Ride here - Fun Gaalens
Words Warren Roux, pics Andrew Steer
Van Gaalen Cheese Farm in Skeerpoort is not just a great place to stop for lunch, it's also the home base for the biggest mountain bike trail network on the highveld. Host to many mountain bike races over the years, the trail network crosses 30 privately owned farms and provides riders with a massive buffet of riding options, regardless of confidence level.
Whether you want to enjoy an easy dirt-road cruise in the great outdoors with your family, or do a massive 75km marathon ride in preparation for your next big multi-day adventure, Van Gaalen has something for you. The whole project was put together painstakingly by (now) passionate mountain biker Erik Schipper, in conjunction with members of the local farming and outdoor community. Beautifully designed singletrack, lung-busting climbs, roller coaster riverbeds and purpose built riding bridges await enthusiasts in the foothills of the Magaliesberg mountains.
There are several sections on offer for riders to choose from and put together as they wish; there is a map available at the start – take one as the route marking can be a little confusing at times. Plan out your routes and always keep in mind that although some of the sections aren't long in distance, they can provide a serious challenge due to the rough terrain – always keep something in reserve.
The routes are not graded by colour, so basically a little bit of common sense is required when deciding on your route/s for the day. The dirt roads and the River singletrack are suitable for riders of pretty much any level, beyond there though, the routes are all reasonably challenging in parts and riders need to be technically efficient and of a decent fitness level. There is, of course, always the option to just walk sections one is not comfortable with.
The Magaliesberg is renowned (or should we say infamous) for it's hard sharp rocks and tubeless tyres are advised if you're going to head into the rougher sections – plugs too, just in case! The temperature can get really hot (even in winter) and the trails are often quite exposed, so always plan your hydration and nutrition accordingly. Otherwise, just enjoy the trails, a lot of time and effort have gone into this great little mountain biking mecca!
This smooth fast singletrack starts off with some fun cane-field tunnels before taking you along an amazing roller coaster ride along the Skeerport and Magalies Rivers. For the most part it's not particularly challenging, but there are some slightly more technical deviations that riders can look out for. It's an ideal section for new riders to experience the joys of mountain biking: it's relatively flat and only moderate bike skills are required to enjoy it. It also takes you out towards two other loops: Oom Piet’s and the Greek Church.
This loop runs off the end of the River singletrack, starts with a long dirt-road climb, which then becomes singletrack and takes you up into the foothills of the Magaliesberg. Once near the top, riders can look back over the trails and take a well-earned drink before heading across for a pilgrimage at the old Greek Church. What follows is an action-packed, rocky, singletrack descent that really gets the heart racing! To finish off, there is a final plunge down a dry (sometimes not so dry) riverbed that will leave technically proficient riders grinning from ear to ear! There is an option of an easier route for less technically skilled riders. The route ends up back on the River route, heading back to the cheese farm.
The furthest west of all the trails, Oom Piet’s heads off the dirt road just past the Greek Church loop and the River singletrack. It is similar in complexity to the Greek Church loop as it also heads up into the foothills of the Magaliesberg, with long and challenging climbs along a farm fence, before bringing you back down towards the river on an epic white-knuckle descent. Riders can also enjoy sightings of vultures enjoying the afternoon thermals, from the local vulture restaurant.
Relatively flat, with the odd berm here and there; you will basically be traveling on an old abandoned railway track with plenty of bumpy sleepers to navigate. The main purpose of this track is to join up various sections of the southern trails: Pomphuis, Dagga Pad, and Tannie Miems among others. Take care when crossing the dirt roads and pay heed to the street signs, as cars will often be encountered.
Just a few hundred metres into the railroad section (if you are coming from the western side – Oom Piet’s) you will see some signage for the Pomphuis, named after the pumphouse (not a brothel) you pass en route. The trail is circular in nature, returning to the Railroad track on completion. The first part is a slight incline on sandy singletrack, becoming rockier as you get nearer to the top. Once up top, you will ride some rocky, loose pack gravel and bedrock and pass the little pumphouse before bombing down the long farm service road back to the railroad tracks.
