2018 Route Preview
7 DAYS – 7 STAGES – 614KM – 10 200M ASCENT
The route for the 2018 edition of the TransCape has been unveiled and new route director Pieter van Wyk, in conjunction with route consultant, Johan Kriegler, have unearthed some sublime route options for the iconic 7-day mountain-bike adventure which links Knysna in the Garden Route to Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands.
Riders will cover a total of 614km over 7 stages with a total of 10 200m of vertical ascent.
True to the spirit of the race, the 2018 TransCape will be tough, but our aim with the route is to create variety and making the entire route rideable. This entails some route building for 2018 as well as the creation of bridges to ensure we don’t wade through rivers waist deep.
They have taken sensible route options which don’t include climbs with long unrideable rocky gradients. They have tempered the climbing challenges to between 1000m and 1600m daily, with the exception of stage 2 (1900m) and the final stage (1850m).
Our stages for 2018 will feature the following routing:
STAGE 1: Knysna to Wilderness – 71km; 1350m ascent
The stage starts at the Knysna Waterfront and the first kilometre is tar road until crossing the Knysna Lagoon via the old railway bridge. This bridge is the oldest, longest railway bridge in the country.
At 13km the first climb of TransCape 2018 presents itself. Phantom Pass, named after the grey and brown moths that are prevalent in the area in Spring, is the first of the seven historic passes (between Knysna & George). Don’t be the Phantom of the TransCape Opera, taking strain climbing the 1st pass, due to unfitness and/or starting too fast.
The seven passes cross 10 rivers and 7 gorges. It’s 75km in length and was the main connection road between the two towns for more than 70 years until 1952 when the N2 was opened. Be careful, go slower, don’t overshoot, or cut corners, especially around the S bends, as oncoming vehicles might create surprises.
The seven passes route was constructed by Thomas Bain and his brother in law, Adam de Smidt. Bain started at Knysna and the route from George was the responsibility of De Smidt. This whole affair caused a feud between them and they never spoke to each other again. An important lesson to all of us, let’s respect each other; have good manners and fun, to ensure we are all still friends at the end of our journey.
At 25km is the 1st waterpoint at Rheenendal, with energy supplements and delicatessen surprises. Soon after the waterpoint your 1st long downhill and uphill along the 2nd pass, Homtimi, which some reckon is the most spectacular of the seven passes. After Homtini you reach the 2nd waterpoint at 40km, in the village of Karatara.
Karatara was established for the woodcutters after they were evicted from the forest in 1939. The colourful modest little houses are scattered around and many of by the descendants of the original woodcutters still stay here. Karatara is a Khoi word which apparently means “horse hill”.
A short section of tar road takes riders out of Karatara to soon enjoy the 4th pass; Hoogekraal. After completing Hoogekraal you turn left into the Swartvlei Equestrian Estate. First up is a gravel road and then a very steep jeep track towards waterpoint 3at 57 km, next to the beautiful renovated Swartvlei Equestrian Boutique Hotel and chalets.
The last 14km take place on a fast, open gravel road along the Wilderness Lakes to finish at the Fairy Knowe Hotel in Wilderness.
STAGE 2 – Wilderness to Mossel Bay – 86km; 1900m ascent
Stage 2 starts at the Fairy Knowe Hotel in Wilderness and the 1st kilometre is on a flat tar road, followed by the famous White’s Road – a 5.6km historic pass that meanders up from 24m to 204 metres at Wilderness Heights, with an average gradient of 7.1 percent (or 1:14).
The pass offers numerous ideal spots for Instagram pics, so don’t be in too much of a hurry to get to the top. Ernst White, an earlier businessman from Wilderness funded the construction of the Pass in the early 1900s. White’s Road is one of the few (it might be the only) recognised passes in South Africa which runs via a suburban area.
From Wilderness Heights, you’ll encounter a further two historic passes on a twisting, turning tarred road with constant ups and downs through heavy, lushly indigenous forests.
The two passes – Silver River Pass and Kaaimansgat – were completed in 1882 by Thomas Bain’s brother in law, Adam de Smidt, using convict labour. The two bridges on the passes that present river crossings are spectacular national monuments and great pic opportunities.
At 20km, at the top of Kaaimansgat, you turn right into a combination of flowing forest single track and jeep track in Saasveld, Witfontein and Jonkersberg.
This is the most scenic ride of the 2018 TransCape; for 35km you’ll experience pine and indigenous forests, waterfalls and spectacular mountain and ocean views. At 27km the first waterpoint presents itself as you exit Witfontein.
After you’ve conquered the Outeniqua Pass the route follows a 5km gravel road section into Jonkersberg (where you’ll do a quick portage to cross the double carriage way). As you exit the indigenous forests of Jonkersberg, you’ll be treated with pancakes at the 2nd waterpoint (at 55km) at Jonkersberg Dairy.
From here it’s an open, flat public gravel road which takes you down (with a short mountain pass) into the historic town of Groot Brakriver. Ride through the town with caution and adhere to traffic rules. As you exit the town, at a four way stop on 74km, you’ll find the 3rd waterpoint – your final stop before the Hartenbos finish.
