Yup, we’ve all cruised the N7 bisecting those Knersvlakte plains en route to the Northern Cape, but have you ever turned off at Vanrhynsdorp to explore the high inland escarpment? Do it next time, my friend, but make sure you and your bike stop off at Brandkop Guest Farm …
– Copy and images : Jacques Marais
Hands up who likes Namaqua West Coast? Yup, we all do, but most of us mosey on down to the coast, and completely ignore the hinterland awaiting you beyond the ess-bends of Vanrhyns Pass. Here is your chance to go tripping, and the road to Loeriesfontein is a great place to start.
Vanrhynsdorp is the gateway into this part of the Matsikamma region, and I might just suggest you pull in at Letsatsi Lodge for a ‘taster’ of what Namaqua hospitality is all about. This outstanding destination – just to the west of the N7 – boasts superb overnight accommodation, but the real reason you want to stop here is because of their Red Ox Restaurant.
I’m prepared to bet this will be one of your best steaks ever; the rib-eye is served properly rare and on-the-bone, with a bunch of organic sides to select from. Now that you’ve satisfied your red meat craving, look up and let your eyes wander across the eastern skyline.
There’s no chance you can miss Maskam, an imposing mountain massif looming up high from the surrounding scrubland plains. This inland wilderness flanks the hideaway Kobee Valley and is criss-crossed by remote gravel roads. The passes here make for exceptional mountain biking, but right now your sights are set on the Brandkop trails.
You’ll find this gorgeous guest farm approximately 20km from Nieuwoudtville along the trippy Loeriesfontein road. To your right, you may notice the spectacular Gannabos quiver tree forest, but the plan today is to go and explore further along the R357.
Heed the call of the hinterland and look out for the Brandkop signage on your right. You’ve now arrived in paradise, and can look forward to discovering this expansive working farm while truly reconnecting with nature, whether on foot or on your bike.
The Brandkop MTB and Trail Run event – presented by Darling Brew towards the end of April every year – has seen Pieter Louw taking out some time from his farming to put loads of effort into the trails, with a stack of routes to crank, run or hike.
Off the bike, you can slow life down to focus on the small detail; the plains here was an inland sea millions of years ago, and literally brim jasper, pyrites, fossils and a variety of semi-precious stones. And if you know where to look, there are literally hundreds of bok-spoor spiders hidden behind their tiny trap doors on the pebbly plains.
It is a wide-sky landscape where you can breathe lungs full of escarpment air, and at night revel in sublime star-gazing thanks to the lack of light pollution. Or you could just pour another glass of red wine and chill out by the fireside, while letting the nocturnal symphony of Namaqua sand frogs and night jars soothe your senses.
Tales of Northern Cape hospitality are legendary, and the full gamut of destinations here upon the edge of the Namaqua West Coast region will never disappoint. Loeriesfontein and the world’s best windmill museum awaits down the road, with the whole of the Hantam unfolding on the approach to Calvinia.
Unique farm-stays, quirky dorps, forgotten nature reserves, camp sites, conservancies and other rural delights are a dime a dozen, so next time, maybe swap the Knersvlakte for that Kgalagadi trip. This part of Mzansi majestically morphs around every corner, and who knows what magic awaits here …
On the bike
There’s both good news and bad news, I’m afraid … The good news is that the trails for the event itself totals out at a tough 80km of riding, but unfortunately this incorporates some riding on a few of the adjacent farms. On the whole, the neighbours are pro MTB, so you could potentially arrange to ride the full route with Pieter as guide, but this would obviously depend on farming commitments.
That said, there is a fun and interesting 20km route on the farm that is well marked, and this will appeal to most levels of riders. The terrain is gravelly, with sand and rocks here and there, so it makes for gritty riding, even for intermediate riders.
There are no massive climbs, but the short and sharp ascents up the flat-topped koppies will be sure to test your legs. Sandy river crossings and the occasional wash and erosion donga add to the fun, so you had better keep it tidy (or keep a good lookout for a soft spot to land)!
The trailhead starts at Reception near the expansive farmhouse we stayed in, ducking onto the low-lying camps to the east through a couple of gates. You stick to dual-track farm roads for the first few kilometres, then hit a gentle climb past the first windmill and on to a track along the farm’s southern boundary fence.
