Gifberg passes and plains

I bet you’ve cruised along the N7 past the Knersvlakte, but chances are you’ve never even heard of the Koebee Valley. Well, maybe it’s time to go check out the Namaqua West Coast Region the next time you want to go gravel on your bike, bru ….

WORDS AND IMAGES: JACQUES MARAIS

Endless miles of gravel roads!

LOCAL BUZZ
Yup, Vanrhynsdorp … we’ve all missioned past this little dorp at warp speed on a family holiday to Namibia, right? Well, if you look to the east on your tarmac approach, you can’t really miss Gifberg, an imposing mountain massif looming up high from the surrounding Namaqua scrubland. I was fortunate enough to cover the recent Expedition Africa AR event here a month or so back and had ample opportunity to immerse myself within this surprisingly diverse region. Anything goes, from tiny, hide-away towns along the tempestuous West Coast shores, to remote passes side-winding into hidden valleys, and towering cliffs in off-the-grid places like Gifberg and Oorlogskloof.

This part of ‘Eenkantland’ seems to magically morph around every corner as soon as you venture off the N7. Yup, of course there are all those seemingly endless plains of the Knersvlakte, but keep exploring and all of a sudden, you’ll be embraced by the verdant fields of the Olifants River Valley. The good news is that these ever-changing ecosystems and extreme climate make for an excellent wine terroir, both on the Sandveld plains and within the Olifants valley. Add to this friendly and characterful locals, excellent traditional cuisine and a unique culture, and you have a winner of an adventure destination.
Weather wise, you can bet the sun will be shining. A lot. But it gets pretty chilly in winter, and occasional epic fronts are sure to plummet the temperatures to way below zero. Come summer, it’s best to bank those early hours when adventuring in the interior, while the Atlantic Ocean makes for toned down summer days along the coast.

When it rains in the Namaqualand, you’ll experience some mud.

Yup, the Namaqua West Coast is calling – go to www.namaquawestcoast.com for more information. And if you think you’re tougher than Chuck Norris, check out www.kinetic-events.co.za to find out what adventure racing is about …

ROUTE FINDER
There are no ‘manicured’ mountain bike routes here in the Namaqua West Coast, but I can guarantee you endless riding, whether you go off-the-grid into the isolated Koebee valley, or fat-bike along the wild coastal section between Doringbaai atop the dizzying cliffs of the nearby Strandfontein. Here are some options you really should explore … Gifberg is a tough ride which could potentially take you the whole day, and you need to know up front that there will be sand, especially in summer. Plus-size wheels would stand you in good stead on top of Gifberg itself, but it is 99% rideable. Gargantuan Gifberg is a dramatic mountain (it forms part of the Matsikamma ranges) where adventurers will discover a botanical paradise. Gnarly gravel passes await, and you can tick off Tierberg, Koebee and Ouberg in addition to Gifberg, certainly some of the most isolated passes you will ever find.

Head south out of Vanrhynsdorp to Gifberg Pass (along Troe-Troe Street), with a slight ascent towards the range over the first 15km or so. The pass itself makes for a solid 8km climb onto the plateau, with continual ‘bumps’ to test your calves as you navigate the massif. There are a number of route options atop Gifberg, with Tierberg Pass a descent option if you want to ride this as a full day circuit. Local riders are currently busy building some neat singletrack from Gifberg Resort, and you can call Jansu at Gifberg Resort (+27 78 614 6484) in advance to get info on these routes. A tough solo mission would be to crank along the Ouberg Road with a punishing 3km ascent to the highest point of the Matsikamma Mountains.

Very little traffic during this epic gravel adventure.

Start from the top of the pass where Ouberg Road turns left and crank along Ouberg Road (marked VR1) before turning left onto the VR3 route about 250 m from gate. Look out for MTB route signs for 13 km until you reach Vlei Farm gate. Up to here, the riding is moderate despite a few steep uphills, but it now switches to ‘extreme’, with a punishing 3km climb (you will push) to the Matsikamma apex. The Klein Koebee Route (18km/26km) is a much easier option, with falter riding along gravel and farm roads spider-webbing from town. Start off along the tarmac road to Nieuwoudtville, then turn right into the foothills of the Koebee Mountains. It is best to enquire at the Vanrhynsdorp Tourism Office about exact directions to the various routes or, even better, try to hook up with a local rider.

You could always make the call of staying overnight at one of the establishments atop the plateau, before returning the next day. Gifberg Holiday Farm is 3-4hrs riding from the town, and they boast lekker little S/C chalets, with easy access to a braai area, swimming pool and the Oppi-Dek Coffee Shop – www.gifberg.co.za. There are many other excellent mountain biking options around Vanrhynsdorp, allowing you to explore the convergence of three botanical kingdoms. These are the Nama-Karoo, succulents on the Knersvlakte, and Cape Fynbos mountain slopes. There’s also amazing potential for fat-biking from Papendorp (the mouth of the scenic Olifants River) as you navigate the hidden beaches and coastal cliffs past Strandfontein and Doring Bay

 

GIFBERG CIRCUIT
FAST FACTS
+ GRADING: Moderate to Extreme
+ DURATION: 3hrs – 9hrs Circuit
+ CONFIGURATION: Circular or Out-and-Back
+ START POINT: Vanrhynsdorp
+ TERRAIN: Gravel roads, farm track, some singletrack
+ POST-RIDE BEER: Red Ox – Letsatsi Lodge
+ MUST-DO EVENT: Expedition Africa – www.kinetic-events.co.za
+ ACCESS: Public Roads. There are currently roadworks at Trawal – expect about a 20min wait.
+ CELL RECEPTION: Very limited
+ LOCAL CONTACT: Monika de Jager – (082) 611 3999
+ BEST TIME: Vanrhynsdorp is 114 metres above sea level and has a semi-desert climate, so be prepared for icy winters and red-hot summer temperatures.
+ STAY HERE: World-class accommodation is a given at Letsatsi Lodge, less than a kilometre off the N7, just opposite the Vanrhynsdorp turn-off. And I am prepared to bet you will not get a better steak anywhere in SA than the boned sirloin they serve at the Red Ox Steak House Restaurant. www.ncfamouslodges.co.za
+ GPS: S31°48’33.2”/ E18°46’57.9”

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