Grootvadersbosch Conservancy, Western Cape
Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve, Western Cape
06/10/2020

The Area

The Mountains are Calling …

Tired of city traffic and pretentious trails? Then go load up on some mountain biking stoke in Grootvadersbosch Conservancy. Miles of head space, free-range people, home-grown food and the trails are truly on the level, bru …

Story and Photographs ~ Jacques Marais

Explore Here …

A few kilometres away from Swellendam – the third oldest magisterial district in South Africa and often referred to as ‘The Republic’ – you will find a little mission village by the name of Suurbraak. Time seems to have stood still in this tiny dorp, where traditional farming methods are de riguer and coal stoves are still used for baking boerekos treats.

Most households here own a cow, horse, donkey or goat, and chances are you’ll encounter animals languidly lazing along the main street. Suurbraak’s remote setting is one of many charms, and it is no wonder world-class artists like Donovan Julius (find him on Facebook) have made their homes here at the foot of the Langeberg ranges.

However, it is the wild spaces that awaits you beyond the village edge where you will find true adventure, and there’s bucket loads of it. This corner where the Hessequa and Overberg Regions meet boasts a pristine paradise, brimming with rare botanical species, endemic birds and – best of all – some of SA’s top MTB Trails.

Rural farmland unfolds along the fynbos foothills and into the rugged adjacent peaks, with the mountain range delineating the watershed between the Overberg and adjacent Karoo. The relic forest in the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve is like something out of Jurassic Park, and it is a perfect place to let your inner adventure loose.

But here’s the rub … if you want to ride your bike, heading to the CapeNature Reserve is a wasted exercise. Over the past decade, management have put zero effort or thought into improving or maintaining the mountain bike trail, which is a great pity, as it traverses via scenery of jaw-dropping proportions.

So, saddle up, say goodbye to the friendly locals, and crank for the hills, buddy, because you’re about to crank onto some superb singletrack. The outstanding Grootvadersbosch Conservancy – a rural project lauded by the environmental community as one of the Western Cape’s top conservation successes – awaits, adjacent to the CapeNature Reserve.

The Table Mountain Fund (www.thetablemountainfund.org.za) joined forces with a group of local landowners forming the Conservancy and this in effect kick-started the trailscaping  process driven by Aileen Anderson. Work started on the extensive trail network in 2014, and these routes have since been extended to include hikers and trail runners.

This means the whole of the outdoor tribe will have easy access to the natural beauty and diversity of this exceptional nature escape. In addition, Grootvadersbosch Conservancy employs scores of locals to help clear aliens and re-establish indigenous vegetation, with a vision to eventually link trails all the way from Heidelberg to Swellendam.

For more information, click on www.gvbconservancy.co.za

The Routes

I’ve extensively covered the existing network of GVB Conservancy Trails in my previous articles and books, but the great thing is that new routes are constantly added to this ‘Holy Trails Hit Parade’ …

The nuts and bolts of the trial network is pretty complex, as you wouldd expect with no less than 19 land owners and well over a 100km of single-track, but as far as non-profits go, I’ve rarely seen an organisation as well-managed as the GVB Conservancy. All in all, the area consists of 35 000ha of private land, and with access to the routes possible from a number of trail heads.

Permits are available from many guest houses along the way, or from Grootvadersbosch Conservancy Offices. (This is at Strawberry Hill Farm, also one of the top accommodation options for visiting mountain bikers). From here, sweeping singletrack sections ess-bends into the valley on either side of the main access gravel road.

Red, Black, Blue and Green route sections daisy-chain and overlap, doglegging via stands of wattle, pine and blue-gum (plus the occasional patch of indigenous magic in some of the deeper gorges). Most of the conservancy trails utilise existing cattle tracks (the local cows seem to be good at contouring) linked to dual-track, farm roads and of course loads of purpose-built trail. Fence stiles ensure man and beast co-exists in harmony.