Accessed via a dirt road branching off the eastern side of the Railroad track, this is a challenge firmly etched into my mind from the Route 69 MTB Experience. The Concrete Strips climb takes no prisoners as riders gain 70m+ in elevation over a very short distance, no doubt a popular segment with the Strava KOM fundis. Once over the climb, riders will head out to the challenging Gully, Pofadder and Tannie Miems sections. The end of this segment comes at a T-junction not long after a short, steep and technical descent. A left turn takes you up to Pofadder and Tannie Miems while a right turn will drop you down into the Gully.
Gradually heading down back towards the railroad, this is the easier route back from the Concrete Strips, with much fun to be had as you ride past an old derelict house and tackle some nice loose quartz gravel sections (some off camber) before meeting back up with the railway.
Probably the most demanding section with uber-steep, loose, rocky climbs, this section takes you up to the ridge line of the mountain, where you ride for a while taking in the beautiful vistas and maybe even a drink and a photo-stop, before taking on the challenging descent with it's sweeping switchbacks that will make you as tired as the climb that got you there.
A short steep little climb will bring you to a metal bridge, crossing this bridge will mark the start of, without a doubt, the most flowing and scenic section at VeeGees. This trail has everything loose rocky downhills, a pump track section next to a river, some reed tunnels and a magical forest with singletrack that will make you feel like you are in Whistler, Canada. Try keep your wits about you through this section as it's quite easy to get lost.
Van Gaalens really has it all in terms of riding – unbelievable singletrack, challenging climbs and descents, and options for every fitness level. The only minor negative would be the route markings, which, due to the numerous farms you cross and the massive area the routes traverse, do sometime leave a little to be desired. So pick up a route map when signing in and when in doubt you can always refer back to that.
There are loads of little bridges over the farm fences you encounter, which are easy to ride, but must be attacked with confidence and straight on. As you are on private land 90% of the time, please ensure you never leave anything but tracks behind, it's in everyone’s interest to keep the landowners happy.
The trails are, for the large part, very well kept with lots of purpose-built bridges (even a floating one!) and endless singletrack that can only leave you with a massive smile on your face! Riders can get in as much as 75km on the trails, but that can easily be extended with a trip to Hekpoort over Breedt’s Nek, which will comfortably take them over the 100km mark. The restaurant is a great place to catch your breath, enjoy good food and reminisce over a great day of riding with your friends and family. What are you doing this Saturday?
In 1990, the van Gaalens immigrated from the Netherlands. Living in the peace and quiet of the countryside, Annelies soon realized that this was the ideal setting to begin making cheese like the Dutch voorvaders. It started out as a hobby, but as the demand for Boerenkaas grew, it soon became a successful venture. In 1994, Van Gaalen Kaasmakerij was officially registered.
The idea of producing cheese was a good one, but the South African cheese culture was almost non-existent in 1994. Gouda and Cheddar were basically the only familiar cheeses. Education and promotion became a very important part of the cheese farm’s activities. Originally cheese was sold at markets and to delicacy shops, supermarkets and restaurants, but these days the cheese is only sold from the farm shop.
More and more visitors came to the farm to buy Boerenkaas and in 1999 it was decided that a new building had to be erected in order to accommodate the growing flow of visitors. Erik found an old chicken shed in Natal, fetched the steel construction and started building. The Millennium Party was the opening party of the new building. Hundreds of trees were planted at the same time to provide shade on the terraces and other places on the farm.
Today the farm is a hive of activity. Farm animals entertain the guests. Besides the farm shop there is a garden restaurant and the cheese production, the farm hosts tours, conferences, weddings, and events, and the Magalies MTB trails start here. The riverbanks are perfect for picnics – romantic or otherwise.
Plenty of parking
In summer from 6.00am
In winter from 7.00am
Closed on race days
Hot temperatures can be experienced throughout the year so riders should be well prepared with regards to hydration and nutrition.
R50 for a day licence sticker (Don't forget to grab a route map!)
At the junction of the R512 and R560 in Skeerpoort
GPS coordinates: S25º47’271”, E27º46’327”
New Balance Impi Challenge
Source: Ride Magazine