That corner of the Oos-Kaap radiating outwards from ‘the world’s perfect wave’ rates as one of SA’s most underrated adventure destinations. The next time you come play in Kouga, you’d better pack your bike, backpack, and boots!
Words & Photographs by Jacques Marais
Khangela mfethu, Kouga is ‘n kief plek, no matter what language you speak. In Khoi, the name translates as ‘Place of Abundance’ an apt term to describe what has become a multi-cultural melting-pot-of-a-region … You get it all here – from unexplored wilderness areas and Big 7 reserves – to a diverse range of ecosystems and a scattering of quirky dorps.
The people are not too shabby either, and you’re bound to bump into anything from earthy agricultural folk, svelte surfers, esoteric tie-dye hippy types, urban metrosexuals and rural locals rooted deeply to the land. Language ebbs and flows here, too, with English, Xhosa or Afrikaans often blended into an easy-come-easy-go lingua franca.
Life is lived at a slower pace – for most, anyway –with the great outdoors beckoning 24/7, and the Kouganites (maybe they prefer Kougars!) play as hard as they work. Adventure options abound, but before we all disappear into the wide-sky spaces, here’s a quick-fire geography lesson to orient you…
Kouga unfolds between the Tsitsikamma River in the west and Van Stadens River to the east, and from here stretches to the Baviaanskloof in the interior. The main towns vying for attention include Jeffreys Bays, Hankey, Patensie, Humansdorp and St. Francis – as well as a bunch of smaller village – each with their own off-beat vibe.
Prehistory on this south-eastern coastal plain can be traced back 190 000 years, based on evidence found in shell middens along the ocean shore. Archaeologists believe a brutal ice age nearly wiped out the global homo sapiens population at the time, with as few as 600 of our forebears surviving here upon the undulating Agulhas Plain.
And what a place it was from which to repopulate Planet Earth! Imposing mountain peaks (Cockscomb tops out at 1 786m) loom inland, with splendid gravel passes such as Elands River transecting the foothills rucking up at its base.
Ancient dune fields beckon; lush arboreal forests unfold; arid Karoo plains simmer; and at some stage the Big Blue is sure to call your name … Maybe the ocean – and Jeffreys Bay in specific -is the best destination from which to start an exploration into the many treasures on offer here in the Kouga Region.
More information at www.kougatourism.co.za.
On the bike
Yup, we’ve featured the ‘3Rivers Trails’ system on MTB Routes before, but bear with me while I do a quick re-cap. And yes, there’s some good stuff happening on these trails, with the Woodridge Loop now becoming an integral part of the route network trail builders first came up with the idea of linking the various MTB trail networks a decade or so ago.
The “Trail Fathers” – aka the Puttergill brothers – had been farming here for ages, and Grant first started building singletrack in 2010. Their routes soon linked to those at Woodridge School, and the obvious next step was to merge into the extensive Longmore Forest trail system.
Here’s the good news: this bumped the total riding distance up to a solid 200km, with at 70km of this along sublime singletrack, so you can pedal here until your legs go blunt! The Puttergill clan is also constantly adding new trails, with their permit system now covering around 15 landowners, including the endless logging roads and tracks in Longmore Forest.
The routes traverse a massive area – all the way from Gamtoos – to Van Stadens River, and north across the mountains to Elands River. Crossways Village serves as the main trail head, with a few new delis and restaurants planned to add to the coffee and food vibe.
Now you just need to make the call as to what to ride… Will it be a hard-core gravel and Enduro outing along the Black Porcupine Route, or tight and technical single-track on the Longmore Link? At the end of the day, you won’t beat the fabulous flow of the ‘Holstein Trails’, combining pastoral farmland scenes, tranquil rivers, sweet-ass berms and superb wooden bridges. No matter what you go for, I guarantee you maximum fun!
And speaking of fun, that original Woodridge Loop has been given a full make-over by the 3River Trails trail builders; here’s the low-down!
Get Ready to be ‘Schooled’
Woodridge College boasts a rockabilly route brimming with a bunch of edgy berms, twists, turns and rock gardens, ranging from super-easy to extremely technical sections. This is a purpose-built trail (originally conceptualised by Billy Teeton) which pretty much traces the perimeter fence of the 240ha school grounds, offering an exhilarating mix singletrack cranking.
Around 95% of the 8km course is groomed and well-maintained singletrack, dipping and diving through indigenous bush tunnels, eucalyptus plantations and along fynbos ridgelines. Some steep descents and sharp climbs, terrain varying between rocks, sand and roots, and constant changes in vegetation will keep you fully focused.
The upgraded Woodridge Loop links to the Thornhill Route, and slots in perfectly with the rest of the 3 Rivers Trails network. This allows you to link to Longmore, Crossways Village as well as JBay Bike Park from a single trail hub, all while negotiating nearly 140km of off-grid gravel roads and well-maintained singletrack. Find out more at www.woodridgecollege.com.
Off the Bike in Kouga
3Rivers has several hiking trails catering for different levels of experience and fitness over a variety of landscapes, from basic jeep tracks, walking through indigenous and alien forests, passing through gorges and climbing mountains.
Surely Africa’s surfing capital does not need an introduction? After all, Super Tubes and Bruce’s Beauties have attained legendary status in salt-water circles spanning the globe, and sun-seekers from all around the planet come here in search for rays and waves on the beaches lining the balmy Indian Ocean. You do not need to be a pro surfer to enjoy the JBay vibe, as yu will find a wave to suit every skill level.
JBAY Zebra Lodge is set in a swathe of prime Eastern Cape indigenous bush, and you are virtually guaranteed close encounters with zebra, impala and other African wildlife while you bomb their exhilarating JBAY Bike Park trails.
Take the Klipwerf turn-off from the R27 between Williston/Brandvlei and Calvinia. (16km outside of Calvinia) Keep straight on the gravel road for 22km until you reach a sign Vanrhynshoek and Handvol Gruis, turn left. Keep straight for 6km.
|FAST FACTS BLOCK
|GRADING:||Easy to Technical|
|CONFIGURATION||8km circular loop|
|TERRAIN||Single-track, rocky sections|
|MAP||Available on www.3riverstrails.co.za|
||Permits available on www.3riverstrails.co.za|
|FACILITIES||Ablutions and water at Crossways Village|
|BEWARE OF||Some challenging rock gardens, slippery when wet|