Ah man, what a jol you can have on the West Coast! In this month’s MTB ROUTES Trail Blog, we give you the low-down on both the !Khwa ttu San Experience Trails, near Yzerfontein, and the new Living Colour Trail Adventure Centre, just up the road en route to Darling. Go give it gas!
Photographs & Word by Jacques Marais
Bru, if it is endless beaches and secret breaks you’re looking for, then Yzers should top your list. But mountain-biking … maybe not so much, hey? Yup, that’s what I thought until I discovered the !Khwa ttu San Trails, just a few kays inland from Yzerfontein. They rock, but let first talk ‘dorp’ for a wee while.
You get miles of unspoilt beach (in fact, at around 25km, this is the longest beach in SA) and an endless swathe of Big Blue, plus the whole shebang of associated ocean add-ons. Picturesque fishing boats chasing deep-water snoek, open-air crayfish restaurants, kiff coffee shops … if you’re one of those hipsterish sea dog types, then this is a match made in heaven.
The West Coast climate is welcoming year-round, though summer winds can be hurricane strength, while the icy Benguela Current necessitates a walrus-thick wetsuit. The wildlife loves it though and the area is a haven for birds and marine critters of all kinds. Explore the indigenous flora on terra firma along the Bokbaai Vygie Trail, while watching whales and dolphins cavorting in the waves.
Leisure options include fishing from the beach and rocks, collecting mussels or visiting historical sites such as the old Fish House and lime kilns. Superb marine birding can be had at Dassen Island, about 10km west of Yzerfontein, or go chill with a sundowners at Pearl Bay Heights while your eyeballs soak up the beauty of Table Mountain at sunset.
The !Khwa ttu San Centre is situated on a low hill overlooking the Yzerfontein coastline and at first glance my MTB sensors did not kick into Amber Alert. Once you wander past the Reception and Restaurant area, things change when you notice the Trail Signage, and you soon realise that Michael Daiber has put in a massive effort here.
Kick off on a dippy little downhill with half a dozen cheeky kickers where the trail crosses old irrigation walls. Watch your air though, as the landing zone can be loose and gritty in places. Less than a kay in, you bang across a narrow wooden bridge, and then start slowly contouring upwards along a gentle ascent.
Best of all is that you are riding pure, purpose-built single-track all the way with negligible sand, despite the hectic drought in the area. The trail-builder did a great job of using old agricultural contour walls, zigzagging you along them in long, loopy ess-bends to keep the ride edgy amidst the Renosterveld ridges.
Keep going clockwise around the hill until you summit at just on 5km, with a spectacular view over the scrub-covered plains unfolding towards the icy Atlantic Ocean. Drop down another kay and you reach the !Khwa Ttu boma, where guided riders may experience some good old West Coast hospitality.
That single-track will be calling your name though, so saddle up for a technical rock-drop into an old quarry; it is relatively tame, but you do have the option of a chicken run if the idea a Moab- descent scares the bejesus out of you.
Fast-forward down into the valley and then knuckle down onto a final climb as you contour clock-wise along the adjoining koppie. You pass a replica Bushman Village on the way, and if you keep your eyes open, chances are 99% that you’ll see zebra, eland, springbok, bat-eared fox and other game.
The last kilometre of downhill to !Khwa ttu is a play zone of note, with superb little jumps along a speedy trail section. The ride makes for a superb 10kays out on the bike, but the good news is that you have another 30km waiting along the Red Route. All you need to do is bomb the fence stile, and two hours of wild cranking awaits along a combo of even more single-track and gravel roads.
Or get stuck into Singletrack Heaven
OK, so maybe you’re looking for something slightly more challenging in the MTB department, my friend? Well, if that is the case, go check out Wolwefontein. This Darling Farm hosted one of the original singletrack trail networks in the area, but is now even lekkerder.
Trails: Beginners should opt for the 12.5km Green Route. You can expect a few gentle climbs, but with only 250m of altitude gain and nothing too technical, this will ride suit all levels of mountain bikers (or trail runners, if you are lacking in the bicycle department).
Intermediate riders will surely be tempted by the more advanced Red Route (20km), as this is aimed at those who enjoy an exhilarating combo of singletrack descents and rocky hill climbs, with a solid sprinkling of berms and switchbacks. The elevation gain is 500m and should keep moderately fit riders in the saddle for around an hour and a half.
You will find the ‘Living Colour’ trailhead just to the left of the R315 as you make your way from Yzers to Darling. Good news is that the routes are well sign-posted with colour-coordinated arrows, mostly along singletrack, but with the occasional stretch of jeep track here and there. A circular configuration traverses the farm in a clockwise direction on either side of the tarmac road.
