Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek Pass as you enter KwaZulu-Natal is the first true Drakensberg resort you reach en route from Gauteng. Although there’s always been the odd bit of riding on the resort’s 3 000 hectares of mountain land, a dedicated mountain-biking track now offers 23 kilometres of cranking to fat trackers in search of a new trail.
The mountain bike ride at Little Switzerland
Sometimes you must commit to drastic measures to make a specific route work, and in the case of the trail at Little Switzerland, this means a grunt of a climb up Oliviershoek Pass. Yup, there’s four kilometres of tarmac with your name on it, so get over it.
I mean that literally, as you’ll climb into the wind to the very top, then turn left onto gravel at the Caterpillar Catfish Cookhouse (4,2 kilometres). Let the good times roll along a gradual gravel climb onto the plateau past green rainwater tanks, before keeping right through the gum trees past some huts (5,1 kilometres).
Keep going through a rusted gate (6,5 kilometres), dropping into a grassy valley along a gnarly dual-track, past stone ruins (8,5 kilometres). The climb out is probably a hike if you’re not world MTB champ Burry Stander, but keep going till you top out at a trout dam in the next dell (10,6 kilometres).
A couple of kilometres later you reach a unique cement single-track constructed to make the route more rideable all year round.
Crank to the highest point (1 892 metres) before a gut-thumping 600-metre drop over the next 3,5 kilometres. Almost all of this is on sweeping concrete single-track that’s about 30-centimetres wide, so keep your wits about you (or you’ll eat dirt).
At 16,5 kilometres, you dogleg left onto a gravel track back towards Little Switzerland, with mostly level riding until you reach the resort after 22,8 kilometres, just in time for a cold drink. You deserve it, no matter the time of day.
Off the bike at Little Switzerland
Outdoor options at Little Switzerland abound. Swop your iron steed for a pony and head into the mountains under horse power or tramp onto one of the waterfall hikes. There’s also tennis, bowls, mini-golf and the Coyote Café, easily the top foodie spot in the region – try the pineapple and carrot cake with a cappuccino or the Thai green curry burger.
Getting to Little Switzerland
Turn onto the R74, about five kilometres from Harrismith, and continue to Bergville past Sterkfontein Dam. Once on Oliviershoek Pass, look out for Little Switzerland on your right (43 kilometres from Harrismith).
Need to know about Little Switzerland
The road conditions to the resort have deteriorated to such an extent that the hotel has been closed for the time being (except for conferences), so book one of the great self-catering units, which are separate from the hotel. Neither these nor the MTB trail have been affected by the hotel closure.
Gear needed for Little Switzerland
I rode this route on a Silverback Mercury 1 (R20 005, www.silverbacklab. com), and suggest you go for full suspension too. Any bike with an IDS (intelligent design system) will optimise traction across rugged terrain, while the Fox Float RPL rear shock and Rock Shox Reba RLT forks are sure to soak up jarring bumps.
Little Switzerland route facts
Grading: Intermediate to difficult
Duration: Three hours
Configeration: Circular route (23 km)
Start point: Little Switzerland reception
Terrain: Dirt roads, tarmac and steep, concrete single-track
Entry requirements: Permit from Little Switzerland costs R25
Cell reception: Good coverage along most of the route
GPS Co-ordinates: S28° 43’ 48.9” E29° 21’ 10.2”
Contact: Tel 036-4382500, www.lsh.co.za
Mountain-biking trails in South Africa
For detailed information on mountain-biking trails across South Africa, go to www.mtbroutes.co.za.