And today, George Trails, officially unveiled their series of trails - of the 4 trail systems, the Geelhoutboom is nearest, with 3 of its 5 routes in the immediate vicinity of The Island.
Routes on the Geelhoutboom Trail System:
The "Botlierskop" route (about 73 km) is a bit more challenging, but not terribly so. It's probably a bit harder going clockwise, but nothing too dramatic if you're in decent shape. If you want to go counter-clockwise, you can go down Station Street and join the route as it passes by the PicknPay before you start your first climb of the ride (up the "Spar Bult") or you can go clockwise and head west along the old R102, passing by De Dekke, then turning to your right on Long Street (at the Total) and joining the route by turning left on Sandhoogte Road (where you'll see Suiderkruis Securitie) which will lead to a moderate climb when the tarred road turns to gravel. The biggest section of climbing, in this direction, is going up Blesbok after the game reserve. Going clockwise is going to give you a bit more of a workout than counter-clockwise.
Finally, the most strenuous of the three is the "Friemersheim" route (about 81 km), which has some challenging climbs - once again, you can join the route in the village. Like the Botlierskop route, above, if you want to go counter-clockwise, you can go down Station Street and join the route as it passes by the PicknPay or you can go clockwise and head west along the old R102 before turning to your right on Long Street and joining the route by turning left on Sandhoogte Road. It's a bit close to call - there are a couple of steep sections either way - but I'd say this route is toughest going clockwise. You and your riding partners will want to be fit if you're going to do this route, particularly if you like pushing yourself.
If you're going to do the Botlierskop or Friemersheim routes, be sure to take plenty of liquids. You can always get something to drink at the Farm & Fellow Restaurant at Tramonto, but that's only about 1 hour out if you go counter-clockwise at a decent pace. There's not a lot in Friemersheim, so your options there will be limited - but you'll definitely be parched by the time you get there, no matter which route you've taken and which direction you've gone. When I've done variations on these two routes, I've usually taken an extra bladder in my backpack (~3 litres total) and have still run dry, especially on a hot day.
Of course, you can also include the Patria and Dairyland routes as variations to any of the three routes above - you're just taking a few shortcuts around the vicinity of Tramonto, rather than really adding any distance (otherwise you'll end up doing a few loops of gravel you've already been on...). Both of these are very easy sections.
Wait, There's More - the Karoo Trail System
If you take the most direct route into George and back (instead of doing the full "Great Brak" route, for instance), adding around 45 km's to the various Karoo system trails (including Montagu and Herold), means you're going to have a heck of a long day if you cycling into George to do the Paardepoort (55 km + 45 km), Kam Dam (86 km + 45 km) or Oudtshoorn (118 km +45 km) routes.
There are two straight-forward ways to get there - either ride in to Great Brak and take the Spar Bult by the PicknPay and head out to Tramonto (then carry on beyond it, instead of turning left when you see it) and the Redberry Farm. Then you can join the R404 and cycle on paved road, turn right at the first street past Fancourt (Voortrekker Street), the left at the round-about onto Factory Street, right at the stop street (George Street) and follow the road as it crosses the river and winds left where it becomes Witfontein Road - after about 1 km you'll see the Virgin Active on your right and the Engin just beyond it as you continue straight.
Otherwise, you can turn right as you exit The Island and take Morrison Road to your right, going up the Hersham hill and beyond to the Glentana hill which eventually winds left. To avoid traffic, the best bet is to take the first gravel road to your left just after you've crossed the N2 overpass. This will eventually turn right and you'll find yourself at an intersection with the R102. Carry on straight across the R102 (watch for traffic), staying on the gravel road and then take either of the next two right-hand turns (roads, not farm entrances...), and you'll eventually pop out near Sinksabrug where you'll resume the "Great Brak" route on the way to Tramonto. Then follow the instructions above, to Redberry Farm, etc.
You'll find GPX files for all of these routes on the George Trails website or you can see where I've done them - or variations of them - elsewhere in the Mountain Biking section of this blog and download the GPX files for any of my rides from the SportsTracker website.
Wait - There's Even More!
I haven't been to Klipheuvel yet, so can't give an opinion on it. AfrikaBike opposite Le Grand in Hansmoeskraal near George haven't updated their website or Facebook page in many months. [subsequent edit: I managed to track down one of its co-founders at the 2017 Knysna Bull MTB event, and sadly, was told that it went out of business (that's the short version). I've since updated the website to remove it from the Running & Cycling page].
But if you're looking for one of the best MTB Parks in the Western Cape (if not the entire country), it's well worth a drive to the Garden Route Trail Park between George and Knysna. You're talking about kilometers and kilometers of uninterrupted singletrack trails. If that's your thing, head over there - they also have bike rentals available.
Other single track options worth a side-trip include SAN Park's MTB Trails (Harkerville and Homtini) - again, this means a drive down the N2 towards Knysna, so 50 km or so away. If you're a MTB fanatic you won't complain about a little drive to check out new terrain. :)
There's also some nice single track in Knysna itself, up near the Simola golf course (drive there and either park your vehicle at the very bottom of the Simola hill and ride up the paved road, or else keep driving, then park your vehicle and offload your bike on the gravel road just after the entrance to the golf course). You have to watch for the tracks - they are off to the side of the gravel road up there. Jacques Brink of Knysna Cycle Works and the municipality's self-declared "Mayor of Cycling" knows these trails like the back of his hand (afterall, he's built most of them). Jacques also runs a Cycling Academy for 9-12 year-olds and Odyssey Training Clinics for teens. He's even been known to take out adults (though riding with me last season might have put him off that...). Contact Jacques on email@example.com for more info or if you'd like to ride with him.