The Cross Cape Cycle Route — A Journey Through The Senses
Once a pursuit of the intrepid adventure junkie, cycle touring now occupies a rung on many bucket lists. I hadn’t taken part in a multi-day tour before so it was with unsubstantiated trailblazing enthusiasm that I accepted an invitation to ride the inaugural Cross Cape Cycle Route. Beginning in Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s coastline and finishing in the heart of the Cape Winelands at the flourishing bicycle mecca of Stellenbosch. The route is a 700km journey exploring the predominantly gravel back roads of the Western Cape, our collective schedules dictated a 7-day itinerary to complete the ride.
At first glance it looked like a readily achievable endeavour, but closer topographical inspection against the 7-day tour revealed challenging sections with several intimately long days in the saddle.
Our route was split as follows:
Day 1 Plettenberg Bay to Knysna. Distance: 70km (1236m)
Day 2 Knysna to George. Distance: 100km (1591m)
Day 3 George to Oudtshoorn. Distance: 72km (918m)
Day 4 Oudtshoorn to Rooiberg. Distance: 124km (1768m)
Day 5 Rooiberg to Swellendam. Distance: 108km (1217m)
Day 6 Swellendam to Greyton. Distance: 118km (1253m)
Day 7 Greyton to Stellenbosch. Distance: 107km (1211m)
I’m tempted to rest on a cliché describing the route as mind-blowing because it was, absolutely, but a more accurate account would be that this journey opened my mind to the vast exploration possible on these less travelled paths. Not only did I get to experience a different aspect of the Western Cape, I observed it from a liberating perch at a pace that is lively enough to enjoy frequent fluctuations in landscapes while being easy enough to absorb the province’s wild beauty. This is the magic of bicycle touring, wondrous days traversing splendid scenery and engaging with local communities that are rich in culture and history. It’s remarkable how well one is received on a bicycle, you pose no threat and exude a sense of adventure that is welcomed with curiosity. I believe this is a world-wide phenomenon.
The Cross Cape environment is a symphony of colour, texture and splendid vistas. Sounds vary from a cacophony of life to the reticent whisper of the Karoo wind. Meal times are preceded by their aromas and taste buds are charmed by local fare filling hungry bellies. The highlights along the route are constant, a few that deserve a mention are:
The Kynsna Forest — other worldly, exotic riding
The 7-Passes — with a detour to ride some of the magnificent single-track at the Garden Route Trail Park
Montague Pass — a breath-taking climb and descent into the Klein Karoo
The road to Carlitzdorp — a compelling and curious road
The descent to Rooiberg Lodge — a welcome oasis after a long day
The town of Greyton — a gentle Overberg haven
The Franschhoek Pass — an immensely rewarding climb
The Cross Cape is essentially the 2004 Cape Epic route with the technical sections removed, making the route readily achievable for most riders.
The Western Cape doesn’t offer much in the way of flat so the kilometres amass undulating dirt roads and the occasional beast of a climb, a la Rooiberg. Cape Cycle Routes gives this route grading a 6/10 for difficulty, which I think is fair. The predominantly gravel roads are interspersed with a few tar sections, a cross-country or a gravel grinder (CX) bike are the ideal choices for the ride.
We were in the experienced hands of Day Trippers who provided support vehicles, meaning we were able to ride light, but we didn’t have much leisure time to explore the towns and communities we passed through. The itinerary we followed dictated early starts and long days of riding. If you’re thinking of riding the entire distance, consider taking 9–12 days to enjoy the many interesting facets this route affords while delving into the local cuisine and leisurely experiencing the warm hospitality. Alternatively, cherry-pick sections to suit your schedule and savour those highlights. I’ve seen some tenacious 4-day itineraries plotted against the route, so if you’re into near mythical distances this route can be geared for that too.
The Cross Cape is the brain-child of the Western Cape Government and spear-headed by Minister of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde. The route aims to ignite small business in the communities that span the trail so that rider’s accommodation, mechanics and logistics are looked after by the towns and villages they pass through. The route itself is free of charge and can be traversed in either direction at any pace from start to finish or in sections. At time of writing it is still early days for this venture so unless you intend to carry your gear planning ahead with luggage transfers or support vehicles is advisable. Most of the accommodation along the way is fitted for cyclists and happy to help where they can. The Cape Cycle Routes website has full details, including maps and gpx files, for planning your ride. These are the links to my Cross Cape Strava rides:
*day 5 included transport for about 50km, it’s a challenging 164km and 2300m of climbing if you’re up for the full distance.