Durban - Mountain bikers love the end-of-year holidays. First, Christmas gives riders the excuse to buy themselves a glut of gizmos to bling out their bikes – and maybe that 13th cheque can even stretch to buy a new ultra-light, carbon-fibre, dual-suspension 650B with the latest 1x11 gearing system.
But more important, December also means a chance to take annual leave, which any self-respecting cycling fanatic knows translates to some time for a relatively guilt-free opportunity to head out on the trails.
Without the need to dedicate eight hours daily to earning a living, mountain bikers can treat their families to a holiday, and, if cunning plans are well executed, riders can slip away for a couple of hours each day and whoop their way down some adrenalin-inducing trails while the family still enjoys the delights of the holiday destination.
So, what makes for a perfect mountain biking holiday?
The ideal is having a partner and children who ride. Planning then becomes easy, with the priority simply finding the best riding with comfortable accommodation nearby. The only other questions that need answering are: Does the hotel/B&B/cottage include a place to store expensive bicycles, and does it have somewhere to wash them when the mud builds up to the point where other riders cannot identify if you are riding an over-priced Cannondale, Specialized or Santa Cruz?
However, if loved ones do not share the passion for self-propelled excitement on two wheels, then the holiday destination must also balance the needs of the rest of the family.
The difference between full-family participation and balancing a mountain biking addiction with the needs of loved ones means there are three distinct options for cycling fanatics when planning their holidays.
The first two alternatives, which satisfy the lonely obsessives, are: going to a resort where mountain biking is offered as part of the package; or booking accommodation which may not necessarily have cycling as an option, but is in an area which is rich in mountain biking trails.
The third choice is to plan a holiday with an operator that specialises in mountain biking tours, and obviously these are geared more towards groups or families where everybody cycles – strangely enough, non-cyclists do not usually enjoy a cycle tour.
In KwaZulu-Natal, the recent boom in the sport has resulted in a wide range of holiday venues adding mountain biking to their marketing menu and the following are a few resorts, destinations and tour operators who can be relied on to satisfy most cycling fanatics…
When planning an off-road riding holiday for a group of riders it is often worth getting a recognised MTB-specialist tour operator. Mountain biking has inherent dangers and having somebody who already has procedures in place for emergencies is often worth more than the freedom to change plans and do your own thing, especially for novices, and even more so if the trip is outside South African borders. The joy of planning is taken away, but is replaced by a hassle-free holiday and the knowledge that the routes should be suited to skill levels and all permissions and bookings are in place.
Detour Trails is owned and run by adventuring fanatic Rohan Surridge and specialises in hosting groups of riders for “real” mountain bike trips.
Standard excursions take riders well off the beaten tracks for three- to eight-day trips to Pondoland, Wild Coast, Lesotho, Battlefields, and No Man’s Land (in the foothills of the Maluti mountains) as well as Zimbabwe and Kenya. Rohan is however an adventurer and he enjoys putting together a custom trip for any group dynamic, from the racing snakes looking for a tough week-long training camp to the weekend warrior hoping for a leisurely two-day dawdle far away from the urban distractions. Just about the only trip Rohan does not like organising is one that includes tar! To contact Rohan phone 082 896 0392 or e-mail [email protected] while there website is www.detourtrails.co.za
Pietermaritzburg-based Steve Forster offers custom tours to remote destinations that include the Himalayas, Vietnam, Peru and the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia. Closer to home he also hosts fantastic riding trips to Clarens, the north Eastern Cape, Maluti Mountains or Lesotho or you can contact Steve to put together a package that suits any level of experience and fitness. Ride Away can be found at www.rideawaytours.com or you can mail [email protected] or phone 082 895 1669.
A holiday at a family-orientated hotel resort is without doubt the easiest and most relaxed way to take a break – you simply have to plan your riding time around the meal times and enjoy your time in the saddle as the non-riders lounge around the pool or partake in the activities that are on offer at the more organised resorts.
Natal Spa Hot Springs and Leisure Resort
Natal Spa is well known as a perfect place to unwind and refresh after visiting the famous historical northern KZN battlefields which litter the area, but there are few better ways to recover from a mountain bike ride than soaking in their magnificent natural hot springs.
