Closest Town: Heidelberg
Grading: Intermediate to advanced | Duration: 2-6hrs or more
Configuration: Circular options
Start Point: Grootvadersbosch Conservancy Office or an guesthouse in the conservancy
Access: Day or annual permits obligatory. You can get these (and more information) from the GVB Conservancy Office during office hours. Honesty box system and Snapscan also available.
Beware of: Getting too distracted by your stunning surroundings! Be gentle with the dairy cows, they ultimately make chocolate… and please walk the fence bridges if you’re unsure.
Facilities: None en route, but various guest farms within the conservancy offer excellent accommodation. Safe parking and water at the Conservancy office. You can also rent a bike or book a guide to show you around.
Cell Reception: Only good on high points
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Grootvadersbosch has always been on the MTB charts, but unfortunately the trail in the nature reserve has very much gone to seed and is currently closed. However, the land owners in the surrounding conservancy have now zapped it to the top of the single-track list with the help of the Table Mountain Fund guys (www.thetablemountainfund.org.za). This allowed resident trail-scapers Aileen and Walter to continue their work on an extensive network of new trails to showcase the beauty and diversity of this part of the Langeberg ranges.
On your bike
The Red (25km), Black (45km), Blue (39km) and Green (23km) Trail sections daisy-chain and overlap, doglegging via stands of wattle, pine and blue-gum. Most of the conservancy trails utilise existing cattle tracks (the local cows seem to be pretty good at contouring) or occasional jeep tracks, with all of these linked together by sections of purpose-built trail. The trails cater for intermediate to advanced riders and you could be in the saddle for anything from 2hrs to 6hrs or more.
Most riders tackle the Red Route first, and the Grey Rhebok Plains is one of the iconic descents through the ‘Badlands’ to ‘Moodie Down-Under’. The Black Trail descends from the Conservancy Offices into the valley below and to the west, before climbing into mountains where 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. Finally, the Green Trail dips to the east of the Conservancy Office through pine plantations and grassland ridges.
Although the trails may be accessed from a number of guesthouses in the conservancy, the best starting point would be at the GVB Conservancy Offices, near the entrance to the nature reserve.
I conferred with resident trailscapers – Aileen Anderson and Walter Brosius – to come up with the Top 10 Grootvadersbosch Route Sections, so here goes -:
1 Grey Rhebok Plains (RED Route – 4km)
Most riders tackle the Red Route first, and this is one of the iconic descents through the ‘Badlands’ to ‘Moodie Down-Under’. Charge hard from Valleys End Guest Farm over a few fence bridges, scattering Nguni cattle as you zigg the single-track into the eroded Badland dongas below. A short climb makes you work before a final decent past the Moodie graves and on to the original farmhouse of Grootvadersbosch Farm.
2 Die Sloot into Fish Eagle Flight (BLACK Route – 4.65km)
Survive the major slog up to Kleinberg, then get ready for a well-deserved reward. First grab some water at the irrigation ‘sloot’ (a furrow supplying water to all the valley farms) and then hunker down along the gradual slope and onto the ridge single-track. ‘Fish Eagle Flight’ is perfectly scaped for a roosting ride, and with spectacular views across the course of the Grootvadersbosch River and Fleckvieh Farm dams far below.
3 Redwing Francolin Road to Red-fin View (BLACK Route – 6.4km)
A route originally built and sponsored by the TransCape MTB Challenge (but it ended up a bit too tough for them ☺). We are eternally grateful to them though, as it is now a magical wilderness trail. The crossing of the Kruis River is a great skills test on river boulders, before attacking the switchbacks and bridges ascending the gnarly Kleinberg section. What await are your first breath-taking views of Tradouw Pass (the stream is one of the few places where you may see the endemic red-fin minnows). NOTE: no access from the Tradouw Pass – the farmer will shoot you and we will hide the body …
4 Forest Switchbacks: (RED and BLACK Route – 1km)
There are no less than 13 superb switchbacks through the indigenous forest, meandering along an old bushbuck trail and forestry road. This will be a challenging set of curves that force you to bond with the forest before an enjoyable climb back out of the valley … They are all rideable, but not rideable by all, and you’ll miss your old 26er!
