In this article I would like to share some of the things I learnt while riding the route, but first some stats:
- Starting Point: Plettenberg Bay
- Finishing Point: Stellenbosch
- Distance: 750km
- Climbing: 10 000m
- Number of Significant Passes: Nine
- Terrain: Roughly 60% gravel and 40% tar
- Number of Breweries on route: Seven (Trust me I counted - More on these later)
As with every kind of long distance touring route there are many ways to approach it. The beauty of a route like this is that you can design your ride according to what you are comfortable with or how you want to challenge yourself. A fit rider would thoroughly enjoy this route over 7 days or a more relaxed approach of 10 days would give you the best chance at soaking up everything there is to soak up on the route.
The 7 day option still gives you some nice time to relax in the afternoons but also challenges you in a special way. It also means you won’t be away from work / home too long. Below is a detailed plan for tackling the route in 7 days.
7 Day Ride Plan:
Day 1: Plettenberg Bay to Knysna
Elevation Gain: 1361m
The first day is a proper wake up call, there are some tough climbs and loose gravel to contend with. It’s almost like a slap on the chin to say, “Hey, this isn’t going to be a walk in the park.” It’s good though, it keeps you honest and prepares you what is to come.
Food stops along the way are pretty limited. The only one is the Diepwalle Forest Station at the 43km mark and it is limited to tuck shop type snacks. It’s cash only so make sure to have some available. A coke and packet of Salt & Vinegar chips has saved me many a time at this exact spot. Diepwalle Forest is by far my absolute favourite part of the entire route, riding through the thick indegenous forests, picturing the elephants that used to roam freely and secretly hoping to spot a rare one, is pure bliss. It’s almost a pity you get through it on Day 1 but there is still plenty to look forward to.
Once you reach the forest station it isn’t all downhill to Knysna, Kom se Pad has some proper climbs but once you hit Simola you can start to smell the sea air and the first Brewery of the route, Mitchells Brewery.
Knysna has some amazing attractions and plenty of accommodation which makes it a great overnight stop.
- Oysters and Champagne
- Lagoon Cruises
- Waterfront Shops and Restaurants
- Theesen Island (île de païn bakery)
- Mitchells Brewery (One of the, if not the very, first micro-breweries in South Africa)
Day 2: Knysna to George
Elevation Gain: 1704m
The absolute highlight of day 2 is without a doubt the infamous Seven Passes Road. The road was built in the late 1800 by Thomas Bain with the goal of linking the small town of Knysna with the port in Mossel Bay. Unfortunately most of the road has been tarred now but there are still 3 of the 7 passes (Phantom Pass, Homtini Pass, and Karatara Pass) that are gravel. The passes in themselves are nothing too crazy but string all 7 together and you have yourself an incredible day of climbing ahead. For me, Karatara is my favourite, I can’t say why to be fair, it just has a special feeling for me. Maybe because I know it’s the last gravel pass of the Seven Passes so I savour it more?
Food stops are plentiful in the form of padstals and small rural supermarkets, there is even a Spaza Shop around the 40k mark where a Black Label goes down pretty well.
Garden Route Trail Park is also on route around the 30km mark for any emergency repairs that you might need, or at the very least a good excuse to pull over and have a breather before tackling Karatara Pass. If you have done the Knysna MTB race you will know, if it rains the forest roads turn into an absolute mud fest. The hose pipe has saved my drive train from certain death before.
Rolling into George always brings a sigh of relief, and for such a small town it has some great offerings. Especially the second Brewery on route, the Robertson Brewing Company. A great supper spot (or lunch if you are a weapon) is the Rocco Mommas at the circle on the top of York Street. Bear in mind George doesn’t have Uber so when deciding on your accommodation pick something close to the restaurants (unless you want to ride a bit more after your shower).
- Robertson Brewing Company
- Outeniqua Transport Museum
- Outeniqua Farmers Market (If you happen to be there on a Saturday)
Day 3: George to Oudsthoorn
Elevation Gain: 868m
Apart from the Montagu Pass right out of the gates, Day 3 is fairly relaxed. A short day of 64km with pretty much all of the climbing coming in the first 20km. Once Montagu Pass is in the bag all that is left is some Karoo rollers. It is quite remarkable how suddenly the terrain changes once you summit the pass and drop down into the Klein Karoo.
