When you’ve worked hard, you may feel that you’ve earned the right to unwind and spend quality time with your precious … bicycle. Tim Brink has been hoodwinking his family into holidays he can ride on for years. Here’s where you can, too.
Family road trips are an institution in South Africa. Kids fighting on the back seat, eye-spy-with-my-little-eye, picnics sweltering under the only tree between Putsonderwater and Pofadder and dad flashing his lights at the kindred Cortina station wagon coming the other way… these are the things childhood memories are made of. These days, eye-spy is an adult game, too, and involves spotting the bikes on other travellers’ bike racks, assessing their place in cycling society, relative to the collection of two-wheeled family members on the back of your own car. And that’s a full-time occupation, today, as the cycling bug has bitten far and wide. Moms and dads are taking bikes to keep their training going, and the kids are joining in and exploring new roads. Travelling with your bike(s) has become a whole lot easier, too, with numerous bike-rack solutions on the market allowing as many as four bikes to be loaded at a time, relatively effortlessly and without damaging your preciouses.
KZN has a rich mountain biking history – it’s home to SA’s greatest mountain biker of all time, Greg Minnaar, after all. Whether that heritage has built their trails, or vice versa, doesn’t really matter; two-wheeled travellers here are spoilt for choice.
1. Giba Gorge Mountain Bike Park
Our first stop is at the Giba Gorge Mountain Bike Park, which offers more than 45 kilometres of manicured trails to suit visitors of varying technical abilities. The riding is tough, but manage- able from a fitness point of view, with cracking views offering plenty of reason to tarry and recuperate, should the holiday excesses kick in. Giba offers a lot more than bike riding, with horse trails, hiking and running routes, a good quality restaurant (with craft beer, obviously), picnic sites and a kids’ play area that should keep you out of the dog box while you ride.
Giba Gorge Mountain Bike Park, Westville
Open seven days a week, 7am – 5pm
Adult Rider : R95
Child Rider (under 12yrs) : R65
Pensioner rider : R65
Park Visitor : R45
A short drive from the trails, Clifton Country House is a collection of self-catering and B&B units, located on a 57-hectare estate, with panoramic views, abundant bird life, walks and a stocked catch-and-return bass dam. From R400 pp sharing. 083-651-2022, cliftoncountryhouse.co.za
2. All Out Adventures
For more of a Drakensberg feel, head over to All Out Adventures, on the R74 between Harrismith and Bergville in the Northern Berg, and lose yourself on the Drakensberg Trail Network. As one of a group of local outfits that maintains this collection of more than 100 kilometres of sublime singletrack, All Out is the perfect place to begin exploring the big-sky Berg, with a choice of five marked routes or the freedom to plan your own. Bring some fitness, this is the Berg after all and there’s little flat riding. The pick of the five is the blue-rated Montusi Gorge route; 25 kilometres of rider-built singletrack with almost 500 metres of ascent on switchbacked, bermed trail that brings you to the highlight: the Amphitheatre, patiently waiting for the best selfie of the holiday. Back at All Out, non-riders can kick back with a giant cappuccino at the coffee shop, or brave hair-raising activities, including SA’s fastest cable tour, a 17-metre free-fall swing, quad biking and more.
All Out Adventures
Moeggestap Farm, Bergville
Tuesday to Sunday, 9am – 4.30pm
Alpine Heath Resort just 4km from All Out Adventures, is a four-star 100-chalet village with fresh mountain air, crystal streams, miniature golf, a pool and a cracking pizza restaurant. From R2 040 for a chalet (sleeps six).
Some would argue this is where mountain biking took hold in South Africa; a central confluence of the Durban, Gauteng and Cape Town groundswells that built the sport by travelling to the legendary Sedgefield Fat Tyre Festivals in the late 80s. They wouldn’t be wrong, for the Garden Route holds some of the best riding anywhere in South Africa.
