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I was just looking for an excuse to go off-roading while Timo Cooper was looking for an adventure to test out a new bike, and it wasn't long before we roped in Craig Boyes for the trip. JB Badenhorst overheard us plotting the plan and volunteered to join us too. Somehow we managed to convince him to bring his camera and video gear to document the weekend.

It just so happened that we had all the ingredients to showcase some beautiful back roads to fellow cyclists and adventurists: a ride on district gravel roads from nowhere to nowhere. Perfect.

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Our route would take us from Houwhoek to Vermaaklikheid via Teslaarsdal, Caledon, Elim and Malgas. The ride would see us crossing the Breede Rivier on the pontoon at Malgas in order to make our way to Vermaaklikheid without having to go via Bredasdorp. Or so it was planned. Saturday morning we set off from Stellenbosch at 6am with great excitement. Our first stop was in Grabouw at Peregrine Farm Stall for some coffee.


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Unfortunately, we arrived there too early for their baristas and set off to Houwhoek instead. We arrived at Houw Hoek Farm Stall at 07:30 - just as they were getting ready for the day ahead. A quick round of coffees and it was decided to set off from there rather than driving to the old Houw Hoek pass as was already planned.


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While Timo, Craig, and JB got themselves ready for the day ahead, I mucked about with the cat who clearly did not have a cuppa by that time and was in no mood to entertain or be entertained.


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Timo would be spending the best part of the day on a Cannondale Slate with a Specialized Diverge being Craig's weapon of choice. JB and I were lucky enough to spend the weekend in a Subaru Forester that was kindly provided by the friendly folk at Subaru Cape Town.

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Houw Hoek Pass snaking along the railway line.

It took little convincing for Timo and Craig to drop into some single track that makes up part of the Wines2Whales route just above Houw Hoek Hotel. This would spit them out at the start of the old Houw Hoek Railway Pass which would then take them to Botrivier. This worked out well as the Pass was earmarked as the official start of out trip with the single track section quickly taking the role of a "prologue".

The Houw Hoek pass was built in 1904 to compliment the railway line that runs along the Jakkals River, which is a tributary of the Bot River. The road is best suited to a vehicle that you'd be happy to take off road. Ast it turned out, this would be one of the biggest challenges for the riders, as the road is washed out in places with big rocks littered all over. This did not deter them for a moment and they soon left us behind in the Subaru.

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What stood out for me was just how much fun you can have riding along with a good mate talking about the first thing that comes to mind. Making jokes, talking bikes, work or whatever comes to mind. Sometimes you just need to get on your bike and ride, see how far you can go… Remember to always look around taking in what's around you. Craig Boyes

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We would soon catch up as the two riders had no idea which turn to make. A quick trip through Botrivier and onto the R43 towards Hermanus before turning off into the farmlands for the first real gravel district road of our trip.

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I've traveled this route a couple of times in a bakkie and on a motorbike as it's a favourite when headed to the garden route or just about anywhere up that way. I suggested we take this route rather than inland as it's quite a bit more hilly on the other side of the N2. I quickly realised that my perception of the route was a bit off, especially for a 200km+ trip.

Luckily for Timo and Craig, this would be the worst surface on the ride, as we navigated some rocky "road less traveled" farm roads that weren't in the best condition.

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We rolled into Caledon with 43 km behind our backs and 200 km to go. This was the first of two GPS glitches, as we left Caledon on the R316 towards Napier instead of the backroad to Teslaarsdal. I called a U-Turn when the riders were just about cresting the big climb out of Caledon. Thankfully, despite the mistake, they were still in high spirits. Soon enough we were back on track and on our way to Teslaarsdal. From there, Craig and Time stretched their legs as we made our way along a tarred section heading to Stanford before turning off to Elim.

The road to Elim was tough going for Timo and Craig with a few long, grueling climbs and the wind picking up.

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It was on this stretch that JB asked for us to stop on the other side of a one-way low-river crossing to take some photos of Craig and Timo riding over. I was more than happy to oblige as that meant I could navigate the river crossing next to the bridge with the Forester, that until that stage had been unchallenged and unfazed by the gravel roads. Happily floating along keeping its occupants comfortable (and air-conditioned).

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When the riders passed us Timo said "Het julle die slang daar neurgestit?" thinking it was a plastic toy snake. JB was quick to reply that it wasn't us and Timo soon realised that it was a real live snake that he almost rode over. This was cause enough for a quick break to fuel the muscles and give the behinds a bit of a rest.


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Having completed around 120 km when we rolled into Elim, the stop came at just the right time for the riders, who up until that point only had a couple of bananas and energy bars. And Timo was starting to feel "salty".


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Elim is a picturesque village on the Agulhas Plain that was established in 1824 by German missionaries as a mission station. It has changed little over the years and is filled with whitewashed cottages, fruit trees, and fynbos.

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We passed this gentleman coming from a farm on his way to church.

All the roads in the village lead to a thatch-roofed church that stands proud in the centre of the village. With a population of only 1800, we became a bit concerned that there won't be a restaurant to fill our tummies.

