Matobo Hills is an area of granite koppies and wooded valleys south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The hills were formed (over 2 billion years ago) from granite forced to the surface, that has eroded to produce smooth “whaleback dwalas” and broken koppies, strewn with boulders and interspersed with thickets of vegetation. This unique topography makes for some amazing riding with many unique features adding to the overall experience. These include the highest concentration of rock art anywhere in the world, a history of Anglo-Ndebele conflicts and a diversity of flora and fauna.
|TOUR GRADE||3/4: MODERATE TO CHALLENGING
For regular mountain bikers who have a good level of fitness. Routes with some moderate to difficult technical sections.
|BEST TIME OF THE YEAR||APRIL -SEPTEMBER|
SUMMARY OF ITINERARY
|1||Fly in to Bulawayo, transfer to camp Dwala||–||–||–||D|
|2||Ride Dwalas and visit bushman paintings||35km||650m||600m||BLD|
|4||Ride the battles||60km||1200m||1200m||BLD|
|5||Ride via Matopos village to Big Cave||60km||700m||800m||BLD|
|6||Rhino tracking by bike, night ride||30km||300m||300m||BLD|
|7||Mtsheleli trail and Rhode’s Grave||45km||600m||700m||BLD|
|8||Njelele Koppie meander, communal land ride & shebeen||70km||1200m||1200m||BD|
|9||Leave for Bulawayo International||–||–||–||B|
The Detour Support Crew will meet you at JMN Nkomo International for the transfer to Camp Dwala, passing through historic Bulawayo.
Day 1: Fly into Bulawayo, transfer to Camp Dwala
The road out to Camp Dwala, a little uncomfortable at times, passes the Mzilikaze Memorial, erected in 1958 at the site of Mhlahlandlela, the Capital of the Ndebele Kingdom until 1870. We will also pass Ntumbane, the burial site of the King, Fort Usher where Baden Powell did so much of his scouting, and Ushers Kop where the second Indaba was held in 1896.
On arriving at Camp Dwala you will be met by your Zimbabwean hosts, allocated your rooms, assemble your bicycles and if time permits, enjoy a short familiarization walk to stretch your legs and admire the “old hills”. Sunset drinks, dinner, briefing and an early night follow.
Day 2: Ride Dwalas and check bushman paintings
Stats: 35km, 650m ascent, 600m descent
The first ride will not be too excessive – a chance to settle your legs and get a feel for the terrain. A gentle loop from Camp Dwala, will take us to Ntunjambili Cave – the longest cave in the Matopos, and one of the first to be described. The rock art is not great, but it was also a rain making cave, with great views from the summit of the hill. We’ll ride on through the Gulati Communal area, interacting with the local residents, visiting our first 1896 battle site, that of Nkantolo, before returning via Sotcha, a massive wall of granite.
Day 3: Heritage Trail
Stats: 60km, 1000m ascent, 900m descent
We’ll leave Camp Dwala early passing through Matopo Mission (built in 1898) before swinging off the dirt road and hitting single track. We’ll pass over the shoulder of Mwazi, the highest point in the Matopos, stopping to enjoy the panorama ahead of us – a unique jumble of rocks, whalebacks and vegetation. The ride will follow much of the renowned “Heritage Trail” though in reverse, with mostly downhill riding at this point. Two steep granite descents will challenge you, along with some good technical sections. Clear streams, areas of forest, and traditional villages bring variety to the morning. We may also make diversions to rock art sites and other places of interest, possibly take a swim break, before we reach Gulubahwe Cave to see its rich rock art history.
There is an option to ‘bale’ into the Mother Ship here after around 30km, but most will turn north and ride through charming Brachystegia forest to begin the haul back towards Camp Dwala. Clocking in before lunch, we’ll be able to swim near the camp and enjoy a well-deserved lunch and afternoon of relaxation.
