Our regular trail-guru starts 2018 off by visiting the spectacular iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
WORDS AND IMAGES: JACQUES MARAIS
If the Cape False Bay is not quite wild enough for you, bud, take up your bike and head as far north-east across the Rainbow Nation as you possibly can. The False Bay section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is set along the wildest section of the vast St Lucia estuary, and could just as well be situated in a different country to Cape Town. This unique part of the northern KZN World Heritage Site is embraced by two peninsulas – Nibela to the north and Nhlozi to the south. The area is therefore known as False Bay, and it brims with biodiversity, encompassing ecosystems ranging from woodland and thorn veld, to open savannah, wetland and pockets of immaculate, old-growth sand forest. The Hluhluwe River Lodge property borders on this western boundary of iSimangaliso, and makes for an ideal base for mountain bikers and adventurers keen to explore the area on foot or by bike. Thatched chalets are scattered in the shade of indigenous forest, with the Red Duiker Trail right on your doorstep. Nyala can often be seen browsing amidst the bungalows or in the expansive gardens, and guests can enjoy magnificent views over Lake St Lucia. The bird-watching here is superb, and exploring can be done on foot, horseback or by bicycle. False Bay rightly rates as one of the “Ten Jewels” of iSimangaliso, and the lake-shore riding here rates as one of the best adventures you can have on a mountain bike. For more information on the area: www.isimangaliso.com
There are four existing trails in this section, namely:
1 DUGANDLOVU TRAIL: Crank off from the False Bay Section entrance gate, then turn south off the tar after 30m onto a twisty (and rather sandy) jeep track for just on 6km. Keep left where the track forks, continuing along a gravel road till you reach the rustic Dugandlovu Camp. Look out for a sharp left turn onto Transect 10 road just before camp and follow 500m of single-track onto the lakeshore. Continue north on some superb and scenic singletrack, mostly along hard-packed hippo trails closely following the shoreline. This makes for exhilarating riding along the shoreline, with acrossthe-water views of the dramatic Hells Gate. After just on 2km you’ll notice some ‘sand ladders’ in places to counter the sand, but a fat-bike or wider tread will stand you in good stead. Stay on the lake track until you reach the picnic sites (the first ones are at Sandy Point). This is where you re-join the dual-track route. Be aware these areas are open to vehicle traffic, so be alert. This track joins the main tar access road to the gate. Excellent birding off the bike is a major bonus, and you need to constantly be aware of the potential danger of hippos (never ride close to sunrise or sunset).
2 NGWE TRAIL (10km): This trail starts at the first ablution facility. Follow the trail from here mostly along singletrack, crossing tree roots and ducking below overhanging branches. The route makes for great technical riding past giant sand-forest trees, with the chance of seeing the elusive suni antelope. Continue around Lister Point, a favourite fishing spot with great views, before returning to the start at False Bay Camp.
3 MPOPHOMENI TRAIL (15km): If you still have energy, opt for this trail. Crank off 100m north of the Main Entrance Gate, and keep heading north along a twisty, sandy trail into a thick sandforest section. There will be quite a few roads and trails to cross as you navigate the route, as well as some wooden bridges and technical climbs. About halfway along the route, you’ll turn onto a management track heading east for 1km until you get to a cross-road where you bear right and head south. Another 500m will see you entering the bush again along singletrack, with a number of rocky descents, bridges and technical sections to follow.
4 MDONI TRACK: This trail, an extension of Mpophomeni, is your final option. At the four-way track junction, keep left and head north along a bush track until it joins a clearer trail leading to Mdoni Guard Camp. Follow for a further 500m, then head south on Pipeline Road, back through the forest. After 2km you need to bear left again, onto a rather twisty track which finally drops back onto the lake shore.
DUGANDLOVU MTB TRAIL FAST FACTS
DISTANCE: Approximately 22km
DURATION: 90min – 2hrs
CONFIGURATION: Circular, approximately 22km
START POINT: Entrance Gate, False Bay Section
TERRAIN: Jeep-track and hippo single-track MAP: None available
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: An entry fee per person, vehicle entry charge and community levy per person payable
FACILITIES: Basic camp sites / convenience store during season
BEWARE OF: Hippos and other wild life
COORDINATES: 27⁰58’06.8” S / 32⁰22’52.52”
CELL RECEPTION: Mostly Mozambique signal – check your roaming!