THE SWARTBERG LOOP

The Swartberg Loop is an epic 4 day bikepacking route that transverses the magnificent Swartberg Mountains (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and winds through the vast wilderness of the Karoo - offering some of the most spectacular and challenging gravel riding in the Cape.

4 Days | ⇔ 319 km (loop) | + 5127m | ≡ Tar / Gravel

The Swartberg Loop starts and ends in the heart of the Klein Karoo in the quaint little town of Calitzdorp, nestled between the Outeniqua, Swartberg and Rooiberg mountains. The town makes a great base for your adventure, with is plenty of accommodation options available and food shops to stock up on supplies.

The following itinerary is designed as a guide and is by no means fixed. The route enables you to be flexible and spontaneous – you can mix up a bit of wild camping with staying in the odd guest house, cottage or formal campsite. I was cycling over 70 -100 km’s a day, but with a bit of planning it is totally possible to shorten the distances and extend the trip.

DAY 1 – SEWEWEEKSPOORT

After camping overnight at the Calitzdorp Station, I set off early the next day along the R62 and through the Huisrivier pass –  providing a good warm up for my legs! Then into the magnificent Seweweekspoort, probably the most beautiful 18 km stretch of gravel road anywhere in South Africa. The road twists and turns through fascinating geography as it follows the contorted bends of the river through the Swartberg and Towerkop Nature Reserves (a Unesco World Heritage Site). At around 78km, I found a campsite at the Ons Karoo Plaas and took a welcome break after a tough day with almost 1800m of climbing.

DAY 2 – THE VAST KAROO

Day two took me deeper into the central Karoo, with its vast open landscapes and far smaller climbs. This area is extremely arid and unpopulated, so it is a good idea to take lots of water – there really isn’t much out there. After about 100km, I pulled over and wild camped in the Dwykarivier river bed, which was dry but had a thicket of trees where I could duck off the road into.

DAY 3 – SWARTBERG PASS

Day three took me into Prince Albert to fill up the water bottles and restock on food supplies. A true oasis in this arid region, Prince Albert offers a range of shops and restaurants to choose from. Leaving town I headed up the spectacular Swartberg pass – with its steep zig-zags and sudden switchbacks offering breath-taking views at every turn. I wild camped up near the top and also found some water at the Cape Nature huts. That totalled about 70km for the day.

DAY 4 – DOWNHILL TO COFFEE

Day 4 started with coffee and breakfast (DIY) right on the summit of the pass followed by a nice long winding downhill. Another coffee at “Kobus se Gat” before meandering along various streams (that were mostly dry during this winter season) back into Calitzdorp. If you have some time it is worth exploring the area. Known as the “Port Wine Capital of South Africa”, Calitzdorp falls within the wine route of the Klein Karoo and is on R62 tourism route, providing lots of opportunities off bike adventures.

HIGHLIGHTS & NOTES

    • Water & Food are not readily available on sections of the route. Please ensure that you take enough with you. The local food shops and restaurants are available in Calitzdorp and Prince Albert. 
    • 3 Passes are the highlight of this route – Huisrivier, Seweweekspoort, Swartberg passes transverse spectacular scenery with some challenging gravel climbs and descents.
    • Camping & Lodging there are various campsites and guesthouses along the way (see the map above). Wild camping is done purely at your own risk, we do not condone wild camping in areas where it is forbidden
    • Best time to go. The cooler months of Spring and Autumn are the best time to go. That said expect high daytime temperatures and cold nights.
    • Gear. Take warm clothes for the evenings and sun protection for the day. We found that cycling in a loose long sleeve cotton top is a good way to keep the sun off.
    • Navigation. Take a good printed map showing the area in detail. There is not always mobile reception so you can’t rely on GPS navigation.
    • Road Conditions. You will be riding primarily on roads with no bike lanes and car and truck traffic. You should be comfortable riding in some amount of traffic. Please ride responsibly and stay alert. Most of the route is gravel or unpaved, road conditions can vary throughout the year.

 

Terms of Use: As with each route guide published on BICYCLESOUTH.co.za, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather and road conditions. Always ride responsibly, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. Bicycle South, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • AUTHOR POSTS
Technical and Scientific Manager , ACEP
A marine researcher and Eastern Cape local, Ryan loves exploring, whether it’s the seabed with an ROV, or the backroads with his Surly bike.
  • THE SWARTBERG LOOP

    The Swartberg Loop is an epic 4 day bikepacking route that transverses the magnificent Swartberg Mountains (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and winds through the vast wilderness of the Karoo – offering some of the most spectacular and challenging gravel riding in the Cape.


    4 Days | ⇔ 319 km (loop) | + 5127m | ≡ Tar / Gravel

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Technical and Scientific Manager , ACEP
A marine researcher and Eastern Cape local, Ryan loves exploring, whether it’s the seabed with an ROV, or the backroads with his Surly bike.

1 comment

  1. Louis Frouws

    Thank you Ryan Palmer for sharing your excellent route description and beautiful pictures! Best wishes!

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