Banhoek Conservancy Trails
CLOSEST TOWN > Stellenbosch
TRAIL DESTINATION > Banhoek Valley Conservancy
DISTANCE > Various
GRADING > Easy to Technical
For those who don’t know Banhoek, it is key to understand the ‘three pillars’ of this conservancy are (1) building the community; (2) nurturing the environment and lastly, (3) creating opportunities for all. The idea is to create space for a healthy lifestyle and fitness outlook through building trails, clearing aliens and re-establishment wetlands and pristine riverine areas, and funding this through events, permits and memberships.
And with more than 70km of trails – most of it single-track – you can bank on days and days of superb MTB Play. There’s even more good news: a bunch of additional new trails are already in the planning stages, with work starting on a few of these.
On your bike
Banhoek Game Trail (13km)/
You can access this relatively flat, circular route easily from either the Old Bethlehem Gate (on the edge of the village of Kylemore), or from the Boschendal Vegetable Garden side. It is pretty well marked with light blue circles on black arrows, situated at the key junctures along the trail.
From the Boschendal Garden, the route follows single-track along the stream course, and often shared by pedestrians heading to or from the estate from Kylemore. Due care should therefore be taken while riding the route, which eventually links to the Dwarsrivier Trail.
Start off along a gradual climb through orchards and the Dwarsrivier River drift, continuing into the game enclosure over a wooden stile (4.2km). Continue along a range of purpose-built single-track joining the Game Trail Circle Route, keeping an eye out for the eland, wildebeest and other game.
Follow the signage as the trail dips and winds into Old Betlehem Farm, and keep left at the dam wall to go around the dam (7.3km). A fast gravel road connects onto the Houtkapper (8.3km) and Digbos (9.6km), before you hit the original (and quite rocky!) section of trail at just on 11km. A short jeep-track connects you back to the end of the Game Trail Circle (12.2km) before you blast back to Boschendal to finish over the wooden style and into the veggie patch.
Total elevation gain is 260m, but there are a few short and sharp climbs sure to test the legs. The route is suited to beginner riders, but only if they know when they are out of their depth, especially along the original section of rocky single-track. Also keep an eye out for one of the wildebeest, which may be a touch to cheeky!
Dwarsrivier Valley Trail (14.3km)
This is an easy route extension of the Game Trail mentioned above, should you want to beef up your time in the saddle. In fact, this circular route - marked with purple diamonds on black arrows - can link you to Botmaskop Trail as well. The signs are not huge, but are well placed and clear once you know what to look for.
Once again, you will find the trail head at the Old Bethlehem Gate in Kylemore; crank to your right from the gate via the village streets until you T-bone with the Helshoogte Pass road (1.4km). Turn left to ascend Helshoogte and left again 900m later into Zevenrivieren Road before turning right into the Oldenburg gravel road (4km).
A steep and gritty jeep-track climb bumps you onto a dogleg left to cross along a concrete drift (8.2km) over the Dwarsrivier. Stunning valley views towards the Banhoek peaks will keep your mind off the ascent as you approach the entrance left to the #NickNack single-track (9km) and into fynbos heaven.
Expect a few smallish rock obstacles as you power up the zigzags onto a contour traverse, until you enter through the game fence gate (10.9km). Supper-droppy ess-bends swoop you along some lekker, sweeping curves, so pin your ears back and gooi mielies until you hit the ‘Tunnel of Love’ (11.6km)
The ride flattens out here as you pass the connecting point to the Game Trail, with the last few fast-and-flat kilometres booming you back to Old Bethlehem Gate in Kylemore. Your total ascent comes to 380m, and technically the upper sections of the route will test those without rock-riding skills. If in doubt, get off and push …
Botmaskop Trail (15.7km) 700m elevation gain
Many local riders have been avoiding Botmaskop, purely because of that mother-buffer of an ascent from the tunnel to the summit. Let me categorically state that I do not blame them, but that this excuse is no longer valid since Kim Lord and his crew have tackled the ascent section of the route. Sure, you still climb 700m in total, but chances are you won’t even realise it.
The most convenient starting point is still at Tokara (there is safe parking near the Deli). Be sharpish as you dip down 440m onto Helshoogte Road, keeping an eye on main road traffic here. A few hundred metres after turning right (towards Stellenbosch) you’ll need to cross the tarmac onto the Old Helshoogte Pass gravel road (900m). Blast downhill for just on 1km until you spot the culvert passing under Helshoogte tar road to the left (2.4km).
This is your cue to pretend you’re a home-sick mole; duck into the tunnel and hum a Ray Charles ditty as you blindly aim for the light at the end of said tunnel, a good 300m away. The new single-track starts a few hundred metres later, passing via African Valley land and onto a last piece of steep gravel road (3.9km).
Never fear, as you’ll be back on the Botmaskop single-track in 120m, winding upwards gradually as you take in spectacular views towards Cape Town and over Dwarsrivier till you reach the highest point of the trail at 6.7km. Yup, it’s been a proper climb, but what awaits you is surely one of the best descents you’ll find anywhere in South Africa.
And what better way to start that descent than along the curvaceous excess of whipped dirt zigzag by the name ‘Luiperd se Fyndraai’? You’re now on Morgenzon Estate, and will probably be purring like some near-orgasmic big cat by the time you bottom out (8km).
But wait, it gets even better! You’ve now entered Bartinney Wine Estate, and are about to drop into the legendary serpentine set of curves known as SkyFall. And if by any chance you’ve not had a velo-gasm by the time you flat-line (at 9.9km), you may want to get one of your fellow riders to check your pulse.
A flat 560m Fijnbos section along gravel road blasts you onto the next descent, a quickie single-track through Mitchells Proteas, onto the loop-the-loop downhill of Banhoek Berms (just watch out for Marais Steyn’s rabid jack russel terriers here). And that, kids, is how to have a fun time on the bike!
Plug back left into Oldenburg Road for a 1.5km climb left into Zevenriviern Road, before finally looping back past Banhoek Lodge (16.3km) to Tokara. You have the option here to either follow the Helshoogte tar road, or cross over to the other side to follow the signage up via the gravel tracks – I suggest the latter option.
Rated by : Jacques Marais
Off the bike
Trail running and swimming form an integral part of these triathlon trails. This section of the Cape Winelands between Helshoogte and Franschhoek probably rates as one of the world’s culinary hot spots, so if you cannot find a good coffee or a kick-ass cabernet here, you should stick to Frisco Instant and box wine.
Telephone: Kim Lord +27 71 914 0664
GPS: 33°54’39.5” South / 18°57’40.3” East
Easy to intermediate
Interlinked train network, up to 40km
Gravel roads, jeep track, predominantly single-track
Available on website
Entry fee payable
None in conservancy
Those roots, descents and tight single-tracks curves
HOW TO GET THERE
BEST TIME OF YEAR
Winters are wet so you need to check trail access after heavy rains. The rest of the year is a mountain biking blast.