Middelburg isn’t the most spectacular stop and is a northerly detour, but it is the gateway from Hofmeyer to Nieu Bethesda if you want to avoid tar. The previous day we rode from Hofmeyer via Conway to Middelburg in double quick time as we were on the Karoo ‘flats’. In fact we stopped and ate sarmies and chocolate to slow us down lest we conned ourselves into riding to Nieu Bethesda in the afternoon. The Karoo has its own special appeal with amazing shades and colours making it a photographer’s paradise.
Although there is a designated route for the Spine which runs on dirt roads to Nieu Bethesda, as is the want of Detour Trails, I plotted an explorer route from old maps which included old wagon trails, forgotten roads and the like. Well, what a day!! One of the finest rides ever! It has everything any mountain biker could ask for and more! The only problem is, we can’t give you route details as we had to cheat a little at times and go through private land. Land access is fundamental to our passion, so we don’t want to be ones who cause more conflict on the issue. In fact, we have commissioned a friend who lives in Nieu Bethesda to make the necessary contacts with the farmers so we can negotiate formal access. Until then, put this ride on your dream list.
What we can tell you is that we were so deep in the Karoo wilderness that our only company for most of the day were sheep, goats, a few cows and an abundance of game. We saw eland, zebra, springbok, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, countless mongoose, squirrels, birds and much more. It’s amazing the large tracks of land the farmers are setting aside for conservation. Their efforts are paying dividends as the Karoo veld is recovering and the large erosion scars so visible just a few years ago are showing signs of receding.
With big smiles on our faces we arrived at Nieu Bethesda to find no accommodation available. To anyone who’s ever been there before, you’ll be as surprised as we were to hear this. However the ever resourceful Sarah got us into the ‘camp site’. The reason for the influx was a Kuns Fees, great for this little hamlet which is even more quirky than Clarens or Greyton, so definitely worth a visit if that’s your kind of thing. Nieu Bethesda trumps these places because it has the Owl House, where the slightly loopy Helen Martin did her renowned owl and glass sculpture garden. It has been preserved as a museum to her eccentricity!
For more info and photos: www.detourtrails.co.za