There’s rollicking riding to be had where the Eastern Cape’s ‘Frontier Country’ hinterland borders onto the Sunshine Coast. Jacques Marais went native and checked out some brand-new sections along 3 RIVERS TRAILS near Jeffreys Bay.
Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais
Khangela mfethu, die Oos-Kaap is ‘n lekker plek, no matter what language you speak. Much of this melting-pot-of-a-province brims with largely unexplored mountain biking options, allowing you to crank till your legs go blunt, and often on trails combining organic single-track with a true wilderness edge.
Anything goes, from rough-shod animal tracks and gritty 4×4 farm tracks to some latter-day gems hand-crafted by those legendary fat-trackers who continue to live the good life here on the blurry edge of Africa Proper. The 3 Rivers Trails – situated in that Dirt Bag Triangle amidst Thornhill, Hankey, Jbay and Port Elizabeth – is a case in point, and can these days lay claim to being one of the best MTB route networks in the province, if not the whole of South Africa.
You basically get four trails for the price of one if you saddle up for an exploration of the trippy ‘3 Rivers Trails and we’re bringing you the low-down. Originally you had a few km of scratchy single-track at Woodridge School, plus access to around hundred-odd kays of gravel and logging roads in Longmore Forest.
A decade or so back, Didier Duc came to the party with Jbay Bike Park, a series of short and sweet, hand-built loops, running from his Zebra Lodge property. The Swiss MTB fanatic joined forces with local farmer-cum-riders, Grant and Brett Puttergill, and the rest is – as they say in the classics – history in the making.
The Puttergills promptly decided their farms as well as the adjoining Crossways Farm Village could only benefit from a burgeoning MTB tourism influx, and put the hammer (or spade) down to get trail-scaping going in this vibey corner of the Eastern Cape. The end result of this synergy delivered 200km-plus of marked routes, including a whopping 70km of single-track.
Even better, this merry band of mountain bikers managed to get permission from more than 15 landowners (including the forestry operation, Cape Pine) to further develop single-tracks and create a single permit system granting riders access to not only Longmore Forest, but all the surrounding farms as well.
Just so you can get your bearings: 3 Rivers Trails covers a massive area, basically stretching all the way between the Gamtoos and Van Stadens Rivers from east to west, and then north across the mountains to the Elands River. All these individual routes interlink to guarantee an excellent day of bike play along a combo of purpose-built single-track and forestry roads.
There are a number of potential trail heads from which to start your crank, but the beauty of the current system is that you can get a permit and start your ride at half a dozen spots along the trail network. I usually opt for either Jbay Bike Park or Crossways because of the secure parking, but there’s also the trails centre at Woodridge School.
You need to make the call as to what you’d like to ride, really: is it going to be a hard core day combining gravel-grinding and enduro riding along the Black Porcupine Route; maybe some technical and tight single-track at Jbay Bike Park, plus some air-time on the pump track; or do you want to surrender to the superb flow of the ‘Holstein Routes’ traversing the tranquil farm lands around Crossways?
Whatever option you go for, I guarantee you maximum fun! The route’s web site is well up to date and features concise trail descriptions as well as downloadable maps, plus GPS tracks, for the full range of routes – make a point to go and check out www.3riverstrails.co.za before you go and ride. Plus, get a permit, you plonker, these okes have been busting their asses building track, and the least you can do is to support them.
Jbay Bike Park
Crank up your stoke levels on a handful of intermediate to technical routes radiating out from the pump track, situated at the entrance to Jbay Zebra Lodge (www.jbayzebralodge.co.za). Here’ you can plug into some compact, continental MTB kiffness, courtesy of Swiss/Portuguese owners, Florbela and Didier Duc.
We escaped into this paradise midway between Jeffreys Bay and Port Elizabeth, where Africa Proper awaits. The closest dorpie is Thornhill, hidden away amidst undulating hills and dales, bedecked with stands of sweet-thorn trees and spiky aloe ferox.
The beauty of the main trail hub at Zebra Lodge is that it is a safe and secure destination for the whole family. The riding is absolutely superb.
A good 90% of your riding inside the JBAY Zebra Lodge property is on single-track, and the level is accessible to just about any rider.
Red Route: Moderate fitness and technical skills required with mostly XC style typoe riding. Set in indigenous bush this trail offers a good workout and fun with the opportunity to spot the odd zebra. 8km/45 min
Crossways Farm Village
From here a multitude of trails traverse the hills, going as far as the Van Stadens River Gorge and Flower Reserve. Brothers Brett and Grant Puttergill have been instrumental in developing the single-track here, and you can always bank on welcoming smiles and a kick-ass day of cranking.
Across the bars, you will see peaceful scenes of pastoral beauty unfold as you crank into the forested hills and amidst lazily grazing Holstein cattle. There’s certainly nothing lazy about the trails though…
You could also set off from ‘Crossways Country Kitchen’, a delightful eatery set amidst the dairy farms of the area. Thing is, you’ve not yet deserved that roasted pork belly with crackling and berry coulis, so instead head for the hills, following a combo of purpose-built single-track.
