After going on a fun overnight campout with the S24o Adventure Club to Miller’s Point, which was all tar riding, my friend Reece and I were really keen to hit some gravel. Searching Google Maps we eventually settled on Riebeek Kasteel which looked like a great spot for an overnight mission without too much logistical effort. With our gravel bikes and ultralight bikepacking gear we would be able to cover the distance quickly and have lots of time to explore.
We opted to start our ride from Melkbosstrand, ’cause #1 – that’s where I live and #2 – we wanted to keep the tar riding to an absolute minimum. Bright and early Reece, Bert and I met at the Caltex garage in Melkbos, where we grabbed a Seattle coffee before heading out in search of some gravel to grind.
After about 8km or so we got onto the first bit of gravel road that takes you past Capaia Wine Farm – we would later realise that this short section would probably be the best dirt road section we would ride. With a couple jumps between tar and trail we came out in Klipheuwel, before starting the long drag of tar up Slent Road. This road used to be mostly gravel (great) but the powers that be unfortunately thought it was a good idea to tar it.
THE ROAD TO MORDOR
The weekend we chose for the ride also happened to be one of the hottest days in the history of history, no jokes, it was ridiculously hot. If not for a slight head wind (thanks goodness I get to type slight) we would have cooked alive with temperature hitting 40 degress in Wellington which was not far from where we were.
One of the longest sections of gravel is the last dig up to Riebeek Kasteel called Porseleinberg Road, which will forever be known to us as Mordor [referencing Tolkein’s, fictional hell-like realm]. Corrugations for days and hardly a flat section in sight as you either go up or down on short sharp undulations. We were wilting like porcelain dolls in the heat but were saved by a random bus stop that had a wooden covering built over it. After a brief respite and with water running very low (the last chance we had to fill up was in Klipheuwel some 60km’s earlier) we pushed on to our destination.
OASIS IN A PARCHED LAND
As we exited “Mordor” onto the R46, before our eyes we saw what seemed like an oasis in the desert. Thankfully, it wasn’t a mirage but it was actually the Du Vlei Farmstall. We flew in there dusty and parched and proceeded to gulp down as much water as we could, regardless of the stares from the other patrons. TOP TIP: Try do this ride on a weekend that isn’t ridiculously hot.
Once we had refilled our bottles and rested a bit at the Du Vlei padstal we pushed on the final 10 or so km to Riebeek Kasteel (RK). There are plenty options for accommodation in RK but no camping, so we opted to camp at Fish Eagle River Lodge in Hermon. It was a decent place with a small pool and a river as well. The grassed campsite was neat but a bit on cramped side with all the other groups staying there but luckily everyone was friendly and courteous.
Riebeek Kasteel is probably one of my favourite little towns in the area, it really is a fantastic place to visit. Steeped in history, it is one of the oldest town’s in South Africa, surrounded by wheatlands, vineyards and olive groves, that give it a serene Mediterranean feel. RK is also home to a vibrant community of writers, artists and alternate life-stylers who give the town such appeal and local shops, bistros, restaurants and art studios are well worth a visit.
On entering the town, our first pitstop was Garagista Craft Beer Brewery where we enjoyed a couple pints. The beer is fantastic but they don’t serve food, so as per the beer merchant’s suggestion we headed for Mama Cucina, a quaint Italian styled pizza place in town. Now I am not sure if it was because we were starving or what, but I can safely say that Mama Cucina’s Mafioza pizza is literally the best pizza I have ever eaten, in my life! No jokes!!
After filling our bellies we headed back to Garagistas for a couple more pints before buying all our supper requirements at the supermarket in RK. Options were very limited, as can be expected from a small town, but we found what we needed before riding back down the R46 past Du Vlei into Herman and then onto the campsite. Next time, I will be looking for accommodation in RK, as that 14km ride into a solid headwind after a couple beers was not fun at all!
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend out in the countryside. We opted for mostly tar route back via Malmesbury and Philadelphia, but I would definitely suggest taking the same route back if you want to do an all-gravel ride. Leaving RK we were faced with the steepest climb of the trip – Bothmaskloof Pass (with a 12% gradient in sections)! The rest of the ride back was pretty easy peddling with plenty of places to stop off for breakfast and lunch, and a few interesting detours – like the derelict train station at Kalbaskraal – thrown in to spice up the adventure.
HIGHLIGHTS & NOTES
- Water is not readily available on route, there are a couple spaza shops along the way but a good amount of water should be taken between Klipheuwel and Du Vlei padstal.
- Riebeek Kasteel is an absolute gem of a place with far too many accommodation and restaurants to name but some highlights for me are Garagista, Beans About Coffee and Mama Cucina, Kloovenberg Wine Estate has a great wine tasting also.
- Best camping option close by is Fish Eagle River Lodge otherwise there are plenty of lovely guesthouses if flashpacking is more your vibe.
- Food shops. The local food shop in Riebeek Kasteel is not the most well stocked. So if you are looking for some fancy vegan stuff like you get in Cape Town there will not be any of that there unfortunately. There are two bottle stores in town which makes on bike carrying less (huge plus).
Go far beyond the tar and deep into the countryside with this epic gravel bikepacking adventure. The route to Riebeek Kasteel, located +80km from Cape Town, is both challenging and rewarding – heat, dust and corrugations present some tough riding (especially in summer), but the scenic farmlands, welcoming little towns and ice cold beers at the end, make for a truly memorable ride.
OVERNIGHT | ⇔ 98 km (oneway) | + 749m | ≡ Tar / Gravel