The last 16km presents 8km of beautifully flowing single track and 8km of flat roads before finishing at Hartenbos ATKV’s amphitheatre.
STAGE 3: HARTENBOS TO RIVERSDALE
THE ROLLER COASTER STAGE
Ascend/ Climb: 1600m
The stage starts at the Amphitheatre at ATKV Hartenbos and the first 5km is a neutral zone on the R327 main road out of Hartenbos. As soon as your turn left onto the gravel road, the racing starts.
The first 22km (up to the first waterpoint) gradually climbs up to 300m above sea level. In the final kilometer of the ascent riders enter Gondwana Game Reserve with a short (but very sharp) climb – for some it might be a good option to walk on this section as the road surface is loose.
You’ll ride a total of 3km within Gondwana Game Reserve, which hosts the big five. Game rangers will see to it that you can safely exit the game reserve onto a 12km public gravel road, running downhill all the way between two majestic cliffs.
At 37km you hit the Herbertsdale tar road for 3km and then the stage goes onto a favourite gravel road inside Rietfontein farm. It’s the only Gourits river ditch that is still operational. The second waterpoint (at 45km), is also located on Rietfontein farm.
Shortly after the second waterpoint you’ll attack the signature climb on the stage – a steep 3km muscle-cruncher taking you out of the Gourits Valley. This climb offers one of the most spectacular views imaginable. It runs on a ridge, with views on both sides.
From the 50km to 83km distance markers the route presents a hilly roller coaster ride – with lots of gentle ups and downs, steadily climbing from 140m to 280m above sea level. Somewhere in between there is a nasty little bugger – a 500m tar road climb. Because of the distance covered up to this climb, it’s going to start having an effect on the legs and no doubt be the subject of some talk over a CBC beer that evening. Kriegler has dubbed this climb the “tar snapper” – in his view it can unexpectedly snap your legs like a dry twig😊
But alas, what goes up must come down and there is good news to follow. The final 20km is mostly downhill and flat to Langenhoven High School. On the last 3km you’ll have the privilege of riding along Langenhoven Street, the oldest street in Riversdale, which is lined with beautiful old historic houses, before finishing at Langenhoven High School in the centre of this beautiful town.
STAGE 4: Riversdale to Swellendam – 106km; 1500m ascent
Stage 4 is called the Duiwenhoks; as a long stretch of the stage is on the Duiwenhoks gravel road, incl. the Duiwenhoks climb, the biggest of the day.
Stage 4 starts at the CJ Langenhoven High School and the first 1.5km is a neutral zone, on tar exiting the village of Riviersonderend. A long, steady and slight climb follows, cycling along the Vetriver gravel road up to 12km, when you turn off the public road, onto an interesting and scenic jeep track in the Kragga area, for the next 21km. The first WP is at 33km at the start of the Duiwenhoks road, a scenic road and a favourite tourist journey. Then you start the Duiwenhoks climb. At 55km you’re on top of the Duiwenhoks climb (400m high), which then displace you onto newly build single tracks. These trails were built by the locals and runs down the other side of the hill, accelerating the speed continuously for 5km.
WP 2 (at 65km) is at the bottom of the hill and near the end of the single track, so that you can rest your hands and arms, which should have been working hard along the downhill.
The next 12 km is on tar road, including the section via Suurbraak. Suurbraak is considered one of the most beautiful towns in the Western Cape and the word “Suurbraak” or “sour brake” refers to the thick racket ferns that grow in the area. With many restored historical buildings, Suurbraak is a town with a rich history. This history began with the arrival of the London Missionary Society who established a mission station in the area in 1812.
At 84km on the tar road you turn right on a jeep track and transverse via a couple of farms, with scenic views of the Buffelsjags dam and the surrounding mountains. The last 10km is a combination of gravel and jeep tracks, with a steady climb towards the new finish venue, the beautiful Swellendam Municipal resort.
STAGE 5: Swellendam to Greyton – 99km; 1200m ascent
Stage 5 is called the Rivers Stage; as most of the stage is along the Breede and Riviersonderend rivers, offering the most shade, stunning views and lesser climbs vs. more inland. The same reasons why our stage runs along the old ox wagon highway, plus their ox-and-water preferences.
Stage 5 starts at the Swellendam Municipal Resort and the first 3km is a neutral zone, along Voortrekker road, passes the Dutch Reformed Church, an imposing white edifice built in 1911 in an eclectic style. The gables are baroque, the windows Gothic, the cupola vaguely Eastern, and the steeple extravagant. Surprisingly, all the elements work together wonderfully.
On 9km you cycle over the historic and forgotten Breede river steel bridge crossing, dated back 1830, but not in use since 1962.
Along the Breede river until WP 1 at Kambati Resort (24km), where the Riviersonderend and Breede rivers meet; where the name Riviersonderend came from, as it has no end, only flows into the Breede river. Proceeding upstream along the Riviersonderend via farms and stretches of public gravel roads, and a right turn off the public road, taking you over a local steel plate bridge at 33km. Years ago when I “discovered” this bridge, it was initially very scary to drive over the “bridge”; no rails and seemingly only a plate that’s been dropped over the river. Along the river you proceed, in the shades of bluegum and black wattles and ever changing scenes; a horse farm, remains of old houses, as a reminder of passing times. At 44km you are on top of the only real climb of the stage; the ox wagon pass in the Stormsvlei area, looking down on the N2, far below.
