Article updated on February 18, 2022
Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
I pick up some speed going downhill towards a small stream of crystal-clear waters. The all-terrain tires of my mountain bike on the wooden bridge break the silence followed up by the swift change of gears as I pedal hard to get up the steep single track ahead of me. I slalom my way up amongst blooming protea trees that add some bright orange and red colours to the green slopes of the Northern Drakensberg that we are exploring by mountain bike.
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USA-born Chris Mecklenborg, cofounder of All Out Adventures and a passionate mountain biker created over 150 kilometres of mountain biking trails in this area. The setting is simply splendid. The winding single tracks go down fast through the rolling hills of green grass, eventually crossing a stream or passing by a natural pool in which taking a swim is a welcome refreshment. By ponds, all sorts of weavers and red bishops build their intricate nests amongst the reeds while a troop of baboons in the high grass barks, alarmed by our unexpected presence on two wheels.
In the background, the dragon-like ragged mountain ridge of the Northern Drakensberg contrasts with the deep blue of the South African sky. The hills on which we must push a few cows out of the way soon become mountains as we approach the Amphitheatre (or “wall of spears” as the Zulus call it) from which world’s second highest waterfall drops. The single track goes from land to land thanks to ingeniously built bridges going up and down the barb wires. Discreetly built resorts provide welcome water refills as we are ascending the rocky track. A mountain reedbuck seeks safety on higher terrain as the view opens up on glorious mountains surrounding us. Some blesboks appear in the distance, grazing the green summer grass, also used to thatch roofs of the surrounding lodges. On its opposite slope, the well-marked bright red single track sticks out amongst the greenery.
A few technical downhill rocky parts add some thrill to the ride as we are about to complete one of the 30-kilometre-long loops. If the setting is as magnificent, this side of the hill, along the Tugela River, still looks very different than the part around the secluded luxurious lodges on the Montusi side. As we arrive back at the adventure centre, Loretta Mecklenborg, born and raised here and co-founder of All Out Adventures, explains: “These are the remnants of the apartheid. When Mandela got elected, there was no money left to improve all of the townships that were built to separate Black people from the White. Things go slowly… The village has only recently been connected to the power grid but homes still don’t have running water.”
Beyond the thrilling and stunning mountain biking adventure and other outdoor activities such as bungee bouncing and zip lining in this off-the-beaten path Northern Drakensberg, initiatives such as All Out Adventures create opportunities for locals and are committed to giving back to the communities. All the more reasons to explore this mountainous paradise!
- Dual suspension mountain bikes are available for hire at All Out Adventures from where all trails start. This is also where one can buy a trail permit (to support trail maintenance) and ride these awesome trails, ranging from easy green to blue, red, and challenging black.
- To explore the area, stay at Montusi Mountain Lodge located only 3 kilometres (less than 2 miles) from the trailheads. Designed to blend in with the natural environment, its private trails are interesting to hike to discover Bushmen cave paintings, amazing viewpoints and waterfalls, and pamper in the most comfortable lodge of the area. The Montusi Mountain Lodge is a family business that supports local communities funding education, promoting local initiatives by buying local, and employing staff from the nearby village.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.
Part of this article was published in the Beyond Boundaries e-magazine by Xtreme Adventure: