Albert Falls Groad, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
87.7 km / 1,750 vm
Gravel, singletrack and paved.
The Albert Falls Loop was the first gravel ride that I ever did, and to this day, it is one of the best. It is easily accessible, varied, and fun. The route can be ridden on everything from an endurance road bike (lest we forget 32mm tyres were once gravel tyres) to a full suss MTB.
Starting from Coffeeberry Cafe, you are almost immediately off-road, climbing your way out of Pietermaritzburg into the farming areas surrounding it. In the first 11km, you will climb nearly 400vm but are quickly rewarded by beautiful, sweeping descents and rolling hills for the next 30km. Along the way, you’ll be treated with views of Albert Falls Dam, the Umngeni Nature Reserve, vast farmlands and, in all likelihood, will spot some Giraffe, Zebra, Impala and more.
The route is best enjoyed at sunrise, both for the views and heat avoidance in summer. The sunrise colours as the day starts are some of the best you’ll ever see. An early start will also keep you cool as you meet the big climb to McKenzies, around 40km deep. The McKenzies climb is named after the family that farms the forest land on and after the climb. You will likely need a keen eye to dodge a few animals as you climb up. This climb is tough. With all ramps added together, it rises 400vm over 8km. However, the surface is generally in good condition, offering a non-technical ascent that can be fast if you want it to be.
Soon after the climb, you will find the Karkloof Club, the trailhead for the Karkloof Trails. Here you can get some food and water, as you won't find any resupply spots before here. The route is very easy to adjust from here if needing shortcuts. You can head straight home or add some trails or even a few more climbs. There is a wide range of options. If you decide to ride the trails or private forest roads, there is an R80 trail fee.
The return stretch is simple, with a small section through Howick where there is some traffic but nothing too worrying. There are also many coffee shops on/nearby the route if needing that extra caffeine fix to get you back. The final joy is descending Old Howick Road, 8km of sweeping bends and high speed. A just reward for the 1,700vm of climbing over 80km!
As mentioned, several route options exist and deserve an entire route folder, which can be found below. Enjoy it, take in the quiet, leave your headphones at home.