Fortunately, you never cross the main road, instead ducking through culverts to avoid the traffic. You will reach the first of these (Cobra Culvert) after a couple of kays through the farm fields (make sure you do not to bump your head), before zig-zagging into the Darling Hills.
Expect a few ditches and wooden bridges as you blast through golden wheat fields, before passing through a second culvert to again return to the northern section of the farm. Competent riders are in for a treat as they ascend into a gritty section of challenging singletrack where you can be sure your legs will feel the burn!
Once you peak out, keep traversing the ridgeline to your left, passing through scenic fields onto what is definitely my favourite section of the ride. ‘Blue Gum Alley’ awaits, and you need to keep it tidy here, as the newly constructed berms make you a sweet and ‘rooty’ technical downhill blast into an optional ramp jump (or chicken run).
Continue to your right along the river course to finish on a leisurely ride to the finish. Both of the trails incorporate singletrack, hilly climbs and zippy descents, but you can choose whether to negotiate the trickier switchbacks, berms, stiles over farm fences and rock garden sections. Keep in mind that Gabri and Kevin will keep adding to the trail menu, with links planned to other routes in the area, too.
Bottom line, the route is 99% rideable, even for cautious riders, and you can always portage or push should the going get too tough. Trail runners are welcome, too, and a good dollop of trail etiquette will ensure that everyone has a blast on these stunning, multi-use trails.
Living Colour also offers Adventure rides in the form of the Black Harrier (3 days/2 nights), Saturday Darling Vine rides (39km) and guided weekend rides through the lesser-known trails in the Darling hills.
Best Time of Year to Visit
Weather is great year-round, but expect rain and the occasional icy tempest in winter.
!Khwa ttu San is exactly 70km from Cape Town city centre on the R27 (West Coast Road) on the right hand side 4 km before the R315 intersection to Yzerfontein /Darling.
Living Colour is situated about equidistant from Darling and Yzerfontein; look out for the signboards on the R315 approximately 5km before you reach Darling.
|FAST FACTS BLOCK
||!Khwa ttu San Centre Trails|
|CONFIGURATION||Circular options – 10/30km|
|START POINT:||!Khwa ttu San Reception|
|COORDINATES:||33°21’44.55″ S / 18°16’14.12″ E|
|TERRAIN:||Purpose-built single-track; jeep track|
|MAP:||Map boards and superb signage|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||Permit upon paying entry fee|
|FACILITIES||Ablutions, restaurant, shop and secure parking|
|BEWARE OF:||Jumps with loose landing zones|
||www.khwattu.org / 022 492 2998 – speak to Michael|
|FAST FACTS BLOCK
||Living Colour Trail Centre|
|GRADING:||Easy to Intermediate|
|START POINT:||Living Colour Trail Centre|
|COORDINATES:||33°20’53.0″S / 18°20’28.8″E|
|TERRAIN:||90% single track with some jeep track|
|MAP:||Available on www.livingcolour.co.za|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS||R50 day licence available at Living Colour|
|FACILITIES||Large bathroom facility including showers|
|CELL RECEPTION:||Good coverage|
|BEWARE OF:||Snakes – and loads of devilthorns – in summer|
|CONTACT:||Cell: 072 901 2532|
Squirt December Tip:
Yup, it’s the Festive Season, and Santa’s watching you! A clean bike means you’ll get more presents come Xmas, so you’d better break out the SQUIRT Bike Cleaner.
The good news is that this world-class product is available either in a ready-to use 750ml spray bottle (or in travel-size 60ml bottles, too), as well as in concentrate solutions in both 1l and 5l sizes (the latter is more economical and therefore perfect for bike shops and event organisers). A handy tip to keep in mind is that the normal dilution of 1:25 is perfect for general bike washing applications, while you should work on double-strength (1:12) or stronger when degreasing your chain. (A side note: if you’re using SQUIRT Chain Lube, there will hardly ever be wax build-up on your chain, which means you won’t even have to think of cleaning it).
Also remember to always leave the foam on the area you’re cleaning for a few minutes before you start to wash, as this allows the powerful degreaser to kick in and soften the gunk, enabling you to gently rinse without the need for heavy scrubbing. The spray bottle is by far the best way to apply the bike cleaner, as it covers a large surface area with foam and equates to minimal wastage. The good news is that SQUIRT Cycling Products are biodegradable and therefore kind to the planet, so even those suds that drips down onto the grass won’t destroy the environment.