Gqeberha and the Sunshine Coast have a reputation as one of the friendliest regions in all of SA. That holds true for the Fat Tracks MTB Community in Port Elizabeth, too, and even more so if you should decide to explore the undeveloped western shores.
– Copy and images : Jacques Marais
Few people who visit PE (yup, I still like to call it by the name I grew up with) ever get to truly experience the tiny villages dotting the coastline on the opposite side of Algoa Bay. It’s easy enough to get there: just cruise along the coastal road beyond Summerstrand, and you will discover a very different world.
Rural plots, small farms and nature reserves line the quiet back roads here, with tranquil and tiny settlements such as Schoenmakerskop, Seaview and Sardinia Bay nestling up against the rocky Indian Ocean edge. Horseback riders, fishermen, surfers, birders and mountain bikers are the people you will most likely encounter. And let’s be honest – this suits me just fine.
And probably you, too, if you’re trawling the MTB ROUTES site in search of trails … But before we get to the crank info, here’s a sneak peek into what’s happening in this little hidden gem of an area. Start your journey in one of these two seaside villages …
Sardinia Bay: Known to locals as Sards, it boasts a popular swimming beach and lifesaving club, with picnic facilities, ablutions and great views of Bushy Park and Sylvic Nature Reserve to the west. Your best spot for beach walking by far, with pristine sand dunes, great fishing and exceptional surf spots like DoNuts.
Seaview: This little village slumbers a mere 25km west of Gqeberha, with cool restaurants and rock pools to relax in here on the ‘wild side”. The Seaview Game and Lion Park is home to over 40 species of wildlife, including free-roaming zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and monkeys. They also have a successful white lion breeding programme, plus enclosures providing a safe haven to crocodiles, meerkat, jackals, genets and caracal – www.seaviewlionpark.co.za
More regional info is available at – www.nmbt.co.za
On the Bike
Sacramento Trail – This popular return- or round-trip ride (or run) can easily be accessed from anywhere on the route, but the coastal village of Schoenmakerskop offers safe parking. From here, you will pedal through the Schoenmakerskop-Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve, with dramatic ocean views along the way.
The Old Seaview and Sardinia Bay back roads offer easy connection if you’re coming from further inland, with footpaths along the verges for those with an aversion to touching tar. At Schoenmakerskop, look out for a bronze cannon pointing towards the site of the Sacramento wreck, a Portuguese galleon which ran aground in 1647 (hence the name of the trail).
From here, head off-road onto the trail as it navigates the coastline. The tall, white beacon at the Sacramento Monument marks its boundary with the adjacent Sardinia Bay Marine Reserve (2km) which was proclaimed in 1974 and extends westward towards Bushy Park.
The trail eventually meanders to Cannon Bay near the distant rocky point, where you will find the ruins of a mill originally used to crush seashells. This is a moderately challenging multi-use trail, so watch out for hikers (leashed dogs are welcome, too).
Plan your ride for low-tide and access the beach below Sardinia Bay parking for easy intertidal cruising towards Kini Village in the west. The ride to the end of Sardinia Beach is just on 4km, with a further 4km of challenging sand waiting if you want to continue on to Kini and Seaview. There are a few escape routes along the way …
From here, you can stick to the beach or follow a quiet tarmac road to Maitland River Mouth. Fat bikes may be the best option for those keen to explore on to Blue Horizon Bay and the Van Stadens River Mouth, but once again, you have a range of quiet in-land roads winding towards the Woodridge and 3 Rivers Trails hub.
Cape Recife Nature Reserve – This 366ha reserve encompasses the southernmost point of Algoa Bay. Visitors will discover a pristine and little-known playground with spectacular trails following the rugged coastline. The original Portuguese means ‘Cape of Reefs’ and refers to the underwater ledges along the coastline where many ships were wrecked.
A 24m lighthouse was erected in 1851 to warn ships of these dangerous reefs. The reserve also boasts some World War 2 bunker which can be spotted along the ‘Peninsula Trail’. Start at the entrance and cycle past the unspoilt beaches on your left and with natural dune vegetation and rocky outcrops on your right until you reach the lighthouse (3km).
