CLOSEST CITY/TOWN: Bergville
DESCRIPTION: We’ve reviewed the Northern Drakensberg trails as a destination before, but when we returned in January, we were once again blown away by the spectacular mountain riding and the improved trail options that have been developed in the past two years since our last visit. Chris Mecklenborg is the trailmaster of the region. He’s fit and skilled and knows what feels good to ride – and you can feel that in all of the trails there.
One trail we love and feel is worth more focus is the Grotto Trail. It’s a challenging, but rewarding 27km loop, which sees you climbing around 400 metres! But the way Chris has built it, you never really feel like you’re labouring on an ascent, well, not for long anyway… There’s about 80% singletrack and it starts with a descent through the Gypsy Bend Trail, followed by a longish section on a river basin (all rivers here basically feed into the Tugela) called the Acacia Meander, which is like riding through an Acacia Tree tunnel at times. Then you begin to climb steadily into the mountain, heading past the Cavern Hotel and up a steep ascent to a couple of small dams. And here is where you enter heaven…
A thread of well-worn singletrack winds you into the belly of the mountain’s base and then turns you back towards the trailhead and takes you along the aptly named Surprise Ridge. Rises and dips, tight turns and fast bends, bridges and ridges and firm rock surfaces – all to yourself (these are far from crowded trails) and all to the sounds of baboons barking in the nearby kloofs.
It’s along here that you become fully aware of – or distracted by – the incredible mountain-ness of this trail. It’s truly a wonderful feeling and you really do feel a sense of privilege. And just as you’re beginning to get used to it, you take a right turn, head up a short climb and then hit the Trilby Trail descent (stay right at the fork) that takes you over the back of the plateau and into a different valley. Singletrack spreads into cattle track options on a descent that’s long enough to make it feel worth the climb. And climb you must, fairly gradually, back to the trailhead at All-out Adventures after having been treated to the stunning views of Mont aux Sources and the Tugela River.
The Grotto Trail is a skilled mountain biker’s playground, but best tackled with a reasonably good level of fitness. Moderately skilled riders will still enjoy it, but must expect some surprises – these trails are established, not manicured, there’s a difference.
DISTANCE: 27km (feels like double that!)
TYRES: The trail surface is largely hardpack and firm. Any tyre is actually fine here, but some sidewall protection is needed for the occasional sections of shale-type stone.
FACILITIES: There are toilets, showers and well-stocked café at the main trailhead at All-out Adventures. You can also ride from your accommodation venue if you’re overnighting in the area.
BEST THING: Riding in actual mountains. Also, the Northern Berg is still very wildnerness like. Not a lot of resorts so you feel far from the city chaos all the time.
WORST THING: Shew. Can’t think of anything to be honest.
BEST SEASON: All year round, but expect get snow in winter!
GET THERE: The very specific directions from Johannesburg and Durban are on the website. Ideally, you should spend a few nights at one of the resorts in the area. It’s a bit far to go for just a day ride…
COST: R100 per person per day or R180 for up to five days (includes a colour trail map)
SECURE PARKING: Yes.
CONTACT: www.alloutadventures.co.za; 036 438 6242
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*Originally published in TREAD Soul Provider Issue 31, 2014 – All rights reserved