February 2014 was a particularly damp period in the UK, so as 13 cyclists assembled in Cape Town for an 18 day tour of South Africa, we were all looking forward to a spot of sun, a grand holiday and hopefully no-one would get eaten by a shark. As it turned out, a couple of days hit 41 degrees, we had a great time and the most dangerous thing I saw was a penguin waddling at high speed.
Having settled into our hotel we took a trip on the train down to Simons Town in anticipation of cycling to the Cape of Good Hope. The views of the coast were memorable but even more so was the wind as we fought our way south through the prevalent southerly t the southernmost tip. Of course the advantage of this was that coming back was a breeze!!
Tuesday marked the first moving on day of the holiday and starting from Cape Town, we took the new Mi Citi cycleway through the city that will eventually take us to Blouberg with its stunning views of Table Mountain. Filled up with pastries and coffee, the wind pushed us along the coast before turning inland and into the heat and the hills and Philadelphia was a welcome relief as there was a lovely café. The last part to Stellenbosch was hard, with our bodies used to freezing rain, 41 degrees was a slight change in temperature, but we all made it to the hotel and a welcome glass of cold beer.
We set out early the next day, a trend that would continue to avoid the worse of the heat to leave Stellenbosch passing the famous Stellenbosch University with its white walled buildings. Shortly after leaving Stellenbosch came the first climb of the day, wide shoulder and well graded and we were passed by the bike racers from town out training. The top gives splendid views before a fast descent towards Franschhoek, interrupted by a winery stop at Zorgvliet. The ride into Franschhoek was pretty flat and surrounded by Wineries. Franschhoek had lots of cafes restaurants and gift shops and was just in time for lunch. The big climb comes straight after leaving town and was quite tough, but the reward was great views of mountains and gibbons followed by a lovely descent to the reservoir and final ride into Villiersdorp. Our evening was spent in the company of a host family on an apple estate, who cooked the most amazing meal served in their dining room, one of the loveliest experiences I have had.
We were getting fitter and heading out of Villiersdorp we made fast progress with mountain views all around surrounded by vineyards and fruit trees, reaching Nuy Farm our destination in time for lunch and we would have been even faster if we hadn’t had to use every inner tube we had in the quest to find every thorn in South Africa.
Route 62 is South Africa’s take on the iconic Route 66, and it was along this that we now travelled. Descending to Robertson with all the placards advertising cheap food, who were we to deprive the Grand Café. After this there is a lovely back road that takes you past orchards and wineries before entering the industrial town of Ashton, though the stop at Platform 62 is a highlight, with its quirky owner, springbok pie and enormous winery. The last part was extremely scenic as we passed through a gorge and over the tiny Cogmans Kloof Mountain, which is probably the smallest pass in the world. Once in Montagu, we stayed at the delightful Montagu Country Hotel, the only art deco hotel in South Africa.
Continuing along route 62 from Montagu, with close mountain views on the right, distant views on the left, whilst gradually climbing before the final 6km grind over the Tradowpas with its double summit and the fortuitous Akerboom café at the top The descent is fast into the Karoo, where route 62 really does meet route 66 with the stockade like establishment at the Karoo saloon. After this it’s a long gradual descent into the small tourist town of Barrydale with its German bakery, hotel and a German singing American Rock in English in a South African bar.
Saturday night gone, it was over the Tradouws Pass. Well pass it may have been, but we were at the top end of it so it was a beautiful zig zagging ride through the gorge and even better aside the last push up it’s all downhill and there was a refreshing swimming hole to enjoy. Through Suurbraak, with a good but spartan café. Here the conversation from the owner about his days as a fashion designer in Cape Town Turn, the state of the nation and the fact that Oscar Pistorius would be found innocent were more memorable than the lack of cake in his café. The day finished with a headwind into Swellendam, but the welcome and pool at the Manula Lodge made this worth it.
Back to the coast today as we headed to Bredasdorp. The road climbed and dropped continually with low hills and flat pasture land all around. The final descent into Bredesdorp took us past the corn towers which explained all the bare fields through which we had passed. The final stretch to the coast was along the flatlands of the coastal plain to Arniston where we were greeted by a glass (or two) of wine, but don’t tell the others
Every holiday needs a day away from the bike (well for most of us) and so the next day we split in various directions. The cave at Waenhuiskrans was an obvious target and many spent the morning walking to and exploring the cave where a team of oxen could inhabit. In the afternoon some went antelope spotting on safari, whilst others relaxed or watched the fishing boats bring in crates of Yellow Tail from the Indian Ocean and yes some acted as shark bait but we were all still present for dinner.
The most Southerly part of Africa was close by, so we loaded the bikes on the trailer and dutifully took the dirt road to Cape Agulhas to stand on the plinth and wave at the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Heading north again and with the winds to our backs we stormed back to Bredesdorp whilst avoiding the tortoises that seemed determined to walk under the wheels. We finished the day in Napier
From Napier the view were expansive, as we gradually climbed through a series of moderate ups and downs. Left and into the last winery of the holiday (or in my case the first having either been too late, punctured or run the route round the entrance of one as I had done near Montagu.) Rka wine tasted a pretty road took us to Stanford which was a delightful small town. The last 15km to Hermanus were a bit tricky due to the traffic and I was glad to reach Hermanus, diverting past some of its fabulous beaches, before reaching the hotel. Hermanus is home of spotting the Southern Right whale but they were all at sea so we had to make do with the huge model in the centre.
Our final day, and we left Hermanus, heading to Kleinmond where it is worth exploring the streets and harbour to the left of the main road for its sea views and cafes. So close to the Argus we were joined by several other cycling groups and the line up of back up vehicles at one point was almost comical. Onto Betty’s Bay, we visited the penguin colony, before tackling the last section from Rooiels to Gordon’s Bay. I’ve cycled a lot of places but this is one of the loveliest coastal roads you will ever cycle, with expansive coastal views and surf crashing on the beaches. We finished at Gordon’s Bay where on a normal tour that would be it, but there was one more thing in store.
‘Oh no I’m just going to enjoy the day’ said most. I’d even left the rack and pannier on as we lined up with 35000 others at the start of the worlds largest timed cycling event. It took me precisely 20 seconds to realise that I was wrong and I suspect the others even less as we raced to the Cape and back again into a ferocious head wind. I did it 108km in 4h 28 minutes and congratulations to Steve who ‘just’ beat me and to Bruce who at 3h 45min showed that bringing a carbon bike and winter training in Spain paid dividends.