Quiver trees start popping up all round, bristling like ancient botanical beings on sloping, slate-covered ridges, and you get a strong sense of the energy encompassed within the ancient bedrock and coursing beneath your feet. Your morning soundtrack features pale chanting goshawk and korhaan, underscored by the chirps and tweets of prinia and ant-eating chats.
Around 12km into the ride, you begin to transect along a fence line and a sandy river bed, and then boom into the last couple of jagged hill climbs. Eventually, the circular route booms you back to Brandkop farmhouse over the earthen wall of Stofkraal Dam.
You’re in for a treat roundabout now, because my guess is that Elizna would have surely been busy making magic in the kitchen. We returned to steaming mugs of coffee, mango smoothies, muffins hot from her oven, and a breakfast spread fit for kings, a fire roaring in the hearth next to the dining room.
Off the bike
Klap a cabernet – the wines of the West Coast and Olifant River Valley are superb. Look out for Malkopbaai, Teubes and Namaqua, to name a few, and definitely pop into Fryer’s Cove. Their quirky tasting room is situated right in the heart of the Doring Bay fishing harbour, making for a quirky wine tasting experience – www.fryerscove.co.za
Getting High –Gifberg makes up part of the Matsikamma ranges and towers high over Vanrhynsdorp. Adventurers will discover a botanical paradise with gritty gravel passes perfect for mountain biking, hiking or exploring by 4×4. The Tierberg, Kobee and Gifberg Passes rate as some of the most remote routes in SA – www.mountainpasses.co.za
Eat Your Heart Out – Food is king in Namaqualand: Letsatsi’s excellent steaks; the seafood at Strandfontein and Doring Bay; Bitterfontein’s delicious carrot cake at Gerber & Co; Thi Art in Vredendal for the region’s best coffee; and pizza plus ice-cold Zamalek at Bagdad Cafe … it’s all on the menu, so come hungry!! – www.visitnwc.com
Oorlogskloof – well worth a visit, this Nature Reserve is a superb botanical paradise and a haven for hikers, trail runners and birdwatchers keen to experience the wondrous flora – Salome Willemse is a top guide in the area (072 – 471 4083)
Best time of year
Weather wise, you can bet the sun will be shining a LOT in summer. Sure, things do get frosty in winter, with occasional epic cold fronts causing the temperatures to plummet to well below zero. Good advice will be to bank those early hours for adventuring between September and April!
HOW TO RIDE SAND … Every rider has their technique, but Angus Teeton has perfected his sand-riding skills. “It is key to keep your weight back on the bike, increasing traction on the real wheel, while allowing the front wheel to float across the sand”, he says.
“This will keep it from digging in (and you face-planting!), and if you maintain as high a cadence and speed as possible, it will feel as you are floating upon the top layer of sand. So, think light thoughts and turn those cranks”!
|FAST FACTS BLOCK – Brandkop Trail
|GRADING:||Intermediate (sand and rocks)|
|DURATION:||90min – 2hrs|
|ELEVATION||Total Gain (184m) / Max (482m)|
||20.82km (there are other loops)|
|START POINT:||Brandkop Reception|
|GPS COORDS:||S31°14’43.6” / E19°12’17.9”|
|TERRAIN||Gravel roads, dual-track and some rutted single-track|
|ENTRY REQU9IREMENTS:||Free to guests; daily permit fee|
|FACILITIES||Range of accommodation options and meals|
||Not much signal|
|BEWARE OF:||Sandy river crossings; devil thorns in summer|
||Pieter Louw – (083) 633 0669|
Brandkop nestles in the rugged hills about 20km north of Nieuwoudtville, close to the impressive waterfall and quiver tree forest. Daisies, succulents, bulb species and wildflowers add splashes of colour to the arid plains in Spring. Follow the R357 to Loeriesfontein until you see the farm sign to the right of the road.
Brandkop Cottage and Cottage 2 each sleep 4 in 2 double rooms (each with own facilities), large living area wiith built-in braa/fireplace and kitchenette.
Brandkop Farm House sleeps 8 in 4 double rooms. There are 3 living areas, kitchen, indoor braai room and outdoor braai area. Can also be divided into 2 separate units, with private entrance and own facilities, sleeping 4 each.