There’s a new cycle tour that will take you through South Africa’s Western Cape province, called the Cross Cape Cycling Route. It’s a free picturesque cycling trail that connects the towns of Plettenberg Bay and Stellenbosch, some 740 kilometres (460 miles) apart.
The newly launched Cross Cape route is a first for South Africa, and it offers a truly remarkable way to experience the region. Though it cuts through parts of the scenic and well-known Garden Route, much of the journey is on remote backroads and up serene mountain passes, often overlooked by visitors exploring the region by car.
Unlike the world-renowned Cape Epic multistage race, this is one you can tackle at your own speed, on any day of the year and at no cost. The only requirements to ride the Cross Cape route are a suitable mountain bike and a rough plan. Riders can choose where to start and stop along the way, and the route has been designed in order to link up with suitable accommodation and local restaurants.
The fittest riders should be able to tackle the route between Plettenberg Bay and Stellenbosch in just seven days, which requires cyclists complete between 80 and 170 kilometres (between 50 and 106 miles) each day, but those who prefer to slow things down can stretch it out to around 20 days.
Along the way, riders will get to experience some remarkable sights from the back of their bikes. Most choose to break up the first quarter of the route with stops in Knysna, George and Oudtshoorn. After the stunning coastlines of Plett, and the tranquil lagoons and lush green forests of Knysna, riders will start to notice a change in scenery, particularly as they head inland.
Riding to the summit of the Montagu Pass, after visiting the town of George, might be a taxing affair. But the views, engineering history and ride down the other side make it more than worth the physical exertion. The nearby town of Oudtshoorn, famous for its ostriches, offers plenty of accommodation options for an overnight stay.
From Oudtshoorn, you’ll truly feel you’re in the Klein Karoo. Though dry and at times stark, the Karoo is no less beautiful than the lush forests you’re leaving behind. Most riders push through for a long day in the saddle all the way to Rooiberg, which requires summiting the Rooiberg Pass. This gravel pass is a challenge, but once at the top it’s possible to roll all the way into an overnight stay in the town below.
After Rooiberg, cyclists head along beautiful roads in the direction of Swellendam, a popular town in the Western Cape region known as the Overberg. There are dozens of notable restaurants and accommodation options in Swellendam, and if you choose to span the full distance between the two towns – all 169 kilometres or 105 miles of it – in a single day, riders definitely want to put their feet up there for a day or two.
Although the entire journey takes place within South Africa’s Western Cape province, once you leave Swellendam you’ll start to feel as if you’re entering the true Cape. Cyclists traverse rolling mountains, cross wide rivers and skirt grain fields as they head towards the town of Greyton.
From Greyton, the town of Stellenbosch – the official ending point of the Cross Cape route – is 107 kilometres (66 miles) away. Though you’ve left many of the remote farm roads and gravel mountain passes behind, the remaining two tarred passes, at Franschhoek and Hellshoogte, will deliver spectacular views as a final reward for covering the distance.
The route is open throughout the year, and riders can choose their own adventure as they make their way along the safe, maintained tracks. Although there is no official or mandated accommodation, the official Cross Cape website provides all the details necessary to plan your routes and overnight stops.