Crank up the magic of the Overberg back roads amidst the breathtaking canola and wheat fields lining the picturesque ‘Around The Pot’ Route. This race rates right up there as one of SA’s ‘greatest gravel grinds’, and you’ll be chuffed to know you can now ride it solo any time you like!
– Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais
Welcome to Swellendam and surrounds, my Bru! This lekker dorp stands proud as the third oldest settlement in all of SA, and easily rates as one of my favourite dorp destinations in the whole of the Western Cape. And you can’t help falling in love with Swellies where it nestles against the foothills of the spectacular Langeberg ranges.
These magnificent mountains ruck up along the meandering course of the Breede River, with a host of world-class mountain biking trails just waiting to be explored within this scenic and fertile valley. At its heart, Swellendam is still a proper boere-dorp, with bakkies lining the main street and a co-op where farmers pull in to sip on a cup or two of ‘boeretroos’ while discussing the weather.
Gracious architecture, the grandeur of the mountains, excellent restaurants, year-round rainfall and a temperate climate, and a glorious river all add up to exceptional views across the bars, wherever you may decide to ride. Finally, the fact that it’s pretty much half-way between Cape Town and the Garden Route positions it as the perfect biking stop when next you’re cruising the N2 …
For more info on the area, you’re actually a bit fucked. Swellendam no longer has a tourism site, so they need to catch a major wake-up.
Ja-ja … I know this is a race. And I know it’s kinda gravel-bikish, but what the hell. These #Groad rides have become the rage right now and what’s more, you can now go ride 100% of the actual event route on a solo mission.
Yup, that’s correct: the 60-Miler, 100-Miler and 200-Miler routes have been declared open 365 days per year for your enjoyment, Boet. So go solo, or do it with your mates (otherwise it might become a bit boring in that pain cave).
You choose how you want to do it: crank it balls to the wall over one day (if you’re tough as nails), or go gently into that good day over anything up to four or five days. Yup, our new site even comes with a variety of sleep-over options, so pack your teddy bear :-)
The racing snakes will be chuffed to hear that we’ve included STRAVA segments for every day, too, with the annual Record Royalty in line for big prizes at the end of the racing year. Let me take you through the 200-Miler Route as an example of what we’ve got planned …
Here goes! Get yourself to AAN DE EIKE (see their details under the accommodation section, or ask your friend, GOOGLE), where you can sleep the first night and leave your car safely parked. Then saddle up at your leisure and cross the N2, heading south.
You’ll have a KMZ File and a map, but keep in the general direction of Protem (aiming for Bredasdorp). The ride is along typical country gravel roads, so keep an eye out for agri-traffic as you bomb amidst the wheat and canola fields for which the area is so famous.
Your final destination for the day is Klipdale (104km), where you can book to sleep in either the school hostel, or at Half-Ampieskraal. All your accommodation needs to be booked in advance, and this can be done on our newly revamped AROUND-THE=POT web site.
Day 2 kicks off from here and will meander to the pretty dorp of Napier; bypass both this town as well as Bredasdorp, and klap your pedals all the way past De Hoop. Feel the burn as you blast along the plains back inland towards Malgas, but don’t miss out on a stop at the Trading Post to dig into a plate of traditional skaap stertjes (sheep’s tails).
The gorgeous Sjinn Winery is just down the road and perfectly situated for a tasting, with a couple of top-class sleep-over options at either ‘The Tides River Lodge’ or Malgas Hotel. Your second day’s ride is slightly shorter at an enjoyable 90km.
Day 3 (after a local-is-lekker breakfast) start off with the unique pont crossing over the Breede River, now on the new automated ferry. Point your front wheel north in the direction of Slang Rivier, on the way passing Witsand before you face the long ascent inland.
Keep climbing towards the verdantly forested Grootvadersbosch and the scenic Langeberg ranges. Breathtaking views and an undulating gravel road (look out for the Strava Segment!) winds all the way to the laid-back and lovely Strawberry Hill Farm (85km).
