Words and Photographs by Seamus Allardice.
I fell out of love with cycling, confesses Seamus Allardice. It happened slowly at first. Then quickly. But bikepacking always lures me back in.
Every January, for last three years, I’ve started the year with a bikepacking trip. In 2018; Andrew Robb, David le Roux and myself rode from Stellenbosch to Opsoek, in the Klein Karoo. After a year’s hiatus I started planning more formal trips for my friends. In 2020 we rode a four-day loop through the Overberg, covering 400 kilometres as we went from the Breede River to McGregor to Greyton and back to Stellenbosch. The next year we started and finished in Swellendam, crossing the mythical Gysmanshoek Pass before looping south to Malgas and home to Swellendam. After a solo trip through the Klein Karoo in 2021, I decided to invite a group to join me for the Hell’s Teeth Tour in January 2022.
The route started at Opsoek, at the Le Roux’s farm between Ladismith and Calitzdorp. Ascended the Seweweekspoort and descended into Die Hel via the fabled footpath into Gamkaskloof. Die Leer is one of only three routes into the deserted valley in the Swartberg Mountains. It is best undertaken on foot, but the Freedom Challenge mountain bike race goes up it, so going down isn’t unmanageable. In total the first day of the Hell’s Teeth Tour took in 45km and ended in Die Hel at a beautifully green campsite.
On the second day we cycled – well, I write ‘we’ but mean ‘they’ – out of Die Hel via the only road into the valley. My reason for not riding was PTSD from having done the climb solo six months before. The ascent out of Gamkaskloof takes in 2 000 metres of elevation gain in just 40 kilometres. To say its brutal understates it.
I jumped back on my bike for the descent of the Swartberg Pass, to work up an appetite for Roosterbrood at Kobus se Gat. From our late lunch it was on to De Hoek Mountain Resort, after 75 kilometres of riding, to our second camping spot of the trip. Day 3 saw us crossing the Klein Karoo basin on a scenic and free flowing day. The 65 kilometres to Gamkaberg Nature Reserve we ticked off in no time. Mainly due to the course featuring more descending than climbing, which made for a pleasant change, after the day before.
The final day took us back to Opsoek, via the Olifantsriver and Calitzdorp, then the Huisrivier Pass. It featured more tar than ideal, but barring a hike-a-bike filled slog though the Zoar community land and an assault on the Rooiberg Pass asphalt was the only way to go.
If you enjoyed the Hell’s Teeth Tour show and would like to join the January 2023 trip, into the Deep South, drop us an email to email@example.com. I can’t reveal too much yet, but it’ll be a (mis)adventure; that’s for sure. And might even include some beach camping…
MUST KNOW & TRAIL NOTES.
- Skill level. Riding on a mix of tarred and gravel roads. There are some challenging gravel climbs and descents.
- Climate: The Klein Karoo region is known for temperate weather with wet winters (June – August) and glorious, hot summers (Dec-Feb) The autumn and spring months are perfect for cycling – not too hot, not too cold. In winter, snow can be expected on mountain-tops and higher lying inland areas.
- Lodging & Camping: There are a range of accommodation options in the region. See the map for suggestions.
- Water & Food. Take lots of water, especially when cycling through the more remote sections of the route. Food and supplies can be found at various shops and restaurants along the route, but stock up for the longer sections.
- Gear. Take warm clothes for the evenings and sun protection for the day. A loose long sleeve cotton top is a good way to keep the sun off in summer. Temperatures drop abruptly at night and can be cold even during summer. If you plan to walk down Die Leer, we recommend wearing shoes you can hike in too.
- 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 sometimes 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.
In January 2022 Seamus Allardice led a bike slackpacking trip into Die Hel (Gamkaskloof), one of South Africa’s most isolated communities deep in the Swartberg Mountains. The route would take them down a challenging hike-a-bike trail, before transversing the Klein Karoo basin.
4 DAYS | ⇔ 250 km | + 4576m | ≡ Tar/ Gravel / Hike’n Bike
The Cycle Tour Trust has launched a new gravel race in the Berg River Winelands, celebrating the legend of bicycling bugler and local mailman, Old Hermon.
Imagine for a moment that every town in South Africa was connected through a network of singletrack commuting links? If TRAILS SA has their way, this trail dream could become a reality for many a South African town in the next decade.
Meet a group of South African women who are pushing their bodies to the limit to showcase the strength and fortitude of women cyclists, and raise funds for a worthy cause supporting women’s cycling in historically disadvantaged communities.
Seamus Allardice shares his Southern Campout adventure – a bike camping trip that saw him and friends, Andrew Robb and Jacques Rademan climb Franschhoek pass into the headwinds of a South Easter and transverse the gravel roads of the Cape Winelands – their destination, Rivierplaas campsite on the Breede River.
OVERNIGHT | ⇔ 70 km | + 962 m | ≡ Tar/ Gravel