Closest Town: Darling
Grading: Easy to intermediate | Duration: 1-1h30
Location (Area/Province): Cape West Coast
Start Point: Living Colour Trail Centre
Access: Day licence payable
Beware of: Snakes and loads of devil thorns in summer
Facilities: Large bathroom facility with showers
Cell Reception: Good
Hello, Darling! Yup, come and say a big Howzit! to this hideaway village, arguably best-known as the hometown to the famed thespian, Pieter-Dirk Uys. Perched just 20min inland from the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by vineyards, wheat fields and a vast expanse of scenic Renosterveld, local travellers have been tapping into some of SA’s best-kept adventure and leisure secrets here for years.
Darling was originally established in 1853 and named for Sir Charles Henry Darling (then Lieutenant Governor of the Cape). Visitors wandering the quiet streets will be treated to views of immaculate gardens and artfully restored Victorian homes, with ancient tree lining the sidewalks. Cafes, antique shops and quirky restaurants may just lure you inside though, where you can browse for collectables, indulge in a cream tea or maybe to have a ‘skinner’ with one of the locals.
The man (or maybe we should say ‘Tannie’) who put Darling firmly on the map is satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys, and his legendary ‘Evita se Perron’ still draws in many a tourist. You can call it a restaurant-cum-playhouse-cum-art gallery or whatever, but the truth is that this was the catalyst that kick-started the tourism make-over that forever changed this delightfully entertaining and colourful Swartland dorp.
Plug into the vibe at www.hellodarling.org.za or read on to get to the trail stoke!
On the bike
Beginners should opt for the 12km Green Route. You can expect a few gentle climbs, but with only 250m of altitude gain and nothing too technical, this will ride suit all levels of mountain bikers (or trail runners, if you are lacking in the bicycle department).
Intermediate riders will surely be tempted by the more advanced Red Route (21km), as this is aimed at those who enjoy an exhilarating combo of singletrack descents and rocky hill climbs, with a solid sprinkling of berms and switchbacks. The elevation gain is 500m and should keep moderately fit riders in the saddle for around an hour and a half.
You will find the ‘Living Colour’ trailhead just to the left of the R315 as you make your way from Yzers to Darling. Good news is that the routes are well sign-posted with colour-coordinated arrows, mostly along singletrack, but with the occasional stretch of jeep track here and there. A circular configuration traverses the farm in a clockwise direction on either side of the tarmac road.
Fortunately, you never cross the main road, instead ducking through culverts to avoid the traffic. You will reach the first of these (Cobra Culvert) after a couple of kays through the farm fields (make sure you do not to bump your head), before zig-zagging into the Darling Hills.
Expect a few ditches and wooden bridges as you blast through golden wheat fields, before passing through a second culvert to again return to the northern section of the farm. Competent riders are in for a treat as they ascend into a gritty section of challenging singletrack where you can be sure your legs will feel the burn!
Once you peak out, keep traversing the ridgeline to your left, passing through scenic fields onto what is definitely my favourite section of the ride. ‘Blue Gum Alley’ awaits, and you need to keep it tidy here, as the newly constructed berms make you a sweet and ‘rooty’ technical downhill blast into an optional ramp jump (or chicken run).
Continue to your right along the river course to finish on a leisurely ride to the finish. Both of the trails incorporate singletrack, hilly climbs and zippy descents, but you can choose whether to negotiate the trickier switchbacks, berms, stiles over farm fences and rock garden sections. Keep in mind that Gabri and Kevin will keep adding to the trail menu, with links planned to other routes in the area, too.
Bottom line, the route is 99% rideable, even for cautious riders, and you can always portage or push should the going get too tough. Trail runners are welcome, too, and a good dollop of trail etiquette will ensure that everyone has a blast on these stunning, multi-use trails.
Off the bike
Evita se Perron – Explore Pieter-Dirk Uys’s eccentric universe in the old station building transformed into a restaurant, playhouse and art gallery – www.evita.co.za
Darling Brews – Sip a hand-crafted beer at the Darling Brew Tasteroom – www.darlingbrew.co.za
Soak up San culture at !Khwa ttu, an ecotourism venture owned and operated by the San people – www.khwattu.org
Best Time of Year to Visit
Darling is charming throughout the year, escaping the Cape’s summer and winter extremes with average summer temperatures of 24°C. Plan your visit during spring if you want to stop and smell the flowers, darling, though birders, butter, sweets and beer aficionados as well as San spirit searchers will find their piece of heaven year-round.