This ancient mountain desert landscape brims with lava, porphyry and rocks more than 2 billion years old. Volcanic ridges rear up along alluvial plains, making for extremely challenging riding. Once your headspace adjusts to the vastness of the land and the ferocious elements, the allure of the Richtersveld will surreptitiously weave its spell within you.
On your bike
The sandy gravel roads grinding through this land of wide horizons and stacked rock are sure to remain the domain of endurance mountain bikers, so be warned. Start off with easier rides and only take on the longer circular route options once you’ve ascertained your riding ability within the desert environment.
There are two ways in which to approach a Richtersveld cycling experience.
The first would be to base yourself at one of the camp sites and do daily outrides from there; De Hoop, right on the river banks, is an excellent place to pitch your tent.
Plan B would be to use a support vehicle while you circumnavigate the park, riding to a different camp every night. It’s your choice, but my suggestion is to sleep in one place to avoid breaking camp every night after a full day of cycling.
Various rides can be planned from De Hoop along the extensive network of gravel roads and 4X4 tracks. Set off early to go and explore the phenomenal rock mounds at Kokerboomskloof, or keep close to the river along the jeep-track trails. This is hardcore riding for outdoor adventurers keen to test their endurance levels, so make sure you pack enough water and apply high-end sun block. Spare tubes, liners and tyre slime are minimum requirements, and opt for a full suspension bike and tyres able to handle both sand and gnarly rock.
To experience the full Day 6 section of the Desert Knights MTB Adventure, crank off from De Hoop along a gentle ascent till you reach the first jeep-track to your left (R5 – 7km). Continue onwards in the direction of Maerpoort Pass (12km) and take time to soak up the utterly breathtaking panorama which unfolds from the apex, then pin your ears back as you hit the corrugated downhill.
Keep left until just before you hit R6, where a small sign indicates the Donkey Trail, and turn right here (16km). Make sure you ride this section in the dark if you can, preferably on a full moon night in order to experience the full hallucinogenic effect, which is way better than pretty much any recreational drug I can think of. For the next 8km, you’re in for a jol of note in a space where moon shadows and desert jinns play upon the periphery of your subconscious.
Enjoy this trippy little trail as it side-winds like a horned desert adder along rocky kopjes till you eventually reach the main drag again (24km). Keep right here, and securely limpet your butt onto the saddle as you’re about to hit deep pockets of sand at speed for the next 4km or so.
Lots of corrugations and sandy stretches along the penultimate ascent are sure to push a few buttons, but man up till you turn right at R17 to pedal the final few kays to the hikers’ camp at Hakkiesdoring (38km). Accommodation here needs to be arranged in good time, so check availability with parks management before going off half-cocked.
Off the bike
The vast Richtersveld Transfrontier Park will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it offers exceptional hiking, biking and 4X4 options to the converted. If you feel the need to take time out, relax on the banks of the Orange River where you can fly-fish for yellow-fish or tube the gentle rapids. Otherwise, watch the diverse range of aquatic and desert birds congregating along the river, or just lose yourself in the complete peace and tranquillity of this amazing space.
Route information: Richtersveld National Park
Address: PO Box 406, Alexander Bay, 8290
Telephone: 027 831 1506
GPS: 28°10’51.3” South / 17°10’40.4” East