It is quite special to ride through different biomes and see how the climate in the area affects the vegetation and wildlife, you really feel like you get to know this country so much better on a ride like this. When travelling by car we tend to fly through a place so quick we miss the little nuances that make it so unique, that is what I love about bicycle touring, it slows you down and immerses you in your surroundings
Day 3 also has probably the most “micro” of the micro-breweries literally on the route you are riding, Thorny Creek Brewery. You will reach this little Oasis around 43km, just don’t leave George too early (like I did) as it will be closed when you get there. 20km with a couple Ales in you isn’t so bad.
If coffee and pastries is your jam (excuse the pun) then Beans About Coffee on High Street is by far my favourite.
- Cango Caves
- Cango Wildlife Range
- Ostrich Rides (Just don’t leave your bicycle behind and ride the Ostrich the rest of the way to Cape Town)
Day 4: Oudsthoorn to Rooiberg Lodge
Elevation Gain: 2113m
We start to get to the business end of the route now, not quite the Queen Stage but pretty close. The first three days have been easing you into it and now the goal is to finish strong. The 70km gravel section from Oudsthoorn to Calitzdorp is probably some of the best gravel you can ride in SA. With the Swartberg mountain range to your right the whole time (bringing relief knowing you don’t have to go over Swartberg Pass) and views for days, it truly is a special part of the route. It is pretty remote so you will need to carry enough supplies to get you to Calitzdorp (if you don’t have a support vehicle). Make sure to relax the pace when you are passing Swartberg Game Reserve, if you are lucky you will be able to see some giraffes from the road.
Calitzdorp is a small but very quaint town with plenty of great lunch options to fuel the last 50km of the day. De Krans Wines is pretty exceptional, the food and wine tasting might turn your trip into an 8 tour with a sleep over in Calitzdorp and a short 50km to Rooiberg Lodge the next day.
If you stick to the 7 day plan though the final 50km of day 4 is challenging, doable but challenging. Rooiberg Pass is probably one of the more demanding passes of the entire route, it is pretty gradual though with some steep parts so pace yourself well and you should get over the pass with little issues. Apart from switchbacks early on it also isn’t the most “picturesque” of passes, the photo ops are definitely lower down on the pass and then again just before Rooiberg Lodge at the bottom of the other side.
Rooiberg Lodge is pretty exceptional, I had originally planned to blow straight past it but it’s reputation got the better of my curiosity so I made the climb off route to check it out and I don’t regret it. The Manor House rooms are very comfortable and the views out over the Game Reserve are great. Food is pretty exceptional as well.
Day 4 Attractions:
- Swartberg Game Reserve
- Calitzdorp Town
- De Krans Wines Calitzdorp
- Ostrich Farms leaving Calitzdorp
- Rooiberg Pass
Day 5: Rooiberg Lodge to Grootvadersbosch Farm
Elevation Gain: 2333m
Leaving Rooiberg Lodge the road is nice and rolling giving you some good time to warm up. About 7km down the road you will head through Van Wyksdorp, it is a tiny little town with one or two restaurants and even a “mall” which is worth checking out. This is pretty much the last feed stop before Riversdale at the 70km mark. The section from Van wyksdorp to the R323 is pretty remote, there is not much but a few farms and game reserves. Once you hit the tar road (R323) you immediately start climbing Garcia’s Pass which isn’t very steep from the Ladismith side. Climbing it from the other direction is a very different story. This makes for an incredible descent down into Riversdale, the views are amazing from the pass. There were times that I felt like I might just be in Scotland instead of the Western Cape.
Be sure to stop and check out the old Toll House at the top of the pass.
With 2300m of climbing Day 5 is definitely the toughest day. The climbs out of Riversdale are very steep and rocky, thankfully though they aren’t too long but they will test you. I was amazed at how the terrain changed again after dropping down the pass, it was almost otherworldly with steep slopes covered in tall green trees.
A great sleepover spot is Grootvadersbosch Farm Accommodation, a comfortable B&B style guesthouse with a fully equipped kitchen to prepare your supper. The last spot to get stuff for supper is in Riversdale so just plan your day accordingly. The owners of the farm might also be able to prepare a supper for you if you can’t carry extra gear, just chat with them ahead of time.
Day 5 Attractions:
- Van Wyksdorp Mall
- Garcia’s Pass Toll House (Heritage site)
- The remoteness of the day
- Grootvadersbosch Trails on the farm
Day 6: Grootvadersbosch Farm to Greyton
Elevation Gain: 1560m
For me, day 6 is by far the Queen Stage, it also happens to be the longest. The climbing is not too brutal, when compared to what you would have ridden already. If you have ridden the Double Century you will recognise some of the roads coming into Swellendam, I’ll admit I was slightly tempted to head up Tradouw Pass and add a quick DC onto the route. Legs said no though…
Swellendam is 37km in and Tredici is a great breakfast spot with decent enough coffee and great pastries. The gravel roads heading out of Swellendam were nothing short of amazing, it had me wondering why there isn’t an off-road DC because the roads are almost better than the tar route.