The management is in the process of adding a network of mountain bike trails on their 55ha property and the superbly planned single-track offers something for everybody from the weekend warrior looking for a gentle ride through the bushveld to sections of slightly more technical riding, as well as a BMX and skills track.
Natal Spa can be contacted on 034 995 0300 or [email protected]
Drakensberg Gardens Golf and Spa Resort
Drak Gardens – famous as a family holiday destination with the clichéd old formula of golf for dad, spa for mom, loads of kids’ activities day and night, and enough good food to turn a ramp model into a sumo wrestler – is still attracting scores of happy guests. Recently they have added 12km of surprisingly entertaining MTB trails. Riders can meander around the dam and golf course, before testing themselves on slightly more technical riding through the forest overlooking the resort. If that is not enough activity for a dedicated rider, nearby Underberg has built up a network of superb trails and a short drive (or somewhat less short ride) will open up another couple of days’ riding. Drakensberg Gardens can be contacted on 033 701 1355 or [email protected]
For passionate riders looking for some special riding, KZN is blessed with some of the country’s best mountain bike parks and there is no shortage of riding close to magnificent holiday destinations. Most parks will charge a daily rate to use their trails (usually about R50 for the day) but the rewards are huge with, in some cases, hundreds of kilometres of trails that can keep mountain bikers caked in mud for the complete duration of your annual time away from the corporate world.
Summer’s “Little Joburg” is a five-minute drive or 20-minute ride away from arguably KZN’s best mountain biking training venue, Holla Trails, and the soon-to-be opened Sugar Rush Adventure Centre. Bizarrely, these two mountain biking centres are about 50m apart. The latter are still building their trails while Holla has about 340km of well-established riding that caters for just about every need. Mountain bikers can choose from the 85km black route which suits the Epic hopefuls, to 13km and 14km options and kids’ routes for laid-back meanders around Ballito cane farms and natural forests.
Karkloof, Howick and Pietermaritzburg
If Karkloof, Howick and Hilton, mountain bikers are known to argue about which area has the best mountain biking in the country. The reality is that there is so much riding in the interconnected zones that anybody with any kind of interest in mountain biking will find something to satisfy their addiction. Adrenalin fuelled downhillers can get their kicks by mimicking Pietermaritzburg local world champion Greg Minnaar at Cascades; skinny ultra-distance endurance riders have so many kilometres of trails they could ride for weeks without repeating routes; cross country racers have courses to test their speed and strength and freeriders can become so connected to nature they will happily hug a tree or two.
Durban and Hillcrest
Giba Trails near Pinetown is probably the benchmark against which all mountain bike parks should be tested. They have an ever-increasing number of superbly-maintained trails to go along with arguably the best coffee-shop/ restaurant/ bar at an MTB park, and the World Cup-standard BMX track provides hours of entertainment for the smaller riders on their small bikes. The trails range from a flat (but very short) ride to the waterfall to sweeping descents and tight, steep climbs. Every mountain biker should visit Giba at least once, but unless you opt for the short waterfall ride then expect to climb.
Northern and Central Berg
Mountain Splendour Eco-Resort is a mountain biking haven in the central berg with purpose built single track on the property, while the more adventurous riders can find other trails in the area for longer rides. In the northern berg the best riding is probably from All Out Adventures who have linked 100km of marked trails spread over the surrounding farms and holiday resorts (such as Alpine Heath and The Cavern). The network of riding varies from challenging and technical to easy and flowing and is worth a visit.
Clearwater Trails in Port Edward provides a fantastic mix of riding in a very compact area. The trails are made up of 80 percent hand-built single track, plus jeep track and gravel road.
The routes, ranging 5km to 16km, can be linked into a 40km ride that includes berms, switchbacks, natural ramps, bridges and water crossings. About 20 minutes inland of Amanzimtoti (and 30 minutes from Durban or Pietermaritzburg via the N3) the Virginia Farm Trails in Eston offer 65km of interesting trails with some spectacular views. - Sunday Tribune