Swellendam Trails, Overberg
26/03/2021
8 Hour Challenge Results
03/04/2021

                                                                       – Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais

Local Buzz:

The Midlands Meander is one of South Africa’s true countryside treasures. This constantly evolving travel experience allow you to wind your merry away through the green heart of KZN, taking in the art galleries, artisanal craft shops, mom-and-pops farm stalls, country eateries, coffee roasters, indigenous forest, canopy tours, bush pubs, exclusive getaways, rustic farm cottages and other hidden tourism gems here in the so-called ‘Last Outpost’. So, do come and explore to your heart’s content, but make sure you bring your mountain bike, because many of these spots are linked by seriously addictive single-track …

If you’re not from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, it may not be that easy to find out where the Karkloof Conservancy begins and ends. What I did know was where the town of Howick was situated, and this was on the border of the conservancy, so at least I was in the right ball park. According to the locals, anything north of Midmar Dam and Howick and south of Curry’s Post, and in between the N3 and R32, basically fits the bill.

The Routes

Trail Low-Down: 

There are many access points onto the Karkloof Trail System, but the way to do this is the legal way, and that means you need to head to the Karkloof Country Club. This is where you need to sign your indemnity form and pay for your permit before you crank off on what I promise will be one of the best rides of your life.

Ten Karkloof Icons

So here’s the deal … I thought that – instead of the normal trails overview – that we instead identify the Top 10 sections of trail you do not want to miss out on when you visit Karkloof. I’ve only ridden here a couple of times, so it made sense to call on some local knowledge to get the real deal.

Fortunately for me, Kath Fourie and Matthew Drew – they both work hand-in-hand with Sappi, the major land owner in the area – agreed to come to the party. The two of them were instrumental in thrashing out the organisation’s mountain biking policy throughout their land use areas in South Africa – you can get more information on this at their web site www.sappi.com/mountainbiking

As keen mountain bikers, Kath and Matt have explored just about every inch of Karkloof on their bikes, making them the perfect candidates for an insiders’ view of the best rides you can do here on your bike. The idea is to string together these ten iconic sections, delivering a day in the saddle that is sure to blow your mind …

The Karkloof Gospel, according to Kath Fourie

Karkloof is acknowledged for superbly scaped trails that brim with flow – interspersed with packed-up berms to max up your riding speed – and a host of interesting natural features to test riders’ skills. You’re bound to get that magical ‘Far-Away Tree’ feeling here in heart of the verdant Midlands: this is what makes it so special, and it is exactly this mind-spacy riding that brings the MTB crowd back time after time.

It’s not easy to highlight just ten of these amazing trail segments, but hell, here goes … best you come and ride these – and the rest of Karkloof – and make up your own mind once you’ve come off that inevitable endorphin high …

  1. Boogaloos: Trail – Grading – Moderate / Distance – 1.5km

Start off on the 15km Falls Loop, as this is the kind of trail that is sure to appeal to every level of rider. Your first icon to tick off is Boogaloos, and you’re bound to feel that inner boogie go ballistic as soon as you bomb onto this sublime little segment. It’s designed to be ridden at pace – with boomerang berms along a gradual descent – but it’s the kind of flow that anybody will enjoy. Bring your kids on their strider and get them to roll along on the ride, or you’re A-team mates, keen to touch their knees to the ground in every corner as they pin it at pace. The section is approximately 1.5km long, taking one all the way down to the pass under the Karkloof Road.

  1. Bombardé: Grading – Moderate / Distance – 1.2km

Next up on your list is a beauty by the name Bombardé; duck off on the #SUPA20 Trail next to the Shafton Airfield onto a tight trail filled with funky natural features and get ready for some fun. The name is a legacy from a crew of Reunion Island riders who befriended local trail builder, Hylton Turvey, as it was in their habit to yell ‘Bombardé!’ before bombing down a trail. This means ‘to go fast!’ or ‘Attack!’, and it perfectly describes this kind of trail, inspiring riders to be aggressive in order to make full use of the features. These include many a natural rock roll as well as an impressive set of switchbacks, eventually blasting riders out onto a forestry road at the trail section’s end.

  1. Boomslang into Soul Fly: Grading – Easy / Distance – 1.6km

Once on the other side of the Karkloof Road, the vegetation surround the Karkloof Falls Loop opens up to give a sense of space. Boomslang certainly rates as one of the most iconic original pieces of single-track in the Karkloof; named for the serpentine coils of this whippy snake, the hard-pack berms and flatter terrain makes this trail really popular with all levels of riders. The section leads straight into Soul Fly, which threads riders over easy and well-set table- and roller jumps as you descend towards Karkloof Falls.

  1. The Karkloof Falls:

OK, so you can’t actually ride the falls themselves (not even in a Tupperware kayak), but you damn well have to stop and take in the magnificence of this majestic cascade. This is 100m of pure awesome, and your 5min breather will charge you up for what’s to come. Plus, you can snap a pic at the Sappi MTB Project frame and make Instagram history.

