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The Winelands and Klein Karoo

The next many days of cycling take us through the Winelands and the Klein Karoo. It would be interesting to know how many vineyards and wineries there are in South Africa. It seems there must be thousands, we don't know, but we are certain that wine here is REALLY BIG business.

Wine country continues well to the east of Stellenbosch, into an area called the Klein (Little) Karoo. We read somewhere that "Karoo" comes from a San (Bushman) word meaning "dry." This area is indeed dry, but it differs from the Great Karoo to the north in that there are rivers and streams flowing down from the mountains. They make irrigation possible, so there is some agriculture in the Klein Karoo, including many more vineyards. Besides being dry, the Karoo, both big and little, is noted for being hot.  In summer, now, very hot.

January 19-20

Saturday morning we left Wim and Hanlie with some reluctance and rode the short distance to Stellenbosch, a university town filled with beautiful old homes and buildings. Our Warm Showers hosts were Johann and Tinie Leuvennink and their son Bernard. They were very friendly people and experienced cyclists. It was particularly nice of them to host us because they had to go out for the evening, but they made us right at home.

Even better, Johann and Tinie invited us to stay a second night, so that they could show us around for a day. We drove down to the Strand, Gordon's Bay and beyond, a beautiful part of the coast we would never have seen otherwise.  

Left: Barbara, Tinie, and Johann on the coast just east of Gordon's Bay.

When we returned to Johann and Tinie's home in the afternoon, the two of us cycled to a winery with stunning views; unfortunately the little cafe there was closed, but we captured the view that we would have enjoyed if we had been sitting down to tea or a cold drink. Then we rode into a nature reserve, but not far, because the rough road was difficfult on our bikes.

View at Oude Nektar Farm outside Stellenbosch

Cycling in Jonkershoek Nature Reserve

Back at home in the evening, Johann did a genuine braai for us. (The braai back at Wim and Hanlie's was done with charcoal. They told us that the serious, genuine braai is done with wood, and that's what Johann used.) The braai is a South African-style barbecue of which we'll never tire.

Beautiful, old homes in Stellenbosch: below, Cape Dutch style, right, Victorian

Before we left the comfort of Johann and Tinie's home, they called ahead to Tinie's sister, outside Barrydale. We'll be expected there, and we bet that we'll enjoy it just as much.

January 21-22

Monday we cycled from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek. It was only a short ride, about 20 miles, but there is a difficult pass just after Franschhoek, and we wanted to be nearby so that we could do the climb early in the morning.

Franschhoek is rather touristy, but we enjoyed it. In the afternoon we visited an excellent ceramics studio. Then, cycling up a fairly steep hill in town, a bunch of African children ran along with us, pushing us up the hill, and singing Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (God Bless Africa) as we went along!

We stayed at Otter Bend backpackers Monday night, where we met a friendly Swiss couple who had been traveling around Africa in their Land Cruiser for about eight months.

Tuesday we finally made an early, early start. We rose at 5:00 a.m., meaning to be on the road by 6:00. We wanted to beat the heat on the climb up the pass. As things turned out, it was 6:30 before we actually rode away, but still early.

The ride up the pass was not as difficult as we'd feared. Long, slow, but not terribly steep. View from near the top, still early,  is at right.

Nearing the top, I asked Barbara to stop for a minute so I could photograph her as she rode through a troop of baboons ahead. (These critters can be dangerous in certain circumstances, but they scatter if you approach them on a bike.) 

When Barbara rode ahead, one of the baboons was lying in the road and she slowed way down. Going really slowly on these bikes is never a good idea, and Barb was distracted, rode off the shoulder, and fell down. The baboon, of course, was fine and took off immediately.  Below: Barbara's encounter with the baboons.

On the right: Barbara riding down from the top of Franschhoek Pass.

We spent Tuesday night in Villiersdorp. We stayed at Blue Mountain Cottage, left,  and it was a delightful, comfortable place on a shady side street. The owners, who lived in the main house immediately behind the cottage, were Adriaan and Rita. Both were hugely helpful, and Adriaan gave us detailed (and accurate) advice for our ride the next day.

