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LOCAL TIME: 05:01 am | Wednesday, 30 September
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4 Day MTB Self Ride – Nelspruit to Barberton Return

Local mountain biker, Allan Livingston, shares his pioneering experience of a four day mountain bike stage ride from Nelspruit, along the mountains of Barberton and back to Nelspruit. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not give this route a go?

It has long been a dream of mine to create a stage ride from Nelspruit along the mountains of Barberton and back to Nelspruit. I have been working on the concept for a while now.

I managed to recce two of the legs myself on my mountain bike, the others were done using my own knowledge of the area as well as Google Earth. The help of Andrea from Barberton Tourism for contacts, permits, routes and accommodation was invaluable.

I opted for the travel light option with a support vehicle carrying clothes, food, drink & cycling stuff. This made us more independent in terms of food as well as having a vehicle nearby for emergencies. The vehicle did not follow the cyclists but hopped from stop to stop on the main routes. We also all clubbed together for the food which made things easier at meal times.

Day 1

Nelspruit to Paradors Game Ranch (26.67Km 776m) (Philip, Roland, Dillan, Barend & Allan)

The five riders met up with the support vehicle at Steiltes Spar on Friday morning dumping their bags etc. in the vehicle and getting the bikes ready.

27Km does not sound like much, and it had me worried as well, but as a shake-down, together with some decent climbs (776m) on the Uitkyk road, it worked out well. We arrived at Paradors, after spooking some Impala on the steep downhill from the gate, before the support vehicle and chilled for the rest of the afternoon at the pool before a braai in the boma.

The accommodation options at Paradors varied but we opted for the Barnyard as the most suitable. This was a combination of cost and comfort.

Day 2

Paradors to Barberton (48.34Km, 1073m) (Philip, Roland, Dillan, Barend, Allan, & day visitor, Craig)

Up bright and early, oats and fruit, hydration fluid and chain lube and off we go. We spotted some young Kudu on the way out towards the Kaapmuiden road but otherwise the ride to the tar was uneventful.

At the tar road we met up with Craig who had parked at Diggers and ridden out to join us for the day. We followed the tar road up to Sheba mine where we turned off and started the climb from the mine to the top of the mountain. 400m in 4Km. Most of the road is concrete but the climbing together with the eroded slippery clay areas made it interesting and certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Once on top we rode through the abandoned mining city of Eureka before descending on an old provincial road which is now a treacherous rocky path leading down the mountain to Fairview mine. Philip managed to buy a mining claim and immediately started trying to break rocks with his elbow and leg on the way down. From there it was a breeze to Barberton taking in a small section of the MTN race route single-track to avoid too much tar riding.

The day ended at the new chalets that have been built behind the Jatira filling station. Extreme luxury compared to the previous evening. The only disadvantage being the lack of a kitchen/cooking area. This was offset by the use of the communal kitchen, swimming pool, Jacuzzi & sauna.

Day 3

Barberton to Makesh (39.47Km, 1184m) (Philip, Roland, Dillan, Allan)

The kitchen was not opened as arranged the next morning so we had a slower and a disorganised start due to the traditional oats porridge not being available. This was not helped by the rain which started during the time we were getting ready. We eventually departed into a dry but overcast day around Barberton and out on the Agnes mine road. From where the tar road ends the route climbs for over 11km almost 900m in total. The locals (Roland & Dillan) talk about the “Little Hell” and the “Wall”, while Philip and myself just accepted it as just more climbing. Almost at the top we met up with Peter Bakker going the opposite direction. Looking, as usual, as if he was about to start his ride and not, as we found out, after he had climbed the Ameida zig-zag road.

Philip spotted some interesting bird species on the way up and with the mist just staying in front of us we crested the hill and cruised down to Montrose Village where we filled up with water for the rest of the ride. Not far after that we came to a junction where the decision was, another 500m of climbing, or downhill to the chalet. The decision was downhill. This resulted in an adventurous, technical ride down the hill which the old Barberton race used to go up. It is now very neglected, washed away and overgrown and makes for some interesting riding. Roland demonstrated how to dismount from a mountain bike over the handle-bars and still land on your feet.

The driveway of the Del Monte estate where we were to stay the night, was a brutal 70m of climbing over 400m on top of tired legs. Well done to Dillan and Roland who managed to ride the whole way up.

The rest of the day was recovery and re-hydrate. The estate is hidden in a fold of the mountain. Three thatched chalets around a dam. Perfect seclusion. While doing some fishing in the dam with borrowed kit, Roland’s self-proclaimed title of Bass Master was demoted by Dillan to Past Master with a tally of 4 to 1 caught in Dillan’s favour.

Mountain Bike Self Ride

Day 4

Makesh to Nelspruit (68.28Km, 1115m)  (Philip & Allan). Makesh to Barberton (Dillan & Roland)

Due to logistical reasons Dillan & Roland could not do the trip to Nelspruit so they started the day with us heading off together, but continued straight to Barberton when we turned off towards Nelspruit. After missing the first turn-off we found a road cutting through to the Glenthorpe road and we had a fast undulating ride back to Nelspruit doing just less than 70km in under 4 hours. The weather was kind to us with cool air and partially overcast skies. We met up with Erica and Yvette at Montana for a milkshake before parting for home.

The trip was a big success and I would recommend it to anyone. It would not have been possible without the support of Yvette as driver, menu planner and cook. Andrea also made it a lot easier by organising accommodation, permits and route options.

I still intend to finish the route, adding stops at Senteeko and Berlin plantation. The whole route will eventually be a six day trip. Watch this space.

Article & photographs by Allan Livingston.

Ride Statistics

Days: 4

Riders: 4 full-time, 2 part-time

Distance: 182.76Km

Climbing: 4,148m

Riding Time: 12:29 hours

Support vehicle: 306Km

Contact information

The most important contact here is Andrea who managed to arrange all but the first night. She would be prepared to help with the arrangements again if anyone is interested. Below are other contact details which can be useful.

Andrea – 0791801488 – barbertontours@gmail.com

Paradors (Hetta Nel) – 0825294811 – hetta@paradors.co.za

Sappi – use Andrea as contact

Sheba mines – use Andrea as contact

Jatira chalets – use Andrea as contact

Del Monte – use Andrea as contact




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