Words and Images by David Bristow
There is mountain biking and then there is you know, sweaty climbs, sweeping singletrack, gnarly descents and things that want to eat you. You could ride a bicycle shaped object in reserves like Cape of Good Hope, De Hoop, Bontebok, West Coast, Namaqualand, St Lucia, False Bay and the like but, unless you just want to smell the flowers, why would you when you can ride in … By “loose canon” DAVID BRISTOW
Table Mountain, specifically Tokai, is arguably the best, most diverse riding venue and comparable with anything else in sunny SA. There’s a diverse network of jeep track, both easy and challenging singletrack (those zig-zags!) and black-graded downhill runs. The route Constantia Nek-Cecelia Forest- Kirstenbosch-Newlands Forest-Rhodes Mem-King’s Blockhouse-Tafelberg Road-Deer Park is as awesome and challenging as you’ll find. If you can ride it back again you are an e-machine.
Jonkershoek Valley, tucked behind the Eikestad, is also superb and what Tokai looked like before the Great Fire of 2015 – lots of pineshaded jeep track and singletrack. Jonkershoek is a beautiful blind valley, surrounded by jagged peaks and with a river running through it. Ride to the apex of the valley and you can enjoy a mountain fresh dip in the river after a hard ride.
The Cederberg offers gravel road touring rather than real mountain biking, crisscrossing the wilderness area while visiting villages and farms en route. The Paarl Rock circular ride is possibly the most underrated in
terms of scenery although it lacks real technical off-road riding.
Officially this region is in the Western Cape Province but is really its own region, planet even. The four main riding areas are Farleigh, Homtini, Petrus se Brand and Harkerville. Easiest is Farleigh Forest, located on the Seven Passes Road near Karatara. There are three circular routes through the forests along the base of the Outeniqua Mountains, from 7.5 to 25.5 km.
Homtini is a 19 km, circular up-down, up-down ride starting at the Daleen Mathee memorial at Millwood. You ride along such delightfully named tracks as Pomp se Pad, Deurpad, Lawnwood River, Portland Heights,
Boer se Pad and Krisjan se Nek. It’s foresty and mountainy and there are many places to linger and take a dip in a mountain pool.
The wild plum is Petrus se Brand, a 22.5 km linear trail that runs between Diepwalle on Prince Albert Pass and the Garden of Eden on the N2. You can ride it in either direction, but inland to coast offers more downhill. Starting near the King Edward VII “big tree” this is deep forest country and also forest elephant country, so be on the lookout. Best swimming spot is upstream from the Kleineiland stream bridge.
Harkerville, just west of Plett, offers two easy (yellow 13 and blue 11 km) and two hardish but spectacular (green 14 km and red 22 km) rides. While the latter two are harder they take you to some spectacular places. You could knock off two or three in a day.
You want me to say Wild Coast but I can’t, by my own rules, given that most of the riding is not strictly through any reserve, even though it is fantastic.
For actual reserve riding we need to venture inland to the Amathole Mountains and Hogsback State Forest. There used to be lots of twisty turny singletrack through plantations and forests below Hog One; however, by the time you read this, clear felling of aliens might have rendered some of this trail areas DMZ.
Nevertheless Hogsback remains one of the country’s most magical destinations and you can still ride the 4×4 route along the entire Hogsback ridge towards Gaika’s Kop, and then looping back via the Seymour road. Although here’s precious little forest on this route, the Afromontane setting is always invigorating.
You’d think the Drakensberg would offer a cornucopia of rugged adventure, whereas in fact there is precious little mountain biking to be found in the actual uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Transfrontier Park. Most of it is located in the foothills on private land beyond, although Sani Pass-Black Mountain is a rite of passage ride. Best you start making plans to do it before it’s all tar and what is the fun of that?
When it is (all tar), start casting your eyes south, towards Sehlabathebe and Bushman’s Nek. Sehlabathebe National Park is actually in Lesotho but is part of the greater transfrontier park. Unless you have drivers this is a two-day outing, riding up Mahangu Pass to Ramatsediso border post (or being bussed up to there) and from there to Sehlabathebe village (there’s even a Mr Brown’s guesthouse in the village). It takes some organising but overnighting beforehand at the St Bernard’s Peak Lodge is likely to be a first for everyone. PS – you cannot reverse this route.
Proper and regular riding in the Berg is restricted to the Cathedral-Didima area; riding up Mike’s Pass to reach its confluence with the Contour Path and then taking the Didima Gorge trail down to Emhlwazini Store (now just a ruin, alas). The ascent up pass and jeep track brings you face to face with Ndumeni Dome, Windsor Castle, Little Saddle and Didima Buttress. The descent down the Didima Gorge trail can be described only as hectic, especially when the Themeda-Festuca montane grasses are lush and high and you cannot see where you are riding.
Vernon Crookes Reserve near uMzinto is nice for a day outing. In the 2 000-odd ha of coastal grassland, forest and wetland there are some 300 bird species including cranes, eagles, ground hornbills and secretary birds, while game is also plentiful with 56 mammal species.
But best of all in the province might well be the Ingeli Forest Reserve trails between Harding and Kokstad. Here’s how a former colleague described the experience: “The track whips left and right, over one, two, three slatted wooden bridges. The trees blur into a green tunnel. The air stiffens and the ground goes into hyper drive and I swear I can see a string of gold coins ahead of me. One wrong move and I’ll end up eating Fruits of the Forest by the spoonful, or get wrapped around a tree like a bacon oepsie. But it doesn’t matter because the wind is also tearing a smile into my face. We’re flying again!”
Does he mention the climbs? You bet he does, they’re epic. But don’t fret for the newbies since there are trails suited to all levels here, from easy and short to, well, pushing and punishing. It’s why we do this thing.
Gauteng and Free State
Moving swiftly on….
The North – Kruger National Park
Currently only Olifants Camp offers mountain biking, with morning, afternoon or all-day options (for
experienced riders only). Think of these rides as game walks on two wheels, with armed guides to protect and sweep up the bits and pieces. (Toerboer offer a MTB trail from Phalaborwa gate, camping wild on
the Letaba River in the Kruger F’S wrote about it: http://fullsus.co.za/new-mtbtours- launched-in-big-five-reserve/).
There are three basic routes, each starting with a truck ride to a starting point: the shortest goes to the Olifants- Letaba river confluence; the slightly longer and harder Hardekooldraai route mainly following game paths through stunted mopane veld, turning around at the Olifants River; the all-day ride is the more technical, 22-km Klipkoppies- Mozambican Border Trail.
Although a good start, this is most certainly not the end of the riding-in-reserves story. From here it’s up to you to go and find your own adventure.
Thanks to Steve “daytripper” Thomas, Tyson “agent orange” Jobson and Jacques “rockrunner” Marais for their brains.