A friendly American couple, Eric and Lynn, lived next door. They brought us cantaloupe and, later, chocolate! Further, Lynn told us where we could get sweet corn, just a couple of doors away, and also beets. Blue Mountain had a little kitchen, so we had our first huge feed of fresh vegetables: corn on the cob, beets, beet greens, and cantaloupe. (With a little steak in there somewhere.)

January 23 – 24

Wednesday we got off to another early start, though not quite early enough to avoid having Rita take our picture. It was overcast and cool, a blessing. We'd intended to cycle only as far as Worcester, but we hadn't been able to reach the Warm Showers host there so we decided to go a longer distance. 

As things turned out, it got brutally hot before the end of our ride – around 100 degrees – and Barbara had to put on her "clown face," white zinc oxide to stop her nose and lips from burning to a crisp. But we made it the 50+ miles to Robertson.

One memorable moment of the ride was when we took Adriaan's advice and stopped at Aan de Doorns Winery. We've been cycling through the heart of South Africa's wine country but passing the many vineyard stores because we're not wine drinkers. However, Adriaan told us that this particular place bottles an outstanding sparkling grape juice. Wow, was it ever good on a hot day! Now we're hooked, and we'll probably be checking at wineries every day hoping for more.

We reached Robertson before mid afternoon and stayed at the Robertson Backpackers. Our room, when we finally decided to pay a little extra for an en suite bath, was far better than the average backpacker room – delightful, in fact. Below, our room at Robertson Backpackers, and also us, ready to ride on Thursday morning.

Thursday's was a very short ride, and we deserved it. We rode only 20 miles or so, to Montagu. It was a somewhat cooler day – only in the 80s to low 90s – so we could have gone farther, but we knew that we had a great place to stay in Montagu and were looking forward to it.

The great place was the home of Rolene and Attie Van Zyl. They were an attractive, younger (than us) couple with three daughters. Their home was spacious, with lovely gardens and a pool. Once again, we were made to feel right at home. We even had our laundry done, such luxury for us. .

The photo at left is their beautiful gardens. Unfortunately we didn't get a photo of the family together, but they have promised to send us one. If we get it, you'll see it here!

Attie owns the local Toytota dealership, so he had to go back to work after lunch. In the evening, he ran perhaps 8 or 10 kilometers, something like that. Farther, in the heat, than we can imagine anyone running willingly! But he returned fairly early in good cheer, and we had a fine dinner. We were served bobotie for the first time. Bobotie is a traditional Afrikaner dish that came originally from Indonesian slaves, we believe. It involves curried mincemeat baked in some sort of savory egg custard -- totally unfamiliar to us, but dellicious. Definitely a comfort food.

January 25-26

On 25th we left Montague early and rode about 35 miles to the home of Gerritt and Anneli Van Zyl (no close relation to the Van Zyls in Montagu) about 12 ks before Barrydale. 

The next three photos, below, are taken from this day's ride to Gerrit and Anneli's home, through the Little Karoo. It's big, open country, often with strong contrast between the irrigated farmland and the more arid places. If only it hadn't gotten so hot each, day, this would be one of the finest bike rides we've done. Smarter cyclists would ride it in SA's autumn


When we told people that we were heading for the Winelands and Little Karoo on bicycles, we were often warned about a fruit-workers' strike. Even from the relatively small number of people who have spoken to us about it -- all Afrikaners, as it happens -- we heard two sides to the story. That is, we heard the claim that these workers are paid next to nothing and are exploited unconscionably by the farmers; and the claim that the workers who are on strike are immigrants from other areas or countries, with absolutely no skills, who are being stirred up for political reasons by outside agitators, and to whom the farmers cannot possibly pay more and stay in business. Who knows, as in many things, the "truth" may be somewhere in between. Anyway, this is our first and only encounter with strikers. This particular group was small and good humored. They wanted their pictures taken.

At last we reached Gerrit and Anneli Van Zyl's family home, built by Anneli's grandfather on his farm. They welcomed us kindly. Their house is a comfortable, rambling place, with a beautiful lawn and gardens.

 In late afternoon Gerrit and Anneli drove us through the Langeberg Mountains via Tradouws Pass and on to Swellendam. Swellendam, while it had some fine old buildings, was not quite what we'd thought, so it's just as well that we didn't cycle out of our way to visit it. The treat was the drive through Tradouws Pass, on a twisting, turning road along the edge of a deep gorge. No town, no matter how antique or pretty, can compete with the dramatic scenery like that.

