South Africa is one of the most unique places to visit. With so much ground to cover, it is a good idea to plan for a longer stay than normal… or pack a bike to help you cover it. Home to Greg Minnaarmultiple, multiple world-time mountain bike champion, and Pietermaritzburg’s finest. South Africa clearly offers some gnarly trails that are a must-visit.
Given South Africa’s bountiful and diverse outdoor environments, as well as the excellent weather, it is probably not surprising that MTB has exploded in the country! While for young and old, singles and families, it may just be a great healthy pastime, but MTB has also developed as a significant sport, and South Africa has become a serious destination for enthusiasts. South Africa’s most challenging mountain bike race, the Cape Epic, is internationally unrivaled as a pinnacle mountain bike event.
Today, the South African MTB calendar is packed with diverse events across a wide range of locations that draw elite professional riders from around the world, as well as many amateur enthusiasts. With more than 400 mountain biking trails, some of which are hailed as amongst the best in the world, it’s no wonder that South Africa has become a sought-after mountain bike destination. In 2018, Stellenbosch again hosted The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup for another great year.
Sabie is arguably the best mountain biking destination in South Africa – is the ideal springboard for both novice and accomplished mountain bikers to practice this sport in a secure environment amidst breathtaking scenery. Sabie offers both the competitive and the casual mountain biker a wide range of well-marked, self-guided mountain bike trails.
With purpose-built MTB trails from a decade of cross-country racing in one of South Africa’s most beautiful settings, what you experience here will motivate many happy returns. You can literally do a different ride every day of the week. The many trails are in existence thanks to the efforts of a small but dedicated group of locals, namely the Sabie Chain-Gang Club and the Mpumalanga MTB Association (MAMBA). Working closely with major forestry corporations like SAPPI, MONDI, SAFCOL, and Global Forestry Products, as well as stakeholders in the local tourism industry, they have gained and maintained land access for off-road cycling on private forestry property surrounding Sabie. Consequently, this has become a prime recreational and racing mecca for mountain-biking enthusiasts all over the country.
Sabie is the perfect hub for an off-road cycling vacation, from competitive riders consolidating their training to families with little fledgling cyclists. Road cyclists too will revel in mile upon mile of challenging mountain rides along quiet, wide tarred roads. Mountain bike trails through the bushveld near Olifants Rest Camp in Kruger National Park are one of a kind! You’ll have to be a confident shredder for these trails though.
The tours are something like a cross between a game drive and a game walk. You’ll have a game drive, to begin with to get to the starting location. Once you hop on your bikes, you’ll cover more distance and have tons more fun than on a game walk, but just like a game walk, you’ll be powered by your own legs!
Mountain biking in Kruger National Park is a unique experience. The only rest camp offering it is Olifants, which is about halfway up the park on the eastern side.
There are two trails on offer:
- The Hardekool Draai Trail, which follows the Letaba River, goes for 21.4km (13.3 miles). The ride lasts about 4 hours.
- The Olifants/Letaba River Confluence Trail goes for 12.2km (7.6 miles). The ride goes for 3 hours, and you need to be an expert mountain biker to do it. It’s a tough one!
If you ask any off-road cyclist in the Western Cape where the best mountain biking routes are, Tokai Forest is sure to be included in their answer. The steep slopes that characterize the Constantiabergand the Silvermine Nature Reserve make it ideal for mountain biking. With accumulated ascent for the day of 1,200 meters, there will be plenty of hard work to do.
There are some excellent vantage points along the route, with terrific views of the Constantia Vineyards, Hout Bay, Noordhoek Valley, and Table Mountain. Bring your camera along as you may see some baboons!
While Table Mountain basks in the warm light of dawn with the amber glow of the early morning sun slanting through tall trees and bushes, we are fortunate to be riding in the midst of such beauty.
For those who want to see “the best of the Cape” in one day, this carefully planned mountain bike ride through the Table Mountain National Park and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve made up of fast-flowing gravel jeep trails, lung-busting climbs, and single tracks will plant a huge smile on your face!
Apart from the beautiful mountain towering over this historic and unique little town, the variety of activities and natural treasures located within 30-60 minutes’ drive from Swellendam is this destination’s biggest draw-card. In 2007, when the Absa Cape Epic still traveled from Knysna to Stellenbosch (with Swellendam as one of the stopovers), people used to say that it was one of the only races where you could experience anything from single track to rolling hills, epic climbs to fast flats, forest to Klein Karoo – because it traveled such a long distance. The effort of setting up a race village in a new town each day and the cost involved was one of the reasons that the Absa Cape Epic stopped traveling in a straight line from Knysna and opted for the Clover system. The Clover system is where you start and finish at least two days of racing from the same venue. When staying in Swellendam you will have the comfort of choosing between single track, rolling hills, forests, Klein Karoo, through a pass, to the ocean, over a ferry – while enjoying the comfort of staying in one place!
In Knysna, you will cycle through mystical indigenous forests, and, just 15km out of Knysna, you will find the Homtini Mountain Bike Trail in the Farleigh State Forest. The entire town surrounds a large saltwater estuary called the Knysna Lagoon. Therefore, besides the nitty-gritty of South African mountain biking fun, you can also enjoy numerous recreational activities, such as boating, fishing, swimming, and lots of adventuring.
The Hakerville Cycle Routes are situated in the Hakerville Forest between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. There are four routes catering from the beginner to the more advanced mountain biker.
The routes are color-coded and are as follows:
- Yellow Route: This route is 13km in length and follows gravel forest service roads and will be the only route open when the others are closed due to wet ground conditions.
- Blue Route: Covering a distance of 11km, this route follows gravel service roads and also along the Beukespad, a forest slip-path, through a moist high forest. On returning you pass by some huge Coastal Redwoods planted in 1927.
- Green Route: This 14km route takes the rider along the Grooteilandpad and onto the Wattpad where there is a refreshing swimming hole, great for taking a break. There is an optional loop that will along which you will have breathtaking views of the Hakkerville coastline. on the return, the route follows the Kleineilandpad and then onto the Perdekoppad where you can enjoy an exciting section of single-track.
- Red Route: This is the longest and hardest of the routes and is said to be one of the most scenic routes in the country. This route takes you through deep indigenous forest, fynbos, and incredible coastal views along the way. 22km in length and more than 10km of single track, this route is definitely the most exhilarating.