Words & Images by: Jacques Marais
The Garden Route starts near Mossel Bay, right? Nope, insists JACQUES MARAIS, there is a huge chunk of largely uncharted GR Greatness extending all the way from the coast to the Sonderend ranges – and stretching a couple of hundred kilometres eastward from Heidelberg – just waiting to be explored. He took his trusty camera out for a ride, just to prove his point.
This section of the Western Cape, also known as the Hessequa, is fast finding fame as the Explorers’ Garden
Route, and deservedly so. Most people generally tend to whiz past here en route to the overcrowded,
overexposed Garden Route proper, and miss out on this outdoor wonderland. The next time you decide to
head towards the coast, be sure to stop off here for a couple of days. There are kilometres of gravel road,
jeep track and single-track meandering among rugged mountains and indigenous forests in all directions, all of which are sure to bring broad smiles to any mountain biker’s face. By example, let’s have a quick look at just one oft-overlooked place to get your bike buzz, the Gourikwa Reserve.
More info on the area at explorersgardenroute.co.za
The Gourikwa Reserve is situated along the old Stilbaai Road, just about 8km after crossing the Gourits River. Turn left and pass through gates, remembering to drive slowly as the eland, zebra and other animals have the right of way. A small village exists here, with family homes, an old church and conference centre.
Crank off from the parking area near the church for a warm-up session along the gradual 5.2km ascent
towards the main gate. Once here, retrace your route along the initial climb, looking out for the first track to your right off the tarmac (7.1km). This will bomb you into the upper ridges of the reserve, with a good 60km of jeep tracks traversing the fynbos ridges towards Stilbaai. I opted for the next sand track (7.3km), to
loop left parallel to the tarmac. Keep an eye out for the power lines if you lose your way, following the jeep
track which eventually T-bones with the Scenic Drive Route (8.6km).
Turn left here onto a gravel track bombing all the way back to the tar road (9.6km), and keep right until you reach your starting point at the parking lot (10.5km). Get ready for a fast and flat section, turning left along the coast towards the eastern-most boundary of the reserve (14.7km). Good surface and a flat coastal trajectory will feed your need for speed as you turn around at the gate pillars to blast back past the
Keep going along the coastal path, past the old church and the turn-off to the parking lot, passing the
self-catering fisherman’s cottage’ on your way to the distant lighthouse (21.3km). Another kay or so will get
you to a closed gate, so instead look out for a sign to your right, indicating the scenic drive, and turn into an uppity little ascent along a firm gravel jeep track.
Keep an eye out for bushbuck and eland as you loop slowly to your right, and keep your weight well back to negate a face plant on the occasional sandy patches. All in all, this is easy riding for any average mountain biker, with only minor technical obstacles (other than sand, sticks and the occasional puff adder) to worry about.
After 4km, you pass under the power lines you exited during your first loop (25.4km), with just on 2km of riding back to the finish, for a total riding distance of 27.3km.
Options abound, and you can’t really get lost as long as you keep an eye on the ocean; if the tracks sound to sandy and steep, do a village circuit with the family, or crank to your heart’s content onto the access road
GOURIKWA RESERVE FAST FACTS:
++ GRADING: Intermediate (Sandy)
++ DURATION: 2hrs (Coastal Circuit)
++ CONFIGURATION: Circular/return: 27.3km
++ START POINT: Reserve Parking Area
++ TERRAIN: Gravel roads and sand tracks
++ POST-RIDE BEER: Nada. Bring your own, and enjoy on the deck overlooking the ocean.
++ MUST-DO EVENT: Trans-Gouritz five-day MTB Challenge www.trisport.co.za
++ ACCESS: Tarmac/gravel – okay for sedans
++ CELL RECEPTION: Limited/no Wi-Fi
++ ACCOMMODATION: Self-catering cottages with everything you need; clean and secure
++ GPS: S34°22’58.80”; E21°45’38.52”
++ CONTACT: www.gourikwa.co.za / Telephone +27 (0)87 702 9126