Crossing over from overnight bikepacking trips into the realm of multi-day adventures can be daunting. While the ephemeral nature of an overnight trip allows you to roll with your mistakes without truly bearing the consequences, on longer trips you need to be better prepared.
A three-day ‘pathfinder’ bikepacking trip bridges the gap between the two. It is just short enough that your mistakes are not fatal to the trip, and just long enough to learn what you need for a multi-day trip (the amount of gear and necessities is pretty much the same for 3 days or 10 days) and above all else, if you are truly keen to take on longer trips.
For my soft entry to multi-day bikepacking I decided to explore close to home (and support if things did not go according to plan). On top of that, this region of the Overberg lends itself to a multitude of different route options, making it the ideal test bed for exploring the grey area between overnight trips and the multi-day epics.
The 320km circular route took me from my hometown of Stellenbosch over Franschhoek pass, down the Riviersonderend valley, over the endless rolling hills east of Caledon and down to the coast through the Hemel en Aarde valley after which I made my way back to Stellenbosch hugging the coast.
Day 1: Stellenbosch to Champagne by the river campsite
95km| 1375m elevation gain| 75% paved and 25% gravel
Helshoogte pass is a different beast with a fully loaded bicycle and will make you acutely aware of the weight and necessity of your gear. Fuelled by good coffee from Terbodore Café in Franschhoek, the 7.3 km climb to the top of Franschhoek pass is more about the scenery than the gradient. The pass which opened in 1825, follows an old elephant migration trail. Fill up your water bottles with “berg-water” on the last turn before reaching the highest point of the pass. Water is worth its weight in gold when the day starts to get long and slow on those long, never ending climbs.
The descend towards Theewaterskloof dam is spectacular in terms of scenery and pure exhilaration of the downhill – manoeuvring a packed bicycle on the fast descend takes some getting used to. The flat ribbon of road from the foot of the pass to the Villiersdorp T- junction is beautiful in its own right, especially when Theewaterskloof dam is full. The highest point on Draaiberg Road rewards you a spectacular view of the Hottentots Holland and Groot Drakenstein mountains and the Riviersonderend mountains just behind Greyton. After one last big hill at 70km its downhill towards Champagne by the river campsite. The campsite lies on the banks of the Sonderend river on a working apple farm and a post ride dip in the river is a must!
Day 2: Champagne by the river campsite to Woelwaters (Onrus).
118 km| 1770m elevation gain| 40% paved and 60% gravel
Good coffee with spectacular views is arguably one of the cornerstones of any successful outing. Maintaining the caffeine levels are equally important. After following the Sonderend river to Greyton a second cup of coffee and a breakfast ensured the success of the day. The 18km of well-maintained gravel road towards Krige railway station and the N2 consists of a series of long gradual climbs out of the sonderend valley. After a short transfer on the N2 to the Jongensklip road you continue the gradual climb to the Jongensklip railway station, each successive rolling hill slightly higher. All the accumulated elevation is lost in a 14 km long decent towards the Van Brakel stoor. Ice cream is a proven antidote for mid-day heat.
Fill up with water as the next section through Tesselaarsdal is quite hot, especially of you are riding it during summer. I cycled this section with a wide brined hat rather than my helmet. (It might be a compromise on safety and -15 speed points, but I wasn’t too keen on getting heatstroke). The latter half of the gravel road past Tesselaarsdal is quite corrugated in sections.
The Hemel and Aarde valley is truly spectacular, apart from the one massive hill leading to Hemelrand, it’s downhill all the way into Onrus. My trip overlapped with a visit of family and friends to Onrus, so I stayed with them in Woelwaters self-catering accommodation. For those looking to camp, Onrus Caravan Park is a good option.
Day 3: Woelwaters to Stellenbosch.
106km| 985 m elevation gain| 100% paved
The route back to Stellenbosch is entirely paved, with a large shoulder making it easy to share the road with the normal traffic. A coffee and breakfast stop in Kleinmond at Meating is never a bad idea. The section from Rooi-Els to Gordons Bay is spectacular, on clear day you can see the Cape Peninsula across False bay. A soft serve ice cream at Uncle Barry’s is all the fuel you need for the last couple of km’s back to Stellenbosch. The completed roadworks on the R44 between Somerset Mall and Techno park makes navigating the traffic by bicycle safe and easy.
Dip your toes into multi-day adventures with this three-day bikepacking route through the Overberg region – from Stellenbosch over Franschhoek pass, across the interior and down to the coast through the Hemel en Aarde valley.
3 DAYS | ⇔ 318 km | + 3800m | ≡ Tar/ Gravel
Transverse the diverse beauty of the Overberg from the rolling coastal plains to challenging mountain passes on this all gravel bikepacking route.
OVERNIGHT | ⇔ 165 km (loop) | ≡ Gravel