‘Did you call me?’ Amanda asks as she skids to a halt on the steep Jeep track descent. ‘Nope’, I reply, ‘it was a troop of Baboons calling.’
We are on one of the many mountain biking routes available in the Garden Route. Endowed with indigenous forest, pine plantations and the Garden Route National Park, there are many routes along which an avid mountain biker can tour. With the added attraction of Baboon encounters or evoking verbal abuse from alarming Vervet Monkeys, a mountain bike ride through the region offers more than altitude gain.
For both first time visitors and regulars below are a sample of rides to try when in the area.
Distance outing :
For the rider looking for a combination of backcountry distance and undulating landscape the seven passes road between George and Knysna is perfect.
A public road, the surface is a mix of gravel and sealed surface with seven river crossing passes, each with an invigorating descent to a historical bridge before a heart pumping climb to the plateau. Our preference is to ride in an easterly direction from George to Knysna.
For refreshments you can stop at the store near Karatara (not sure of weekend hours), the coffee shop at the Garden Route Trail Park and Totties Eatery.
Circles in the Forest, sand and fynbos :
If you are looking for loops there are plenty routes available, but these four are a great starting point.
Beach and back roads, a 35km circuit between Sedgefield and Kleinkrans that is very much tide dependent. Starting from the Swartvlei beach parking west of Sedgefield, ride west towards Kleinkrans. Exit the beach from the first wooden walkway, cross over the N2 onto the ‘Lakes Rd’ at Die Vleie turnoff.
The gravel road takes you back to the N2 via the Langvlei and Rondevlei with the opportunity to stop at the Links Restaurant for a meal.
George Lake loop, a fusion of urban and backcountry with spectacular views of the Outeniqua Mountains. Park at either the George Mall or St Georges Mall and cycle east on the Seven Passes road towards Knysna. Turn left either at the Cape Pine entrance or into the Saasveld campus and head towards the dam wall (Google Earth helps a lot in the maze of forest roads).
From the lake cycle anticlockwise around the east and north eastern contour road. Once you cross the last river head west towards the waste water works and meander back through the suburbs to your car. There is also a short single track section for the more adventurous, but it does make for a shorter ride.
Hoogekraal loop, a 45Km loop with some descent altitude gains. From Sedgefield, ride west on the N2 and turn right onto the lakes road at the Pine Lake turnoff. Continue to Rondevlei village. Turn right at the T-junction and climb to the top of the hill. Locals call it T-shirt hill. It is short and very steep. Follow the road to the tar road and turn right. Continue to the first road to the right and continue to the Hoogekraal pass for a few minutes of gravity descent. From there just turn right at each T-junction till you return to Sedgefield.
Whites Road ascent – a variable distance loop putting some altitude into the ride. From Wilderness village head up Whites Rd to Wilderness Heights and continue north to the Seven Passes road. Turn right and ride to Touwsranten.
For a short loop, turn right through Hoekville and down the Serpentine Rd and back to Wilderness along the Lakes Road.
For a longer loop, turn left at Touwsranten, ride past the Woodville Big Tree and turn right onto the Rondevlei Heights Rd, blitz down t-shirt hill and then power back along the lakes road to Wilderness.
Drop and go routes.
If you are looking for a longer ride, want some gravity riding and have backup two routes are worth considering.
Montegu Pass to Wilderness or even Sedgefield. Get dropped off at Amanda’s Grave (top of the pass) and speed down to Witfontein.
Join onto the the bridal track cross over the railway line and follow the single track to the sewerage works. Pick up the trail to Saasveld around George Dam and ride along the Seven Passes road to Wilderness Heights and freewheel down Whites Rd into the village.
Spitskop blitz – have a picnic breakfast with your support crew on the top of Spitskop then freewheel down to Kom se Pad. Meander past the historical Italian Church then drop down to the Knysna River before knuckeling down for the climb to Simola. Another quick downhill and you can share a Cappachino with your support crew in Cafe Mario’s at the waterfront.
If you are looking for a healthy way to work up an appetite there are a number of options.
Montegu Pass – from either Heather Park or Witfontein, ride up and over Montegu Pass to the B&B in Herold for tea / coffee and scones.
In Hoekville, Richard at the Hoekville shop has a cafe which offers sweet and light meals.
The Links west of Sedgefield is a nice breakfast spot after riding the Lakes Rd from Wilderness.
If you are fearless and are prepared to brave the N2, riding the Wild Oats Market on Saturday morning will require a second ride to work off all the extra calories.
From Knysna, riding up Phantom Pass to Totties Eatery will justify the indulgence while Mater Holly’s at Millwood will replenish any appetite after one of the forest loops.
The above rides are all on public access and on public backcountry roads without entrance fees. If you are looking for something that takes you off road SANParks offers routes at Harkerville, Millwood and Farleigh forest station.
For dedicated single track and pump track Garden Route Trail Park offers a selection of routes depending on what level of challenge you are looking for.
Irrespective of what type of mountain biking you are wanting, the Garden Route can supply it. Adventure, nature, challenging and exploration can all be found in the saddle.
So, when nature calls, stop and listen as you may just enhance your mountain biking adventures with a spectacular sighting of a Knysna Turaco, a troop of Baboons or for the more fortunate an elusive Cape Leopard or one of the mystical forest elephants famed to roam our forests.