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Mountain Biking in South Africa


South Africa is a great mountain biking destination. And not just mountain biking – there are lovely day cycle tours and good places for bikepacking expeditions. Most MTB trails are on farms, in forestry land or national parks. You'll find good places to cycle almost anywhere but what follows are a few of the best options.

In Cape Town you can do an escorted MTB trail on Table Mountain, an escorted wine tasting pedal through the vineyards or an escorted cycle tour of Cape Point, which is part of the Table Mountain National Park. But that's just the organised stuff. If you bring your own bike, or rent one, there are loads of great self-guided MTB trails in and around the city. The De Hoop Nature Reserve, about three hours east of Cape Town, has some easy, scenic dedicated MTB trails, and there are more great trails on farms near Swellendam.

But the Western Cape's most well loved cycling routes are all on the Garden Route. There are miles of scenic single track and jeep track trails through tangled indigenous forest, plantations, colourful and fragrant fynbos and along beautiful cliff tops overlooking the ocean. There are also some escorted trails here.

The magnificent mountain biking trails in the Harkerville Forest area near Knysna are easily the most popular in South Africa. Four colour-coded routes suited to varying levels of riders range from an easy doddle to fast-flowing single-track that take in the dazzling ocean views. All these routes meander through a combination of coastal fynbos, indigenous forest and shady plantations. Also in close proximity to Knysna is the Homtini Forest Trail, a circular route which consists of jeep and singletrack with a character building climb (about 5 km) and winds through 19 km of tranquil forest.

The Tsitsikamma Trail near Storms River is another spectacularly scenic route through enchanting indigenous forest, rich in Outeniqua yellowwood, stinkwood and candlewood. Suitable for families and advanced riders alike, it's a stunning ride that's not too technically challenging - you can relax and enjoy flowing through the thickets and taking in the sweeping views.

The Swartberg Pass, near Oudtshoorn is a great downhill run – there's a great tour that takes you up the pass by minibus and leaves you to do the 50km downhill back to the town by bike. It's a great full day trip with visits to the Cango Caves, ostrich farms and other attractions en route. The first 10km is a wild, twisty, descent on a well maintained unpaved road.

In the Eastern Cape, there are a number of great trails in and around Port Elizabeth, including the Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve. The Hogsback Mountains are fun to explore – mainly on forestry roads – and the Wild Coast offers some real adventure biking, which is best done in a big group or – even better – with vehicle backup. The North Eastern Cape is a great high altitude playground, with skiing and snowboarding in winter and mountain biking and grass skiing in summer.

The Drakensberg Mountains of KwaZulu-Natal have some great jeep tracks, most notable of which is Sani Pass, which is not for wimps. Zigzagging up the mountain into Lesotho, it climbs about 1,200m in eight kilometres. Needless to say, that's a bit of a slog going up, but – wow – is it ever a downhill rush. The sharp hairpin bends, slippery surfaces and long, steep drops make this a bad choice for beginners. You also need to keep an eye open for traffic as this rather challenging 4x4 track is the only southern route into the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

The Eastern Highlands of the Free State are pretty hilly, and many of the farms in the area have attractive self-catering cottages and miles of laid out MTB trails ranging from family doddles to lung-burning climbs, twisting single track and manic downhills.

But for a real adventure, try cycling in Big Five country. You can do an escorted cycle safari in the Kruger National Park. It's not a Big Five reserve, but the Augrabies National Park in the Northern Cape also has a short MTB trail on which you're quite likely to see some small game.

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