I started off on the Red Holstein and followed this onto the Purple Holstein, before finally linking up to the Black Porcupine Trail summiting at the rocky apex of the ridgeline. From here, nearly 6km of scaped trail will bomb you straight down onto the Crossways Common, and you can pin berms and bridges and boardwalks to your heart’s content all the way back.
Didier and the Puttergill brothers can pride themselves on having created some of the best MTB route in the Eastern Cape.
Here’s an overview of the Crossways section:
Black Mamba: Technical single track XC route with steep downhills and uphills and is suitable for technically accomplished riders only. The Mamba meanders through a combinations of wattle and indigenous forest with numerous creak and bridge crossings and root beds looking to swallow any riders not up to the task. 6km/1hr
Red Holstein: Route for fitter riders of moderate technical ability. This route is a good training ride for those looking to get some distance in and offers some spectacular scenery. A majority of this route is on forestry road with riders been rewarded with a single track descent back to the Crossways car park. Please ensure to load map on phone or gps before starting to avoid getting lost – route is well marked however there have been instances of riders missing markers and there is no cell reception in some areas. 31km/2-4 hrs
The Forts: We recently hit the trails to clear and mark yet another route into Longmore Forest, namely The Forts. With an abundance of history and several incredible features along the way, the newly marked Forts route provides trail users with a 41km route with approximately 1000m elevation.
The Forts route starts by ascending Ox Wagon Pass. This scenic route takes trail users past two historic forts, built during the Anglo-Boer War, the upper Van Stadens Dam, a beautiful waterfall and pool and the original Van Stadens Dam caretaker’s cottage which is home to the original Ox Wagon which was used during the Anglo-Boer War. 41km/3-4hrs
Oxwagon Pass: Suitable for moderate to fit riders and moderately technical riders. Some quite technical sections particularly on the climb. Oxwagon begins with a taxing climb before reaching the top of the mountain from which one has a 360 degree of the surrounding area. Riders who made the climb are then rewarded with a 5 km single track downhill taking them back home. Rocks, jumps and loose corners on the way down so be careful. 15km/1-2hrs
Purple Cow: Suitable for all levels of riders and is a good introduction to the sport of mtb. Some technical sections at the top of the decent but for the most part fun and flowy. Ideal for family rides 10km/45 min
You can race it or just go along for the ride. Cycling through the Karoo at night brings on shooting stars, moonlit roads, animal calls; a thrilling experience on your bike. The race starts in Steytlerville at midnight, with a 135km pedal to Patensie for breakfast. The route passes through the magnificent Groot Rivier Poort and across the Antoniesberg Pass, a solid 94km into the journey. This means you exit the Karoo at sunrise to enter the extension to the Baviaanskloof – www.midnightexpress.co.za
M&G Investments PEPLETT
Challenge yourself with a 4-day mountain bike stage race between Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay. You have a choice between Tough or Lite; there is no time limit on the event, so even social riders can complete the Tough (average daily distances of 90km, with elevation around 1800m per day). The Lite is easier, with daily distances of 60k – www.peplett.co.za
This humdinger of a 24-hr MTB Marathon will sling-shot you through one of the largest World Heritage Sites on the planet, as you grind the grueling gravel roads from Willowmore to Jeffreys Bay. Due to curfews, this year’s event had to include the option of a potential of a sleep-over camp at the Pakhuis support point, but otherwise it is still as wild and untamed a ride as you’ll get anywhere in SA. I mean, where else will you cross paths with leopard, rhino and buffalo on your bike – www.transbaviaans.net
|FAST FACTS BLOCK – CROSSWAYS|
|GRADING:||Easy to Difficult|
|DURATION:||30min – 5hrs|
|CONFIGURATION:||Circular Options, 6 – 28km|
|START POINT:||Crossways Country Kitchen|
|GPS COORDS:||S33°53’31.9″ / E25°10’51.5″|
|TERRAIN:||Gravel road, jeep-track and superb single-track|
|MAP:||Available at www.3riverstrails.co.za|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||Permits and registration at Crossways Country Kitchen|
||Restaurant and ablutions|
|CELL RECEPTION:||Reasonable reception along the routes|
||Rocks, sand and roots in some areas, and drop-offs|
FAST FACTS BLOCK – JBAY BIKE PARK
|GRADING:||Easy to Extreme|
|DURATION:||45min – 5hrs|
|CONFIGURATION:||Circular Options, 1 – 65km|
|START POINT:||Jbay Bike Park|
|GPS COORDS:||S33°54’16.1″ / E25°05’30.2″|
|TERRAIN:||Gravel road, jeep-track and superb single-track|
|MAP:||Available at www.3riverstrails.co.za|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||Honesty Box system for permit, but only valid for J-Bay Park Trails. You must register at
Crossways if you want to do the other trails
|FACILITIES:||Braai facilities, accommodation – www.jbayzebralodge.co.za|
|CELL RECEPTION:||Reasonable reception along route|
||Switchbacks, lots of bridges|
||Contact Didier Duc for more Jbay Bike Park MTB info. Telephone +27-83-778-9487|