The mere mention of Baviaanskloof conjures up visions of adventure biking of the best kind, but the introduction of buffalo and other horned beasties into the mega-reserve has seen a number of changes as far as mountain biking goes.
– Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais
The #TransBaviaans 24hr MTB Marathon remains one of SA’s favourite ‘crank-ventures’, with two editions of this wilderness ride now on offer annually. Every year, riders from all around the country line up in Willowmore during early August in order to experience this adventure through ‘the untamed Baviaans’, and the war stories that unfold post-event have become legendary.
The problem is, what if you wanted to ride Baviaanskloof outside of the actual event? Up to very recently this was not an issue, and mountain bikers could pedal through the kloof as long as they had a back-up vehicle with them. However, the proliferation of dangerous game within the reserve means safety measures are being tightened up, with the result that management prefers that riders are accompanied by a registered guide.
You could therefore do it solo, but it is key that arrangements are made in good time with the reserve. And yes, we do realise this is way more tour than trail, but the beauty of BVK is that you’ll have the best of both worlds. The idea of this blog is therefore to allow you to decide between either a multi-day mission, or any number of day explorations into the various sections of this truly wild World Heritage Site.
So, sit back, read the blog and feel the Baviaans buzz. And if you want more info, go here – www.transbaviaans.co.za
Starting out from Willowmore, head down the main street until you T-bone with the N9 tarmac strip and roll back in the direction of Uniondale for 3km. You can’t miss the huge sign indicating the entrance to Baviaanskloof on your left; the fun will start just about now …
The first 30km is fairly easy, with a good gravel road meandering amidst undulating hills. The riding will be pretty fast until you start a gradual climb up Nuwekloof Pass (36km). From here, you will bomb onto a downhill chute into the kloof proper entering via ‘Die Sleutel’, a narrow and rocky ravine leading into the contorted wilderness ranges beyond.
The road surface will slowly but surely start to deteriorate as you continue your journey into Baviaanskloof, but this is a good thing. Slow down and take in the dramatic and rugged beauty that created this breathtaking landscape. Chances are you’ll spot verraux eagle and klipspringer, and definitely chacma baboons after which the kloof was named.
A further 20km-odd will get you to Rietriver Farm area, with a range of potential overnight stops beginning to pop up on your radar. Look out for the CEDAR FALLS signage into one of the secluded lesser kloofs, just on 58km into your ride. This little valley hides many treasures – a stone labyrinth, cedar trees, rock paintings and some exceptional kloofing and trail running if you want to get in touch with your ‘inner wild child’.
This is a proper get-back-to-your-roots experience in moer-and-gone surroundings … No cell signal, electricity, shops … just you, a few barking baboons, delicious home-baked bread and meat, incredible stars and deafening silence.
Rise and Shine …
Righto, time to saddle up, as you’re still miles away from the actual Baviaanskloof mega-reserve. You’ll be zipping through half a dozen or so river crossings as you pedal forth, so expect to get your feet wet as you pass Studtis (30km) en route to Zandvlakte Guest Farm (52km).
This is once again a favourite stopover for the mountain biking crowd, as it is right on the border of the dangerous game area. Beyond this point you will be entering the reserve, and must at all times be accompanied by a back-up vehicle; large herds of buffalos and other grumpy horned beasts roam freely in the thorny riverine thickets, and I know from personal experience that you do not want to bump into them accidentally.
Into Day 3, and you are now officially inside the Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve, sandwiched amidst the Kouga and Baviaanskloof ranges. Hemmed in by a combination of rugged peaks and plunging gorges, you’ll be riding along steep mountain passes within one of South Africa’s last true wilderness areas.
Dense valleys and vast grassland plains will unfold across your bike bars as you trundle into the very heart of the kloof, passing Geelhoutbos before sucking it up along the gritty Grasnek ascent and into The Fangs.
A white-knuckle gravel chute blasts you down towards the Langwater river crossing, where you can expect a couple of hundred metres of knee-deep water and several mud pool wipe-outs in winter. Rooihoek Camp Site awaits after a solid, but short 36km ride, and hopefully your mates in the back-up vehicle will be pitching tents while you relax with a well-deserved beer.
The Final Push …
If you love exploring, you will be in heaven here at Rooihoek, and the route from here on Day 4 equals utter cranking bliss. The real Baviaanskloof deal kicks in along the gnarly twist and swerve of the R332 as it starts to ascend the ‘MAC’, or ‘Mother of All Climbs’, with Elandsvlakte to the west, spread out along the summit of Bergplaas.
This approximately 200km gravel road – constructed by the legendary Thomas Bain – links all the way to Patensie, but you have a while to go before you get there. Make sure your support vehicle is in close proximity on the approach, as I’ve bumped into buffalo a couple of times in the densely wooded Doodsklip area as you approach Bergplaas.
The summit constitutes a more relaxed ride through the high grasslands for around 7km before you hit the ‘Big Dipper’, around half-an-hour of hair-raising and eroded gravel on a high-speed whiplash all the way down into a stunning section of forested stream crossings known as ‘Poortjies’. Giant podocarpus yellowwood trees, adorned with veiling ‘old man’s beard’ moss, ride up on either side of the road, and in so many ways this is my favourite section of the Baviaanskloof route.
Unfortunately, this is also where you exit the ‘Kloof Proper’ to enter the Cambria farming community. A good place to stop over if your legs are complaining is ‘Die Skoolhuis’, 4km or so from the reserve gate, and hidden away within scenic orange orchards on your left.
If however you feel strong enough to push on, crank the final 30km-plus to Patensie and pull into the Tolbos Country Coffee Shop. This (and Padlangs Farm Stall you’ll pass on the way) offer quality food and coffee, and are excellent spots to not only refresh mind and boy, but to also find out about accommodation, road conditions and local skinner.
Best Time of Year to Visit
Winters can be very wet and rainy, with the potential of major flooding along some of the river crossings. Summers – dry and damn hot; always check conditions before entering into the kloof.
FAST FACTS BLOCK
|DURATION:||3-5 hours per day|
||33º17’16.72″ S / 23º29′ 22.07″ E|
|TERRAIN:||Eroded gravel roads & 4×4 tracks|
|MAP:||Map available on website|
||Reserve Entry Fee per person|
||Basic facilities at overnight stops|
||Limited – good signal on Bergplaas summit|
|BEWARE:||Buffalo and black rhino|
|EVENTS:||Transbaviaans – www.transbaviaans.co.za|
|CONTACT:||Zane Schmahl – 072 076 8623|
Willowmore is situated on the ‘Friendly N9’ in the Karoo Heartland region, 62km from Uniondale and 172km from Graaff-Reinet.
Accommodation – for a full range of options check out www.baviaans.co.za