Garden Route Glory.
Situated in the foothills of the Outeniqua mountain range and nestled between the indigenous forest belt, rich farmlands, pine plantations, fynbos and a rugged coastline lies the Eden stretch of Garden Route. Known for its natural beauty and ad-venture activities, this undiscovered landscape simply lends itself to the avid cyclist, whether you are professional, a keen rider, an explorer or just a nature lover who enjoys the out-doors, there is definitely a trail for you to enjoy.
Words: Rose Bilbrough
Cycling has been synonymous with Knysna since the bicycle became known to South Africa and you will hear many a story being told of business owners, foresters and farmers who used their bicycles as daily transport. Yet it really became popular to race a bicycle in Knysna only in the late ‘80s when a group of individuals decided to affiliate the race with the Knysna Marathon, to boost tourism in the region.
In 1987, the first race was organised by the Knysna Free Wheelers and welcomed a mere 250 riders in their first attempt. The enthusiasm was spectacular and the Knysna’s Cycle race came to life.
In later years, the Rotary Knysna was established and became the custodian of the race. It soon evolved into the Knysna Cycle Tour with elite sponsors and a management team. The money raised in these races was used to give back to the local community and projects in the area.
In the early ‘90s after the introduction of the firsts mountain bikes, more riders moved to the isolation of the forest, plantations and gravel roads and shortly after a mountain-biking route was introduced to the Knysna Cycle Tour which has subsequently become one of the fastest growing cycling events in the area. With the added shorter distances to the event, it has become a popular sporting event with increasing participation.
It is not until you start chatting to local diehards and legends that you discover the secrets of cycling in the Garden Route. With a slight smile, Leon Evans, “Dr Evil” as he is known to many, tells the story of the first trail cut in the Harkerville area. The Red Route was a SANParks initiative and Leon was approached to assist in the establishment of this route. Now Harkerville boasts four trails and offers every level of cyclist a ride to remember. Eden District, along with part of the Bitou District, boasts numerous indigenous forest singletrack and jeep track in the national parks, added to the newly developed plantation gravel and singletrack trails such as the Cape Pine Forest in Kruisfontein and Buffelsnek and Cairnbrogie Dairy Farm, which were introduced by Club 100 in the last two years and form part of the Trail Pass initiative. Since then, the Concordia Contour near the Gouna District of Knysna was introduced and the potential for more previously unexplored routes are in the pipeline (permits are available at various cycling shops in the area and cost R240 per person per annum).
“The region offers over 600km of dedicated official commercial road and jeep track and 60km of singletrack; the scope for development is endless. The enthusiastic cycling community is involved in the cutting of trails, forming local riding groups and encouraging youngsters to get out there and ride,” says Jacques Brink, the current owner of Knysna Cycle Works, a locally born cyclist and enthusiast.
It was originally owned by prominent DA politician and cycling enthuiast extraordinaire Alan Winde, who is no stranger to the area. He started the first cycling shop in Knysna in 1986 with the encouragement of Klaasie Bruintjies, a local cyclist who became his associate. Alan has seen the potential of cycling in the Western Cape and is focused, through his current role as MEC for Tourism and economic Development in the Western Cape, on drawing over 100 000 tourists into the region with just cycling. He states that next to Stellenbosch, Knysna is a mountain-biking capital and sees it as a project in tourism development with huge potential.
The Sedgefield/Knysna/Plettenberg Bay district currently has six cycling shops and offers a friendly ‘ride with a local’ initiative. Social groups ride out at different times of the week; for the traveller who packs his bicycle on road trips, this could mean a dream cycling holiday.
The area offers trails and a huge variety of stops such as viewpoints, places of interest and local eateries where you can grab a cup of coffee, a bite to eat and fill a water bottle before heading for the hills.
ROAD RIDE OPTIONS
The road rides in the area include the long winding routes from Knysna to Plettenberg Bay and back past Robberg via the airport road (85km). Here you will find a variety of stops, shops and rest points.
The Knysna‒Sedgefield‒Barrington ride is a short out-and-back before heading into the hills of Barrington with a steady climb. You can stop at the turnaround point for a coffee at the Garden Route Trail Park before heading downhill and back to Knysna (86km).
Knysna to Dolphin Point in Wilderness is a long stretch there and back with stopovers such as Timberlake Village, Wilderness Village and Dolphin Point (100km).
PETRUS SE BRAND
This mountain-bike trail is a notoriously exhilarating downhill ride through the Knysna forest. It crosses a few streams and is probably one of the most scenic rides. The one-way ride starts at the Diepwalle Forest Station and works its way back to the Garden of Eden on the N2 between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. The trail can be ridden in either direction, but it’s uphill most of the way. For the more relaxed rider, there’s a great swimming hole near the low water bridge, Kleineiland.
