Written by Mark Dixon & Amanda Judson
‘Banana?’ Amanda answered as she tucked into her slice of cake. As we had entered Pepper Boom restaurant in Groot Brak, I had asked the chef what his secret ingredient for his carrot cake was. Sure enough, it was banana, and it did add a twist to a favourite ‘after mountain bike treat’ of coffee and cake. So, when we sat down I had asked Amanda if she could identify the special ingredient.
We were lounging on the deck with coffee and carrot cake reflecting on our country ride just north of Groot Brak. Living in the Garden Route we are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a mountain bike ride or trail run and we usually select a route close to home.
But there comes a point where it is great to head out exploring and extend your range. The outline of Jonkersberg mountains from the N2 is impressive, and while we didn’t feel like a serious hill training session, we did relish the prospect of a meandering ride along the plateau below the mountain range. It was thus that we planned a route that circumnavigated the enormous Wolwedans Dam. The dam is the main source of water to Mossel Bay as well as the gas-to-liquids refinery of PetroSA, spans an impressive surface area of 117 hectares and is designed to hold 25 530 cubic metres of water.
The original plan was to park outside the Mossel bay Tourism office at the Dedekke shopping centre, but with road works from the off ramp, we headed directly to the little village of Groot Brak and parked at the Pepper Boom restaurant.
We set off through the village, a quaint settlement straddling the Groot Brak river and started with a 1.6km climb to the plateau and along Blesbok road. The road has many view points over the river and village before summiting the plateau, after which the landscape changes into a deceptively flat yet undulating rural one.
The road is initially dotted with a series of small scale farming small holdings which, when the route joins the Amy Searle road heading north, morph into large scale farms and game farms. From the 4.5km section of sealed road there are views of orchards being established, lodge accommodation and up ahead, the towering profile of the majestic Jonkersberg.
Throughout history mountains have invoked a quest to discover what is on the other side and it was initially with a sense of reluctance that we turned right off the sealed road and onto a gravel country road towards the Appieskloof Country Cottages that runs parallel to the Jonkersberg. But, like all back country mountain bike riding, there is always another adventure in waiting. It started with the green house on the corner; loud music blaring from the open door and an animated conversation that was in progress inside while a friendly dog timidly ventured through chickens scratching in the dirt. Shouting a ‘Good morning’ greeting to the family, we free-wheeled down the steep 1.2km pass to the river crossing of the Groot River. Pausing for a while on the low bridge, the river was pristine with an enticing pool in the typical tannin stained water. Just over the bridge we saw an overgrown track to the left which lead to another pool upstream (ideal for all skinny dippers!)
As with every steep descent, there is the reciprocal steep ascent which in this case linked to a meandering 4.9km journey through rolling paddocks and pastures of cattle country. Mirror-smooth dams, open green swathes of grass and tidy little houses were in stark contrast to our usual forest-shrouded rides closer to home. This was definitely not a ride against the clock, instead a ride to absorb the open spaces and very tempting to remove our helmets and enjoy the thrill of the wind through our hair. And all the while the majestic outline of Jonkersberg beckoned us closer to explore its contours.
Indeed, when we got to the T-junction with the Jonkersberg road, it was tempting to turn north and explore some more, but we decided to leave that for another day. As we turned right for the return section of the loop, two things happened; first the landscape morphed to a different agriculture and the road became extremely corrugated- the type of corrugations that make it difficult to get into a good riding rhythm. We were grateful though that, despite the corrugations, we were riding a slight downhill.
Turning right again onto the oddly named Charles Street, the route passed an optional detour to the Wolvedans Dam wall. We took the detour as it offered the one and only chance to witness the impressive Wolwedans Dam. Although there is no access to the road that leads down to the actual dam wall, the viewpoint from the gate and dam manager’s house is worth the detour- as is a chat with the friendly dam manager if you can find him. Built in 1990 and of noteworthy mention is that the Wolwedans dam was the first in the world single center arch-gravity dam made of roller-compacted concrete that fully relies on 3D arch action for stability.
Once back onto Charles street, it was a snaking and thrilling descent back into Groot Brak and a hunt for some much-needed sustenance. There are quite a few restaurant options flanking the river and we opted to try the Oyster Shack, a rustic establishment serving a basic menu of seafood and pizzas. Wanting something to cap off the outing we treated ourselves to coffee and carrot cake at the Pepper Boom, which was an absolute hit. Next time we will start off with breakfast there as well.
Route Specs :
Format : Loop
Distance : 34.5km
Ascent : 560m
Surface : 7km sealed surface, 27km gravel roads
Recommendations : In summer, carry a towel for a skinny dip in the Groot River. Start and finish at the Pepper Tree. Hide your stopwatch.