Cycling in South Africa

Whether you are puffing your way up winding mountain passes in Franschoek, cruising along Route 62 in the Little Karoo, peddling through the lush valleys of the Overburg district whilst trying to spot Blue Cranes, or trying to catch a glimpse of the Southern Right Whale off the Hermanus Coastline, each day on the ‘Cycling the Cape & Winelands’ trip is unique and never disappoints.

The first afternoon of our trip saw us enjoying a beautiful sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. It was suggested that we take a cable car trip up Table Mountain. If you are feeling fit, you can walk to the cable car straight from Saasveld Lodge, the start and end hotel of the trip. We did start walking, but succumbed to a taxi due to the heat - we must have only been about 600 yards from the top. But please don’t judge us too harshly; we hadn’t donned our lycra yet!

Once at the top we were greeted by a level plateau which measures 3km from side to side and is surrounded by steep cliffs. The 360-degree views are breathtaking and you can see for miles over Table Bay Harbour and Signal Hill. You are 3,563 feet above sea level; what better place to have a cool beer, get to know your travelling companions and discuss what the forthcoming trip might have in store?

Over the next 10 days, we cycled a total of 480km on Trek mountain bikes, suitably fitted with road tyres. The quality of the bikes was good, and any technical problems were fixed promptly and did not effect the enjoyment of the trip. If you fly with South African Airlines the good news is that they don’t make any additional charges for sports equipment – great if you want to bring your own bike out with you.

The trip is called ‘Cycling the Cape & Winelands’ and this is exactly what you do! The first few days are spent cycling and driving to some of the well-known vineyards in the region. Our first stop was the Boschendal Winery, located 40km or so from Franschoek. We cycled up the long driveway, past wild Arum lilies, which are frequently seen on this trip. We were then confronted by an impressive Manor House, dating back to 1812. Under a large oak tree in the courtyard, a table was set out for us with a selection of five wines to taste; I knew I was going to enjoy this trip! We were given an introduction to all the wines and afterwards purchased a few bottles to accompany our evening meal that night.

The next day we visited the Warwick Wine Estate, run by the Ratcliffe Family. Norma Ratcliffe was the first lady in South Africa to make great wines, and after another successful tasting session, we all left with a few more purchases; the Pinotage was my personal favourite. We then headed to the Bergkelder Wine Cellars in Stellenbosch, famed for the well-known ‘Fleur de Cap’. Afterwards, we had some free time in Stellenbosch, which is a lovely University town where 28% of the population are students. Other places we visited were the Barrydale Wine Cellars, famed for its Brandy and the Birkenhead Brewery near Hermanus where we sampled some of the local beers. Be warned – the ‘Black Snake’ is not for the faint-hearted. This mixture of brandy, stout and blonde ale is 10% alcohol and will give you a bite you won’t forget in a hurry! You can enjoy these sessions without fear for your life on the roads afterwards however. They are sensibly all planned to take place after the cycling has finished for the day.

There were so many highlights for me on this holiday and seeing them by bike was very rewarding. We saw coach parties of tourists who asked where we were from and which company we used. The coaches spent little time in each place, whereas we had the luxury of spending quality time, absorbing our surroundings.

At Cape Agulhas, the rocky headland known as the ‘Stormy Cape’ the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. This is the most Southerly point in South Africa and if you have time, make sure you climb the Lighthouse for those fantastic views!

At The Cape of Good Hope we watched dolphins playing in the surf and ostriches going about their daily business; you don’t get that in Cornwall! We also climbed up to Cape Point Lighthouse, where again the views are stunning and you get a clear view of Bellows Rocks, where many ships have been wrecked over the years, the most famous being the Lusitania in 1911.

Chapman’s Peak Drive into Hout Bay is a lovely ride and the road is fairly quiet. This is an 8km uphill ride and it’s one of the most spectacular marine drives anywhere in the world. The back-up vehicle does not go with you up the hill; it meets you in Hout Bay. Make sure you do this ride, as the views are not to be missed and the climb isn’t as bad as it sounds!

The cycling is done on main roads and these can be busy at times. However, on most occasions, you are cycling on the wide hard-shoulders, giving you plenty of room. There are no back roads on this trip, so if you prefer quieter cycling, it may not be the one for you. All I can say is that the scenery more than made up for the roads so you shouldn’t be put off.

On the last cycling day, we arrived back into Cape Town at 5pm. We rode past Llandudno, a pretty coastal resort not to be confused with the one in Wales! We passed through little bays with trendy bars and restaurants, my favourite being ‘Camps Bay’. The end point for us was the ‘Waterfront’, which is a development comprising of bars, restaurants, shops and street entertainers. Once all the bikes were loaded on the trailer, we all congratulated each other on making it to the finish, had a final group picture and then headed to Quay 4 for a celebratory drink, where we got some funny looks from all the trendy people. Had they not seen a bunch of lycra-clad, oil-stained, wind-swept cyclists before?!

Ian Langford

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