What you really want to do is spend an extra day here, because there’s a good 100km singletrack to conquer on your ‘rest’ day. This forms part of the superb GVB Conservancy, in my opinion one of SA’s most enjoyable and diverse nature conservancies.
Day 4 (or 5 if you went singletracking) will see you dropping along the foothills towards the village of Suurbraak (you can stop at the Paradise Organic Café for brunch or coffee) or pin your ears back as you fast-track it to Swellendam along tarmac. The total distance of 45km is super quick, but you can always combine this day with a solid dose of GVB singletrack to add some distance).
Most of the riding is along good quality, public gravel roads bisecting the rural farmlands, and a SPOT AFRICA Tracker and quality map makes up part of your official ATP Goodie Bag. Speaking of which: you can expect a lekker ATP Shirt, a bottle of wine, loads of vouchers and stunning local produce as part of your entry fee.
There’s also an ATP PASSPORT that you can stamp at the various accommodation and hospitality partners along the way – how cool is that as a keepsake! And if you did not pack your traditional roosterkoek, make sure you stop at the Buffelsjag BP Service Station on the way … you’ll need one of these to boost your energy levels along the way.
Bottom line is you can choose how fast or slow you wanna go … all detail on www.aroundthepot.co.za
MORE RIDING STOKE!
There’s a load of other riding options to add to your itinerary if you plan to come and do the ATP (DIY)! The Overberg is an absolute mountain biking paradise, so add these to your #MustRide List …
Marloth Nature Reserve Option
Various route options beckon, all meandering within the gorgeous 14,000ha Marloth Nature Reserve. Forestry roads and jeep-track traverse pine plantations, pockets of indigenous forest and expansive fields of mountain fynbos. Choose between routes heading into The Hermitage valley, up towards Die Plaat or towards Two Feathers Horse Trails.
Most of the riding is along well-maintained gravel roads, with surfaces varying from eroded rock and sand to muddy sections after heavy rains. The Langeberg certainly puts the ‘mountain’ in biking here, so expect sweaty climbs and white-knuckle downhills. Occasional mammal sightings are on the cards, while the bird list for the area is impressive. Further information on www.capenature.co.za
Swellendam MTB Trails
The Swellendam Trails (hand-crafted on space belonging to the local Municipality) is open and FREE. Yup, you heard correctly, and I guarantee you there is nowhere else in the Western Cape where you will have open public access to trails of this quality.
The setting adjacent to Marloth Nature Reserve is pretty much as good as it gets, with purpose-built singletrack tripping through diverse fynbos and plantations blanketing the foothills of the breathtaking Langeberg ranges. (There is riding in the reserve as well, mostly along forestry roads, but to access these you will need a permit from Cape Nature).
These new trails are the business, though, and were made possible by a collaboration between the Western Cape Government, Swellendam Municipality, Swellendam Cycle Club, Petrichor Adventures and various other role players.
Most of the build was done by local rider and farmer, Rohan Germishuys, of Petrichor Adventures and one immediately gets a feel for his passion and dedication once you crank onto the route. It is possible to link into the Hermitage Valley and surrounding farms by venturing onto the public gravel roads, but with 33km of mostly singletrack, chances are you’ll need a coffee or a beer while resting those legs!
Surfaces vary from gritty downhill sections to rooty forest rips, with laid-back zigzags winding through ridges layered with pine needles. You can also expect the odd berm or wooden bridge, but the overall riding is suited to intermediate mountain bikers. There are ample trails for kids and family riders, too, but take it easy after heavy rain when you can expect mud and water run-off erosion.
The route is well-marked, but only in key places, so I would suggest that you download the KML, GPX, Garmin or Google map files at www.visitswellendam.co.za
Strawberry Hill MTB Trails
The nuts and bolts of the trial network is pretty complex, as you wouldd expect with no less than 19 land owners and well over a 100km of single-track, but as far as non-profits go, I’ve rarely seen an organisation as well-managed as the GVB Conservancy. All in all, the area consists of 35 000ha of private land, and with access to the routes possible from a number of trail heads.
