge is worth a visit because the hotel is high up among the mountain ridges and the views are truly amazing. This property also offers a four-star self-catering option.

Amanzi is another four-star Forever Lodge in this area. Cyclists with non-riding active family members are likely to enjoy the resort at Loskop Dam, which offers all sorts of activities as well as shops and a petrol station.

More info on the area of Lowveld More info on the Mpumalanga area

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