If you’re an avid cyclist, now’s the time to start planning your next Mountain Biking adventure. The unstoppable adrenalin rush of hurtling down a steep mountainous track on two wheels is hard to beat for excitement, and KZN’s Drakensberg offers up an excess of routes for riders of all capabilities. We’ve dissected this region and chosen the seven top trails every rider worth his/her salt must try at least once!
Cathkin Trails www.facebook.com/Cathkinmtb
Located in the Central Berg’s popular Champagne Valley, home of a multitude of outdoor activities, Cathkin Trails was started by local mountain biking enthusiasts Mike Frost and Kirk Hollis who’d been riding the area for years and wanted to share their hunting ground with fellow riders. They approached the community and managed to secure support from several local businesses including Champagne Sports Resort, Monks Cowl, Valley Bakery, Ardmore Guest Farm, Little Acres B&B and Ladysmith Construction sponsored the labour costs of the trail build. The main attraction of Cathkin Trails is that it’s interchangeable so you can make it as adventurous as your MTB skills and experience allow.
Rates are +-R50 per day per rider and special rates for multiple days. Pay at Drakensberg Breweries. If you’re taking your bike on your bakkie, get a BOOXE bakkie bin mat with tailgate extension so you can easily load and offload your bike and other gear without scratching your paint or your rubber lining.
Currently there’s 29km of built, marked biking trails and the target is to reach 80km by the end of 2018. The trail starts at Drakensberg Breweries with a 19km loop which varies between easy and moderate with a 10km add on loop for the more strenuous rider. Mike Frost describes the trail:
“Heading out, the trail descends through a pine forest of single track and climbs out onto the ridge near Ardmore Guest Farm where you get a great view of the Cathkin mountain range. You’ll wind along the edge of the ridge climbing a few times to give you a fair workout, then turn into Peak View Sawmills plantations which offers sections of fast single track and the odd gnarly climb. We built a MTB bridge under a bridge, like a subway, which takes you under the R600 (main road through the valley), circles round to the back of the Nest Hotel and over another bridge that goes across the Sterkspruit river. You’ll meander up past the Valley Bakery and finish back at the Brewery.” Be sure to store a towel, a change of clothing and a can of deodorant in your BOOXE Boot Box to make yourself presentable at the Brewery!
Drakensberg Trails www.drakensbergtrails.co.za
Based at All Out Adventures, near the Amphitheatre in the Northern Berg, this series of five marked mountain biking trails offers over 100km of single track graded in level of difficulty, ranging from 14 to 35 kms. There’s something for every rider here and for non-riders there’s trail running, bungee jumping, quad trails plus team building programs for adventurous corporates. Rates for riding the trails are R120 per day and special rates for multiple days.
For beginners, the 14km Gypsy’s Bend trail is rated easier and features easy stream crossings, acacia trees and dramatic views of the Little Berg. More experienced riders can tackle the 20km Montusi Gorge with its exposed traverses, switch backs, stream crossings, the Montusi Waterfall Cave and splendid views of the Amphitheater.
More experienced MTB cyclists can tackle the Grotto Trail and Nook Road Loop, both 30km long and graded difficult with up to 815m elevation. You’ll find groomed single track with long steep climbs, exposed traverses, long narrow bridges, elevated fast peddling plateaus and long flowing downhills. The Grotto Trail offers incredible views of Mont aux Sources and the Tugela River while Nook Road features a serious 7km climb and a 5km Enduro descent.
Finally, the 35km Berghouse Trail is a 790m treat that provides separate tracks up the east end of the valley with long steep climbs, multiple switch backs, long technical downhills, and stunningly long vistas of the Amphitheater. You’ll share the trail with zebra, Blesbuck and Eland.
HeliBiking – Wild Side MTB
The pièce de résistance has to be HeliBiking. Take your bike on a chopper ride to the top of a mountain and free-wheel down! This 5- to 6-hour all-inclusive day tour is aimed at any competent rider who is looking for a truly unique mountain biking experience.
Wild Side MTB (formally Rockslide MTB) was started by Kirk Hollis in 2015. Inspired by the many extraordinary locations for adventure sports growing up in the Drakensberg, he found the accessibility of mountain biking one of the best ways to explore the area. As HeliBiking isn’t offered elsewhere in Africa, Kirk was driven to locate a lengthy, rideable trail that was accessible by Helicopter. Based at Dragon Peaks Resort in the Central Drakensberg, Wild Side MTB uses the Helicopter also stationed here. Kirk gives a breakdown of a day’s Helibiking:
“Bikes are loaded onto the Heli bike rack, riders are strapped in and the Helicopter takes off, flying over breath-taking scenery up onto the Little Berg. After landing we all check our bikes and begin our descent. The first section is quite steep and rocky and gets the riders’ attention. These technical sections have different lines to choose from so no-one has to ride anything they’re not comfortable with. We follow cattle paths down the mountain and the natural features range from rocky gullies, to big rock steps, rock faces and awesome single track, so there is always something to keep you on edge and we are surrounded by magnificent scenery. This kind of riding is really unique due to the terrain being unpredictable. It awakens your riding senses.
After the first 15km a vehicle shuttle picks us up for a light lunch and refreshments. We have two or three more vehicle shuttle runs and finish back at the Helipad. This is an easy-going way to end as riders have experienced a huge variety of terrain during the day.”
Rates are +-R2200.00. Minimum 4 riders and maximum of 20 per tour. Riders must have their own full-suspension bikes and some technical riding experience.
Wild Side MTB also offers vehicle shuttle tours which offer an awesome riding experience for riders of any skill level at more affordable rates. +-R850 per rider with no minimum number and a max of 10 riders per trip.
Mountain Biking Tips
Riders should have sufficient liquid to drink, puncture repair kits, tyre bombs, tyre plugs, spare tubes, pump, chain link, helmet and gloves. Store all of these (except for your helmet!) in a handy storage box, such as the BOOXE Ultimate Boot Box. It fits into any Bakkie, SUV or large vehicle boot. Or if you have a Toyota Fortuner, get the Original Boot Box which fits in the boot recess.
Basic MTB bikes are available for hire from Mountain Splendour near Cathkin Trails and All out Adventures for the Northern Drakensberg trails.
Where to Stay:
- Ardmore Guest Farm is a farm-style B&B set in the Champagne Valley with 16 free standing units looking onto the Drakensberg mountains. http://www.ardmore.co.za
- Champagne Valley Resort offers peaceful self-catering units situated on the main R600 road in the Champagne Valley. https://www.champagneresort.co.za/
- Champagne Sports Resort offers plush self-catering or Hotel accommodation on a spectacular golf course. https://www.champagnesportsresort.com/