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Permit: Available from Thesen Island office, in Knysna, or Diepwalle Forestry Station
Thesen Island Office – 044 302 5600
Diepwalle Forestry Station – 044 382 9762/3
DIRECTIONS TO DIEPWALLE
From Knysna, take the N2 towards Plettenberg Bay. After 4km take the R339 Uniondale turnoff to the left and follow this road for 15.5km. The turnoff to Diepwalle is to the right. Garden of Eden is right next to the N2, 15km from Knysna towards Plettenberg Bay.
HARKERVILLE RED ROUTE
This trail is situated in the Harkerville Forest between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Known as the longest and hardest of the four routes offered, it is said to be one of the most picturesque in the country and the oldest established ride in the area. It takes you through deep indigenous forest and fynbos with incredible coastal views along the way; 22km in length with more than 10km of singletrack. It’s definitely a ride to remember and has begun to recover beautifully from the devastating fires that ravaged the area in 2017.
DISTANCE: 22km, 3-5 hours
DIFFICULTY: Moderate to hard
PERMITS: Available from Thesen Island office, in Knysna, or Garden of Eden
Thesen Island Office – 044 302 5600
Garden of Eden – 044 532 7793
DIRECTIONS TO GARDEN OF EDEN
From Knysna, drive out towards Plettenberg Bay, keep an eye out for the Garden of Eden parking on your left.
GARDEN ROUTE TRAIL PARK
Based in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, the routes lie within the Karatara River Gorge. This established trail park is privately owned by Rob Dormehl and is constantly evolving and growing. It is well marked and consists of only singletrack rides. It also has a park-and-ride option with showers, a dorm-style backpackers and swimming pool. The Garden Route Trail park offers the most unique singletrack rides in the region with six interlinking loops: Lunacy Lane – 16km, Mountain Mania – 19km, Full Loop 30km, Jungle Fever – 16km, Forest Frenzy – 10km, and Crazy Creek – 14km. Two new loops were recently introduced: Manic Monkeys – 12km and Mad Cows ‒ 10km.
The trails link directly with SANParks’ Farleigh MTB routes. Three marked rides with over 50km of forests, fynbos, big mountain climbs and amazing views.
A permit is required. For safety and security reasons, they operate cashless and paperless. Download the mySOS app to purchase your permit. You will receive a code via SMS. Hand the mySOS code to staff to receive an entry wristband.
Rob Dormehl – 082 802 8103
DIRECTIONS TO DORMEHL FARMS
Take the Karatara turnoff on the N2 between Knysna and Sedgefield and follow the road towards Barrington.
GRIND THE GRAVEL
The Garden Route region is scattered with gravel roads and makes up almost 80% of the travelling here. For the cyclist who wants to wander off on his bike but not necessarily leave the road, this is paradise. We will start with Thomas Bain’s Seven Passes road. The road has tarred sections but is predominantly gravel.
Start your ride in Knysna and head towards Phantom Pass, the last of the passes to have been built in the early 1900s. This climb will take through you to the Rheenendal Road T-junction. Take a right and cycle along the rich farmlands towards Homtini Pass. This takes you back onto the gravel and drops down to the last built bridge along this road. It is surrounded with natural forest and is probably the most scenic part of the passes road. Once you cross the bridge, it climbs back to the rolling hills of the countryside. Ride towards Barrington and the Garden Route Trail Park for your turnaround point.
For the more adventurous, continue along this road. It will cross over two more bridge passes: Karatara and Hoogekraal and take you towards the hamlet of Hoekwil. This is recommended as a one-way ride for the day. This route covers ±75km of road from Knysna to Barrington and an extra 35km to Hoekwil.
Simola Hill’s top parking point ‒ just outside the gates to the hotel ‒ is closer to Knysna and is a regular meeting point for much of the local cycling community, offering access to gravel riding and mountain biking trails that stretch forever. You can head off to the Gouna section. It winds down to the Knysna river and then a steep climb to the forest which links up with the famous Kom se Pad in the SANParks reserve. You follow the road to the R339 and work your way back along the gravel road. The road then turns off to the right and follows the contour of the forestry portion until it meets up at the Simola park point. This is a highly recommended ride.
Both form part of the Cross Cape Cycle Route which starts in Cape Town and ends in Plettenberg Bay.
For more information on the Cross Cape, click along to www.capecycleroutes.co.za.
For the avid cyclist who wishes to explore the back roads of the region, collect your Trail Pass map and buy your annual seasonal permit at the nearest cycle shop. This Club 100 initiative charts the gravel roads between Uniondale, Plettenberg Bay and Knysna. Most of the trails are within the MTO forest and cross over to SANParks reserves. With the huge variety of gravel to choose from, you will be spoilt for choice.
These back roads are pretty isolated and preparation is a must. Make sure you have ample water and snacks to eat.
On the fun side, cyclists are social and there is a definite coffee culture among them. Most of the bike shops have a coffee machine and the staff are ready and waiting to serve you.
Alternatively, enjoy the local hospitality of the Garden Route coffee shops.