3. Harkerville trail network
The Harkerville trail network, outside Plett, was one of the ground-breaking mountain-bike routes. To call it the oldest established route in SA is asking for angry reader letters, so we won’t, but in 1991 it was a pioneering thought to allow these reprobates on bikes into pristine forests. The result, nearly 30 years later, is a route that must be the bucket-lister for all off-roaders: the Red Route. There are shorter options in Harkerville, each with its own beauty, but the Red’s 22-kilometre mix of the most sublime canopied indigenous forest single-rack, wild seaside and leg-busting pine-plantation climbs, before a final fling with the forest returns you to the Garden of Eden, is the pick of the bunch. It’s not an easy route – budget three to five hours, depending on fitness, for just 22 kays – but it remains one of the most complete mountain-biking experiences you’ll ever have. There are no facilities here, so bring your own food and drink or head back into Knysna or Plett where you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Harkerville MTB Routes
Garden of Eden, N2, Knysna
Permits: R40, at Garden of Eden or SANParks’ Thesen Island office
Edenbrook Manor House is a gentle roll down the N2, towards Plettenberg Bay from the Garden of Eden, and has a mix of garden and log-cabin suites and family cottages, and even rental bikes, plus some fine post-ride dining. From R1 500 pp sharing.
4. The Garden Route Trail Park
The Garden Route Trail Park is a whole lot newer than Harkerville, but is already world-famous, having featured in a number of mountain-bike films. It has only recently re-opened, after being completely destroyed by the fires that ravaged the Knysna region, and has done so with gusto. The improvements on an already fine trail network will please riders of all abilities. Don’t expect long explores into the mountains, but do expect to want to re-ride the wonderfully sculpted trails as many times as your battered pegs will let you – this is hilly terrain, and trail guru Rob Dormehl, who owns and builds trails here, is as partial to a climb as he is to a flowing, fun descent, which are to be found here in great numbers. There is a pump track, a restaurant, great coffee, showers and a bike wash.
Garden Route Trail Park
Dormehl Farms, Barrington
– Adult permit: R100
– U18 permit: R80
– U13 Permit: R50
– Family permit: R240
You don’t even need to leave the premises: the Garden Route Trail Park house is a four-bedroom, self-catering setup only 200m from the trails, with the Outeniqua Mountains just waiting for stoep sundowners. R2 760 for the house (sleeps eight). 083-327-3590, gardenroutetrailpark.co.za
The Fairest Cape
If Sir Francis Drake had been a mountain biker, he might never have left his fairest cape. The volume and variety of trails in the Western Cape beggars belief, so picking some favourites was a little tricky. But, pick I did.
5. Elgin’s Oak Valley
Elgin’s Oak Valley is a fine place to start your mountain-bike getaway. The trails are some of the best you’ll ever ride, and are firm favourites with the route planners for both the Absa Cape Epic and the annual Wines2Whales extravaganzas. The riding is tough – with lots of climbing, even on the gentler routes, but don’t let that put you off; Oak Valley’s trail builders have created a network in the foothills of the Groenlandberg mountain that will please everyone. Groomed single- track, rideable stiles, sweeping bermed descents and lung-wrenching climbs are tailored to leave you wanting more, and more. There is a bike wash, showers and plenty of shaded, secure parking. Don’t forget to stop at the railway market on your way out, for craft beer and artisanal food that almost matches the trails in quality. Or just stay in Oak Valley for some great food and maybe even a little wine tasting at the Pool Room.
Oak Valley MTB Trails,
Oak Valley Wine Estate, Elgin
Adult day permit: R70
Kids day permit: R30
Open 365 days a year, except during events (and the day after, for trail maintenance).
