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14 Aug, 2015

Going on a trail safari

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Where did your bike take you last weekend? Mine takes me to places like Hero Adventure Park at Heia Safaris!
Blue trail at Heia Safaris takes riders over and under this specially-constructed bridge. Here Gert Schoeman drops off onto one of the many sharp berms on the route.
Riding trails on a typical Highveld winter’s day. What could be better?
Sean Kruger riding fast into one of the many berms at Heia Safaris.
The blue route is definitely family friendly.
Gert Schoeman trying out the “splash-and-dash”. There is the option to avoid it.
There is quite a bit of game on the property, with zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and an ostrich seen during one visit. And, yes, there is a donkey too, who obviously thinks he is a zebra!
Sean Kruger and Gert Schoeman take a breather after the first hill of the red route. The view is spectacular and the rondawels visible are available for accommodation.

Heia Safaris bike park, or Hero Adventure Park at Heia Safaris as it is officially known, sort of sprang up without much fanfare but has slowly become one of the more popular bike parks in Gauteng. So we went to find out why …

Now if riding berms is your thing, then the trail at Heia Safaris is definitely for you.

There must be millions of the things. Scattered all over the blue and red trails like GU packets at a race water point.

Most of them are in excellent condition too, although some are a bit “crusty”, which results in plenty of excitement as your back wheel, or in worst case scenario, your front wheel, loses grip as the dry clay gives way.

But, no matter what speed you hit them at (I’m told the faster, the better), they are always fun.

And the trails at Heia Safaris, except perhaps the red trail, can be described as fun. So when I was persuaded to go there on a windy winter’s Sunday during July, a whole lot of fun was thrust my way.

While waiting for our other trail-riding buddy Sean Kruger to join us (he “whimped” out and drove to Heia whilst Gert Schoeman and I pedalled from home), we mixed the lime and a bit of the blue trail to kill time.

And he called to say he was in the parking lot as we rode a rather technical but thoroughly enjoyable blue section “down by the river” so we rode back up the hill, through a collection of rondawels – which can be booked – and the reception building to meet up with him.

So with that rather nasty climb (and the 20-odd kilometre ride to the venue) already in our legs, we started the blue route properly again. And, in order to make sure our legs were warmed up, it started with a jeep track climb.

Just before the main entrance to the property, the blue route takes a left hand sweeping turn away from the “main” jeep track from the gate to the reception, and heads down towards a collection of earthen walls which probably formed a dam in a previous “life”.

This became our pleasure dome for the next few minutes as the trail builders have built an amazing collection of turns, drop offs, sharp climbs and windy bits that just “have to” be ridden at speed.

The trail then takes you back up to the property’s entrance, only to take you over a bridge and onto the first stretch of berms. At speed, and you get up to a fair gait as these are mostly downhill, these berms keep your line honest and your knees, core and shoulders working as you wind down a slope.

After this, you climb again as the steely gaze of blue wildebeest and zebra meet your eyes when you look up to see how far you still need to climb. Fortunately, it isn’t “that” far and, after dipping under the previously-mentioned bridge, you hit the fastest section of berms as the trail leads you, helter-skelter down to the bottom of that particular hill.

A fast berm to the right leads you to a rather muddy (even in the dry winter) crossing and then a mud-encrusted hill to the top of … you guessed it … yet another section of switchback berms that lead you back down, and then back up towards yet another section of “berm” switchbacks which take you back down again.

Now this is one of those places where you must be very careful. At the bottom of this hill, there is a split in the track with the left option giving the rider an adrenalin-pumped jump and the right a rather fast mini-drop off. Your choice.

A loop past a dam – complete with a splash-and-dash option – and you’re back on a section of berms and turns. One after the other they happen and, as your speed (and confidence) builds, you aim higher and higher on these berms.

Then, a quick but steep climb and you on the dam wall. Heading towards the splash-and-dash. Fortunately for those with too much hi tech stuff with them, there is an option to ride around the dam (rather than over it!) and join the trail on the other side.

A cute, tree encrusted technical section follows, with plenty of sharp turns, short steep climbs, a few camel humps and a drop off or two and you are back into open country.

The open country ends in a beautiful technical section “down by the river”. With drop offs, sharp turns and some pretty interesting features, you cannot let your technical skills go to sleep during this section but, with your wits about you and by keeping your momentum on the good side of OK, you will enjoy this short but shady part of Heia Safaris’ mountain bike trail.

After that, we stopped. The choice? A suspension bridge over the river leading to the suspicious-sounding red trail or carry on past the dam wall and up to the remainder of the blue section.

Without thinking, Sean crossed the bridge. So, after sneaking a few photographs, I followed him over the bridge and onto a lovely, windy river section.

Then you turn right and go up. And after going up, you go up some more. And after that, the “real” hill starts. Ouch!

The rest of the 15-odd kilometre red trail is something of a blur. There is just about everything in there, hard riding up hills, switchbacks, yet more berms, drop offs, long drags across open country (where the wind either assists you or tries to push you backwards), technical river sections, sharp corners and yet more rocky uphills.

It reminded me a bit of day two of the FNB Wines2Whales. Stretches of relatively open jeep track followed by exhilarating (and often terrifying technical sections) and then open trail again. I gave this snippet of wisdom to my two buddies – neither of whom has ridden a stage race yet – and they gave me that nod of appreciation (or was it anger that my legs, which are more used to long endurance rides than theirs, were able to stretch the string between them and me quite often on the long hills).

On this section, you actually ride through two houses. The technical nature of these short stretches perhaps giving a bit of respite before the next drawn out section of switchback climbs alternating with descents.

Eventually, after a fair amount of hard riding, a collection of drop offs takes you over the bridge, in front of the main dam wall and back to the blue trail. As time wasn’t on everyone’s side, we opted to grab a bite to eat at Heia Safaris restaurant and both the service and food quality was up to scratch.

Gert and I then started the 20-odd kilometres back home. Our combination of “lime”, “blue” and “red” trails resulted in around 36.4 kilometres of good quality trail riding with an estimated 800-odd metres of climbing (most of this on the red route).

Hero Park at Heia Safaris is definitely worth a try. A family of four with “mom”, “dad” and two small boys basically rode the blue route with us all the way so it is definitely family-friendly. Heia Safaris is pretty easy to find too, just follow Beyers Naude Drive out west and you’ll see the well-signposted turn off on your left.

But you got to like berms!

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |

Editor