If you love nature and experiencing it by taking part in activities like hiking and mountain biking there is no better place to visit than Swellendam. Even if you only like viewing nature from a coffee shop or your luxury accommodation, Swellendam will still be at the top of my list of places to visit.
Apart from the beautiful mountain towering over our historic and unique little town, the variety of activities and natural treasures located within 30-60 minutes’ drive from Swellendam is this destination’s biggest draw-card. In 2007 when the Absa Cape Epic still traveled from Knysna to Stellenbosh (with Swellendam as one of the stop-overs) people used to say that it was one of the only races where you could experience anything from single track to rolling hills, epic climbs to fast flats, forest to Klein Karoo – because it traveled such a long distance. The effort of setting up a race village in a new town each day and the cost involved was one of the reasons that the Absa Cape Epic stopped traveling in a straight line from Knysna and opted for the Clover-system. The Clover-system is where you start and finish at least two days of racing from the same venue. When staying in Swellendam you will have the comfort of choosing between single track, rolling hills, forests, Klein Karoo, through a pass, to the ocean, over a ferry – while enjoying the comfort of staying in one place.
Another big bonus in Swellendam is the level of safety and un-congested roads. I have never even considered being attacked or robbed while riding solo – it just does not happen. On most of the routes and trails it feels like you are riding on your own private trail/route. Just you, your friends/family, nature and your bike. No need to bob and weave through heavy traffic, armed with pepper spray in your cycling jersey.
Even though I am a passionate (bordering obsessive) mountain biker, the rest of my family does not share this healthy addiction. So whenever I start planning our family’s vacation trip it takes extra effort to convince them to travel to my mountain bike orientated destination of choice. In Swellendam that is not a problem. I would seduce my wife with the great variety of coffee shops, a rain forest spa treatment at Rain – created for living, pottery course at Bukkenburg Studio, photography course with Henk Venter or horse riding in the mountain with Two Feathers horse trails to name a few. For the children I would include the previously mentioned and add a Bee Tour at Bee things, visit to the Berry farms for berry picking in Nov-Dec, riding on a tractor at Berry Adventure Farm, game drive and picnic at Kwetu Guest Farm or Bontebok Park or hiking in Duiwelsbos, Koloniesbos or Plaat in Marloth Nature Reserve. With all of these “clover options” you could keep your family blissfully happy while you and your mountain bike are spending some quality time together. Everybody wins.
If you consider that the Coronation Double Century and the Overberg 100-miler starts and finishes in Swellendam – it proves the clover capability with Swellendam as your base. The Coronation Double Century passes through two mountain passes and a section of the Klein Karoo & Robertson Wine Valley. The Overberg 100 miler crosses the Breede River twice and almost reaches the ocean at De Hoop Nature Reserve. You can offer to meet your family/wife/husband/friends at a destination for a half-way break or pick-up. This could include milkshake at Diesel & Crème in Barrydale, whale watching at Koppie Alleen (De Hoop), Sijnn Wine tasting (Malgas), crossing the Breede Rivier with a ferry (Malgas), Jan Harmsgat or Van Loveren for wine-tasting (in Robertson’s direction), The Oude Post Bistro (Buffeljagsrivier/Barrydale), Paradise Organic Restaurant (Suurbraak) or Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve.
And from personal experience you could convince your wife or partner to go on a romantic “mountain bike” weekend without her owning a mountain bike. After booking her into one of the luxury accommodation options like Schoone Oordt, Augusta de Mist, Babette’s or Aan de Oever (to name a few) your wife will not notice that you are gone for at least 10 hours. Add the spa treatment at Rain and dinner at De Companjie or Field&Fork to ensure compliance. And maybe you should not call it a “mountain bike weekend”. Who says you cannot buy happiness.
ROUTES, TRAILS AND RIDES
And now for the riding. Here are my top picks of mountain biking and cycling routes in Swellendam:
1) Marloth Nature Reserve – Marked Trails.
A beginner’s non-technical 9km, medium difficulty 16km and an experienced rider’s 28km with 800m of climbing. The Red Route (28km) includes technical climbs and single track. All routes are marked and start/finish at the Tourism info office in the Old Quarter of Swellendam. Lots of coffee-shops, restaurants and other tourism attractions in this area. You can get your permit at the Tourism Info office as well.
2) Bontebok Park – Unmareked Routes.
Only one 12km marked route, but many other unmarked options available. Routes can be cycled from anywhere in Swellendam – Bontebok Park is located just 5km from town. Routes are not technical, but rough surfaces in sections make this a good work out.
3) Canola Routes – Unmarked Routes.
Rolling hills between farms. Bakkie roads so not technical, a lot like the Karoo 2 Coast. One route crosses the Breede Rivier on a hand pulled ferry at Malgas. Great for LSD rides. Here you will discover what rolling hills really look like.
4) Grootvadersbosch Conservatory – Marked Trails.
Incredible single track! Wide variety of options that takes you between farms and into the forest. Be aware – lots of climbing. I would not recommend this to beginners. Perfect for a weekend’s Epic training. Next door to the hiking trails in Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve.
5) Suurbraak – Semi Marked Routes.
Get info at Paradise Organic restaurant/coffee shop in Suurbraak. Routes are not always well managed and marked. Bit of an adventure – a dog might chase you. Welcome to Africa.
6) Training Routes for Trans Baviaans/Absa Cape Epic – Not Marked, gravel roads
Malgas Pont 92km, Dipka 101km, Napky 104km, Bonnievale 101km, Alp2Hez 75km
Barrydale 123km – Epic routes on public roads around Swellendam. Lots of time in the saddle and climbing. Bliss to any obsessed mountain biker. Especially the Barrydale route that takes you over Gysmanshoek Pass – a true pilgrimage. These routes are what the locals train on for Absa Cape Epic and Trans Baviaans.
7) Coronation Double Century Training – Not Marked, tar road
Swellendam to Barrydale and Back – 88km
Swellendam to Op de Tradouw and Back – 125km
Swellendam to Bonnievale and Back – 85km
Swellendam to Van Loveren – 59km
Swellendam to Montagu to Swellendam – 161km
2016 DC route – 204km
→ View all mountain bike trails in the area.
EVENTS & RACES
1) Coronation Double Century – 24 November 2018
2) Dipka Slaglam – 4 August 2018
3) Around The Pot Overberg 100 Miler – 21 July 2018
4) Race to Rotterdam – Feb 2019
5) Rainmaker RollerCoaster – 6 to 12 October 2018
Passionate mountain biker and founder/editor of visitswellendam.co.za, Sakkie Nel, shares his insider knowledge of exploring and cycling in Swellendam – a favourite destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers in the Cape Overberg region.