Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, adipisc ing elit, consectetur adipiscing elit. Duis ut ligula leo adipiscing elit.

PHONE:           0035 244 58 265

E-MAIL:           info@example.com

ADDRESS:      Rohr PL 989, NY


A Granny and a Tall boy in the Tankwa Karoo

A Granny and a Tall boy in the Tankwa Karoo

My December vacation of 2020 extended to April this time, mainly as a result of my status as a pensioner since the end of 2020. I also started cycling with the friendly people of Kleinmond cycling club on routes which I usually did on my own and other that I did not know existed. Thanks to their patience waiting for me at the summit of every climb, I got fit again after my encounter with Covid at the end of November 2020. I enjoyed their company so much that I did not have the motivation to go back home at all.

In the first week of March, I got a message from an ex-colleague with whom I did several cycling tours since 2015: “Are we going to do a tour again this year”.

The Cedarberg, Baviaanskloof, Southern Cape and the Karoo were the location of our previous endeavours , this time we decided to try the roads through the Tankwa Karoo National park. We usually camp in tents. For this tour we arranged to camp only two out of four nights.

Accommodation availability was problematic. In Sutherland where we started, most places are filled by people of the construction teams on the windfarms in the area. Between Ouberg pass and Gannaga pass, the options are few and far apart. The route we planned brought us to a closed gate that caused us to cycle 105 km instead of the expected 85km on our second day of cycling on a road which at times looked like the waves on the surface of a dam with a strong wind blowing over it.

We were 9 people, 7 on bicycles and 2 dedicated drivers for the support vehicles; two double cab 4×2 bakkies and a Venter trailer. Not all the bikes had double suspension, how their riders survived the terrible corrigated roads I do not know. At times I was certain all my teeth will be falling out if I opened my mouth and my brain felt bashed against my skull.

We camped at the Whitehouse Inn the first night where we had to endure a noisy party that we knew nothing about until the day before we left for Sutherland. We locked our bikes before we set out on foot to the Blue Moon restaurant down the road but at 3am one of the dogs barked and someone tried to remove the bikes from the bike rack on the bakkie. When the owner, sleeping in the tent on top of the bakkie, shouted and got down from the tent, the perpetrator ran away.

After we made a good breakfast; our usual muesli with yoghurt, eggs and bacon with toast and coffee, we mounted our bikes and set off in a southerly direction turning onto a gravel road after a few kilometers towards Blesfontein guest farm. As we hit the gravel road, I realized that the shortish distance will not be easy. We had a fairly strong headwind and a road with an uncomfortable rutted and bumpy surface.

At 25 km we stopped for tea and snacks. There was a small dam with a flock of white geese on the one side of the road and a reservoir with a windmill on the other side, with a few horses coming over the faraway stony ridge to visit and check out this weird party.

From there it was mostly downhill to Blesfontein. After a warm shower and a beer, we drove the 5 km to the escarpment for a magnificent view of the Tankwa. The wind got chilly and we headed back to our self-catering accommodation, having a well deserved supper and a good rest, with the challenge of the next day clear in our minds.

The skies stayed overcast for the duration of the tour and we could not see the bright stars we would like to experience in this very remote place, but that also had the advantage of cool weather during the day although with strong headwinds at times. Still, I prefer that to heat when cycling through these open planes.

Day 2 started with a good breakfast. We knew that 85 kms awaited us with Ouberg Pass starting at 25kms. The road not too bad or bumpy, we cycled all along the Bo-Visrivier to our left in a small valley with more vegetation along the river than we have seen since leaving Sutherland. We got to the turnoff towards Ouberg Pass, hitting a nice downhill. We decided to drink something hot before we start the descent of Ouberg Pass but a cold wind blew and it started to rain, so we tackled the ascend with the idea to have the snacks at the foot of the pass.

The turns are sharp, the road steep, the edge of the steep cliffs down into the valley stays close and you choose your line wisely between the rocks and eroded parts, it is like Heartbreak Hill in Jonkershoek on steroids. I kept reminding myself that the bike was built for this and held the brakes with “soft” hands and relaxed shoulders – if you tense up here it is game over. The feeling of freedom and exhilaration as you descend this kind of road is hard to describe, everything falls into perspective while you and your bike become part of this vast and wild landscape. I came to love my tall boy all the more with every bend in the road.

