This story was updated on 11 October 2019.
The annual Argus cycle ride is not the only way to safely tour the Cape Peninsula on two wheels. Fiona McIntosh discovers a less taxing back road alternative
“Would you like the easy route or the more technically challenging one?” asked Patrick Hendriks in his sexy French accent.
We were out to enjoy a leisurely ride so, instead of dropping us at Kloof Nek to take on the gnarly jeep track that winds its way around the front face of Table Mountain, he shuttled us up to the Lower Cableway Station from where we could familiarise ourselves with our bikes on tar. Although I’ve done a fair bit of mountain biking, I’m not a natural. I’m terrified of rocky downhills and invariably find myself in the wrong gear whenever the gradient changes. Worse still, I can’t even mend a puncture, never mind fiddle with any moving parts, so I happily accepted one of the loan bikes offered. There’s no extra cost and, I figured, much better to have a mount that a professional has been servicing than rely on the neglected bike in my garage.
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Patrick patiently took us through the logistics and explained how the GPS worked. With the track loaded (and map and written instructions safely stowed in the backpack just in case) we mounted our 27-speed hard tails and cruised along Tafelberg Road. When the tar ran out it was on to more demanding terrain – a jeep track that contoured around to Rhodes Memorial. The GPS beeped at regular intervals as instructions flashed onto the screen.
‘Turn left in 200m’ I think it said, but as I bounced along on the uneven track I found it difficult to take my eyes off the road, never mind read the screen in the bright sunlight. We followed our instincts at the first junction, heading up rather than down. Soon we were at a turnstile, beyond which the path descended in steps. Definitely the wrong call, this was not leisure biking terrain, so we retraced our steps until the GPS was happy. It all added to the adventure, but from then on we learnt to trust our electronic guide.
With its plethora of tracks and varied terrain, the Cape Peninsula lends itself to mountain bike touring. But the main selling point of this self-guided tour is that you can go at your own pace, stopping to take in the sights, enjoy a wine tasting or have a quick swim. We’d been riding for more than an hour by the time the magnificent Rhodes Memorial appeared below us, so we detoured to inspect the grand monument and enjoy a cappuccino at the lovely tearoom.
From there, a short stretch of single-track led down to the Newlands cycleway/footpath that runs parallel to the M3, and we encountered traffic for the first time on Rhodes Drive as we pedalled up past Kirstenbosch. But we soon turned onto a track that led down through the Constantia Greenbelt, and another section of tar that took us past Constantia Uitsig towards Tokai. We were tempted to stop for a tasting, but decided we needed our wits about us when we took on the most technical part of the route.
The Mecca of mountain biking on the Peninsula, Tokai forest is criss-crossed by gnarly single-track routes. Obviously we eschewed all of them, preferring another refreshment stop to negotiating bumps and berms. Up and up we rode until we popped out into the glorious fynbos of the Silvermine Nature Reserve, breathless but elated. The track then contoured, allowing us time to take in the dense carpets of colourful mimetes and leucadendrons that covered the mountain slopes, and the incredible views across the Cape Flats, False Bay and Cape Point. At the road that leads from the reserve gate, we again had options. Those that felt up to the challenge could take on the short but steep and gravelly circular mountain bike route up to Noordhoek Peak – but a short detour to swim in the dam was more appealing before we sped downhill towards the gate.
We stayed on the reserve boundary, following a rough jeep track that joined Ou Kaapse Weg just before the turn-off to Noordhoek. Our home for the night was a few hundred metres further on. We hobbled into Leopardstone Hill Country Cottages, gratefully accepting owner Alison Faraday’s offer of tea before slumping onto the deck as we listened to the dinner options. We could cycle down to Noordhoek Farm Village where there was a choice of restaurants, or order a take-away, or, since it happened to be a Thursday, walk to the weekly community food market nearby.
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Alison grinned as we rolled our eyes at the thought of getting back on our bikes – she could always run us down to the centre if need be. A dip in the garden plunge pool soon revived us and we enjoyed a pre-dinner drink on the stoep, soaking up the far-reaching views of Noordhoek Beach and Chapman’s Peak before strolling down to the Cape Point Vineyards. The food market there is one of the best on the Peninsula, with a stunning setting overlooking a dam and the Atlantic Ocean. A good choice, but if we’d known what a fantastic location the self-catering cottages at Leopardstone enjoyed, we’d probably have packed a meal into our overnight bags and cooked at ‘home’.
Alison is a ceramicist and the artist’s touch was evident everywhere in our temporary abode – even breakfast was a work of art. We polished it off, then, energised, climbed back into the saddle. An easy section of off-road brought us out just before Fish Hoek before it was back onto tar for the superb stretch of coastal road that winds past Simon’s Town and on to Boulders Nature Reserve. The scenery was exquisite; huge granite boulders flanked picture-perfect, Seychelles-like bays and we could see all the way across False Bay to the Cape Fold Mountains and Hangklip. We pulled off at the picturesque Boulders Beach, home to a large colony of African penguins, and admired the cute little birds before joining them in the water for a swim. Then came the steady but breathtaking climb to the entrance of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
Once in the reserve it was a surprisingly taxing ride on the undulating road to Cape Point, but there were plenty of distractions. Great clumps of everlastings coloured the plains, ostrich fled as we tried to photograph them and a herd of bontebok stared at us from the distance. Locking our bikes, we wandered up to explore the lighthouses before our mid-afternoon rendezvous with Patrick. I’ve lived in Cape Town for 15 years and thought I knew the Peninsula well, but this tour really was a voyage of discovery. Forget the Argus – this back road adventure is much more fun.
Up to it?
Daily distances are short distances (41 and 45 km) and although the route is fairly hilly, the leisurely version of the tour is easily manageable by anyone moderately fit. There are sections of technical riding, but these can be walked if you’re not up to them. A repair kit is provided and there is vehicle back-up in the unlikely event that you encounter something more serious than a flat tyre.
When to go
The tour is offered year-round. Spring and autumn are probably the best times to ride as the weather is most settled and the flowers are magnificent. Whales are often seen off the coast between June and December.
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- Cape Mountain Biking Tours +27 (0) 21 447 9240; [email protected]
- Leopardstone Hill Country Cottages +27 (0) 21 789 1364; +27 (0) 82 771 6232, [email protected]
Words Fiona McIntosh
Photography Fiona McIntosh; Matthew Holt; Shaen Adey