When we got home, we stopped at the farm orchard and picked plums off the tree – sweet, firm, delicious! Then it was back to the house for a braai and an elaborate meal. Barbara said that sitting on their stoep, looking out at the lawn and gardens, she felt as though she were living through a scene from Out of Africa.

On the morning of the 26th, after an early breakfast with Anneli and Gerritt, we set out for a farm cottage several kilometers before Ladismith. We shopped briefly at the OK Bazaar in Barrydale, then dealt with a fairly long, difficult hill to get out of town. 

Not long past Barrydale, we stopped at Ronnie's Sex Shop for an early lunch. This is a rather non-descript restaurant that became  famous when it added the three-letter word to its sign.

The decor was given some colorful features to go with the new name. You can see this clearly in the bar!  Now Ronnie's Sex Shop is a tourist attraction, and the food is much better than you might expect.

Our next stop was Wolverfontein Farm, about four kilometers out in the bush adjoining a nature preserve. Zebras were lured to the fenceline by hay deposited there.

The biggest house at Wolverfontein Farm is the home of Ashley and Andre, super nice hosts. Among other nice things, they brought us milk and delicious fresh vegetables from their garden that did wonders for our dinner. In the evening, they tried to find us accommodation for the next night.

A few other old houses on the farm have been fixed up to be very comfortable, with some nice decorative touches, but they still retain their rustic, antique feel, and these are now the guest cottages. Ours is at right.
As sunset was nearing, we walked to the top of a nearby koppie. This was a night when the moon was full, rising when the sun was setting. The air was cool at last and the light was soft. We could see for miles and miles over the rolling veld to the mountains.

January 27

Sunday we rode over 50 miles to Calitzdorp. We got a reasonably early start (below) but waited far too long for lunch at Ladismith and almost decided to stay there. But we pushed on, despite knowing there was a difficult pass somewhere ahead. 

The pass was difficult indeed, but we reached the top sooner than we expected. Then came a descent that should be a major tourist attraction, absolutely spectacular, twisting, swooping down, seeming to go on forever. But it did end, at the Huis River, and then followed a surprisingly tough climb before Calitzdorp. The temperature again topped 100 degrees in mid-afternoon, and when we finally arrived in town, we were fried. Wally immediately downed an entire liter of Coke.

We found Bougainvilla Backpackers in Calitzdorp. We were somewhat surprised that it was owned by a colored family and partially occupied by a crew of colored roadworkers. (More about this term, “colored,” later.) They were all friendly and considerate, and our room was comfortable. It dawned on us that this was the first night since Johannesburg that we haven't stayed with an Afrikaner family or in  Afrikaner-owned accommodation.

January 28-29

The ride from Calitzdorp to Oudtshoorn on Monday turned out to be tough, especially for Barbara. It was only 30 miles, a touch over 50 ks, and the previous day had been hot and difficult, so we didn't worry about starting early – a mistake. It was already hot with headwinds by mid-morning when we stopped for cold pear juice at the only farm stand or restaurant along the way. Then it became hotter, somewhere in the high 90s, just when Barbara started to feel sick. She loves taking breaks in the bushes from cycling in brutal heat.

So rather than rolling into Oudtshoorn by noon, we crawled in after 2:00 in the afternoon. The place we stayed – Backpackers Paradise – is quite an establishment, with private rooms and dorms, a tiny pool, bar, and lounges. They host over 8,500 guests each year. We stayed two nights before heading back toward the coast.

There are some fine old homes in prosperous- looking Oudtshoorn, some with gardens that Barbara admired (below left).

Oudtshoorn is locally famous as "the ostrich capital of the world," and perhaps in the early 1900s, when ostrich feathers were much sought-after and this was an ostrich boomtown, it was. There are still  ostrich farms in the area, and we're told that ostrich steaks are a delicacy. We haven't tried one yet. Anyway, Oudtshoorn is now the biggest town and principal trading center of the Klein Karoo, and much of it still appears very prosperous.

Early on the morning of Wednesday, January 30, we left Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo behind. We were on our way to the "Garden Route."


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