Closest Town: Heidelberg
Grading: Intermediate to advanced | Duration: 2-6hrs or more
Configuration: Circular options
Start Point: Grootvadersbosch Conservancy Office or any guesthouse in the conservancy
Access: Permits are available at the Conservancy office. An honesty box system is available for after hours.
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: Sketchy in places, but signal along most high points
Here’s the thing – when most people drive along the N2 past Swellendam, they are so blinded by the yellow and green patchwork of canola and wheat stretching up to the Langeberg mountains that they don’t even notice the turnoff to Suurbraak, which is a great pity. There is a fairy-tale world waiting for you where the rugged peaks rise up towards the horizon. So do yourself a favour next time, turn north and head inland.
After about 15 minutes of travel you will hit a dirt road that meanders lazily uphill. Pass the Suurbraak and Tradouw Pass turnoffs, because your destination is the magical Grootvadersbosch Conservancy. This conservation buffer zone surrounds the 250ha Cape Nature Grootvadersbosch Nature reserve and also includes the Boosmansbos wilderness region.
There is an extensive network of mountain bike routes meandering through this wonderfully diverse part of the Overberg, and with more than 100km of customised single track you can be sure that your tongue will be hanging out to your chest.
These are not just ordinary routes, so be prepared for wooden bridges, river crossings, zig-zag turns, head-over-heels descents and of course, a couple of calf cramping climbs.
In my opinion, this route network remains one of SA’s Top 10, so make sure you enjoy GVB’s pedal paradise. All the routes can be downloaded from the website – www.gvbconservancy.co.za
On your bike
The Red (21km), Black (30km), 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 red routre has been modified to include an iconic single track route along the grootvadersbosch River. The Black Trail follows the red route initially 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 some of the valley section down to Snelsetter). The Black route also has a very challenging enduro descent off Klenberg (Fynbos Festivities) which will test your technical skills to the max. The Blue Trail is more of a ‘dry-land’ route, looping south through the renosterveld farms.and is more suited to those who prefer less technical routes. 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 trailscaper – Aileen Anderson 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) where you can exit into the pass.. NOTE: no access up from the Tradouw Pass (one way only) – the farmer will shoot you and we will hide the body …
4 Forest Switchbacks: (RED and BLACK Route – 1km)
There are no less than 15 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
hone 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 Cape Kurper Cruise (Red and Black 1.5km)
This is a technical but lekker section that skirts through a remote cloof of the Grootvadersbosch River. It also cuts ot a whole lot of climbing to the original Red Route so this is a win all around. there are some fast descents with some steep drop offs to the river so walking is recommended if you are scared of heights. But all very rideable if you keep your eyes forward. If yo do fall in then at least you will be in the company of some very special fish, including some redfins and Cape kurpers.
Off the bike
Guided walks are designed to suit your needs, with short forest works for less frequent hikers and children, and long challenging hikes for regular walkers. You will connect with local guides who have extensive knowledge of the birds and trees.
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. If you stay at Strawberry Hill farm, you will also have exclusive access to a challenging 4km (250m climbing) forest cross country track which is perfect for trail running too (night riding/running is allowed).
Best Time of Year:
The regional climate is close to ideal, with long, lazy summer days and the occasional winter storm (and even then, the days are mostly mild). Snow occasionally tops the Langeberg peaks during July and August, making for picture-perfect views. Winters are also often drier than cape Town with more rain falling in spring and autumn than the winter months of July and August.
How to Get There:
While travelling along the N2 from Cape Town, look out for the turn-off to Suurbraak just on 12km east of Swellendam. Keep left here via this sleepy mission village for say 15min until the road turn to gravel, then look out for signboards indicating the direction towards the nature reserve. The office is off to the left about 1km before Cape Nature’s gate.