Trains, Plains & Velo-mobiles… that’s De Doorns for you. Actually, the Karoo plains are a way off, so you can expect anything but flat riding here along the rail tracks traversing the Hex River ranges. – Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais
Autumn Splendour. That’s the name coined by the local organisers for their annual MTB event here in this little piece of Hex River heaven. It’s easy to see why too, especially when you saddle up towards the end of May with the vineyards bedecked in breathtaking glory against a backdrop of rugged peaks.
Problem is, the only part most people see of De Doorns is a strip of N1 tarmac mainlining through these very vineyards. Travellers are two hours into the drive from Cape Town and not enough stop, but that’s all about to change now that the dorp has been ear-marked as one of the key #RideTheRail MTB Stage Tour stops – check www.ridetherail.co.za for info.
This is great news, especially if you’re a mountain biker. The hills to the south brim with a mix of farm road and single-track routes, with dozens of classy accommodation options, ranging from private nature reserves and quirky ‘station-towns’ to earthy farm stays.
Off the bike, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Serried ranks of rugged peaks surround the valley to the north, and here you’ll be able to hike for a week in a hard core wilderness area of note. Bakkie adventurers can settle for a variety of seriously challenging 4×4 routes, or otherwise you can choose to chill at a wine estate or home-food eatery.
There may even be the option of a historic train ride on Hexpas Express, a four to seven hour trip on a rail trolley along the abandoned narrow-gauge railway line (a new agreement with the SA Railways are being negotiated currently, so check first). Bring a picnic or stock up on farm fresh goodies from Veldskoen Farm stall; this unique experience is suited to all ages, with breathtaking views across the Hex River Valley and majestic Matroosberg.
There’s stacks of other stuff to do, so check out www.hexrivervalley.co.za
The stunning Impangele Nature Reserve (www.impangelemountainlodge.co.za)
offers easy access to the ‘Two Tunnels Trail’ and this surely rates as one of the Cape’s most unique mountain biking experiences. The five thatched, self-catering cottages ̶ perched upon the escarpment’s edge and with gut-thumping views towards Matroosberg – also makes for a great place to base yourself.
Head from the cottages in a southerly direction, cranking into the pristine succulent Karoo Fynbos conservancy. This is the entrance road to Impangele, but you keep left after just on 1km onto a gentle ascent into the hills.
Keep an eye open for a yellow sign indicating a single-track to your left (2km) and get ready to pin back those ears.
This gritty little downhill bangs you through a short tunnel (3km), where you T-bone onto a jeep-track. Turn right and get stuck into a climb-downhill-climb combo as you zigzag all the way to the crest above the dam (6km). This is where you get to put the ‘rail’ into ‘trail’ as you join up with the abandoned railway line ascending to Matroosberg Station.
High-level kiffness unfolds as you trip next to the train tracks along a snappy single-track, with a few white-knuckle drops to your left. The views are insane until you reach the Hex River Pass railway tunnel (8km), built way back in 1876. A sign here tells you to go slow through the 300m, pitch-dark tunnel, as the resident bats do not enjoy dust …
Continue your ascent towards the disused Tunnel Station (just on 10km); this is where the ‘Autumn Splendour’ 35km and 55km routes split. If you keep right, a steep and testing loop eventually gets you to Matroosberg Station (26km), a veritable little village – with its own pub, theatre, salt-water pool and a range of accommodation options. It is generally reserved for larger group functions, so pre-book if you plan a sleepover or lunch here.
Your climbing is now pretty much done, with some whoop-ass descending waiting as you bang back down towards the Hex River valley. Signage is not always clear along the route, but you can get a map from Ryno Palm, a local rider and organiser of Autumn Splendour. A combo of dual-track, gravel roads and rough trail bangs you down at speed, and care must be taken on the loose and eroded surface.
The route eventually T-bones with the lower, operational railway track, and from here we traversed the vineyard roads back towards the Hex Pass Eco-Trek Station. A steep ascent along the Impangele access road is the only thing that now stands between you and an ice cold beer, so best you get cra(n)cking!
Two Tunnels MTB Trail: Fast Facts Block
DURATION: 2- 5hrs
CONFIGURATION: Circular options – 35/55km
START POINT: Impangele Mountain Lodge or De Doorns Cellar
COORDINATES: S: 33°48.00; E: 19°67.00 (De Doorns Cellar)
TERRAIN: Rail-side singletrack, jeep track and gravel road
MAP: Map on web site; signage along route not always clear
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Permit from Impangele or Veldskoen Farm Stall: R??
FACILITIES: Check at www.impangelemountainlodge.co.za
CELL RECEPTION: Limited
BEWARE OF: Dark tunnels, steep drops, loose surface in places and thorns
MORE INFO: Ryno Palm (083) 632 5004 / firstname.lastname@example.org
From Cape Town, follow the N1 to De Doorns – look for a sign to your right to Impangele Nature Reserve and continue up this mountain road past the Hex Pass Eco-Trek Station for 7km. Contact Nienke Jordaan on TEL: 27(0)23 356 3662 if you get lost.