In essence, the Black Trail descends from the Conservancy Offices into the valley below and to the west, before climbing into mountains (it joins up with the Back-Country Trail in the rugged peaks overlooking Tradouw’s Pass). (It runs concurrently with the Red Route for much of the valley section down to Snelsetter).

The Blue Trail is more of a ‘dry-land’ route, looping south through the renosterveld farms and can get seriously hot in mid-summer. Finally, the Green Trail dips to the east of the Conservancy Office through pine plantations and grassland ridges, while a new Suurbraak Route loops through the village commonage.

Here’s the basics:

Blue Route: 39km Elevation: 900m Duration: 3-4hours
Red Route: 25km Elevation: 750m Duration: 3-4 hours
Black Route: 45km Elevation: 1250m Duration: 4-6 hours
Suurbraak Route:  17km & 8km Elevation: 300 & 500m; 2-4 hours
Green Route: Distance: 11km route Elevation: 400m is currently open

All maps can be downloaded on www.gvbconservancy.co.za

FAST FACTS BLOCK

GRADING: Intermediate to advanced
DURATION: 2-6 hours
CONFIGURATION: Complex network of trails
START POINT: Conservancy Office or any guesthouse in conservancy
GPS COORDS:  33°59’46.2″S 20°49’27.1″E
TERRAIN: Farm roads, cattle tracks and purpose built trails
ACCESS: Permit required – available from GVB Conservancy or local guest houses
CELL RECEPTION: Sketchy in places, but signal along most high points
LOCAL CONTACT: Aileen: 079 335 0269 Office: 071 691 6463

Getting There

(and Staying Over)

Look out for the signage left to Suurbraak approximately 12km east of Swellendam, just after Buffelsjacht Service Station. Continue via the village mains street for another 10min until the road turns to gravel, then look follow the Grootvadersbosch signage; maps are available on all the web sites.

The www.visitswellendam.co.za web site is also an excellent resource to everything on the menu in this stunning region.

Play & Stay …

The GVB Conservancy buffer zone combines conservation with responsible agriculture, and boasts a number of hiking trails and add-on adventure options, in addition to the excellent mountain biking routes. Believe me, if you’re bound for this ‘Bosch’ with your family, you’ll have more than enough to keep you and the kids busy for a week at the very least!

Snelsetter House

Snelsetter House forms part of the original Grootvadersbosch Farmstead, with a perfectly equipped guest house, gigantic stoep and rambling garden just oozing history and charm. You get 5x en-suite rooms (plus outside flatlet), complete with yellow-wood ceilings and Cape Dutch furnishing. A large lounge with a cosy fireplace and views of the mountains, a spacious dining room and well-equipped kitchen mean you have everything you could’ve wished for – www.grootvadersbosch.co.za

Honeywood Farm

Honeywood Farm has been in the Moodie family since 1817 and borders Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve at the foot of the Langeberg. Choose from a variety of accommodation options, from camping or a Bush Camp to hideaway cottages in the hills for those who want a complete break from the hustle and bustle of city life. Every cottage has outside seating for summer and fireplaces for cold winter nights – www.honeywoodfarm.co.za

Strawberry Hill Farm Guest house: This immaculate guest house caters for mountain bikers keen on easy trail access from a central point, and guarantees you the best valley panorama imaginable. There are four stylish bed- and bathrooms, with accommodation for 8-10x people, and it is fully equipped for self-catering. You can even arrange a massage therapist, physio or a local guide if you book in advance –  www.strawberryhillfarm.co.za

Events and Festivals …

Giant Pumpkin Festival (March) – a local mountain bike and platteland festival in Heidelberg WC to celebrate the largest pumpkins in SA – www.pumpkinfestival.co.za

Silver Mountain Music Festival (June) – a festival celebrating nature, music, trails and just being in the mountains – www.silvermoutainmusic.co.za

Grootvadersbosch Trail Run (July) – popular annual trail run through the Conservancy, organized by Quantum Adventures – www.quantumadventures.co.za