Garden Route: Paradise for Mountain-Biking Families
The ultimate adventure destination in South Africa, without a doubt, is the Garden Route. There are so many beautiful spots to explore within this area and one of the best ways to do so is on a mountain bike. The riding opportunities in the area are endless and there is something for all ages and skill levels. There are easy rides through the pristine indigenous forest to scenic swim spots for families. Long rides in the mountains on open dirt roads or jeep tracks, with pleasant coffee stops en route for those wanting some distance, and then of course technical single-track rides for the more skilled wanting to push their limits. These parks are perfect if you are looking for a weekend excursion for the family or looking for an exciting activity over the weekend.
For the purpose of this article, I will highlight four fun family rides in the area between Robertson’s Pass above Mossel Bay and Harkerville near Knysna.
Garden Route Trail Park
Starting at the Seven Passes Road between the Karatara Pass and the Homtini Pass, these trails have been purposely built for mountain biking, offering many route options. You’ll find a trail info area in the parking lot, a bike wash, and a spot to chill out and get some coffee while the kids practice some skills on the sweet pump track. The routes are all clearly marked and graded so you can choose something suitable to your skill level. The trails have really been well designed and flow through farmlands and forest on the lower slopes of the Outeniqua Mountains. My favourite sections are the trails flowing through the indigenous forest leading down to the Karatara River. Perfect activity and adventure during a weekend getaway with the family in the Garden Route.
Entry fee at time of writing:
R100p/p for adults
R80p/p under 18s
R50p/p under 13s
R240 for family of 4 with both kids being under 18
Garden Route Dam
This area right next to George is a very popular riding spot for the locals. If you don’t want to ride through town, you can start at the boom gate at the dam’s entrance. There are easy contours to ride here and some optional single tracks built for MTBs. Following the bottom contour, one can get to a beautiful waterfall and swim spot in the forest, known as Pepsi pools, an easy one-hour ride there and back from the dam wall (with no climbing to speak of). This is where the Swart River flows into the dam. The scene is mostly plantation area, with tracts of indigenous forest. You can literally do any distance you choose to ride here since there are so many options, and thus suited for beginners to experienced families. For longer rides, it’s most enjoyable to follow the Seven Passes route from here, with various places to turn off down to the lakes between Wilderness and Sedgefield. There are also great local spots to stop and have coffee and a bite to eat en route. One of these I would recommend is in Hoekwil at the Country Café and Deli. Enjoy their coffee and yummy cheesecake before you carry on down to the lakes from the Seven Passses Road in the mountain.
Entrance is free.
The Jonkersberg area is very big and ideal for long rides. There are many starting and finishing points since this area traverses the mountains from the Robertson’s Pass to Outeniqua Pass. This is the ideal spot for Dad to do a longer ride, or for families with adventurous kids above 12, since it includes a lot of climbs fit for experienced families. A tranquil, scenic spot to end or start from would be Eight Bells alongside Robertson’s Pass where you can also get a bite to eat. Riding on the mountain slopes is mostly through plantation areas with a few bits of indigenous forest in the valleys, where it has fortunately been spared from forestry activities. The lower areas are district roads leading through farmlands. There are no markings and if you don’t know the area, you could get yourself a bit lost on the many roads. Best to get a local guide for these areas, so you can get to see the really cool places.
Entrance is free.
Halfway between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, look for the Garden of Eden turn-off where you will park alongside the N2. The trails are all marked from here with various options of distances. The riding will take you through the indigenous forest as well as plantations and lead you all the way to scenic coastal cliffs overlooking a rugged and pristine coastline. The coastal section of the Red route is the most scenic of the trail options here, but also the hardest. This is one of the oldest marked MTB trails in South Africa and was the first trail I rode as a child with my dad, back in 1998. Those were the days without any suspension - how things have changed!
Get your permit from SANParks.
Entrance fee at time of writing:
R35p/p for adults
R18p/p kids under 13
These are just a few of the many awesome riding spots that have been highlighted in the area. If you are not in the mood to get lost with the kids, or for more information and personalised guided trips in the area, you can contact Marthinus Esmeyer (Cell:082 764 3112) of Paradise Adventures.