WP 2 (at 48km) is at the next to the R317 Bonnievale-Stormsvlei road and crossing. Rehydrated and re-energised the knobbies roll onto the DR1306 gravel road towards Riviersonderend town. A farm gravel road, mostly flat with scenic mountain views on the right and the river valleys on the left.
At 66km there is a river-crossing-portage; not to deep as it is in the middle of the Cape’s summer. Entering the River town, via Church street (most of the old towns in the Cape has a Voortrekker and Church street), to enjoy the 3rd WP at 68km.
The next 30 km is on mostly on a public gravel road, with the typical up-and-downs of the “Ruens” area. If we can find a friendly farmer at 88km, then we’ll turn it into WP 3, offering unique drinks and eats. You’ll again cross the Riviersonderend, twice actually, just outside town and just before the finish at the Oewerzicht Camp site.
STAGE 6: Greyton to Houwhoek (CAPE WAGON STAGE) – 74km; 1050m ascent
Stage 6 is called the Cape Wagon Stage as this was the original route used by mail coaches, ox wagons and horse carts between Cape Town and the southern and eastern frontiers.
Stage 6 starts at Oewerzicht’s camp site just outside Greyton on a 6km flat and scenic gravel road towards Greyton.
Then you hit the first climb, up Bakenskop, on single track which switchbacks up to the top. The next 9km is a combination of flowing single track and jeep track.
From 15km onwards you’ll find yourselves on public gravel roads, including the Moddervlei Road, which presents a long gradual climb and then winding downhill. The first waterpoint is at 24km – to lessen the Bakenskop blow as well as pre-evening favourite red wine after-thirst.
The second waterpoint is at 44km on the Boontjieskraal gravel road – locals would say fortunately during day time!
Boontjieskraal farm and the “De Wet Curse” has become a folklore ghost story legend, which originated between 1885 and 1927.
According to legend, Pieter Daniel de Wet (the “Old Father”) refused to provide shelter to a family on a dark, cold and stormy night somewhere between 1885 and 1927. As a result the family had to cross the Black River. Someone drowned – some tales say it was mother and child and some only the child.
There was a single survivor who cursed “Old Father” as the cause of his loss and proclaimed that every generation of the De Wets will henceforth only yield one boy; and that boy will die a violent, unnatural death.
And so, tragically the next four generation of De Wets only produced one son and they all died in motor vehicle accidents. In 1972 the last male sibling died, unmarried and again in a car accident…
From 50km to 65km it’s another long but gradual jeep track climb and then downhill into Langhoogte Farm, with typical Overberg farm reaching views of the Riviersonderend mountains, and on a clear day even the Bot River lagoon and the Indian ocean.
At 65km you’ve reached the lowest point of the stage, at 42m above sea level, crossing the Bot River over the historic Bot River toll bridge into Beaumont Farm – the original Compagnies Drift.
Many Overberg towns started around a church where erven were surveyed and sold, and the towns slowly developed from there.
There are, however, a few exceptions and Bot Rver is one. Bot River, the “Gateway to the Overberg”, lies on the old farm Compagnies Drift, which was historically a trading and bartering station of the VOC (Dutch East India Company).
It is here that the village of Bot River slowly developed. Compagnies Drift took its name from the fording place in the Bot River where the Dutch East India Company officials came to barter butter with the Khoikhoi tribes (the Afrikaans word for butter is “botter”.)
The Khoikhoi called the river Gouga which means plenty of butter or fat. It was also an “outspan” (resting place) on the Old Wagon Track and it continued as such for generations.
The Bot River Hotel was probably built during the early 1890s and took over the duties of the traditional stopovers, including a new role as waterpoint number 3 for TransCape at 66km.
Ensure that you rest, eat and drink sufficiently at the Hotel as the last 7km is the 2nd steepest climb of the stage, to finish at the Houw Hoek Inn.
The Inn is located on the spot where the toll gate stood in the days of the Dutch East India Company. The ground floor of the Inn was built in 1779 and the first floor in 1861.
It was the first coaching inn ever built and is now the oldest existing licensed hotel (licensed since 1834) in South Africa. The Cape Wagon Road passed right in front of the inn and all passing mail-coaches, ox wagons, horse-carts and men on horseback stopped there.
The Houw Hoek Inn will be the last finish venue where all the TransCape participants will overnight together, to celebrate the near completion of the 2018 TransCape journey, fittingly in the oldest licenced pub in South Africa!
STAGE 7: Houwhoek to Franschhoek – 73km; 1850m ascent
We start the final day at the Houwhoek Inn along the old N2 and past Lebanon Hamlet to enjoy the Paul Cluver and Oak Valley trails. We ride up old historic Viljoenspass, along and down Nuweberg and via the back of the Theewaterskloof Dam before summiting Franschhoek Pass to finish at La Couronne in Franschoek. The finish line will be at La Couronne itself for 2018 and not at the top of the pass.