There’s rollicking riding to be had where the Eastern Cape’s ‘Frontier Country’ hinterland borders onto the Sunshine Coast. Jacques Marais went native with some local singletrack ‘surfers’ along a few brand-new sections on the exhilarating 3 RIVERS TRAILS near Jeffreys Bay.
– Copy and images : Jacques Marais
Bru, there is rollicking riding to be had in the good old Oos-Kaap, a largely unexplored province where you can crank till your legs go blunt. Anything goes, from those rough-shod trails tripping through the Frontier Province’s interior, to a whole bunch of brand-new coastal routes.
You can bargain on a kick-ass combo of diverse rides and in-your-face adventure, encompassing everything from endless gravel road cranks, gnarly farm-track explorations, MTB-specific nature reserve rides and a bunch of new and well-thought-out trail parks. Riding options abound, and over the last decade or so, the mountain biking community has come a long way when it comes to route design and professional signage.
Key mountain biking regions have mushroomed geographically as well. We all know of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ allure of Hogsback’s emerald forests and the sub-alpine slopes rucking up near Rhodes in the southern Drakensberg, but recently both Port Elizabeth and East London have joined the fat track party. Even J-Bay is no longer only the domain of the wave crews, with slick singletrack just waiting to be pinned.
In-land you can explore either the thorn-veldt savannah of the Baviaans River Conservancy or the montane forest and fynbos of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness. The Karoo plains beckon just beyond these rugged mountain ranges, with the whole of the wildy-wildy Wild Coast in all its sub-tropical superbalism unfolding towards the Indian Ocean on the geographical flip side.
One of the favourite trail systems has to be 3 RIVERS TRAILS near Thornhill. This kickass riding hub incorporates Jbay Bike Park (unfortunately not direct access), the school trails and XC track at Woodridge College, and all those gravel roads crisscrossing the Longmore MTO Plantations.
Surf on over to www.3riverstrails.co.za for more information, my chinas :-)
The Puttergill clan has been farming the Thornhill area for nearly four generations, and when Kleinboet Grant decided in 2007 that he wanted to build single track, he had to do so at night. This was because Ouboet Brett made it very clear that daylight hours were reserved for the serious business of farming. Ja Nee, these Eastern Cape dairy farmers are a very busy bunch, you see…
The thing is, Grant’s routes were so successful that the bug bit, and soon Brett was hooked. Fast-forward a few years, and the new amalgamated 3 RIVERS TRAILS system was firmly on the bucket list for most Eastern Cape riders, and getting rave reviews all over the country.
The extended Longmore Forest trail system bumped it up to the next level, because the rough and rutted forestry tracks meant you now had 200km of riding looming on any given weekend. Even better, you could choose your weapon, with the full gamut of g-road, enduro, trail, cross-country, downhill and flow tracks on offer.
These days – after 15 years of hard graft and poking sticks at rogue riders – this community NPO boasts a solid 70km of sublime singletrack which you can crank till your legs go blunt. Local trail builders – like Craig Richards – are also not the type to sit around on their arses all day, so you can bank on at least a new trail every couple of months.
The 3 Rivers Trail permit now covers around 15 landowner properties, including those endless forestry roads in the Longmore MTO Plantation. This makes for a massive area – all the way from the Gamtoos River to the Van Stadens River from east to west, and inland over the mountains into the rugged Elands River ranges.
Crossways Village – an off-grid and aesthetic farm neighbourhood development – serves as a lively hub where all the trails join. The developers have big plans, with delis, coffee shops and a brand-new restaurant planned for riders to relax at after exploring the Kouga Region’s fynbos hills.
Your only problem really is deciding where to ride now! Will it be a gruelling gravel- and enduro outing along the relentless Ox-Wagon and Black Porcupine Routes, or maybe some technical and tight singletrack ascending on the 4km Longmore Link into the breezy pine plantation?
My personal favourite – if I had to choose just one route – would have to be the free-as-a-bird flow of the Purple Cow route, bombing alongside herds of Holstein and Hereford cattle grazing peacefully in grassy green meadows. These make for pastoral farm scenes at their best, over the mountain streams, through rolling over hills and across magic wooden bridges.
Another cracking ride you cannot miss is Black Mamba; this is where the 200-year-old oak tree hides away deep within indigenous forests, and also where Grant’s initial trail building passion was honed. Room with a View is a (crazy) horse of a different colour – this bustling blast of a trail kicks off with a traverse from the top of Ox Wagon. The downhill donners downhill in true enduro style, skittering amidst rocks and fynbos, before spitting you out into Protea Fields and onto the top of Purple Cow. Jeez, and now I’m thinking of that Prince song …
The final not-to-be-missed route is the Dam Buster Loop. This starts from above an intimidating Rock Garden area, and promises a rollicking ride that will leave you grinning from ear to ear as you swoop through a breathtaking fynbos paradise. Ja swaer, it’s time to come visit, but make sure you pack enough beers!
Other Trails …
Jbay Bike Park is a short and sharp ride option easy to reach from 3 RIVERS TRAILS, and here you can crank up your stoke levels on a handful of intermediate to technical routes radiating out from the pump track, situated at the entrance to Jbay Zebra Lodge (www.jbayzebralodge.co.za).
It’s all about plugging into compact, continental MTB kiffness, courtesy of the Swiss/Portuguese owners, Florbela and Didier Duc. This little piece of paradise – midway between Jeffreys Bay and Gqeberha – is where Africa Proper awaits, with the trails meandering amidst undulating hills and valleys, bedecked with stands of sweet-thorn trees and spiky aloe ferox.
