The Bottelary Hills MTB route offers hours of riding bliss on superb trails that are not too gnarly and views that are utterly indescribable (although we’ll try our best).
With two bikes in the back of a Nissan Juke, we left home on a crisp autumn morning in mid-May to try out the Bottelary trails. Cranking up The Offspring’s Come out and Play (a golden oldie and a perfect mood enhancer), we felt psyched for a morning of exploring new MTB routes. It was a chilly 90C but with no wind and big blue skies, optimism for a perfect morning’s ride reigned, and we weren’t disappointed. The trails fall within the Bottelary Hills Conservancy, on the northern fringe of Stellenbosch, approximately 40km east of Cape Town. We bought day permits for R50 each at the Soneike Engen Garage in Kuils River on our way (other locations listed below). We then headed on to Hazendal Wine Estate and unloaded our bikes in the parking lot. Cycling out of the farm’s entrance, we crossed the road and turned right. After 150m, turn left at the marked trail onto a gravel track, where pink arrows direct you from there to join up with the green loop.
After 2.5km, the green trail meets up with the main red trail. This is a 27.5km circular route of mostly jeep track, with a few sections of singletrack, that runs around the hills and from which various other loops, such as the purple and yellow, branch off or overlap. We followed the well-marked trails, drinking in the pleasant landscape that meanders across gently undulating farmland, taking you through vineyards and past farmer’s homesteads with their lush gardens. The first climb of the day (still part of the green track) takes you up at a fairly gentle gradient but continues for over a kilometre up the hill. At the top of the climb we turned left to join up with the red route.
This part of the red route is made-up mainly of jeep track, although there are portions of innocuous singletrack that weave through farmland between the gravel roads and eventually lead to a section of sunken brick road that looks vaguely yellow. We couldn’t help but follow it… The second long climb is about 1.5km long and reaches a point at the top that overlooks the Welgelegen 4×4 trail with parts that seem to head vertically up the hill, on the wine estate. The mountain-bike route is more forgiving, both of us were on 29ers with 2×10 speed gearing and at no point did we feel like we had run out of gears while climbing. Heading off from the top of this climb, we found ourselves parallel to the R304 with the Stellenbosch mountains flanking us to our left and Devonvale Golf and Wine Estate below. Although firm, the trail is covered with a fine layer of sand, so don’t corner too fast or bank your bike at too much of an angle, or your tyre is going to slide out. It sounds scarier than it is, though. As long as your riding is controlled and you are aware, you’re unlikely to get caught out.
This portion of the route is picturesque and the trail becomes a little more interesting. It continues up, down, around and through vineyards and after dipping towards the valley floor it flattens out for a short while. Here we passed another two mountain bikers chilling under a tree. Of course, what goes down, must go up (or is that the other way around?) and we headed skywards on the third climb of the day, which brought us to a point where the purple and red trails overlap and the Lizard trail begins. This fun section of singletrack is not too technical, but it can get a little rocky in places; pick your line carefully. A rocky rise, around a corner and you find yourself on the saddle between two of the Bottelary hilltops, looking right towards Table Mountain, at another hilltop covered in pine trees in front, and Somerset West to the left. More singletrack takes you down this time before (no surprises here) you head up again on a short piece of jeep track to the treeline and the beginning of the Ribbok Trail.
The forest brings welcome relief from the sun and a sense of freedom as you swoop over the trail layered in brown pine needles, leaning in to the corners and chilling on your bike. At one point there is a yellow sign with three red arrows pointing down to warn you of possible danger. We whizzed by and I never quite figured out what it was meant to indicate; perhaps it was merely to caution you to slow down, as the next corner was a little tighter and steeper than the rest, although hardly worth a mention. After you exit the trees, there is a another sign really does caution you to slow down (this time they spell it out – literally) just before three or so neatly bermed corners, the first of which is the tightest. Once again, bear in mind the fine layer of sand that can cause sliding.
At this point, you are high on the hill with your back to the Polkadraai Road that runs far below between Kuilsriver and Stellenbosch. You continue to gain altitude on singletrack that folds back on itself like a limp piece of string that someone accidentally dropped. On reaching the summit, we stopped under a tree, quenched our thirst and took the track that runs along the saddle between two hills towards the Mongoose trail, the last bit of singletrack for the day. This satisfying section of trail heads downhill, with gentle switchbacks and smooth berms mostly. However, the ground on a few of the last corners has been quite badly eroded, leaving jutting rocks and abraded berms. After a particularly rugged bit, the trail dips down through a sprinkling of trees and over a bridge. When you come out on the other side, you are at the bottom of the singletrack and it’s all downhill to where you started, at the trailhead opposite Hazendal.
Plan your ride
Sunrise to sunset, no night riding
R50 – available at: Devonvale Hotel, Asara Wine Estate, Zevenwacht Country Inn, Soneike Engen Garage or De Kuipe Bistro.
students and under 18)
Hazendal Wine Estate on Bottelary Road, near Brackenfell, Zevenwacht Wine Estate on the Kuilsriver side, Devonvale Golf and Wine Estate on the Stellenbosch side. Asara Wine Estate off the R310 between Stellenbosch and Kuilsriver and Devon Valley Road. The Overgaauw Wine Estate offers an additional access point for annual permit holders only.
Red Route: 27.5km with 705m of climbing
Yellow Loop: 6.5km with 140m of climbing
Purple Loop: 9km with 240m of climbing
Green Loop: 11km with 313m of climbing
Orange Loop: 9.3km with 155m of climbing
Winters are wet but there are some stellar days, where the sun is out and it’s great riding weather. Summers are generally hot, add an extra 5°C to the predicted weather for Cape Town. Spring can be wet, windy or both. Autumn is blissful.
Although the trails are not overly technical, the route that we did – 40km in total – took us three hours, but for those less accustomed to mountain biking, it could be closer to four hours in the saddle.
Wine and dine
There is a myriad choices in the wine-producing valley that encircles these trails. Here are just two.
De Kuipe Bistro
Family and bike-friendly with a park and ride facility and MTB day permit sales. De Kuipe offers burgers, wraps, paninis, salads, coffee and raw juices. Situated on Dwars-in-die-Weg farm, Devon Valley Road, Stellenbosch. dekuipe.co.za
Asara Hotel and Wine Estate
Beautiful views, five-star luxurious accommodation, four restaurants on site and trail access. What more could you want? www.asara.co.za
Text: Elise Kirsten
Photos: Stephen and Elise Kirsten