Day 4: Ride the Battles
Stats: 60km, 1200m ascent, 1200m descent
In 1896 the local Ndebele rose in rebellion against Colonial occupation. For some weeks they looked poised to take the fledgling modern town of Bulawayo, before Imperial troops arrived and pushed back. There were dramatic scenes in the eastern Matopos in April as farmers, miners and storekeepers fled to safety, and even military columns very nearly did not make it home. Later in June and July, the Ndebele were in retreat – and the Hills were their refuge. We’ll enjoy some terrific riding, whilst visiting battle sites, forts and cemeteries dating to 1896 – all the time enjoying the forests, mountains and scenery that are so typically Matopos. We’ll stop at the site where Cecil Rhodes met with Prince Nyanda, and Chiefs Somabhulana Dlodlo, Umlugulu and six others and negotiated an end to hostilities. The only obstacle to the day is the necessity to cross the Mtshabezi gorge, not once but twice! Great riding down – not so good riding out! We may enjoy a diversion to the famous orbicular granite sites, one of only 14 in the world. Sweeping trails through the Brachystegia forests will be reward enough for the effort of the day.
Day 5: Ride via Matapos village to Big Cave
Stats: 60km, 700m ascent, 800m descent
We’ll ride west today, keeping to the higher northern edges of the Matopos passing through various historic sites. The scenery is less dramatic, but the riding is still great, especially as we descend towards the National Park. We’ll ride through the upper Mtsheleli valley – home to the white rhino. The route will take us through Shentedebudzi, a massive dolerite dyke that stretches across valleys and hills with the appearance of a huge wall, and hear about its legends.
Finally, we’ll arrive in good time at Big Cave Camp, to waiting drinks and lunch. The afternoon can be spent on a tour of the estate, a walk, or it’s just a chance to relax and recover at the pool.
Day 6: Rhino tracking by bike, night ride
Stats: 30km, 300m ascent, 300m descent
After four days of intense riding the casual activities planned will be most welcome.
Depending on encounters, Rhino tracking by bike could be a highlight of the tour, so the riding is in the area the local guides and trackers expect them to be. By the very nature of tracking by bike, the riding is slow and not at all intense. The reward of coming up close and personal with these imposing beasts is indescribable.
The down time after lunch gives the riders an opportunity to savour the surrounds of Big Cave or just do more lazing around the pool.
An evening ride is really game spotting while riding to a view site overlooking the Matopos National Park for sundowners and braai. While it is unlikely anyone will be in a position to ride back to the lodge, it is an opportunity for a short night ride.
Day 7: Mtsheleli Trail and Rhodes Grave
Stats: 45km, 600m ascent, 700m descent
Well rested, we’ll be looking forward to another full day of exploring the Matopos National Park. The ride leaves Big Cave, traversing the neighbouring land and goes into the National Park. There is a network of dirt tracks and game trails which lead to the start of the Mtsheleli 4×4 track, 25km of sublime mostly decent down the Mtsheleli River Valley to a big dam on the river.
This is an ideal place for a relaxing lunch in the indigenous forest while taking in the view of the dam and spotting the game that come down to drink.
It’s then time to do the tourist thing, load up into the vehicles and drive through the park to Rhodes’ grave site to experience a little of the colonial history and enjoy a magnificent view of the west Matopos stretching across the Maleme Valley as far as you can see.
Day 8: Njelele Koppie Meander, Communal Land Ride, Shebeen
Stats: 70km, 1200m ascent, 1200m descent
Even after six days of riding in the area, there are still some ride options and surprises. The riders will make a short transfer (or ride 8 km of tar) to the outskirts of the National Park on the west for an interesting ride on natural trials in the communal lands around White Waters.
The ride could take in a stop at the ‘ringing rocks’ and some interesting trail around Njelele Koppie. Njelele is the most sacred hill in the Matopos, if not within Southern Africa. Here the oracle of the Umlimo speaks to the people, and intercessions are made, most importantly the annual rain making ceremonies.
The trails eventually lead to a shebeen at Chapu Shopping Centre where we’ll stop for a traditional lunch and beer.
After lunch, we’ll all welcome the transfer in the Mother Ship back to Big Cave for more chilling before sundowners and a celebration dinner.
Day 9: Leave from Bulawayo International
The mood at breakfast will no doubt be a little subdued as the reality of the end of the Matobo adventure hits home. The riders pack their bikes and bags and say their farewells to the Big Cave crew before setting off on the short transfer to Bulawayo International to catch their flights home.
R 28 000 (inc. VAT) per person sharing, there is a single supplement additional charge of 30% if you require a single room.
MINIMUM NUMBERS: 8