5 Butterfly Blues: (RED – 0.4km and BLACK – 1.2km
This combo of Black and Red presents a slight dilemma in trail selection. The red markers direct you left to ‘Butterfly Blues’- a short but magical roller coaster ride swooping along a ridge; while the Black Route bangs onto excellent single-track above Grootvadersbosch River. Both are totally lekker!
6 Rooikat’s Delight: (BLUE – 3.5km)
A swooping roller coaster of a ride along a stretch of single-track with unique sheep gates, which swing open automatically when your wheel bump it, then close again behind you. It may present a slight technical challenge to some, but you’ll soon lose it in the whoop of the switchbacks coming up.
7 Bryan’s Trundle to Bushbuck’s Domain: (RED – 1.84km)
This superb section was built by the guys of Welvenpas fame when they came to train our local team of trail builders. A great section of single-track through pine and forest, routing all the way back to the Conservancy Office and Strawberry Hill Guest House (you can ride it in both directions along the first part of the Blue Route). Highly recommended at sunset when you can nearly taste that first beer as the orange glow kicks in … BTW, it was named after a generous guy who sponsored the conservancy, so you can be famous, too!
8 Porcupine Valley to Jackal Buzzard Jaunt: (GREEN – 5km)
One of our most recent ascents, with a solid climb out of the valley along the extended Green Route. This peaceful meander is a special place, with breath-taking morning views across the mist-shrouded valleys to Silver Mountain … especially planned to have NO cell phone reception along the way.
9 Bird Alley: (BLUE – 2.25km)
A long and windey-windey jeep track with a high fun factor and great views towards the Langeberg ranges, across a foreground of verdant, dairy farm pastures. And yes, it is true that this is the highest concentration of jersey cows (outside of Jersey) in the world … go Google it. Superb birding by bike will delight the sharp of eye, with possible sightings of white storks, Dunham’s bustard, endangered blue crane and secretary birds in the fields alongside the track. Definitely take your binocs if you’re the twitching type.
10 Suurbraak Commonage Renosterveld Descent (Suurbraak – 2.6km)
The Suurbraak Trail is a relatively new 17km section combining urban single track, jeep track and sweeping single-track through the renosterveld biome. Plug into a proper high-adrenaline downhill along a jeep track descent that is a just reward after an arduous climb with fabulous views over the low-scrub plains – on the map, this section starts at Watsonia and ends near Microloma. The fence bridges require particular caution as they are pretty steep; always walk if you’re unsure.
Off the bike
The guest farms within the conservancy will present you with enough options to stay for a month! Horse riding, bird watching, swimming, hiking and trail running are just some of the other activities on offer.
Best Time of Year:
The GVB Conservancy lies in the transitional zone between winter and all-year rainfall regions, with an average annual rainfall of about 1 050 mm. Drier periods are from May to July and December to January while berg winds are common from May to July.
How to Get There:
Take the left-hand turn-off from the N2 towards Suurbraak/Barrydale just past Swellendam and Buffelsjag River. Turn left and continue through the town of Suurbraak and past the turn-off for Barrydale via the Tradouwpass. The tar road becomes a dirt road (limited cell phone reception). Keep left at the t-junction towards Strawberry Hill/Honeywood and keep left at the next fork towards Honeywood/Grootvadersbosch Reserve. Continue past Honeywood farm. The Grootvadersbosch Conservancy office is sharp left just after the Strawberry Hill Guesthouse (white farmhouse). You’ll spot a sign saying GVB Conservancy Mountain Bike Permits. The office building is beyond the main house. If you reach the Cape Nature Office you have gone too far!