A quarter of the way down we stopped at the lookout point where I met another colleague who stopped there for coffee while on their way to Middelpos in their vehicle. Funny to meet someone from work (what is that?), there in the middle of this almost nowhere. We waited for everyone to catch up and then got on the descent again, not too fast, not too slow,  taking care to get to the bottom of the pass still on top of the bike. In total 820 m descent with the gradient 1:6 at places.

Ouberg Pass descent

At the bottom of the pass the road continues and stretches out seemingly to the end of the earth, not too hilly but with some climbs and the surface forcing you to go from side to side to find smoother lines.

Because of a locked gate, the 85km became 105km through a desolated landscape varying from only rocks to sandy planes with some grass and then every now and then something like small Karoo bushes far apart on a sandy veld. Only two times did I see 2 springbuck come running across the road into the rocky ridge on the side of the road and once a duikertjie fleeing from a small bush alongside the road where it was supposedly taking a nap.

At about 71 kms we got to a T junction where the road sign indicated 21 kms to the Roodeberg office, it turned out to be wrong, we cycled at least 10 more to get there over the most horrible road surface. For a few kms there was a jeep track alongside the road in the sand as it was impossible to drive on the road.

We tried to get to the office before 6 but could not make it. A letter was pinned to the board at the office and we waited for the rest of the party to catch up before we tackled the final 6 km to Pyper se boom campsite where there was no water or ablusions – a proper bush camp. It got too dark to see the road clearly so we walked for about ten minutes until the full moon appeared behind the ridge and then cycled the last 2 km in the moonlight

Setting up camp was not easy, the wind contributing to the challenge. The fire could not convince anyone to make supper, so each made a peanut butter sarmie with a beer and hot tea, coffee rusks and biscuits. Creative ways of getting clean behind bushes in the moonlight and in a pop up tent that almost took flight, eventually got us into our tents and sleeping. A strong wind blew all night but with the help of half a sleeping pill I managed to sleep even with the tent flapping and blowing around and sometimes almost folding over me.

When we woke on day 3, we grabbed what was fast and easy to eat, not even bothering to do the usual eggs with bacon and toast. We did however set up a fire and braaied the chops of the previous evening’s dinner to take along for lunch. Taking down the tents and packing up while we were having our coffee and eating in between went smooth and we set off on our bikes with the previous day’s 105 kms in our legs, knowing that Gannaga pass lies ahead of us.

After the 6 kms on jeep track back to the main road, we had to check in at the office and sign Covid forms before we took the road again, 30 kms to Gannaga lodge at the summit of the 548m climb up the beautiful Gannaga pass. This time a strong headwind was with us until we were at the foot of the pass where the road changed direction and we had the wind on our backs for a while.

The pass starts with a comfortable gradient, but about two thirds up it seems like the builder got his line wrong and it becomes steeper. While I was pedaling,  I was amazed that the previous day did not seem to have much of an effect, I could still go without real discomfort. The view going up is stunning and the vastness of the planes below, breathtaking.

After a welcome lookout stop, there was a bit more easy climbing to come before Gannaga lodge became visible.

Grateful to be there, we had a look around and a cold beer before taking a shower, wonderful after the bush wash the previous night. The dinner was lovely and the bed provided a blissful sleep.

We cycled 162 km, climbed 1654m and descended 1830m, a netto down I suppose.  😊

Will I do this again?
Initially I thought this was a once off trip; too long, too uncomfortable road surfaces, too boring landscapes. But the good and easy company of like-minded friends in the simplicity and freedom on  these remote roads, will get me there again, or anywhere else on the vast and breathtaking plains of our beautiful country. Places that I normally would not see, or see differently when going there in a vehicle.

The scale of the almost endless barren landscape and remoteness, together with the desolation which is part of this unforgiving and harsh environment of the Tankwa Karoo, brings a different experience that stays with you and now after a few days back, I know I will do it again if the opportunity arises.

Being able to set out and take on the challenge of such a trip is a privilege and also a confirmation that we often underestimate our own capabilities. I never would have believed that I would be able to enjoy this “aliveness” and adventure at the age of almost 66 and start planning the next trip as soon as I get home to avoid  “post event blues”!

Magriet Treurnicht