Tucked away in a dip less than a stones throw from the busy N3 in the Natal Midlands lies the little town of Howick. It is all hustle bustle but unassuming, old school and filed with farm vehicles and people. Over the rise in the bordering Sappi forests lies the awesome Howick mountain bike trails singletrack. Laid out in the form of a fan from the highest point in the area is a selection of singletrack from smooth flowing forest lanes to gnarly rock gardens that will make you clinch or break your teeth depending on your skill level.
The Howick trail system has been setup and controlled by the Howick Mountain Bike club. This mountain bikers paradise is not well known, not because it is hidden but rather due to its low key nature.
We stayed at a holiday house on one of the surrounding farms, a comfortable accommodation option for families with kids. The local bike shop in town Adrenalin Cycles is a good spot to find all the trail information. We spoke to Grant at the shop and he pointed us in the right direction and was able to give us the necessary SAPPI access permits. These permits are vital in the control of the use of the trails and for insurance purposes for the land owners.. As usual mountain bikers are visitors to this land and if this is to continue or hopefully grow then all riders need to bide by the agreements and rules.
We entered the trail at Home Jerome, one of the many named trails. In fact all the trails are named so although there is not a map and arrows to show the way we soon worked out our bearings and made the connection to all the trail names. Discovering new trails and riding randomly until you pop out somewhere is one of those special things about mountain biking. All the trails are marked, but you still need to keep your bearings about you to make sure you don’t get lost in the woods.
We spent 3 consecutive days riding these trails and everyday we rode our favourite bits of the previous day as well as some brand new trails. The first day was just after some serious rain so the trails were a bit slippery but they dried out nicely in the next few days so the riding was perfect. Most of the trails are inside the forest and weave in-between the trees. There is a good mix of some flatter terrain in the early part of the trails as well as some nice flowing tracks that will be ride able by all riders. To get to the more serious stuff you need to tackle the climb up to the mast. The easy route is up is along the zig zag forestry jeep track. If you want more of a challenge then you can pick one of the many singletracks to ride up, they are steeper and more direct but also more fun. Once you get to the top there are many options to get down. Pay attention to the warnings though because there are some of the trails that will require several inches of suspension and decent skills to get you down in one piece.
Just when we thought we had ridden all the good stuff we found even more. On the last day we hooked up with Andre from Rushsports. What a difference riding with someone who new all the trails, he pieced together an awesome mornings riding as we cris-crossed the mountainside from one singletrack to the next.
We had so much fun on the Howick trails that we didn’t even get a chance to get to the Karkloof trails just up the road. So we will have to go back to sample those Howick trails again and make a visit to the supposedly better Karkloof trails.