Closest Town: Patensie/Willowmore
Grading: Difficult | Duration: 24 hours, or a few days if you want to kick back and relax
Location (Area/Province): Eastern Cape and Western Region
Configuration: Various return options, or a gruelling 180km one-way ride
Start Point: The R332 outside Willowmore
Access: Public access, with paid entry into Baviaanskloof Wilderness Site and only between sunrise and 4pm. Remember to make prior arrangements with the reserve to cycle.
Beware of: Radical downhills, tricky river crossings, stray baboons, leopards
Facilities: No ablutions en route, self-catering accommodation and campsite available at Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve (042) 283 0882
Cell Reception: Intermittent, very remote
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Hemmed in by the Kouga and Baviaanskloof Mountain ranges, this unspoiled ‘Valley of Baboons’ is only accessible along the gnarly twist and swerve of the R332. If you plan on facing up to the full brunt of the Baviaanskloof route, the only way to do so is with a back-up vehicle in tow. Not only because you’ll be in for 170km of brutal riding along rough gravel roads within one of SA’s remotest wilderness areas, but also because you’re not allowed to cycle through the Park itself without previous arrangement with the reserve and a support vehicle (4×4 and high-clearance).
We’d really recommend making this a 3 to 4-day trip! The attraction of the Baviaanskloof is best experienced on a multi-day cycle ride, with overnight stops at self-catering farm cottages or camp sites along the way. Spending time at Geelhoutsbos, Rooihoek and other hideaway spots along the way is a must.
If you really want to do it in one gruelling go, then join the other MTB Rambos on the annual #TransBaviaans 24hr MTB Marathon. It remains one of SA’s favourite ‘crank-ventures’, with two editions of this wilderness ride now on offer annually. This event starts at Willowmore and finishes near Jeffreys Bay after 230km – more info on www.transbaviaans.co.za
Here’s an idea of what will be waiting for you, i.e. if you opted for several days of exploration. The total 197km trip from Willowmore to Patensie will take you at least 6–7 hours, with no stopping, so keep that in mind in case you opted for the one-day feat!
On your bike
Start off from the Willowmore side, cranking away from the N9 and onto the R332. 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 breath-taking landscape. Chances are you’ll spot verreaux eagles 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 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, to top it all, a one-of-a-kind hideaway, the Makkedaat Caves.
You’re still miles away from the actual Baviaanskloof mega-reserve, so time to saddle up. You’ll be zipping through half a dozen or so river crossings as you pedal forth, so expect to get your footsies 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.
You are now officially inside the Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve, an area of approximately 200km², and 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.
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.
Off the bike
The Baviaanskloof protects 59 species of mammals including duiker, klipspringer, baboon, kudu and leopard, as well as 293 species of birds. Expect good sightings of black cuckoo-shrike, black crake, Cape reed warbler, African sedge warbler, blue-billed firefinch, redbreasted sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon, fish eagle, and black eagle. Five regional veld types including Knysna-type forest, valley bushveld and fynbos,
Also of interest are the African Dawn Bird and Animal Rehabilitation Centre, the Loerie and Kouga Dams for kayaking, and various adventure operators offering rock-climbing, kloof and 4×4 routes. make this a nature lover’s paradise.
Route information: Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve
Telephone: +27 44 823 1702 (Willowmore) / +27 49 835 0484 (Steytlerville)
GPS: 33°19’14.7”South / 23°27’37.7”East