Get all tree-huggy in the fantastic forests and pine plantations blanketing the ridges high above Tsitsikamma’s rugged coastline on the Misty Mountains Reserve MTB Route. Just make sure you do so after getting off your mountain bike… Photographs & words by Jacques Marais.
This is the Garden Route, but maybe not quite the way you know it. You’ll get none of the Knysna over-crowding or Plett glamour-pussing, but you can expect tons of headspace, a range of kief outdoor destinations and a whole bunch of down-to-earth people.
Tsitsikamma has somehow kept a low profile on the local mountain biking radar, but events like the MERRELL Tsitsikamma MTB Challenge and the 36One Storms River Traverse are bound to change people’s perception of riding here upon the edge of the magical Garden Route National Park.
Hopefully the Parks Board’s current attitude towards mountain biking will become more positive, as together with the internationally-owned (and very pro-MTB) Cape Pine, they are one of the major landowners in the region. Multi-use trails could link in with private landowners, making for exceptional riding along coastal cliffs and inland ranges.
Saddle up here and you get the whole bang-shoot of geographical terrain options as well – craggy Fynbos peaks, tranquil plantations, indigenous forest tracks, plunging ravines and panoramic coastal cliffs. All you have to do is make friends with gravity as you take on the steep and undulating trails.
The MTB route starting from Tsitsikamma Village Inn (www.tsitsikammahotel.co.za) is ok for a quickie, but if you want to super-size your ride, the trail network on Misty Mountain Reserve should be your go-to ride. More than 60km of jeep-track and forestry roads (and the occasional stretch of deep-forest single-track), makes for a rollicking day on your bike.
The trails – there are four colour-coded options to choose from – are really well marked, making for easy navigation along fast and open forestry roads. As you will be traversing both National Parks and Cape Pine land, it is essential to always ride with your permit (available from the lodge or various entry points).
Take the kids for a spin along the easy 8km or so Yellow Route; farm and forest tracks combine along a tranquil and flattish crank on terrain which would not phase your average six-year old too much. If the very thought of that makes you yawn, aim your knobbly bits at the 15km Orange Route towards the Storms River View Point for a non-technical return ride.
The Blue Route (42km) will force you to dig a little deeper, both from an endurance and a technical perspective. Start off along the Orange markers, but then drop to your right into a great section of the national park’s indigenous forests. The surface may be gritty and loose, so watch your speed into those corners! A calf-cruncher of a climb awaits you as you make your way up to Storms River Village, where you can grab a cold beer at The Hunters’ Pub if that is your wont. I know I would…
From the Village Main Road it is a high-speed duck and dive across the river and back up to the view point, with a feel-good forest track thrown into the mix for good measure before you head left along the coast to Misty Mountain Lodge. Finally, you can go the Full Monty along the 60km+ Black Route, a fast-paced crank mostly along gravel roads and forestry tracks running parallel to the coast. The bumpy jeep track eventually blasts you onto the Elands River View Site, before you connect back via the Blue Route to complete your ride.
Look for a brown sign to Misty Mountain Reserve, South of the N2, approximately 170km from Port Elizabeth. Follow a gravel road for 7km to the lodge.
Sus the Stats: Misty Mountain Reserve MTB Route
Grading: Easy/Intermediate (some steep climbs)
Duration: 30min – 4hrs
Configuration: Circular/Return options of 8 – 63km
Start Point: Misty Mountain Reserve (alternative Tsitsikamma Village Inn)
Terrain: Gravel road, jeep-track and short sections of single-track
Post-Ride Beer: Hunters’ Pub – www.tsitsikammahotel.co.za
Access: Permit from Misty Mountain Reserve
Cell Reception: Reception along most of the route
Accommodation: Full range of accommodation options at Misty Mountain
Local Contact: email@example.com / Tel 082 891 9008
GPS: S34° 1min 26.8sec / E23° 56min 52.7sec