The fourth edition of our private MTB tour which always features the Baviaanskloof, one of those places that can only be of Africa and of the eastern Cape of South Africa, has been refined over time to be a compact and leisurely cycling-camping tour along endless dirt roads, over precipitous passes and through unequalled arid landscapes. The Baviaanskloof, the “valley of baboons”, is located at the nexus of seven biomes and forms the core of the expanding Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve. This year we changed the itinerary so that we cycled eastwards from the Kammanassie valley and “down” the Baviaanskloof, instead of “up” it as we had done all of the previous times. Yes, over the full distance of about 280 km we did lose 419 m in altitude in 6 days of cycling, but in our three days in the kloof we climbed over 3350 m traversing some rather steep passes.
- We spent the first night prior to our first day of cycling, camping at Eagle Falls campsite, where an ear-splitting thunderstorm entertained us through the night;
- Our cycle up the Kammanassie valley started in light drizzle but gradually the day became warm and humid under a spectacular sky. We spent the night in Vetvlei farm house, a very well-appointed guest house on a remote Karoo farm;
- After another thunderstorm and heavy rain overnight we had to abandon the idea of cycling across the farm and took to the tar before turning off on the gravel road through Hartebeesrivier that leads to Baviaanskloof. Our overnight stay was at Kouga View Boma, which proved to be a fantastic place and pleasant surprise;
- On this day, after a steady climb to the plateau, we raced down Nuwekloof Pass, which is the entrance to the Baviaanskloof, to our campsite at Duiwekloof. We spent two nights and a rest day at this tranquil and beautiful haven, well away from the road;
- A flattish ride through the farmlands of the kloof, with tea and roosterkoek stops at Vero’s and Bavjaans Padstal, and stocking up on homemade ginger beer at Babe se Winkel, took us to well-grassed Doornkloof Bush Camp, located in the riverine thorn thickets;
- The serious cycling began here as we entered the core nature reserve, a little notorious for its narrow passes and buffalo herds. We negotiated the really spectacular Grassneck, or Grasnek, Pass before descending into the wooded floodplain of the Kouga River. Here the drifts and streams are at the lowest levels I have ever seen. We wild-camped at the ominously named Doodsklip campsite, where one of our backup vehicles turned into a brick (“doodsklip” springs to mind) and had to be abandoned;
- We had been a little concerned by the section up Holgat Pass, across Pisgoedvlakte and down Combrinks Pass, especially with the threat of rain, but Eastern Cape Parks have done a brilliant job of upgrading the road so that it is not as intimidating as before, yet still retains its wild character. The descent of Combrincks was thoroughly exhilarating along a smooth, sinuous road under a dramatic sky (see the hyperlapse video below). A fast ride took us to our last campsite at EC Parks’ Komdomo camp, located east of Grootrivier Poort.
Santie’s reflections on the off-grid tour