2016 Poorts & Passes Cycle Tour by Julia Colvin

2016 Poorts & Passes Cycle Tour by Julia Colvin

 

Text and pictures by Julia Colvin, tour organiser

Encompassing some of the most scenic parts of the country, this 600km, 12-day cycle tour is an absolute gem to suit your pocket and thirst for adventure. Staying in comfortable accommodation with hot showers and great food, this tour is a perfect blend of history, culture and wilderness

From George to Prince Albert (164km)

Starting off in the leafy suburbs of George we tapped into the Karoo heartland via some exhilarating passes and poorts; the Montague Pass, Swartberg Pass and the ancient rock formations of Meiringspoort. In the arty little Karoo Town of Prince Albert, we enjoyed the typical Afrikaans hospitality the region is famous for, having a rest day to tour the many vineyards, olive farms and sample some of the local cuisine at a choice of top-notch restaurants

On the first day, we tackled the Montagu Pass, the first of three breath-taking passes we were going to encounter in the days ahead. Completed in 1848 the mountain road climbs to an altitude of 780m, affording magnificent views across the Outeniqua foothills. With superb gravel roads and little traffic, we ascended through Mountain fynbos, indigenous forest and hops plantations. On route, we stopped off to marvel at the old stone toll house, now a national monument. According to a proclamation in 1848, a toll-gate was set up with a fee payable before any vehicle or animal was allowed to pass. It was a toll travelers were happy to pay. Before the building of this pass, transporting goods by wagon from George to Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo was a laborious task taking three days.
On the first day, we tackled the Montagu Pass, the first of three breath-taking passes we were going to encounter in the days ahead. Completed in 1848 the mountain road climbs to an altitude of 780m, affording magnificent views across the Outeniqua foothills. With superb gravel roads and little traffic, we ascended through Mountain fynbos, indigenous forest and hops plantations. On route, we stopped off to marvel at the old stone toll house, now a national monument. According to a proclamation in 1848, a toll-gate was set up with a fee payable before any vehicle or animal was allowed to pass. It was a toll travelers were happy to pay. Before the building of this pass, transporting goods by wagon from George to Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo was a laborious task taking three days.

 

After a hard core crank up the 8km pass, we stop for a refreshing tea in the quaint gardens of little Herold
After a hard core crank up the 8km pass, we stop for a refreshing tea in the quaint gardens of little Herold

 

Historically, known for its booming feather industry it is not uncommon to come across opulent feather palaces that stand in sharp contrast to the demure landscape of the Klein Karoo. Oudtshoorn's ostrich industry dates back to 1864. Farmers gave up farming livestock in replace of ostriches, their feathers fetching high prices as a fashion accessory among European nobility. Suzie fittingly decided to accessorise her bike bag as a good luck charm for a safe journey ahead
Historically, known for its booming feather industry it is not uncommon to come across opulent feather palaces that stand in sharp contrast to the demure landscape of the Klein Karoo. Oudtshoorn’s ostrich industry dates back to 1864. Farmers gave up farming livestock in replace of ostriches, their feathers fetching high prices as a fashion accessory among European nobility. Suzie fittingly decided to accessorise her bike bag as a good luck charm for a safe journey ahead

 

In the Klein Karoo, you wake up without script. With no deadlines, traffic jams and blaring electronics to assault the senses, you connect to your environment and enjoy each hour in the saddle, moment by moment. Donkeys and plenty of sheep are characteristic of this part of the world. It was inspiring to learn about a donkey sanctuary set up in both De Rust and Prince Albert. Their mission is to empower local people to take care of their animals with the correct nutrition, compassion and well-designed harness and carts
In the Klein Karoo, you wake up without script. With no deadlines, traffic jams and blaring electronics to assault the senses, you connect to your environment and enjoy each hour in the saddle, moment by moment. Donkeys and plenty of sheep are characteristic of this part of the world. It was inspiring to learn about a donkey sanctuary set up in both De Rust and Prince Albert. Their mission is to empower local people to take care of their animals with the correct nutrition, compassion and well-designed harness and carts

 

A long day in the saddle cycling up the Swartberg Pass, a barrier of mountains that divide the Klein Karoo from the Groot Karoo. Known as one of the finest passes in the world, this amazingly preserved 120-year-old stone walled pass will take you through a microcosm of unique mountain fynbos. Look out for Chacma Baboons, Rhebok, Black Eagle and Klipspringer. “Die Top” is deceiving and there are many false summits. Dig deep and the views on a clear day are so rewarding. This road is probably the best example of the engineering and road building prowess of Thomas Bain
A long day in the saddle cycling up the Swartberg Pass, a barrier of mountains that divide the Klein Karoo from the Groot Karoo. Known as one of the finest passes in the world, this amazingly preserved 120-year-old stone walled pass will take you through a microcosm of unique mountain fynbos. Look out for Chacma Baboons, Rhebok, Black Eagle and Klipspringer. “Die Top” is deceiving and there are many false summits. Dig deep and the views on a clear day are so rewarding. This road is probably the best example of the engineering and road building prowess of Thomas Bain

 

Sweeping down the Swartberg descent we are greeted by a rainbow. For one member of our group, Caroline, this was a particularly sentimental moment as it has been a long hold dream to cycle this significant pass
Sweeping down the Swartberg descent we are greeted by a rainbow. For one member of our group, Caroline, this was a particularly sentimental moment as it has been a long hold dream to cycle this significant pass

 

Staying in Prince Albert
In the charming and historical Karoo Town of Prince Albert, we take a rest day to enjoy the luxury of civilization before heading off into the wilderness of the Baviaanskloof. Beautifully preserved buildings with a mixture of Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian architecture make up this town. It’s very easy to spend hours wandering around the town visiting art galleries, museums, and some excellent restaurants with fine Karoo-style dining. Some of us decided to visit a local olive and organic wine farm a few kilometres out of town, famed for providing a selection of superb wines for the Charlene Wittstock’s and Prince Albert of Monaco wedding. Not ones to turn down the offer of free wine; we happily tasted all 20 of theirs before cycling off to tackle the Kreedouw Pass.