The Flat Rock beach ride runs between the parking and Sanccobb Centre (1.7km) or you can go for a low-tide spin past the lighthouse, following the coastline towards Patti’s viewpoint for a lekker shoreline jorl. This is a playful ride when the sand is compacted, and from Patti’s you can either head back to the gate on the tarmac reserve road, or otherwise hit the 6km beach to Noordhoek.
Grassroof Bike Park – Grass Roof is a farm-to-table restaurant, bakery and farmstall where the whole of the ‘Wild Side’ Community – and Gqeberha folk in search of rural serenity – come to connect and chill. Their veggies are home-grown; most produce and meals are organic and the coffee is kickass! This is wholesome family dining at its best.
The kiddies play areas – free entrance to jungle gyms, giant swing and bike track – or go for the Full Monty with pool, jumping castle, slip-n-slide, giant swing, kids train and go kart track. The perfect way to keep the young ‘uns happy while mum and dad indulge in some me-time; kids pay R80 per day, but adults get in for free :-)
The Bike Park features a modern, professionally built pump-track and a downhill course with three routes. Yup, you get a Fun Zone, Splash Zone or Air Zone … the latter features a jump ramp with an inflatable airbag, allowing you to push your limits and practice death-defying tricks (without dying, of course) – www.grassroof.co.za
All in all, you can ride the whole day here by linking the various trails along the quiet tarmac roads. NMU (Nelson Mandela University) is set within its own private nature reserve, with a good 18km of jeep-track along the perimeter fence. This can be linked to Cape Recife as well as Sardinia Bay via the Sacramento Trail.
Connect with locals via www.fattracks.co.za – their main trailhead is the Baakens River Valley, but membership also allows you to ride for free at Norm Hudlin Trails. This trail park just off Kragga Kamma road boasts purpose-built singletrack and a solid configuration of routes for riders of all skills levels.
Off the Bike
A team from Bellevue Forest Reserve offer exclusive marine safari excursions within the Cape Recife Nature Reserve. Water-based activities include diving & snorkelling, as well as a coastal marine safari. Guided walks and hikes can be tailored to suit individual needs, while botanical tours with trained guides will introduce you to the unique and miraculous flora of the region.
All the ‘Wild Side’ nature reserves are rated as prime birding sites, allowing twitchers to spot a range of birds from four prevalent categories. These include pelagic, coastal, freshwater and bush species, with estuary or hide outings tailored to suit your requirements.
There are also some incredible surfing spots, but local knowledge would stand you in good stead along the rocky points and gnarly ledges. DoNuts, Cobbles, Secrets and Patti’s are worth a shot if you rate your skills, otherwise stick to the tamer waves in Algoa Bay.
For more information, visit www.caperecife.com
Best time of year
The weather here is as friendly as the city. Come all year round; Nelson Mandela Bay and surrounds is rated as having one of the most temperate climates in Africa!
|FAST FACTS BLOCK
|DISTANCE:||Up to 55km in total|
||Various – Return or Circular|
| START POINT:
||GPS: 34° 2′ 24.91″ S / 25° 32′ 2.12″ E|
||Tarmac, beach riding, hiking trails & jeep track|
| MUST-DO EVENT:
||Baakens Bash MTB Challenge (July 2023)|
||Public access and nature reserve permits|
| CELL RECEPTION:
||Good signal, mostly|
||Check out Pine Lodge or Chelsea Manor Farm|
||Sacramento Trail – Schoenmakerskop|
Take the R102 to Beach Road and Marine Drive; continue via Humewood and Summerstrand until you see the signs for Cape Recife Reserve to your left, approximately 2km later.
PINE LODGE – Set amidst indigenous flora in Cape Recife Nature Reserve, this 3-star lodge boasts wind-protected chalets just metres from the ocean’s edge. Otherwise, opt for the 4-star caravan park, with grassy sites, each with electrical outlets. A tennis court and swimming pool add to the family fun – www.pinelodge.co.za