The Cross Cape Cycle Route from Plettenberg Bay to Stellenbosch is the first in a series of new routes created by the Western Cape Government to put the area on the map as a premium cycling destination. Incorporating all that the scenic Garden Route, Klein Karoo, Cape Overberg and Cape Winelands has to offer, it’s a journey of the senses where riders are encouraged to immerse themselves in the local sights, culture and cuisine.
The route can be cycled from Stellenbosch to Plett or vice versa. For the inaugural ride, a group of about 15 of us, supported by Day Trippers, tackled it in reverse. We had seven days, so we rode between 80km and 130km per day, but of course you could do it over a longer period to really experience the towns on the route.
Day 1: Plettenberg Bay to Knysna
Starting in the sleeping hollow of Plettenberg Bay, we headed out on an easy 17 km section of road towards Wittedrif. Soon after we hit a rather rude gravel climb to the Paardekop Pass that left us a little breathless as we began to ascend above the thick forests below. A few more tough hills ensued after, including Kruisvallei and Prince Alfred’s Pass where we dodged some cows and loggers before arriving at Buffelsnek Forest Station for lunch with a view.
An undulating downhill, where it was quite difficult to get traction with some uneven sections, took us to Kom se Pad. Separated from the group, I enjoyed the silence and serenity of the forest – and avoided some fresh elephant dung from the legendary and scarce Knysna Elephants. The steep gravel road down from Simola Hill was exhilarating and the sight of the Knysna Lagoon was a very welcome one, after almost 80km of relatively tough riding.
Day 2: Knysna to George
Already the terrain had changed so much from day one – blue skies and lush vegetation distracted us as we crossed the iconic Red Bridge just outside Knysna and navigated some single track before a long and steady ascent up Phantom Pass on the Rheenendal Road.
I was happy for a swift road section for a break from the grind, before we detoured uphill for about 10 kms, arriving at the top of the Garden Route Trail Park, where owner Rob Dormehl took us down the easy single-track called Mountain Mania – definitely the highlight of the day!
After a quick brunch and outstanding coffee at the Garden Route Trail Park it was time to continue on the Seven Passes Road. We cruised over Diep River, Touws River, Silver River, Kaaimans River and the Swart River before what was a never-ending climb, which crested in George. A valley of luminescent green and rays of sunshine welcomed us as we pedalled through the quiet suburbia and I felt like I had arrived in heaven on earth.
Day 3: George To Oudsthoorn
The local riding community of George joined us for the mammoth Montagu Pass, which pretty much started off the day – a steady 4km rocky climb with the most insane views to keep us company. Many a rider got off their bike to push up the steeper sections but the view at the top was worth all the effort.
After testing who was king of the mountain, we rolled downhill towards the hamlet of Herold nestled at the bottom of the Pass, where rooster brood and moer koffie awaited us. The locals were very hospitable and eager to give us a taste of the most delicious homemade bread with cheese and jam.
The scenery had now once again changed, ushering in signs of the Klein Karoo and our destination – the ostrich capital of the world - Oudsthoorn. We cycled on dusty roads that seemed to go on forever, with the Outeniqua Mountains like a painting on the horizon. The temperature also spiked here and it got pretty toasty. After the Safari Ostrich Farm on an easy tar road, we arrived at the oasis of Mooiplaas for the night.
Day 4: Oudsthoorn to Rooiberg Via Calitzdorp
Temperature extremes are par for the course in the Little Karoo and it was close to freezing as we set off towards the Swartberg range in the morning. After some hardy riding and a very cheeky climb up to Kruisrivierport we suddenly found ourselves in the majestic Groenfontein Valley, heading downhill fast towards quirky Calitzdorp. This was the highlight of the trip for me as on route were little roadside gems - one that offered cold beer, another a gallery – and even an outdoor cinema.
After homemade tart and butternut soup for lunch in the Port wine capital of SA at Calitzdorp’s Handelhuis, we started the much-anticipated climb up the infamous Rooiberg pass as we rode towards the Gamkaberg Mountains. And this 11km climb didn’t disappoint. For those of us who managed to ride it, it took a good two hours or so. And things didn’t get easier on the loose and treacherous decent. The last four kilometres to Rooiberg Lodge ate away the last of the daylight and our stamina, but all in all it was a magnificent day of riding.
Day 5: Rooiberg to Swellendam
This 169km day started at Garcia Pass for most of us as we were shuttled some of the distance so that the ride would be just over 100km, but that didn’t make it any easier. The wind was blowing and the loose gravel on the route made it tough to get any speed over the “rollers”. Just when we were rendered exhausted, we were met by the community from the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy, to help us ride up a 3km climb that nearly finished me off, but I must have been tired from the 129km day prior to this.
As tempted as we were to enjoy some of the legendary single track of the indigenous reserve at Grootvadersbosch with the very enthusiastic locals, we knew we still had a bit of distance to cover for the day.
After lunch at the top, we coerced ourselves back on our bikes for the last 45km via Suurbraak to Swellendam, which was a milder ride than the first part of the day – and who could be unhappy riding the Double Century route into the gorgeous town of Swellendam.
Day 6: Swellendam to Greyton
The rather sizeable cycling community of the area joined us for a steady ride over rolling terrain for the first 40km or so, which was mild enough for us to chat and enjoy being in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately we got a bit lost while bantering – there was one turn we missed - and ended up deep in farm land with some Springbok to keep us company. When we got back on track we hit the N2. Luckily there was a newly crafted MTB track next to the road, which was a saving grace from trucks and speeding cars.
We had to have a famous pie when we got to the Ou Meul coffee shop in Riversonderend, but opted for top-notch coffee and milkshakes at The Padlooper, which has loads of space to park your bike and chill.
From here we had about 35km to complete the day and although there were some sneaky hills it was a relatively easy ride into Greyton, where craft beer was waiting for us.
Day 7: Greyton to Stellenbosch
Note: Dangerous roads to cycle
Today we would ride two iconic passes to finish the legs off – the Franschhoek Pass and Hellshoogte, but not before we passed Theewaterskloof Dam. Despite the epic scenery, especially on the Franschhoek Pass, there was no shoulder on the road and I feared for my life on the ascent to the top. Once on the other side with Franschhoek in sight, things got a little easier.
After lunch and must-have coffee at De Villiers Chocolate Café, development cyclists from BMT joined us, to see us home to leafy Stellenbosch where we stopped for a Stellenbrau and to recap a week well spent.