Words Andrew Steer, pics Andrew Steer and Reino van Wyk
Groenkloof Nature Reserve is a cycling gem right in the heart of Pretoria, and although I had tasted snippets of the area’s riding in various races over the years, it was time to give the trails a full whirl.
Although there is generally one route of about 20km on the 600ha premises, it can easily be broken down into manageable bits to suit riders of most levels. There is a 7km inner loop that could easily be classified as a “yellow”, entry-level ride. It is made up of dirt roads and jeep track, with little climbing required.
From this inner trail there are dozens of paths that branch off to add spice to the riding in Groenkloof. These paths are largely made up of singletrack and, while reasonably technical (around green level with a few bits of blue thrown in to the mix), they should for the large part be rideable by mountain bikers with a decent basic skill set. Riders can expect lots of fun: winding singletrack through bushy thickets; small, very rideable steps and jumps; lots of well-made and well-maintained bridges; a fair few rock gardens (tubeless is recommended); and the odd river crossing. There is a unique climb up through the aptly named “Milkshake Maker” where riders can, if they can keep their balance, ride a log path up the hill to avoid the more challenging task of the loose, rocky climb.
For riders new to the sport, there is always the option of walking sections they are uncomfortable with, and as the route regularly rejoins with the inner loop, the option to skip sections (depending on fitness and confidence levels) is readily available. This is one of the advantages of this type of route: it allows groups of differing skill levels to enjoy each others’ company for the most part, and encourages new riders to attempt sections they might not have if they were forced to commit to a full loop.
Note that the branches off the inner loop are mainly short sections of just a few hundred metres, though some are longer, so it’s best to grab a route map at the main entrance, or at the very least have a look at the route map posted at the kiosk. The last loop in particular (along the south-west part of the trail) is several kilometres long and contains some of the more technical challenges, so some thought should be put in before taking it on if you are not of a suitable fitness or skill level.
Adjoining Groenkloof is the Fountains Nature Reserve, a cross-country playground that your day pass allows access to. The riding here is probably the most challenging you will encounter (blue-level riding as a rule), with lots of short, sharp climbs and gnarly, tight descents to really get the heart racing. Plenty of bridges have also been built to join the numerous small sections and give the trail good flow throughout. Although not a great distance (up to 8km), the intensity of the riding makes it a hard workout and a great addition for riders looking for a bit of extra mileage and to sharpen up their skills. The markings are very good, in general, but there are various options for climbs.
The beauty of riding in Groenkloof and Fountains is that you not only get to ride great trails, but you are also enveloped by nature despite being right in the middle of South Africa’s capital. You are reminded of your location from time to time when you ride past highways or take in panoramas of the Pretoria skyline, but for the rest you are engrossed in the beautiful outdoors and the enjoyment that comes from riding awesome trails in lush bushveld while regularly spotting game. Though the animals are accustomed to humans, they are still wild and should be treated with respect. (No posing with the giraffes, please.) It is not a case of whether you will see animals, but when. To increase your chances of seeing some of the scarcer species in the park, it is best to go when it’s quieter (at first opening or in the afternoon) and less likely that other riders have pushed them away from the riding trails.
On the whole, the routes are well marked, with plenty of riding options to choose from. The trails are well-built and maintained by people who are clearly passionate about mountain biking. The facilities on offer and the fantastic picnic spot at the start/finish make this a great outing for the whole family – especially since there are mountain bikes and helmets available for rent.
It’s easy to see why this is such a popular destination, and I look forward to many more mornings spent in its captivating presence.
Proclaimed a game sanctuary by President Paul Kruger in 1895, Groenkloof was the first of its kind in Africa. It was established largely to protect the shy resident oribi and other game from the rampant hunting culture of the time. Unfortunately, during the world wars, portions were rented out for use as commercial plantations to supplement wood and paper production. In the late 1950s the Tshwane city council took ownership of the sanctuary, and since 1994 the reserve has been managed by the Department of Nature Conservation. Extensive programmes are being run in a bid to restore the original bushveld to its natural indigenous glory, and a great number of game have been reintroduced, including impala, kudu, blue wildebeest, zebra, sable, blesbok, ostrich, red hartebeest and giraffe.
The full package
• nice shaded parking
• a well-stocked food and drink kiosk that serves fresh boerie rolls
• clean ablutions
• a beautiful, well-kept picnic spot
• bike rental.
Just over half an hour from Johannesburg, and minutes from the Tshwane CBD, Groenkloof is reached via the entrance to the Fountains Valley Resort. Follow the R21 to Fountains Circle, and take the Fountains/Centurion turn-off into Christina de Wit Avenue. About 500m down the road, turn left into the entrance. Over weekends and on public holidays, visitors can also use the alternative entrance a few hundred metres farther.
GPS coordinates: 25°47'38.5"S 028°12'10.6"E
Summer (September–April): 5.30am to 7pm
Winter (May–August): 7am to 6pm
R30 for adults, R20 for schoolchildren and pensioners, and R10 for preschoolers.
MTB rental: R150–R200, depending on the bike (includes helmet).
Year pass: R700
Hiking (3,5/4/10km trails), trail running, guided horse trails, pony rides, 4×4 route, camping, environmental education, and night drives.
Source: Ride Magazine