When you get tired of playing smooth operator along the immaculately groomed Karkloof trails, may we suggest you add some grit and hard rock to your next MTB ride by heading onto the Howick Trails network?
– Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais
Right, you’ve got the Midlands. On one side, there’s a whole bunch of Karkloof kiffness, and on the other, the lesser-known (but no less kick-ass) Howick hubba-hubba. Somewhere in between these two trail networks runs a rather vague boundary line, which may need a fair bit of explaining if you’re not an invested local.
That said, this confuses some of my MTB mates up to this very day, and many local riders find it pretty tough to explain where and how the various trail heads mesh along what is most certainly a cracker of a mountain biking trail.
What can’t be argued is that Howick is undeniable picturesque and set within truly scenic surrounds. The village is a favourite city slicker escape for folks from Maritzburg and Durbs, despite that tarmac hell-run from the coast along the N2. However, once you get there, life will settle into a gentle country rhythm, abuzz with quaint taverns, inviting cafes and delicatessens brimming with mouth-watering fare.
The area brims with adventure opportunities off the bike, with anything from hikes to the base of Howick Falls (or a high trek to the Grey Mares Tail Cascade) and the endorphin swoop of Karkloof Canopy Tours, to fly-fishing for wild trout in Mbona Nature Reserve. For info on Howick and its immediate surrounds, check out
Singletrack delights are a dime a dozen should you crank onto the Howick Trail network, that’s for sure. Buckle up for a few solid climbs, with awesome views across Midmar Dam and towards the distant Drakensberg. Don’t expect uninterrupted flow, as technical rock gardens, big-ass drop-offs, bridges and wall rides are lurking in them thar forests.
An easy start point is Howick Medical Centre, but you can access the trail in any number of spots. Follow the slip road north towards the N3, then turn right into Lakeview Road to enter Beacon Hill Grassland Reserve. This ascent to the right of Beacon Hill will connect you to ‘Eagle Ridge Run’, the Curry’s Post tar road and the ‘Home Jerome’ singletrack.
Keep climbing along some fantastic singletrack parallel to the tarmac into ‘Wattles’ via the ‘Wattles Bridge’, and then exit via ‘Meryl’s Peril’. A left takes you onto ‘Red Face Hill’, and left again onto ‘Mind-the-Gap’, as you crank all the way to ‘Dhulha Ngulubhe’ and into ‘Gums’, where you pop out onto a forestry road.
If you’re not riding with a local, I bet you’ll probably be utterly lost by now, so if you see anyone, ask them where the ‘Fire Tower’ is. This is the highest point of the ride, and may just help you orient yourself before you blast back into the belly of the woods via ‘Pines’ or one of the many other route options.
The TOP 10 HOWICK TRAIL Sections not to miss are :
1) Pines – Starting up in the forest near the ‘Fire Tower”, this is a gung-ho rock-fest of a trail that takes no prisoners. Proceed with caution.
2) Gums – if ‘Pines’ was the cousin who ‘wedgied’ you at family gatherings, ‘Gums’ is the cousin who shared their Easter chocolates. Well-groomed and flowing.
3) Dhuza Ngulube – now for something completely different … less a trail than a steeply descending ramp, with negligible technical elements. Think warp-speed!
4) Puff Adder Pass – The original singletrack link between Howick and Karkloof: rough, unpretentious and with a force majeure of ‘skill developing’ … a bit like a Howick local.
5) Harry’s to Weir Way – start at the municipal graveyard about 2km out on the Curry’s Post ascent. A good introduction to the Howick trail network, with fun twists, turns and some speedy descents.
6) The Face – bomb from the ‘Fire Tower’ all the way down the left-hand ridge; a major mind-f…, I mean, workout, for both body and mind.
7) Greg’s into Tikity Boo – Just past the municipal graveyard to the left of Curry’s Post Road; this is a belter of a ride, and one of the oldest trail segments in the area.
8) Say Hi to Howie – Many quirky garden gnomes lurk in the plantations, and you’ll find Howie in a small hut half-way up ‘Howies’ singletrack, complete with a tiny bicycle.
9) Roller Coaster – short, sharp and shocked, but extremely fun; again, right adjacent to the Curry’s Post Road.
10) Home Jerome – To finish off a long day in the saddle, this section will deliver one last power blast of singletrack as you descend all the way down into Howick.
FAST FACTS: Howick MTB Trails
GRADING: Challenging and tough mountain biking, not for novices
DURATION: Allow 4-6 hours
CONFIGURATION: Out-and-back + Circular option; various escape loops
START POINT: Howick Private Hospital
TERRAIN: Mountainous – forest roads, jeep track, lots of single-track
POST-RIDE BEER: Delish Dish, Lions River brew on tap – www.facebook.com/Delish-Dish
MUST-DO EVENT: Sappi Howick Classic & Enduro – www.howickmountainbiking.co.za
ACCESS: Permits from Greendale Spar MTB Box & Howick Private Hospital
CELL RECEPTION: OK along most of route
ACCOMMODATION: 11 Karkloof offers affordable and friendly self-catering options, just 7km outside Howick, and right on the trails – www.11karkloof.co.za
LOCAL CONTACT: Kath Fourie – (082) 219 2054
Getting there: The trailhead is at Howick Private Hospital which is located next to the Howick Private Hospital right on Howick Main Road, only 20km from Pietermaritzburg. Follow the N3 towards Estcourt and exit onto the R103 towards Howick.
GPS S29º28’37.4” / E30º13’06.9”