The Elgin Valley around Grabouw might be known nationally for its poverty driven social unrest and service delivery protests but to Western Cape mountain bikers and trail runners the area is synonymous with epic trails, writes Jeanne-Louise Wiese.
This playground is situated between the Hottentots-Holland, Kogelberg and Groenland Mountains with a valley floor scattered with leg numbing hills. These hills are home to the largest single export fruit producing farms in Southern Africa, called the Elgin Valley which inherited its name from a group of apple farms owned by the Molteno family called “Glen Elgin”. The town of Grabouw is situated along the banks of the Palmiet River and was originally created by a painter from Cape Town (Wilhelm Langschmidt), who developed the community around his wife’s small trading store and named the place after his town of birth in Germany, called Grabow. Later a number of pioneer families bought property in the area and turned the Elgin Valley into a fruit producing paradise where the famous “Appletiser” drink was first created by Edmond Lombardi on his farm Applethwaite and introduced to the market in 1966. But apart from the famous apple farms in this area, there are also pears, greenhouse cut flowers, roses and cool climate wine producing farms.
The area is also well known for its fantastic mountain biking trails or for relaxing at the Country Club overlooking the Eikenhof Dam. The trails in the area include the Cape Pines, Oak Valley, Lebanon, Thandi and Paul Cluver trails which offer cyclists a mixture of single tracks, tough climbs, long rides and breathtaking views. It is no surprise that more than 600km of track runs through this area. Most of the trails in the area require an entry fee which is used for maintenance of single tracks and bridges over fences and streams. MTO Forestry also presents the cyclist with the Cape Pine “Genesis” trails at Elgin which wind through the plantation covered hills which also forms part of Cape Pine’s commitment to sustainable forestry for the health of the environment and economy. Drawing back to my earlier point about poverty in the region, MTO supports a range of programmes that benefit local communities such as the Grabouw Food Garden, the Grabouw Food Kitchen and the Khula Nam environmental education programme.
This entire mountain biking playground forms part of the 100 000 hectare UNESCO designated Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, considered to be perhaps the greatest biodiversity hot-spot in the world and the first biosphere to be registered in South Africa. This reserve does not have any fences or fixed boundaries but relies on the commitment of local communities, farmers, conservation agencies and local government to protect this unique diversity of fynbos. The area is home to about 150 endemic plant species which are found nowhere else on earth and attracts cyclists, runners and eco-tourists to this area by the thousands each year. Vegetation species of interest include the endangered marsh rose (protea family) which only occur on a few inaccessible peaks, yellowwood, stinkwood, boekenhout, wild almond, rooi-els and Cape beech trees. Among these you may find animals thriving in their natural habitats such as the leopard, cape clawless otter, grey rhebuck, klipspringer, peregrine falcons, black eagles and fish eagles.
It is very important to remember that all trails in this area have been developed as a result of the passion and generosity of local landowners, residents, nature conservation and plantation companies. So please respect that when you ride through these areas, purchase the necessary permits, stick to the marked trails and keep your water bottles, plastic containers, tissues and wrappers with you and dispose of it responsibly.