There’s False Bay on the Cape Peninsula, brimming with southern right whales, great white sharks and sandy single-track. Then there’s iSimangaliso False Bay, near Hluhluwe, where you can crank hippo paths and watch pelicans across the bars of your bike. Go there. Now.
– Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais
If the Cape False Bay is not quite wild enough for you, bud, take up your bike and head as far north-east across the Rainbow Nation as you possibly can. The False Bay section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is set along the widest section of the vast St Lucia estuary, and could just as well be situated in a different country to Cape Town.
This unique part of the northern KZN World Heritage Site is embraced by two peninsulas – Nibela to the north and Nhlozi to the south. This is why it is known as False Bay, and it brims with diversity, encompassing a range of ecosystems from woodland and thorn veld, to open savannah, shore line wet land and pockets of immaculate old-growth sand forest.
The Hluhluwe River Lodge property borders on this western boundary of iSimangaliso, and makes for an ideal base for mountain bikers and adventurers keen to explore the area on foot or by bike. Thatched chalets are scattered in the shade of indigenous forest, with the Red Duiker Trail right on your doorstep.
Nyala can often be seen browsing amidst the bungalows or in the expansive gardens, and guests can enjoy magnificent views over Lake St Lucia. The bird-watching here is superb, and exploring can be done on foot, horseback or by bicycle. False Bay rightly rates as one of the ‘Ten Jewels’ of iSimangaliso, and the lake-shore riding here rates as one of the best adventures you can have on a mountain bike.
OK, here’s the low-down on the four existing trail options in the Hluhluwe River Lodge and False Bay region.
1) DUGANDLOVU TRAIL: Crank off from False Bay Section entrance gate, then turn south off the tar after 30m onto a twisty (and rather sandy) jeep track for just on 6km. Keep left where the track forks, continuing along a gravel road till you reach the rustic Dugandlovu Camp. Look out for a sharp left turn onto Transect 10 road just before camp and follow 500m of single-track onto the lakeshore.
Continue north on some superb and scenic single-track, mostly along hard-packed hippo trails closely following the shoreline. This makes for exhilarating riding along the shoreline, with across-the-water views of the dramatic Hells Gate. After just on 2km you’ll notice some ‘sand ladders’ in places to counter the sand, but a fat-bike or wider tread will stand you in good stead.
Stay on the lake track until you reach the picnic sites (the first ones are at Sandy Point). This is where you re-join the dual-track route, so be aware these areas are open to vehicle traffic, so be alert. This track joins the main tar access road to the gate. Excellent birding off the bike is a major bonus, and you need to constantly be aware of the potential danger of hippos (never ride close to sunrise or sunset).
Surface: Jeep-track and hippo single-track
Distance: Approximately 22km
2) INGWE TRAIL: The Ingwe Trail starts at the boat launch site at the first ablution block. Follow the trail from here (mostly along single-track, crossing tree roots and ducking below overhanging branches). The route makes for great technical riding past giant sand-forest trees, with the chance of seeing the elusive suni antelope.
The Ingwe Trail is not for the faint hearted as it can be challenging in places, with constantly changing terrain and surface as you pedal. You will eventually drop back onto the lake shore in the north; once you do, follow the shoreline trail back south until you pass the offices and shop (you can grab your emergency cold drinks and ice creams here).
Continue around to Lister Point, a favourite fishing spot with stunning views. Then it is back in the saddle as you continue all the way back to your car waiting at the boat launch, next to the False Bay camp sites.
Terrain: Intermediate to Technical
Surface: Sandy single-track and a few technical rocky descents; wooden bridges
Distance: Approximately 10km
3) MPOPHOMENI TRAIL: Saddle up and crank off just on a 100m north of the Main Entrance Gate, and keep heading north along a twisty, sandy trail into the thick of the surrounding sand-forest. There will be quite a few roads and trails to cross as you navigate the route, as well as some wooden bridges and technical climbs.
About halfway along the route, you’ll turn onto a management track heading east. Continue for 1km until you get to a cross-road where you bear right and generally head south. Another 500m will see you entering the bush again along single-track, with a number of rocky descents, bridges and technical sections to follow.
The track will be sandy in places, but very rideable overall. Keep following the trail until it brings you back onto the main road near the gate (about 50m below where you entered the trail originally).
Surface: Sandy single-track, opening on to jeep-track; technical in places.
Distance: Approximately 15km
4) MDONI TRACK: You can extend the Mpophomeni Trail by starting as per normal at the gate, and following the route until you reach the four-way track junction. At this point, keep left and head northwards along this bush track until it bombs you onto a clearer trail leading to the Mdoni Guard Camp (this is a Field Ranger Station for the northern section of the park).
Keep following the route for a further 500m, then head south on the Pipeline road, with water pipe showing in places, which takes you through the forest again. After 2kmyou need to bear left again, onto a rather twisty track which finally drops back onto the lake shore.
From here, follow the Ingwe Trail to head back in the direction of the park offices and Lister Point. Once you reach the tar road, pedal up to the gate.
Surface: Sandy single-track and jeep-track, technical in places
Distance: Approximately 16km
Best time of Year
If you hate humidity, high summer is not for you. That said, the proximity to the ocean does cool things down, or you could just haul ass first thing in the morning before the barometer goes crazy – check for thunder storm activity before heading out. November to March is turtle time, while the whales visit from June to November.
FAST FACTS BLOCK
|GRADING:||Intermediate to technical|
|DURATION:||90 minutes – 2 hours|
|CONFIGURATION:||Various – your choice|
|START POINT:||Entrance Gate, False Bay Section|
||27⁰58’06.8” S / 32⁰22’52.52”|
|TERRAIN:||Gravel roads, jeep-track and single-track|
||An entry fee per person, vehicle entr charge and community levy per person|
||Mostly Mozambique signal – check your roaming|
|FACILITIES:||Basic camp sites / convenience store during season|
Take the N2 northbound from Durban. Pass the off ramps for Empangeni, Richards Bay and Mtubatuba then take the Hluhluwe off ramp. If you are using a GPS, type in D540-Hluhluwe (District Road 540).