Trail’s End is a 16-room bike hotel in Grabouw, a short drive from Oak Valley, with in-house food to die for (plus cyclist-friendly portions) and an ambience that is pure adventure. The Grabouw trails are a freewheel away, with walks and runs for the rest of the family on the doorstep. From R460 pp. 021-859-5193, trailsend.bike
6. Jonkershoek trail network
Heading further north (and skipping the insanely good Jonkershoek trail network, just because we don’t have any more space on these pages) we find ourselves at the Val du Charron Wine Estate, just outside Wellington. The trails here were once called Welvanpas, but now carry the Wild Boar Trails moniker as the network has expanded beyond just a single farm. In the shadow of the world-famous Bain’s Kloof Pass, the trails here are a mixture of rough-and-ready mountain tracks and finely manicured paths, knitted together and maintained by master trail builder Pieter van Wyk. Ranging from a chilled three-kilometre vineyard loop, to several monster 45-kilometre sessions that feature regularly in the Absa Cape Epic, you’ll find more than enough adventure here. The pizzas at the Val du Charron trailhead are legendary, and the beers are always cold.
Wild Boar Trails, Val du Charron Wine Estate, Wellington
Day permit: R70
Val du Charron offers four- and five-star hotel accommodation, a choice of a fine-dining restaurant or alfresco pizza fare, and direct access to the trails. From R2 283 pp sharing. 021-873-1256, vdcwines.co.za/stay
Staycationing in Jozi and Cape Town
Both have the most remarkable trails, right in the city.
7. The Spruit
Jozi home-holidayers: The Spruit traverses one of the busiest cities in Africa – a green lung that’s alive with riders, runners, walkers and more keeping it busy (and relatively safe) all day. Maintained by Jozi Trails, it offers any number of variations, coffee stops and surprises, as you will find yourself traversing suburbs you never knew existed, popping up alongside roads you commute on, but with totally different intent, before leaving them again for more trail action – 37 kilometres of it, in all, double that if you ride it both ways! jozitrails.co.za
8. Tokai MTB Park
For Capetonians, there’s no greater inner-city destination than the Tokai MTB Park. This is another of the areas where mountain biking was born in South Africa, and 30 years on, a new lease of life has been given to the trails, with an energetic committee and some decent financial investment doubling the mileage of singletrack in the past year, with ever-more ambitious trails and routes being opened every month. The ride to the Constantiaberg radio mast is part MTB, part road (the second five kilometres is tar, but with gradients between 10 and 18 per cent, you will need mountain-bike gearing), and it will give you some of the best views across Cape Town you’ll ever access by bike: 10 kilometres of climbing, 900 metres of ascent … a must-do, even if only once. tokaimtb.co.za
Tips For Travelling With Bikes
Make sure nothing is touching, even slightly. Over many hours of travelling, a gentle rub can become disastrous damage. Beware the exhausts Tyres melt, as do fancy carbon wheels, when hung in front of them… Number plate Make sure you have a spare made, and hang it on the rack so there’s no reason to fine you (although they still can if the lights are obscured). The more expensive racks have this covered. Stop and check A few kilometres after you start the trip, stop and retighten everything, before any problems arise. Clean your bikes Dirt between your bike and the clamping mechanism can scratch terribly, and it’s worse with carbon frames. Take care with carbon This fibre is super-strong for bike frames, but crushes easily in bike racks. Ask your local bike shop for the best way to carry your steed.
Imbi Bike Savers
Rattling and rubbing, scraping and scratching: none of this needs to happen to your bikes if you load them properly. Pool noodles and bungee cords are old-school; Imbi’s Bike Savers is a South African product that protects your machine from all of the above, cost-effectively and terribly sensibly. R299. bikalot.com
Hire A Bike
Ball-park cost is about R500 for three hours
Thule Bike Rack
Travelling long-distance with bikes needn’t be a pain. Thule has a wide range of solutions for almost every car and all bikes. Towbar-mounted racks are the best compromise between fuel economy and ease-of-use (and remove the possibility of killing your bikes driving under low things that roof racks engender), and the Swedes are the market leaders. From R4 999. thule.co.za
Text: Tim Brink