Although there is no longer a trail linking the Zebra Lodge to the Crossways trail head, the Jbay Bike Park trails here still form part of the ‘3 RIVERS TRAILS network and your permit will allow you to ride there..
Woodridge College adds an additional trail segment to the 3 RIVERS TRAIL system, with quirky ess-bends and zigzag ascents blasting along the extensive school grounds. There’s an XC track as well, making this one of the Eastern Cape’s top adventure education institutions. If I could have my life over, this is where I would go to school – www.woodridge.co.za
Play. Stay. Eat. Race …
The Eastern Cape ticks a whole bunch of kick-ass adventure boxes, and so many of them happen right here in the Kouga Region. Outdoor options range from in-your-face adrenaline activities like bungee jumping and zip lining – or the varied MTB-specific options mentioned above – to laid-back outings, such as bird watching, game viewing and cultural experiences.
The weather is as friendly as the locals, so rock up any time of year, as the region is rated one of Africa’s most temperate climates. Port Elizabeth may have had a name change, but the city is just as friendly as ever … Golden beaches for surfing and swimming; the exhilarating Sardine Run in June/July, with whales, dolphins and sharks; exceptional hiking in Alexandria and Sacramento; plus horseback outrides, Big 7 viewing, amazing 4×4 routes and even elephant-back safaris.
Here are some off-the-bike experiences you do not want to miss out on …
Go Play …
1) Pay a visit to the Gamtoos River Mouth Nature Reserve – this private nature reserve is the perfect place for a late afternoon walk and to watch the sun set. A cold one or two, and binoculars for the abundant bird life are pre-requisites – www.kougatourism.com
2) Addo Elephant Park is an absolute must-see. The new Colchester entrance to the park is only an hour from Zebra Lodge and chances of seeing elephants are virtually guaranteed. Also, nowadays lions, rhino and buffalo are plentiful, too – www.sanparks.org
3) When in Jbay, you have to fit in a surf – be brave and drop in on some of the world’s most famous waves. While ‘Super Tubes’ are enough to give any beginner nightmares, you can start out with ‘Kitchen Windows’ or ‘Phantoms’ to fine-tune your balance.
4) African Dawn Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary is set within beautiful grounds, and is great for a relaxing day out with the family. There are over 250 species of birds and animals include cheetahs, servals, caracal, monkeys, squirrels, mongoose, suricates and crocs, to name but a few – www.africandawnwildlifesanctuary.com
5) Hankey is home to the largest sundial in the Southern Hemisphere, and quite possibly on the African continent. The sundial was erected in 1989 at the entrance of the town right below the Vergaderingskop Mountain (the final resting place of Sarah Baartman) to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the town – www.ectour.org.za
Go Race …
FedGroup PEPLETT – Challenge yourself with a 4-day mountain bike stage race between Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay. You have a choice between Tough or Lite; there is no time limit on the event, so even social riders can complete the Tough (average 90km per day, with elevation around 1800m for each stage). The Lite is easier, with daily distances of 60k – www.peplett.co.za
ECOBOUND Trans Baviaans – This humdinger of a 24-hr MTB Marathon will sling-shot you through one of the largest World Heritage Sites on the planet, as you grind the grueling gravel roads from Willowmore to Jeffreys Bay. Due to curfews, this year’s event had to include the option of a potential of a sleep-over camp at the Pakhuis support point, but otherwise it is still as wild and untamed a ride as you’ll get anywhere in SA. I mean, where else will you cross paths with leopard, rhino and buffalo on your bike – www.transbaviaans.net
Best Time of Year
The weather is good throughout the year; warmest months are December to early April, but the rest of the year brings balmy and cool weather with rain possible during June to August.
The range of cycling products offered by the crew at SQUIRT CYCLING is phenomenal. They are not only famous for chain lubes and sealant, but boast one of the best #BarrierBalms in the business. It really is an incredible product and as outdoor adventurers, we use it when mountain biking, running and hiking (and even for surfing and kayaking as chafe protection). Superb skin absorption and water resistance makes this protective balm the go-to choice, with application options from your lips and toes and yes, even your butt. It creates a durable, waterproof layer that eliminates contact friction where there is skin contact with your apparel or shoes. Out of the water, it repels moisture, protects against fissures, has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties – try and beat that!
|FAST FACTS BLOCK – 3 RIVERS TRAILS
|GRADING:||Easy to Difficult|
|DURATION:||30min – 5hrs|
|CONFIGURATION:||Circular options 1-65km|
|START POINT:||J-Bay Bike Park or Crossways Country Kitchen|
|GPS COORDS:||J-Bay Bike Park S33°54’16.1″ / E25°05’30.2″
Crossways S33°53’31.9″ / E25°10’51.5″
|TERRAIN||Gravel road, jeep-track and single track|
|MAP:||Available at www.3riverstrails.co.za|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||Honesty Box for J-Bay Bike Park. Permits for Crossways available at Crossways Counry Kitchen|
||Braai facilities at JBay Zebra Lodge. Restaurant and ablutions at Crossways Country Kitchen|
|CELL RECEPTION:||Reasonable reception along trails|
||Switchbacks, bridges, rocks, sands, sand and drop-offs.|
Follow the N2 from PE to CPT, exiting onto the Crossways off-ramp. Turn right at the top towards Crossways Country Kitchen. The exit for J-Bay Bike Park is the next one (look for the Hankey signage). Turn onto the R102 towards Humansdorp and continue for 2.6km, where you’ll find the entrance on your left.