Mzansi Cross-Country Part 2: Magic in Mankele

Mzansi Cross-Country Part 2: Magic in Mankele

Gqeberha

January 18, 2024

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Road surfaces started to deteriorate markedly as we crossed the border into Mpumalanga, also known as ‘The Place where the Sun Rises’. Our first stop was at the Mankele Adventure Centre and Bike Park, near Machado, where we met up with Danie Botha and his 2D Adventures team.

BOLD Traveling in the ISUZU D-MAX across six provinces

Words & images by Jacques Marais

We continue our MZANSI CROSS-COUNTRY adventure with the ISUZU D-MAX and BOLD EXPEDITIONS Team who are about to enter the Mpumalanga Province after more than 1500km.

Road surfaces started to deteriorate markedly as we crossed the border into Mpumalanga, also known as 'The Place where the Sun Rises'. Our first stop was at the Mankele Adventure Centre and Bike Park, near Machado, where we met up with Danie Botha and his 2D Adventures team. We had just enough time to quickly unload our luggage, as we had two exhilarating outdoor activities planned for the afternoon: caving and zip-lining!

Rock of Ages

First up was exploring the ancient Sudwala Caves, recorded as the oldest underground cave network on Planet Earth. The geomorphology forms part of the Malmani Dolomite Ridge, in turn part of the Drakensberg escarpment along Mpumalanga's plateau. Natural acid in the groundwater seeped through faults and joins over untold millennia to dissolve the dolomite rock and limestone, shaping cavernous chambers where erid, conglomerate, shale and chert form amazing patterns in the rock.

"We met so many wonderful people and kept remarking on how friendly everyone was", says Simone. "The local community team at Sudwala Caves and the Zip-Line Adventure deserves a special mention, as they were absolute rock stars. Every person we encountered - from the well-informed and lovely guide who took us through the caves, to the team of guys on the cable slides - were kind and friendly, and always ready with a joke or a smile.

It was Densen's first time on a zip line, and the speed and massive exposure as you zoomed across the valley took him by surprise. "I am not sure when I started or stopped screaming on my first go, but everyone was having a proper laugh at me", he smiles. "Bottom line, they run a fantastic operation, and I completely trusted them!"

Race Ready

Our BOLD EXPEDITION focus at Mankele was to both take part in and capture a soft launch of the extensive trail network here. This magical mountain biking destination rates as one of Mpumalanga's top MTB trails, with extensive pine and eucalyptus forests tended by SAPPI boasting more than 100km of routes. Just four hours from Johannesburg, this allows the outdoor tribe to reconnect with nature in a vast and safe natural arena.

We needed to capture several events and perspectives on the day. Densen and my son, Robert - who had joined this trip – volunteered to shoot the 5km and 10km trail runs and set off into the mountains surrounding Mankele on foot. We all have to be pretty fit to get the shots we want, and in this case, there was no way that the D-MAX could navigate the narrow singletrack trails.

Simone had decided to shoot the MTB 50km and grabbed the mountain bike to crank up the steep climbs to Boskop Peak. "I really enjoyed riding the Mankele event as part of the SAPPI launch", she smiles. "Riding 50km is not a great challenge to me, but I generally tackle these challenges solo and at my own pace, so to 'race' it with a whole bunch of people - and not dilly-dally too much - was both different and very enjoyable," she says.

I got the D-MAX to do the hard grunt this time, as I had multiple cameras, a drone and loads of equipment to transport. This is where a double-cab really comes into its own. I can organise all my camera gear on the back seat for easy access, and still fit in a navigator or driver to let me focus on grabbing world-class visuals. The vehicle handled the rough and very steep tracks without any hitches, and even met up with a few ISUZU FPV 4x4 trucks used by the SAPPI fire teams in the plantations.

"The D-MAX boasts insane levels of comfort, even on the bumpy forest tracks", says Densen. "I found the driving so comfortable that I could catch up on work on my laptop, because the vehicle is fairly soundproof, and has enough legroom in the back. One of my favourite features is the excellent Bluetooth connectivity, which meant we could catch up on podcasts on those 'Big Drive' days", he continues.

We've shared D-MAX space on at least a dozen trips along thousands of kilometres of road, and Mankele was just the first of many stops along their most recent BOLD EXPEDITIONS journey.

Next up, we continued along the byways of Mpumalanga as we set course for eMgwenya, 'The Place of the Crocodile', and one of the world's legendary rock climbing destinations. Join us in exploring this off-the-beaten-track little village and the breathtaking 'Tranquilitas Adventure Farm'

Join Jacques and his expedition team as they traverse across six provinces in an ISUZU D-MAX to explore the beauty Mzansi has to offer. Jacques, an award-winning photographer and author of 14 books and guides, champions the ISUZU brand and its values.

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