Permits are available from many guest houses along the way, or from Grootvadersbosch Conservancy Offices. (This is at Strawberry Hill Farm, also one of the top accommodation options for visiting mountain bikers). From here, sweeping singletrack sections ess-bends into the valley on either side of the main access gravel road.
Red, Black, Blue and Green route sections daisy-chain and overlap, doglegging via stands of wattle, pine and blue-gum (plus the occasional patch of indigenous magic in some of the deeper gorges). Most of the conservancy trails utilise existing cattle tracks (the local cows seem to be good at contouring) linked to dual-track, farm roads and of course loads of purpose-built trail. Fence stiles ensure man and beast co-exists in harmony.
In essence, the Black Trail descends from the Conservancy Offices into the valley below and to the west, before climbing into mountains (it joins up with the Back-Country Trail in the rugged peaks overlooking Tradouw’s Pass). (It runs concurrently with the Red Route for much of the valley section down to Snelsetter).
The Blue Trail is more of a ‘dry-land’ route, looping south through the renosterveld farms and can get seriously hot in mid-summer. Finally, the Green Trail dips to the east of the Conservancy Office through pine plantations and grassland ridges, while a new Suurbraak Route loops through the village commonage.
Here’s the basics:
Blue Route: 39km Elevation: 900m Duration: 3-4hours
Red Route: 25km Elevation: 750m Duration: 3-4 hours
Black Route: 45km Elevation: 1250m Duration: 4-6 hours
Suurbraak Route: 17km & 8km Elevation: 300 & 500m; 2-4 hours
Green Route: Distance: 11km route Elevation: 400m is currently open
All maps can be downloaded on www.gvbconservancy.co.za
Tucked just off Swellendam’ s main road, the affordable AAN DE EIKE has been completely renovated and tastefully furnished with all modern facilities. It features eighteen bedrooms, all individually styled but similar in size, comfortably sleeping 2 people with en-suite bathrooms. One of these bedrooms is a family or group option with an en-suite bathroom and comfortably sleeps up to 4 adults.
As well as a restaurant to cater to guests’ dining needs, our leisure facilities include a travel desk, free Wi-Fi, a small souvenir & gift shop, spacious seating areas and large outdoor swimming pool and deck area, for your further pampering, a small gym, sauna and a bicycle wash bay – www.adlc.co.za
Best Time to Visit
The regional climate is close to ideal, with long, lazy summer days and the occasional winter storm (and even then, the days are mostly mild). Snow occasionally tops the Langeberg peaks during July and August, making for picture-perfect views.
BIKE PACKING ESSENTIALS
Here are your key essentials when packing for an extended trip on your bike. (This excludes other gear required for your mission, for example camping, coffee making, etc. )
1. You should definitely be riding tubeless and therefore carry plugs.
2. A small container sealant; SQUIRT SEAL is the best by far.
3. Tube and tyre levers.
4. Master link for your chain; be sure to check you have the right one for yours.
5. Dropout or hanger for your rear derailleur.
6. A small bottle of SQUIRT LUBE to keep your chain lubricated.
7. 1x Set brake pads
8. Water bottle cage size screws; they tend to go missing. Quick tip if you ever are in trouble with this specific size screw: the ones on your disc break rotor are the same size and is pretty universal on most bikes.
9. Spare valve for your tubeless setup.
10. Duct tape: you can basically fix anything with this wonder ‘tool’.
Those rate as the essentials in our books, but you can obviously elaborate on it.
FAST FACTS BLOCK
|GRADING:||Moderate (no technical riding)|
|START POINT:||Swellendam Show Grounds|
|GPS COORDS:||S34°1.683’ / E20°26.546’|
|POST RIDE BEER:||Aan De Eike|
|MUST-DO EVENT:||The ‘Real Around the Pot (when the event happens again)|
||www.aroundthepot.co.za / Telephone +27 82 866 6176|
||Rohan Germishuys – Telephone +27 83 659 4514|
Swellendam is situated to the north of the N2, just on 220km from Cape Town.