Words and photographs by Steven Burnett
On about day 3 or 4 of a “let’s escape the lockdown 2020 Cederberg Circuit bikepacking trip” the gauntlet was thrown down by the ringleader – who’s organising the next one? A few hands went up, the WhatsApp group got a permanent vibe and overly optimistic potential Komoot routes were plotted and distributed. Eventually the line was drawn in the sand and dates were set with an alternative concept. Let’s go Beerpacking*. There’s some great gravel to grind in this here western Western Cape, some of it not even that far from the usual R27/N7/N1/N2 veins that try and get away from the mother city ASAFP.
Let’s try and link some craft breweries by bike and any dodgy routes will be drowned in hops, malt and barley…what could possibly go wrong?
*Bikes + backpacking = bikepacking
*Beer+bikepacking = beerpacking
DAY 1 – CALEDON TO STANFORD VIA BIRKENHEAD BREWERY (77 km)
In the end three of us found our way to the basement parking lot of Caledon’s Victoria Mall on a quiet Sunday, and headed south. If we were roadies with Ipods, the first song would be on the second chorus by the time we hit some lovely gravel devoid of traffic (first chorus was the local graveyard). Why a Sunday start, you ask – well bike touring involves one night stops and the (understandable) minimum 2 night weekend rules does cut a lot of options out. It also means that all those fence sitters who found excuses not to join can get Whatsapp reminders of their poor lifechoices by the time their second but futile Monday coffee is wearing off.
Very soon we encountered a potentially dubious private road sign and gate, but my experience at poking through 1:50 000 maps had high confidence that this was clearly a public road/right of way. Being Sunday morning all the locals seemed to be at gemeente anyway as we criss-crossed 15kms of thirsty but interesting farmscape before actually seeing another human as we joined the tar at Shaw’s Pass. The southbound downhill here is a blerrie lekker descent, but the turn off to the Tesselaarsdal route before it flattens out requires some heavy braking or leaning as a warning.
I’m not sure if Tessellarsdal has “arrived” or not yet. It was on my radar 10+ years ago and thank the Pope I never bought the motel for sale then (now derelict). The smart money has seemingly gone into the places just out of town – enuff said, go visit next time you’re heading east on the N2, leave an hour earlier and go explore. Despite being lunchtime we opted to skip De Poskantoor’s delights (it looked Sunday closed to be dead honest) instead for the Bangladeshi spaza oasis of cold Coke and salt and vinegar Simba – we had a beer tasting to get to and this would be just a pitstop.
Some more criss crossing of farmish roads, a broken chain and we were properly warmed up when we hit the R326 blacktop that would close out our opening 70km day with a rolling 20km that negotiated both the (closed) Raka tasting room and (manageable) Akkedisberg pass. The day’s planning worked backwards from the operating hours of the Birkenhead brewery, so rocking up there sweaty and thirsty at 3pm had us bang on schedule. Tasting tray all round, bar snacks and let’s rehydrate like legends as now we have earned the right to kakpraat. Dead Parrot APA won this taste test.
A then rather hurried skedaddle split the group between provisioning at the Stanford OK supermarket (braai and breakfast) and the Stanford Hills wineshop (more beer and wine) in time to get comfy at our splurge night at Africamps. I guess this is my first foray into the “glamping” fad, and I’m going to stay on the fence if this is a great idea or not. The units are incredibly well thought out and constructed (all 8 booked out on a Sunday night, with 2 more in progress!). We went for the real deluxe option of a hot tub tent, but missed the fineprint bit about bringing your own wood which is not going to work per velo. So we looked at a forest of unfelled alien and left the cover on whilst the braai did its thing. This setback was tempered by the range of Folk and Goode beers and Stanford Hills reds (Pale Ale and flagship Pinotage both brought a smile to tired legs), In the end, the wind blew all night and no matter how fancy the brochure looks, 3mm canvas doesn’t give you a good night sleep.
BREAKING THE LAWN
DAY 2 – STANFORD TO BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (89 km)
A leisurely start, bacon rolls and a gentle freewheel were rudely shaken by the very sandy patches of the Kleinriver road – we were on a bike trip for sure. Going up into the hills we didn’t see much evidence of economy on a Monday morning which suited us just fine. Bizarrely we kept on passing brand new “mealies” signs, despite being further and further from tar and any sort of anything. Eventually up a small hill we saw a patch of field, a gazebo and a farmer selling mielies by the fertilizer bag. I’m not sure what they went for but the few vehicles we had seen on the way all loaded with them now made sense.
