Words and Images by: Jacques Marais
Kicking off 2019, regular trail finder Jacques Marais heads to the Northern Cape. Bike-packing and gravel riding currently rates as two of the fastest growing segments in the sport of mountain biking. Augrabies proves to be a pedal paradise of note for both of these activities.
If you love deserts, then this region in the unexplored Northern Cape Province should be on your bucket list. This arid landscape – resplendent with ochre dunes, Van Gogh fields of flowers during spring and quiver-tree skylines – makes the premier arid park of Augrabies one of those must-ride destinations.
Thing is, you’ll find dozens of additional reasons to take a trip up here. First up, the stark landscape – punctuated by lunar rock outcrops, bizarre flora and expansive skies – is sure to fire up your visual cortex.
The people of the area come a close second, and their hospitality is legendary around the world.
Then there’s the park itself … It was established as a conservation area in 1966, the spectacular Augrabies Falls as its prime centrepiece, with a colossal gorge carved into the semi-desert plains below the falls. This spectacular canyon gashes for a good 18km via the granite-gneiss bedrock and makes for jaw-dropping views.
Augrabies is situated north of Kakamas upon the edge of the Kalahari Desert, a vast sand basin stretching
all the way from the Orange River to Angola. Most uncharacteristically, the area is filled with flourishing
orchards and vineyards, with most locals employed at Orange River Wine Cellars (the second-largest cooperative wine cellar in the world).
Trail Low Down
This expansive and dramatic national park arguably rates as one of the Northern Cape’s premier outdoor
destinations. If you’re a rider in search of a true desert vibe, be ready to get spaced out in a place where
kokerbome and lunar rockscapes rear up from plains as old as the continent itself.
It’s Planet Aukoerebis (the original root of the word ‘Augrabies’ means ‘Place of Great Noise’ in Khoi), and
once on the bike you’ll hear little else besides the slash of gravel beneath your tyres. Crank off from Main Camp along an undulating dirt ride, taking care when pedalling across the low-water crossing just over a kilometre out of camp as it is covered in a generous slather of slippery moss.
A few gentle climbs will bring you to the turn-off to Moon Rock – turn right to explore this magnificent
magma mound shrugging up from the arid scrub. Then pedal on and scan the kameeldoring gullies for kudu and eland, continuing to the main road and then to Ararat viewpoint further to your right.
Don’t miss this slip-n-slide dirt chute banging you down onto the precipitous edge of the Augrabies gorge,
from where an end-of-the-world view unfolds across the chaotic rock canyon. The return climb dog-legs you right towards Oranjekom for a swashbuckling free-ride and another spectacular panorama; take a breather, take in the view and revel in the hard-rock splendour of this amazing place.
Once you’re back on the main road, turn right and spin along for 2.3km – here the road forks left towards
Fonteintjie and right towards Echo Corner. Do the Fonteintjie Lookout first, cruising the sandy flats to fully synch into desert mode. Then it’s onto the piece de resistance; the rollicking ruckus of a run down into Echo Corner.
Gravel bikers should have my attention by now, but there’s more good news. Head into Riemvasmaak’s 75,000ha of untamed desert; a vast expanse of wilderness along the course of the Molopo River returned to the original Riemvasmakers. Don’t miss out on the hot mineral springs in a deep ravine, where you can soak in the shadows of 80m granite cliffs.
The area is bordered by Namibia in the west and the Orange River in the south and it boasts six self-catering chalets set amidst the craggy mountains. The riding will be harsh along three 4×4 routes, with the terrain varying from thick sand and rugged tracks to deep dongas and rocky plateaus, so you can expect some ‘suffer and push’ as part of the deal.