Closest Town: Umzinto
Grading: Intermediate | Duration: Various
Location (Area/Province): Holiday Coast and KZN - Natal
Configuration: 10km and 20km circuits with return ride sections out to viewpoints or features like the 4x4 track
Start Point: Start at the office on Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve
Access: Gate fee payable. Day visitors welcome. Gate times: Winter (April to September) 06:00 to 18:00. Summer (October to March) 05:00 to 19:00
Beware of: Slippery rocks, roots, ticks and horse flies
Facilities: Lakeside picnic sites and ablutions. Fully-equipped and serviced, self-catering treehouse in the forest sleeps 10 guests. Information office at reception, 4km from the gate. Community members sell snacks at the KwaMzukwa Gate.
Cell Reception: Good
In anticipation of the environmental impact of development along the south coast, Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve was proclaimed in 1973. The reserve is 2,189 ha in extent and set amongst hills ranging in altitude from 150 to 610 m above sea level, and its most important feature is the coastal forests.
On your bike
You can do a series of lovely out and back rides on game viewing roads and singletrack which will bring you to the main reception every time. This is a convenient arrangement for families, or relaxed holidaymakers where some participants of the ride may opt out, allowing the rest to do the next section while they relax, babysit or finalise the culinary arrangements in the picnic area near the dam. Although few local riders frequent this reserve – probably because they are just too spoilt for choice – Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve is a secure, rare piece of coastal mountain biking paradise.
Office Kwamzukwa Gate Ride (10km circuit):
This very scenic singletrack is actually a shortcut created by the footwork of staff going between reception and the main KwaMzukwa gate. It starts behind the reserve offices and clings to the contour for several hundred metres, before becoming quite steep and heading straight down the hill where you will have to dismount and carry your bike across the stream. Watch out for slippery rocks particularly when wearing clip-in cycling shoes. Immediately, a leg-crunching singletrack climb goes up and over the side of the hill via a remnant of indigenous forest where slippery roots will test your bike-handling abilities. More fast, sweeping singletrack will catapult you down the next hill, where you need to cross the Mhlanga River. There is a basic wooden bridge but it is extremely slippery when wet and you may unexpectedly encounter the watercourse a few metres below. Another very short, steep climb will deposit you onto the main access road a few hundred metres from the main gate. This is the turn-around point for this ride. Cycle back up the steep climb to the office area along the smooth dirt road.
Viewpoints and 4×4 Track (20km circuit with return rides out to 4×4 track and viewpoints)
Don’t miss the road to the scenic viewpoint. This 3km detour on the way to the reserve offices is a fast roller coaster jeep track along a spur to the viewpoint where you can take a break and recover for the next long climb ahead to the top part of the reserve. Carry on climbing until you see a sign indicating the 4×4 trail. At this point you can go straight and shortchange yourself, or follow the challenging 4×4 trail around the back of the reserve for a special treat. Here you are guaranteed the most outstanding panoramic views over the Mzinto River, the Indian Ocean and the heart of Zululand. The 4×4 route is an out and back ride, so you will have to turn around at the perimeter fence and return to the reception area.
Off the bike
The reserve offers guided walks into the wilderness area and game viewing. There are over 300 bird species and a fascinating variety of indigenous flora. Hire a canoe or fish for bass and tilapia in the lake.
Route information: Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve
Address: KZN Wildlife, PO Box 13069, Cascades, Pietermaritzburg, 3202
Telephone: KZN Wildlife, (033) 845 1000
GPS: 28° 38.617’ South / 29° 01.043’East