  1. Super Tubes: Grading – Moderate / Distance – 700m

We’re shouting au revoir to the Falls Loop, with Super Tubes up as a final swansong. This makes for the kind of pipe-dream trail you wanted to ride ‘one day when you were big’, and now that dream is about to come true. Crank off on an upper forestry road, then descend along a wooden bridge that loops short-and-sweet underneath before carving up against a sandy bank. From here, it’s a downhill roller coaster ride of stomach-turning ess-bends looping into a narrow, grassy valley through which the Karkloof River gently meanders. Fear not: those not keen on amusement park rides have the choice of a more mellow ‘Green’ option all the way from the top which will drop you onto the same exit near the river.

  1. The Bachelor into Skyfall: Grading – Advanced / Distance – 1.5km

On to serious business: one of Karkloof’s latest additions can be found along the 30km Trail, and is ‘fondly’ known as The Bachelor. It was so named as it was created just prior to Hylton Turvey’s wedding (we are unsure whether a hangover of epic proportions was involved in the making). This beast of a trail defined itself early on as a true journey, requiring proper focus to negotiate rocks, fat pine trees bolstering up tight berms and some hair-raising corners. It is a more ‘enduro’-style route that suits long travel bikes, but a very pleasant B-line exists which takes more traditional riders down flowing switch-backs that are no less fun, and joins in above the section known as Skyfall. Shooting straight down a ‘bomb-hole’ and into open farmland, this trail feels more like surfing than riding! Carving onto the walls of a dried-up tributary, riders can choose either the flow-line or jump-line up to a fence which eventually forces riders to haul on the brakes after a full-on 2km ride that cannot leave you with anything but a big, fat shit-eating grin.

  1. Rene’s Rumble (top to bottom): Grading – Moderate / Distance – 5km

Next up, get your legs ready for a solid crank onto the new 37km route, where you will have the pleasure of Rene’s Rumble. Man, this surely must be the trail equivalent of a prisoner’s last meal! Starting at an altitude of about 1500m, you will descend nearly 400m by the time you blast onto the final stretch of single track just on 5km later. Don’t be confused: the locals may refer to this area as Rene’s Rumble, but it in fact comprises several sections of trail that feature everything from berms, small jumps and rock gardens to unbelievably smooth runs between peaceful pines and green grass. There is even a testing bed-rock trail winding through a pocket of indigenous yellow wood forest. Again, it is the kind of trail that can be as technical as you want it to be, so crank up the volume as loud as you want.

  1. Jewitt’s Jive: Grading – Moderate / Distance – 2km

Rolling down the opposite side of Rene’s Rumble you will find Jewitt’s Jive. Much like their names, Rene’s Rumble is like a hard rock anthem, while Jewitt’s Jive is a fun pop ditty … everybody wants to sing along! The trail is a bit wider and more gradual in its descent, with the occasional rock thrown in for a challenge and rolling dips here and there. You’re sure to be sporting an ‘I just won the Lottery’ grin as you pop out of Jewitt’s, but hang on tight, as you’re about to hit the infamous Gauntlet, a well-known feature along the 60km Sappi Karkloof Classic. Expect the Gauntlet to throw down steep, chalky orange dips stitched with wooden bridges, and skilled riders are sure to get some proper air time between the ups and downs.

  1. Voodoo Lounge: Grading – Easy to Moderate / Distance – 1km

Now here’s a trail sure to make you feel like a full-on hero! Voodoo Lounge is a pipeline of extremely fast paced single-track chuting through tall, aged gums. From the moment you enter the trail, you’re in for a wild, but smooth ride, somehow reminiscent of Rolling Stones vibes – solid street cred, tight jeans and 100% rock ‘n roll.

  1. Bat Outta Hell: Grading – Moderate / Distance – 3km

The one trail that lingers on the lips of all those who ride Karkloof is Bat Outta Hell. At the furthermost edges of the Outback Trails network you will discover this beast of a trail: it is a slog to get to, but worth every moment of fast-paced descent through grasslands, and with views that are hard to even comprehend.

 

Best time to Visit

The climate is moderate in summer however during the rainy season from December to February thundershowers can be intense with week long downpours. Winter days are warm but temperatures can drop down below zero.

FAST FACTS BLOCK

GRADING: Easy to Advanced
DURATION: 2-3 hours (or longer if you choose)
CONFIGURATION: Circular options
START POINT: Karkloof County Club
GPS COORDS:  S 29 22.990′ / E 030 13.814′
TERRAIN: Super single track most of the way
MAP: Avalable on www.karkloofclub.co.za/mtb-info-and-maps/
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: R80 per adult/R30 per child. Visitors must sign an indemnity and wear a Day Visitor Armband. NO HELMET – NO RIDE
FACILITIES Toilets and showers at the Clubhouse. Bike washing available.
CELL RECEPTION Reasonable along most of route
BEWARE OF: SAPPI rules and regulations apply – all riders MUST familiarise themselves with these before setting off on a ride

Getting There

(and Staying Over)

How to Get There

Take the Howick off-ramp from the N3 and continue onto the Main Street; turn onto the Karkloof Road and continue for 12km until you see the signage for Karkloof Country Club to your right (this is the D406 district road).

Accommodation:
Self-catering units available at Karkloof Cabins – www.karkloofcabins.za.net or www.karkloofcanopytours.co.za

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