Poorts and Passes: From Calitzdorp Over the Swartberg to De Rust

Share Facebook 0 Twitter Pinterest Google+

Weaving in and out of the Swartberg Mountains and the Cape Fold has carried us over and through well over 25 poorts and passes.

The Western Cape is all but encircled by sharp mountain ranges such as the Swartberg, Langeberg and Cedarberg. The pioneers of South Africa breached these mountains and developed routes that would help expand the farming trade and push the frontiers of the country via wagon and foot travel. As a result there are almost 500 beautifully carved gateways that carry travelers through majestic landscapes and provide links to sometimes vastly different ecosystems.

A pass, by obvious definition, is a road built over mountains at an approachable part in the range. Here, they were sometimes based on ancient animal or foot paths and bolstered to allow wagons carrying daring explorers and goods to be traded. Although some passes are paved, some are gravel, and many still offer amazingly rugged rock-strewn dirt descents weaving through countless switchbacks that melt disc brakes.

Poorts are quite different. They are natural passages through the mountains cut by primordial rivers and the roads through them are generally flat in nature. Everything is big here and that fact becomes strikingly evident within a poort. Massive cliff walls and stunning spires of folded and jagged rock loom above the roads which weave through the stone rivers. Maringspoort is one of the most famous, and although it’s paved, when approached from North to South it offers a slow freewheel coast that allows full attention to the wonderland of scenery.

The most magical aspect of these mountain doorways are the places they connect. Sometimes the passes can take you from desert to a lush floral landscape, sometimes from farmland to town. Meeting people who live in the Klein Karoo, often near a pass or poort where water is abundant often say, ‘This is the best place in South Africa.’ So far, I don’t disagree with any of them.

Bike Touring South Africa - Roger Young - Groenfontein

Off of the beautiful Groenfontein road, we stayed 2 nights in the guest room attached to Roger Young’s photography gallery and studio. Both evenings we joined he and partner Phyllis for drinks, dinner and great conversation. In passing, Roger offered a few great photography tips, including, ‘Be careful what gets thrown away, sometimes good landscapes can be flat, then you flip them to grayscale and they come to life…’

Bike Touring South Africa - Roger Young - Groenfontein

The lush landscape around Kruisrivier.

Bike Touring South Africa - Groenfontein Pass

The Swartberg appearing over the farms in the distance.

Bike Touring South Africa - Groenfontein Pass

Roger was kind enough to wake at 5AM and take us the final 30kms to the foot of the Swartberg pass to begin our climb, in attempt to beat the intense heat.

Bike Touring South Africa - Groenfontein Pass

The foothills of the Swartberg unfolding.

Bike Touring South Africa - Groenfontein Pass

The ascent begins.

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Clouds pouring over the Swartberg created some magical light and composition.

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass
Gin, tiny in comparison, makes her way up the steep switchbacks over the stacked rock road.
Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass
Halfway up, a decorated sign teases us that it’s near the top.

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

The view from halfway.
Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass
Look closely to see the klipsprigner, a tiny species of antelope standing atop a rock.

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Gin pauses to look back as we inch up the pass.

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

At the top looking over into Die Hel, plus a beard photo-bomb.

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Beginning the long, rocky and jarring descent.

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

An eternal downhill where we had to pause on several occasions to let our brakes cool.

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

Tall Lord of the Rings spires loom over the poort toward the bottom of Swartberg pass.

Bike Touring South Africa - Prince Albert

A festive gentleman greets us on the streets of Prince Albert on Christmas eve.

Bike Touring South Africa - Prince Albert

Windmills are everywhere in the Karoo.

Bike Touring South Africa - Prince Albert

Bike Touring South Africa - Swartberg Pass

These downhill scooters are catching on here, fully equipped with hydraulic disc brakes.

Bike Touring South Africa - Biltong

Gin was sad it was closed… she’s becoming quite the fiend for this magical jerky-like substance.

Bike Touring South Africa - Merry Christmas

Merry Chrismas. We did 80kms while all of you back in the US were still dreaming of sugar plums.
Bike Touring South Africa - Prince Albert Pass
Farm bike.

Bike Touring South Africa - Prince Albert Valley

Wving goodbye to the Prince Albert Valley over the Kredouwpas.

Bike Touring South Africa

Where South African bikes go to die.

Bike Touring South Africa - De Rust

Making flat bread in De Rust (the rest).

Bike Touring South Africa - De Rust

Bike Touring South Africa - De Rust

For more information on this route, including GPS and logistics, click here. Also, check out our growing list of bikepacking and dirt road touring routes.

Tags

  • http://www.gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/ Nicholas

    Oh my. The photo of the windmill reminds me much of the SW USA.

    And, I assume the beard got a little head start on the trip?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    There are places here much like the SW, but oddly different. The beard is definitely either ahead or behind these days… :)

  • Jjajjajack

    That Samson windmill shot is a moment in time. Thanks for sharing your exploits, it looks like SA is getting better everyday. Keep clicking the camera so we can travel along and only be a little crazy jealous. Shalom

  • Neil and Harriet Pike

    Beautiful photos! That definitely looks like a fun climb! How are you enjoying being pannier free? Happy Cycling and New Year, Harriet

  • http://Www.adventurefamilyinmotion.com/ Adventure family in motion

    Great photos as always. The BW shots are awesome. Enjoy the new year and keep the epic trip report rolling in.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    I actually love the lack of panniers, but Gin has had some gear issues… things tend to expand upon hard wear and the space is a little tight between her saddle and rack top. Also, both of our Salsa Anything cages have already broke; that was expected, but not so soon. We may have to improvise with coffee cans or something… space for packing food is slim. Happy new year to you as well!!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks, and thanks a bunch for following along! Happy New Year!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    I’ve definitely come to love the windmills here. They all have classic painted advertising, which has a vintage quality to it. Cheers!

Share This

others did. Support us and pass it along...

Follow Us

and join the conversation.
art