There are getaways, and then there are get-completely-off-the-grid-aways… the Nuwerust Rest Camp in the Red Karoo Cederberg Park is one of the latter options, and the biking there is pretty much off the charts. Words and photography by Jacques Marais.
Recipe for riding fun: dramatic landscape + hectic topography + single-track + seemingly endless riding options = MTB Orgasm. Or something like that, anyway. However you may look at it, Nuwerust is going to rock your mountain biking lust, so get into the Red Karoo and go wild.
This 66 000 hectare Conservancy remains largely unexplored. It’s located at the southern tip of the Cederberg ranges and in the heart of it all, you will find the exquisitely wild Nuwerust Rest Camp. This is very much a working farm with an eco-adventure focus, dominated by craggy, blood-orange mountains and juddering dirt roads all round.
You can choose between an olden-style farmhouse for accommodation or pitch your tent within the glorious Nuwerust camping site. The latter is set along the banks of Breekkransrivier, with lekker swimming holes and fishing spots. The Rooiberg cliffs tower above your camp. This is a paradise for trail runners, hikers and rock climbers as well, so a visit here is not to be forgotten.
When you get around to saddling up your bike, you’re going to be spoilt for choice as to where to point your front wheel. The good… let me rephrase that, great news is that Nuwerust plays host to a section of the annual Ride the Rock MTB Challenge, and the upshot of this is that two single-track sections used by the race are right on your doorstep.
Even better, the neighbouring farms have also bought into MTB as a major tourism drive, thus allowing riders to access an extended circular route without trespassing. Your top-of-the-morning ride starts from the Nuwerust farmhouse, and allows you to immediately bang onto a 3km stretch of single-track winding past the camp site and across the river.
Follow the trail left below the imposing Rooiberg amphitheatre, traversing above the river course. Small, square brown signs point the way along the trail (some may be obscured by high brush), but there is also packed stone edging to help keep you on track. A wooden stile pops you over a fence to the Cederberg Oasis Backpackers and Restaurant (3km), the only place to boast a meal or cold beer for miles around.
Turn left at the Oasis onto the main Ceres gravel road and crank like a speed freak along the downhill bombing back towards the main Nuwerust entrance (5km). Then toughen up and get ready for a dose of ‘suck it up, cupcake’ as you climb for the next 5.5km along the grinding ascent up Grootrivierhoogte.
Even bad things come to an end, and as you eventually summit at a cattle grid (10.6km), a bad-ass wilderness view of epic proportions across the Koue Bokkeveld section of the Cape Winelands will make it all worthwhile. Take a breather (I know I did), while you gaze out across the unexplored expanses unfolding towards the Ceres-Karoo.
The best is yet to come, bru. Explore past a disused quarry to your left (just before the grid and around 30m off the road) and you’ll discover a marked section of single-track zigging back towards Nuwerust. The trail basically S-bends along the side of the gravel road all the way back into the valley.
You need regulation-size cojones to handle this teeth-gritting trail, as there are a good few steep drops, super-slide bends and loose shale to conquer. Keep it tidy, though, especially where you sneak back onto the road for 50m, and also where you cross under a fence that will garrotte your head clear off your body if you don’t focus.
In the end, the descent is 99% ride-able (even for ballies like me) until you bottom out to loop around a little dam and back to the road. Cross at the Nuwerust sign (16km) to high-tail the final 1.4km along fast-and-flat gravel to take you home well inside 2 hours.
From Cape Town make your way to Ceres and then follow the R303 to Op-Die-Berg for 30km. 200m past Op-Die-Berg, turn right at the Cederberg/Ceres Karoo sign and follow the tar road for another 18km until it turns to gravel; you will reach the Nuwerust turn-off to your right 45km later.
Sus the Stats: NuwerustMTB Route
Grading: Intermediate (technical in places)
Duration: 90min – 2hours
Configuration: Circular route 17.4km
Start-Point: Nuwerust Rest Camp
Terrain: Single-track; gravel district road
Post-Ride Beer: Cederberg Oasis – www.cederbergoasis.co.za
Must-Do Event: Ride The Rock– www.cederbergevents.co.za
Access: Riding for guests only; no day visitors allowed
Cell Reception: Rare to no signal
Accommodation: Self-catering and camping at www.cederbergexperience.co.za
Local Contact: Stephen on +27 (0)27 482 2813
GPS: S 32° 33’ 42.1” / E 19° 22’ 41.1”
Where are we?
The Nuwerust Rest Camp is situated in the Breëkrans river valley, surrounded by majestic southern Cederberg Mountains. It’s long been a hiking hot spot with walks to Cederberg features like the Maltese Cross and the Wolfberg Arch remaining ever popular.