The push from Swellendam to Riviersonderend is quite a biggie, around 75km, with very little feed spots. The roads are a mix of tar and gravel so it is fast rolling at least, the views are truly spectacular so for me the 75km flew by. Arriving at Ou Muel in Riversonderend for a pie and a coke was quite a surreal feeling. I had been there plenty by car en route between Cape Town and the Eastern Cape, but I had never ridden there by bicycle. I think it only set in then just exactly what I was up to.
From Riviersonderend it’s about a 40km final stretch to Greyton, you ride pretty much 100% through farms and private roads which have a few gates to open and close as you go through. I rode it in some light drizzle and it was so special sharing those views with some of the wildlife and cows on the farms. There is one particular farm house that has 2 friendly dogs who joined me for about 5km, they were happy to just jog behind me, stopping each time I stopped. It was nice to have some company after being solo on the bike for 6 days.
Greyton is a fantastic place to stay over, the little town is so rich in a quiet and relaxed atmosphere. There are a few world class restaurants around and the Old Potter's Inn brewery has an exceptional Amber Ale which can quickly make the last day a lot longer than it needs to be. Totally worth it though!
I stayed at The Post House hotel which has very large and comfortable rooms with coffee and pastries for breakfast.
All in all it was a pretty exceptional day. It’s a very close match up between day 5 and day 6 for the “Queen Stage” badge, some might prefer day 5 but finishing in Greyton for me felt like a first finish line before the proper finish line in Stellenbosch. If you don’t ride the Cross Cape, a weekend in Greyton is a very strong substitute.
- Old Potter’s Inn Brewery
- Greyton Nature Reserve
- Greyton Saturday Market (if you find yourself there on a Saturday)
- Bon Geusau Chocolates (get those calories in)
Day 7: Greyton to Stellenbosch
Elevation Gain: 1417m
Leaving Greyton is always a bittersweet feeling for me, wanting to stay and spend more time there but also wanting to get the route done and dusted is a constant battle in the first 10 - 15km. Once the legs warm up and you start to get to the lower reaches of the Theewaterskloof Dam, the smell of home gives you at least another 15watts. There isn’t much by way of feed stops between Greyton and Franschhoek, there’s nothing actually so carrying enough water and snacks for 80km is essential.
Franschhoek Pass isn’t the hardest climb of the day for me, there is a sneaky climb on the road to Villiersdorp. It caught me by surprise for sure, so save some legs for that. Once you are done with it the descent with the lower section of Theewaterskloof Dam in front of you is pretty incredible. Don’t miss the left turn onto the gravel road that runs along the dam and takes you up to the dam wall. I was fortunate enough to ride this section as the road was being graded, making it some of the smoothest, most pristine gravel I have had the pleasure of being on.
Once you hit the tar road at the dam wall, sadly this means that the gravel riding is done. The rest of the route is all tar on the run into Stellenbosch, which can be a relief for a tired body. Franschhoek Pass needs no introduction, it is probably one of my favourite road passes in the Western Cape, especially from the Villiersdorp side. Don’t forget to fill your bottles at the mountain spring at the top of the climb.
Terbodore Coffee in Franschhoek was a great brunch stop, feeling up for the final 25km to Stellenbosch and the final climb, Helshoogte Pass.
If you are taking the brewery tour seriously along the route then the final day is a bit of a buffet with the final 3 breweries on route all in Franschhoek, Franschhoek Beer Co, Tuk Tuk Microbrewery, and Hey Joe Brewery. Personally Hey Joe is a bit of a favourite so if you only have legs for one beer tasting then I would recommend Hey Joe!
The beauty about finishing in Stellenbosch, is that there are so many options for you to choose from to finish at. With so many restaurants with great food, it really is just about whatever you are craving most after 7 intense days on the bike. Whatever you choose, be sure to give yourself a serious high 5 and celebrate the achievement.
The Cross Cape experience is something that will stay with you for many, many years! Just ask those who have been fortunate enough to ride it.
Day 7 Attractions
- Hey Joe Brewery
- Theewaterskloof Dam
- Boschendal Wine Tasting
- Stellenbosch (it’s all rad!)