Words & Images by: Jacques Marais
The annual PwC Great Zuurberg Trek may well be a relatively recent addition to the SA MTB menu, but boy, it has done wonders in converting riders to exploring epic trails in this rugged part of the Eastern Cape Province, as JACQUES MARAIS discovered.
Bru, few experiences on the bike come close to the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek. Yup, I know many mountain biking stage races like to lay claim to a “boutique” experience, but few of them actually deliver on this
promise. The annual #GZT does so on all fronts, and without losing the edge when it comes to riding
these wild Zuurberg trails the region has become legendary for.
You will find Hayterdale Trails at the heart of this epic riding region in the heart of Eastern Cape “Frontier
Country” and boy, what a kickass MTB destination it is! Situated right on the border of Addo Elephant National Park, you have well over a 100km-plus of singletrack and jeeptrack to explore.
Collect your bonus adventure points by getting face to face with ellies – either in the national park or at some of the nearby lodges – or by signing up for any number of other outdoor activities. No wonder the Eastern Cape is known as the “Adventure Province”!
The mountain micro-climate is generally mild, and mostly warm and temperate throughout summer. Winters do go into big chill mode, with freezing nights and fresh daytime temperatures. Rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year, with most precipitation in early and late summer.
You can expect some one hundred per cent proof adventure riding here, whether you sign up for the event, or just saddle up for a solo adventure of note. Varied trails crisscross a breath-taking natural wilderness, with everything from grassland ridges, indigenous riverine forest, stands of sweet thorn trees and dinosaur cycads dating back millions of years, to superlative sunsets and remote and rugged gravel roads.
The good news is that you can plug straight into singletrack heaven among the Zuurberg foothills here.
Hayterdale boasts hand built, manicured tracks that cater for all levels of mountain bikers, with more than 60km of trail riding – mostly along loamy singletrack – just at the trail park itself. Top quality builds, with bridges, berms and bush tunnels galore is sure to have you smiling all the way as you snake through the dense indigenous montane forest.
Once out of the bush (and quite possibly out of breath), you’ll be marvelling at extraordinary views from the Zuurberg ridges out and over the coastal plains towards Port Elizabeth. The well-marked and colourcoded routes make it nearly impossible to lose your way: choose between 15km, 25km and 45km options, each with endless kilometres of flowing track.
Test your technical skills on a world-class crosscountry (XCO) and downhill (DHI) track. The 4.2km XCO course has approximately 130m of elevation gain and loss with a technical switchback climb and the Rabbit Hole over-and-under crossing, while the 1.77km DHI course features a hair-raising vertical drop of 240m. Warning – do not try to ride beyond your capabilities here!
If you’re a newbie rider (or have the family with you), you have a number of gravel road options to explore. There’s a steep crank along the scenic Zuurberg Pass, reminiscent of Hogsback as you ascend amidst primary indigenous forest, or a drop into the Karoo landscape if you head out past Ann’s Villa … and yup, all of this is rideable on a gravel bike, too.
The Addo Trails itself are not all open to the public, but generally it is easy enough to gain access to these routes from the Zuurberg Mountain Village Inn, one of the local institutions here. Superb Sunday lunches, great country hospitality and a laidback vibe make it one of those country hotels you will find extremely difficult to leave once you reach the end of your stay … mark my words.