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 Area
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 a support vehicle.
If you’re cycling alone or with 8 buddies, you’ll need at least one support vehicle, preferably two if your group is bigger than five. The vehicle must travel in front of the riders, always keeping all the riders in sight (rear-view mirrors), meaning the whole group must travel as fast as the slowest rider. For groups bigger than 10 cyclists, you must have at least 2 support vehicles – one in front and one at the back of the group.
On your bike
Start off from the Willowmore side, cranking away from the N9. After 37km you’ll reach your first major climb along the gritty Nuwekloof Pass. One thing you can bargain on is this: if you go down, you will definitely have to come back up again… The gravel road winds along steep slopes for a further 40 km to Studtis, before heading into a rough 25km stretch with several river crossings en route to Sandvlakte past the adjacent Coleske Farm.
It doesn’t get any easier as you crank towards Smitskraal and the Kouga Dam, ascending along a seemingly endless mountain pass, dipping and climbing amidst soaring amber krantzes. The road clings precariously to the steep and densely wooded slopes, carving a swathe through indigenous vegetation spanning at least five divergent biomes. The final stretch will take you down a gravel switchback, across more low-water bridges and through dense woods before you blast through the gate and onto the R331 to Patensie.
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. You may, however, feel the need for company if you plan on tackling this monster, and the best way of doing this would be to enter the annual Trans-Baviaans 24hr MTB Marathon. This event finishes near Jeffreys Bay and totals 230km – more info on www.transbaviaans.co.za
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