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The route was beautiful and filled with landscapes that changed around every corner. It took me out of my comfort zone and not having cafes or shops around every corner was a new experience. Johan Badenhorst

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Fortunately, a friendly villager pointed us in the direction of the Waterfront Coffee Shop run by Tannie Joyce Conrads. As a proud member of the local tourism board, Tannie Joyce has turned her home into a coffee shop and serves meals straightout of her kitchen. The homemade bread was good enough for Craig to say he would consider making a trip out there again, just to enjoy another one of her sandwiches.

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I really enjoyed the lunch stop and all the stories it brought. Although I was in a vehicle, it's a completely different dynamic exploring at the pace we were going.

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It wasn't long though before the riders wanted to get going again. With very little training (read none) by Timo, it took him some time to find his rhythm again after the lunch stop (I'm sure the burger and chips didn't exactly help), whereas Craig felt the first 100 kms was the toughest part of the route. Heading out towards Bredasdorp we ran into the second (and last) navigational error on our trip. It sent us on a roundabout loop that did nothing but add mileage. Fortunately, we had the wind from behind and the riders managed to make up ground at 45 - 50km/h on the gravel.


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Back on track and we were making our way around the Overberg Missile Testing Range near De Hoop Nature Reserve. It was on this stretch that we ran into the PWC Pedalling for Purpose 300 group of riders who were on their way to Witsand from the Cape Winelands to raise R 100,000 for charities. Due to the early navigation problems, it was decided to give the riders a lift to the Breede River Pontoon before setting off on their bikes again.


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For those who don't know a pontoon (often shortened to "pont") is a simple floating barge designed to get vehicles across a river. The Malgas "pont" dates back to 1914 and is famous for being the last hand-drawn pont of its kind in the country.

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JB commented on how impressive it was to see the men power-draw the ferry and we wondered just how strong they must be doing this day after day. Because the Breede is navigable around 50 kilometres inland to Malgas, this was an important trading port in the 19th century. It served the whole area as it was quicker to transport goods from Cape Town by ship than by ox wagon.

When Malgas fell into disuse as a port due to the advent of rail, the authorities decided there wasn't sufficient traffic to justify the building of a bridge and so the pont lived on. Today, it remains the only way of crossing the Breede by vehicle on the back roads between the N2 outside Swellendam and Cape Infanta, where the river runs into the sea.

The last stretch was special with the gravel roads snaking through the heartland of the Overberg farming community with perfect weather.

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If I had to tell people one thing looking back at the weekend it would be to go out and ride your bike! Enjoy life. Gravel biking does have its place in South Africa and I think it's only a matter of time until we get more and more people trying it. Craig Boyes

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We finally rolled into Vermaaklikheid at just before five-thirty. In its heyday, Vermaaklikheid was perfectly placed on the journey between Riversdale and Stilbaai, where it functioned as a halfway station with a toll house for road tax. To this day, one can only reach Vermaaklikheid via gravel roads which means that not much has changed over the last 50 years for its residents. Something I reckon they prefer.

Before we made our way to our accommodation, we stopped at Joey se Kontrei Winkel which sits a little off the "main" road next to olive groves. The shop was firmly closed, but we soon heard a voice shout "ek's nou daar". This voice turned out to be that of Joey Odendaal who, along with her husband Andries, made their way out to us from their home to open up the shop. While we bought some vital supplies (like home baked cookies) for the evening, Oom Andries told us about their one-of-a-kind fynbos brandy, whisky, wine and liqueur, which they brew from fynbos according to a recipe that, according to Oom Andries, is a new kind of alcohol production that is going to make him very wealthy. If you're ever out that way, pop in for a tasting. Maybe also pop around to the cottages to get Timo's Ciovita bib for him - it's hanging on the stoep.

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Joey se Kontrei Winkel.

Our home for the evening would be Back Track, part of the River Magic Cottages situated only 300 meters from the Duivenshok River. As soon as we touched down, the fire was lit to braai the Die Vleiswinkel's legendary herb lamb steaks.

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Back Track, River Magic Cottages.
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This was the perfect place to sit down, relax, and share our experiences from the day. One of the highlights for all four of us was the incredible beauty of the countryside and just how much of it there is still for us to see and explore.

On Sunday morning, we were early to rise for a trip on the river. We met up with Kyle who manages the cottages for the Andrew family. He would be the captain to steer the boat up the river and tell us a bit more about the area and the farm the River Magic Cottages are situated on. The area is truly tranquil and beautiful with great views and absolute silence. One of the cottages can only be reached via ferry as it sits on the other side of the river, right on the bank. The perfect getaway spot. With the amount of gravel routes in the area, it would make a great weekend away destination for riders looking to clock in some training miles or for anyone looking to explore the unknown.

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It was great to have the ride and weekend documented but, in the end, it was a good weekend shared by four like-minded guys. Cyclists who enjoy the outdoors, the beauty of our country, and the privilege to explore it. A bicycle allows us to get out and venture into the unknown. With the advent of gravel grinders, we have a new way of getting about and experience the outdoors. Yes, it can be done on a mountain bike, but there is something special seeing the guys grinding away on these bikes - seemingly ill-suited, but with an air of simplicity to them.