2016 Poorts & Passes cycle tour by Jonathan Invernizzi
Writing and pictures by Jonathan Invernizzi. 2016 participant
The Karoo, a place I had first visited together with my family as a child, has always held a special place in my heart. A land of vastness, of sweet and succulent lamb and even sweeter jerepigo, of stark beauty, mysticism, colourful characters and star-filled night skies. Something I’ve long come to realise is a visit here is never one to be rushed. So when my girlfriend, Julia, suggested that I come along on a cycle tour through the Karoo and Baviaanskloof (an area I hadn’t visited yet), I jumped at the chance. What better way to enjoy the Karoo than by the slow immersive meander that only bicycles can provide? My enthusiasm was tempered slightly when she went on to explain that this was going to be somewhat more of a working holiday. My duties were to include sharing the driving of the back-up vehicle, mechanical support for the bicycles and chef for some of the evening’s meals among other tasks. No free ride for me it seemed…
An overnight meet-up was arranged in the coastal town of George to discuss a few details and allow us to all be together for the next morning’s early start. A baptism of fire (in the legs at least) of a start it was going to be, tackling the beautiful but infamous Montagu pass to cross the Outeniqua range separating the coast from the fringe of the Karoo. A hearty meal and quite a few drinks later, everyone was ushered to bed for an early(ish) night- there’ll be plenty of time to chat on the bikes!
And so onwards we ventured through undulating golden fields and feather palaces, slowly meandering our way towards the Swartberg Mountains and the gateway to the Groot Karoo. By the time we left the quirky town of De Rust, my negotiating skills had improved somewhat to the point where I was able to convince Julia that ‘sharing’ the driving of the backup vehicle meant that she had to take a turn driving at some point too. And so I finally found myself on two wheels, stretching my legs in the early mist-filled Karoo morning and enjoying the pastoral serenity of the gently winding Oudemuragie road. An idyllic start to what was a very long but rewarding day.
If you have ever driven the Swartberg pass, you will have some idea of the sense of accomplishment enjoyed after cycling up this feat of engineering. 27km of carved Cape sandstone, there are other steeper or longer passes in South Africa, but there is only one Swartberg pass. The sweat and determination taken to reach ‘Die Top’ is handsomely rewarded with the blissful swooping descent through the amber canyons and crystal streams of the mountain range taking you to the edge of the artistic refuge of Prince Albert and the end of a hard and unforgettable days riding. Cold beers and a hearty Karoo lamb dinner were definitely in order!
Some minor electrical problems with the backup car were swiftly sorted in the typical “boer maak ‘n plan” fashion of the area in Prince Albert leaving us ready to spend the next few days slowly making our way towards the often-talked-about Baviaanskloof, enjoying plenty of Platteland hospitality along the way.
An area of breath-taking geographical beauty and natural diversity, the only cyclists lucky enough to have travelled the Baviaanskloof by bicycle have usually only been those brave enough to tackle the gruelling 230km, 24 hour non-stop TransBaviaans cycle race. Not one for the faint-hearted. No such rush for us though as we opted for a more leisurely pace, taking a couple of days to stop and experience all that the Baviaans has to offer as we travelled deeper and deeper into the gorge. This eventually led us to the wilder reserve portion of the Baviaans, normally a no-go area for bicycles due to the resident populations of both buffalo and black rhino. Luckily due to our 4×4 escorts and some considerable charm on Julia’s behalf, we managed to convince the park rangers to allow us passage on our bikes through the heart of the reserve. A cycle trough the spectacular rock formations, river crossings and abundant wildlife provided a suitable climactic end befitting of the trip.
With our trip drawing to a close, we spent our last night with our host Christiaan relaxing around the fire on his farm. The stars strewn across the night sky, steaming slow-cooked potjiekos and numerous bottles of red (bought from wine farms along the way) that were brought out provided the perfect setting to swap tales of our time together, and of course, make plans for our return…