- Thanks to one mountain biker, the trail network in Plettenberg Bay is expanding at a rapid rate.
- Along with the development of trails is an ingenious payment system for riders.
- This December, holidaymakers will be able to enjoy more than 100km of machine-cut singletrack.
Johan Vorster is well known to South African mountain bikers, thanks to the trail network he created in the rocky landscape of western Gauteng, called Hakahana.
Longing for fresher sea air, Vorster moved to the Plettenberg Bay area a couple of years ago and has been spreading his trail building magic along this coastline.
The base of Vorster’s current trail development is the Sky Villa hotel that overlooks Plett. This 500-hectare property is proving perfect for Vorster’s style of trail building, with the land being developed into a mountain biking venue akin to the ski villages of Europe.
A dozen downhill sections - ready to ride
The goal is to build a concentrated bike park and fun trails for all riders, from kids to enduro riders. "Alongside the Sky Villa Eco hotel we want to introduce the sport of Enduro to Plett. Currently, the trails consist of four or five different climbs that allow riders to enjoy 12 downhill runs, all within a 500-hectare botanical park," says Vorster.
"Thanks to generous landowners, between the Bitouvlei Trails and Sky Trails, I have built 75km of single track in the last year and a half. And this is proper machine cut, well-drained, ecologically sensitive singletrack. I believe in doing it right," says Vorster
The next phase will build to the north to link the MTO trails in Harkerville, creating a massive riding network across public and private land.
Building for the future
Vorster is a trained architect and admits that he was never traditional.
He chooses to incorporate green, climatically sensitive features into his designs that connect with the landscape and the surrounding botany. He aims to apply these same principles to his trail building.
"I call it architecture of the bush and it is such a fulfilling practice. It is remarkable to see people come off the mountain filled with so much joy, created by trails that I have built," smiles Vorster.
Clearing the bad, while retaining the good
When designing a trail, Vorster likes to flag a route and walk it numerous times, considering factors like the flow and, of course, the flora, before bringing in the machines.
While building trail, the team also tries to clear alien vegetation, so they often reroute trail through sections that need clearing.
"The Sky Trails project is a huge privilege for me as an architect and trail builder. Everything we do is done responsibly. Upon completion, we will only have developed 60- of the 500-hectares on this property with hotels and accommodation, leaving a 440-hectare botanical park featuring only trails," beams Vorster.
Ready to ride this December
Vorster likes to design trails that give riders maximum return for their effort, something that he has learnt from spending time with Glen Harrison of Tranquilitas fame.
"I hope to leave my mark on trails in such a way that a rider will recognise who built the trails by way of their design. My signature trail has that flow, utilising downhills but at a low gradient, so that riders still need to put in the effort to be fast, but so that all levels of riders can enjoy the trails," he says.
In this style Wunderlust, Badger, Smoked Salmon, Lockheed and Bolt have been carved into the landscape and are waiting to give joy.
The Sky Trails will officially open with Plett’s Sky XC Enduro on 4 December. The event will be limited to 300 riders, combining elements of Enduro and XC riding. "I have specifically built the trails that they require some pedalling and it is not necessary to jump big features to have fun and be fast," says Vorster.
It can't happen without landowners
Trail Lynx is a project that Vorster and partner Julian Moore developed to sweeten the deal for landowners and allow more trails for riders.
Users can access multiple trails via one platform and funds are diverted back to the landowners, who have invested in trail network’s foundation.
Simply put, it is easier to get landowners to spend on trail building if they can get something back. "All landowners want is for riders to be accountable and to know who is on the trails and then they are happy, they are not necessarily looking for a return on their investment," says Vorster.