 

From Prince Albert to Baviaanskloof (221km)

Leaving the gentle civility of the Klein Karoo, we headed off through the barren landscapes of the Groot Karoo to enter the rugged magnificence of the BaviaansKloof. Known for its richness of its endemic plant species, its interesting cultural heritage and the abundance of bird and animal life, the Baviaans area holds ample opportunity for outdoor recreation. We enjoyed a superb 4 day visit to this unspoilt paradise, braaiing under starry skies by night and exploring the remote wilderness by day. Here again we had a rest day with an optional gentle hike to nearby Waterfall and fig forest to keep you busy

Riding Through the Meiringspoort
Riding through the Meiringspoort. A dramatic gorge of ancient rock that cuts through the Swartberg Range. 10km into the gorge we stopped off at the interpretative centre to learn more about its fascinating geology. We then hiked a short distance for a refreshing plunge in a nearby waterfall

 

A Local Rider
There is always time to talk to the friendly locals. This boy was riding out of Klaarstoom and stopped to ask for a picture

 

Sunrise in the Karoo
A dramatic sunrise in the Karoo. Riding in the Karoo can leave you feeling parched. As a result, our group decided to depart earlier and arrive at their destination for lunch, a swim and ice cold beer

 

Windmill in the Karoo
When we think of the Karoo, we think of lamb chops, donkeys, dirt roads and craggy mountains. Off course the scene would not be complete without a rusty windmill creaking in the distance. These men made “temples of survival” were historically used to draw water from deep within underground aquifers, a necessity for farming in this arid area. Increasing these windmills are being replaced by solar pumps with water being stored in water-tight plastic containers. Although this is far more efficient and cost effective in the long run, the down side is that old reservoir once provided a spillage point for animals like Leopard Tortoise as well as other mammals, birds and invertebrates. The old windmills also provide a scaffold for nesting raptures like Jackal Buzzards

 

A Breakfast Tour of Kathy and Rosses
A breakfast tour of Kathy and Rosses’ organic permaculture farm. Once a degraded ostrich farm, Kathy and Ross has natured this ecosystem back to life using sustainable earth friendly principals. A delicious and locally sourced breakfast was followed by a tour of their abundant garden, their self-built cob house and a dip in the spring fed plunge pool

 

Baviaanskloof And Gamtoos Valley (197km)

Riding into the Spectacular Baviaanskloof
Riding into the spectacular Baviaanskloof. From here on, life becomes very remote in this wilderness-no cell phone signal, no shops or restaurants and few people. A one way high way into the gorge crosses a shallow river some 40 plus times, and makes for some interesting biking to boot. There were mountain passes and deep craggy rifts galore, as well as tunnels of verdant forest for us to ride through

 

Oom Piet Takes Our Group for a Sunset Tour
Oom Piet takes our group for a sunset tour. Bailing into his bakkie, we drive up the high reaches of the valley to get a wonderful view over the valley floor and river catchment system. Oom Piet has committed his farm to a conservation project to restore the natural river catchment flow and rehabilitate the Spekboom forest. A wise man who thinks of his and his children’s future, Piet no longer farms sheep. He has witnessed how the grazing patterns of poorly managed livestock have denuded the land and disturbed the natural cycles. Instead he is pioneering the idea of farming water to secure the region’s future

 

Taking a Dip in Baviaanskloof
Taking a refreshing dip in one of the few flowing rivers in the Baviaanskloof reserve

 

Refueling at Vera's Cafe
era’s Café. A local woman makes rooster brood and serves kroning koffee in her pretty little garden. Her pride is clearly evident

 

The last part of our journey we were safely escorted through the Baviaans Reserve. To ride your bike through this paradise is an adventure and a test of the legs. The possibility of encountering wild animals such as Kudu, Baboons, Buffalo or Rhino adds to the adventure. The following day we followed the bend of the Kouga River into the citrus farms of Patensie where were transferred back to George for departure the next day

Escorted through the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve
With the introduction of buffalo and now rhino into the Baviaanskloof reserve, it is a requirement that a 4×4 vehicle escorts our cyclist safely through the reserve. The prospect of coming across this megafauna adds to the excitement but sadly, we did not have any sightings that day. Our driver keeps us well stocked on fresh fruits and snack to give us a welcomed boost up three major passes that feature in this leg of the journey

 

Wild Flowers in Baviaanskloof
The gorges, rivers and exposed rock surfaces create many different microcosms supporting an abundance of 1200 plant species and three out of eight biomes known in South Africa

 

Gamtoos Valley
Our last day spent riding through a patchwork of citrus farms in the fertile plains of Gamtoos valley. Magnificent rock forms the silhouette of Queen Victoria face, not the best face to greet you after a long and hard 10-day cycle

 

End of Tour at Padlangs Cafe in Patensie
The end of a memorable cycle tour, we bid goodbye and depart ways at the Padlang’s café in Patensie. With outside showers and a great selection of homecooked food, this restaurant is the perfect place to finish. After a quick pampering session and bite to eat, our transfer arrived to transport us back to George

Carlos Gonzalez

Life has been good since his arrival in South Africa. It was September 2005 and he fell in love with the country straightaway. Places like the Drakensberg, Wild Coast and the Midlands provide all the inspiration he needs. After the taste of freedom, working in an office again was out of the question. He has since qualified as a nature and mountain guide, and as his friends joke, embarked on a serious love affair... with the Drakensberg, where he spends most weekends.

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