Sandie’s Glen. Never heard of it? Well it’s very pretty and being not on the way between anywhere in particular it’s not widely travelled. I’ve said too much already. More farmlinking in-betweens got us to Napier and the promise of commerce. This was a daily shop tour and we were keen for some Monday pub lunch and supermarket. Maybe a good thing that the Fox bar is closed once a week as the afternoon trip south involved some heavy lifting and we had a race against time down some not so gravel tracks and then rolling hills to get there before the beershop at our resting place was shut. Supermarket pies did the trick, the views from the saddle rocked but it was a quick stop in Elim for cooldrinks (no bacon/braai stuff on sale there, despite the name).
Black Oystercatcher is a total oasis for the region, but it’s quiet on a Monday and we got the last of the last Fraser’s Folly beers (all bonkers interesting but lockdown has its casualties) into our shopping basket and walked over to the perfectly adequate little cottages for the night. I’m going HONEY ALE but the others will say HAZY IPA..either way this brewery is now outsourced and will need to be checked first on if you want to follow our tracks. This was a tough 90km, mainly because the incredible views hid the actual elevation along the way. I’m not sure if this final loop will make the recommended tour, instead of a stop in Napier and surrounds.
DAY 3 – BREDASDORP TO GREYTON (116 km)
Day two was a big push for our lazy asses and the extra 30km planned for day three looked scary enough to keep us honest, so it was an early morning Oatso Easy only 25km hit out to Bredasdorp for a regroup at Tripadvisor’s best breakfast shop. This was worth the ride, and we knew a potentially boring shunt north on the terrain you yawn through on the Overberg N2 (once past the nice farmstalls) awaited. WELL, I have news! What followed was actually some really great riding up and down past desolate roads with occasioanal interruptions from an equal amount of tractor/white hilux/grain truck traffic. The people who live here are probably really special and while they all have interesting and sometimes large houses, but you won’t find them on Airbnb.
We had lunch under a shady tree at a very noisy grain depot and crossed the oh so busy N2, before standard programming resumed. (Our destination for night 3) Greyton is well known for being a little bit larney and dressed up, but the full route into it is quiet and rural. We were ahead of our seemingly dramatic 120km route schedule and it was a very great mid afternoon beer we had at the not quite open Potter’s Inn swimming pool where we got to contemplate another great day biking. It’s rather special when the actual brewer drops his mash spoon to find you something tasty that’s connected to the bar system system.
As we had blown the accommodation budget on the first two nights we went low cost and Greyton EcoLodge. SJOE, don’t quote me there on that misconception. This is an ideal possie for many people, pockets and prejudices. It’s the old school dorm run on contract and really, really deserves a good go. Seems like it’s bike tour du jour and they will make a plan for whatever you need. The mountain view from my bedroom was heavenly.
Being Greyton we had to try the local cuisine and some locals popped in at Restaurant 1852, after two nights of braaing we chose to have someone else sort out some quality Overberg meat for our recovery meal.
DAY 4 – GREYTON TO CALEDON (41 km)
The final day was a 7 iron run into town, but no 50km giveaway. The easy option is to go straight and boring and busy, but instead by following the Riviersondereind river valley we discovered a great, quiet route without that much more distance. We managed to skirt rainclouds all the way to the N2, whereby crossing it we finally closed our large loop on Caledon and headed back to the car. A great trip, with some tweaks it could be a classic. The beauty is that basing your start/finish close to CapeTown REALLY does reduce your admin level.
Klein Karoo, coastal, wet rivers, dry rivers, passes and views views views. Steven shares a gem of a bikepacking loop through the Garden Route and Klein Karoo.
4 DAYS | ⇔ 273 km | + 3018m | ≡ Tar/ Gravel
Steven and friends mix beer and bikepacking as they recce a beerpacking route through the Cape Overberg.
4 DAYS | ⇔ 324 km | + 3971m | ≡ Tar/ Gravel