The Le Tour team proves once again that all you need for a great mountain-biking holiday in our lovely land is to plan carefully and then hit.
Words: Liz McKenzie
Pictures: Le Team
It was with a strong sense of déjà vu that the Le Tour de Krantz team sat down to a ‘full house’ breakfast at the Kardoesie Farm Stall near the summit of the Piekenierskloof Pass on the N7 in the Western Cape, as it had also been the starting point of Le Tour de Ceder 2010. So there we were, one year older, and while the flesh might have been weaker, the spirits were just as willing to tackle another annual cycling trip through the passes, poorts, valleys and krantzes of our beautiful land.
Master Planner Jock McKenzie had his work cut out once again organising this tour. Bearing in mind that this is not the Cape Epic, comfortable accommodation with excellent food and liquid refreshment were essential requirements. The route should consist of country roads offering splendid scenery with minimal traffic. Preferably no heavily corrugated, rocky, sandy or muddy roads, and not too much uphill either, please. However, as usual all of the above conditions were encountered and tackled, if not with grace, then certainly with enthusiasm!
At the summit of the Piekenierskloof Pass we left the green and golden fields of wheat and canola of the Swartland behind us. Here the wheat fields of Nuwedam farm gave way to orchards of peach blossoms around the Bergendal homestead, which in turn gave way to orchards heavy with citrus fruits at Jansekraalrivier. We headed north along the spine of the Olifants Rivier Mountains, the Citrusdal Valley below us while the mighty Sneeuberg dominated the outline of the Cederberg.
Mountain fynbos in all its varied glory bloomed as the terrain became more rugged. Massive rock formations dwarfed the riders while streams of clean water offered cool refreshment. The going along the soft, sandy Jakkalsvlei road got tough. At the ‘Boegoeberg 4×4’ sign the ranks muttered. Someone groaned, “How are we expected to ride 4×4 if we only have two wheels and jelly legs to turn them?” An hour later all was forgiven as the team settled into the accommodation at Boegoeberg 4×4 on Lambertshoek farm in the ‘Engelsman se Berge’ overlooking Graafwater, Elands Bay, Lambert’s Bay and Clanwilliam.
The old house, thickly thatched, with heavy interior beams, even had Oupa’s cedar-wood coffin on the premises, fortunately empty since it had been put to better use for the drying and storing of peaches. Sybrie de Beer is the fifth generation of his family to have farmed at Lambertshoek with buchu, rooibos, and sheep since 1850. Sybrie explained that buchu, Agathosma betulina, grows wild on the western slopes of the mountains, where it thrives in the hot afternoon sun and is tempered by the cool sea mists that roll up the valley from the West Coast in the mornings. Buchu has been used for hundreds of years as a herbal remedy for almost every known affliction.
Day two found the team on the plateau of the Uitkomsberge doing battle with heavy sand again, while the back-up team relaxed and enjoyed the view. To the west, between the mountains and the coast, lay the flat Sandveld region. To the east, the Clanwilliam Dam shimmered in the distance.
Dreaded corrugations made their presence felt and by the time the team reached the little dorpie of Leipoldtville, named after C. F. Leipoldt, the father of Afrikaans poet C. Louis Leipoldt, they were cold and truly ‘all shook up’. While some members retired to the comfort of the vehicles, others, like (old) horses on the home stretch, inspired by the thought of warm stables and fodder, headed for the coast. That evening howling wind and icy rain failed to dampen our spirits as we enjoyed lamb shanks followed by bread and butter pudding beside the fire at Vensterklip Farm, situated on the banks of the Verlorenvlei near Elands Bay. Vensterklip’s restored, historic cottages lived up to their names, Pelican and Fish Eagle, as a small flock of Great White Pelicans floated by at sunset while a Fish-Eagle called across the water.
Well fed and rested, the team settled into the rhythm of the road which ran alongside Verlorenvlei. This freshwater lake, one of the largest natural wetlands along our coast, provides a pristine habitat for over 200 bird species. The kilometres clicked effortlessly by as the team were inspired by the wonders of the still waters, thick with flowering waterblommetjies in places, the dense reeds that were home to hundreds of nesting birds, and the white-walled cottages reflected in the vlei. The area is ideal for farming potatoes, so much so that it is known as ‘the potato mecca of the Sandveld’. Tractors trundled past bearing mounds of sandy spuds. However, the prospect of heavy metal mining rears its ugly head over this national treasure once again, raising the wrath of environmentalists and farmers alike.
At Redelinghuys we visited the quirky cottage of Hannes Kaastens, a retired train driver turned artist who uses his house as his canvas. So lifelike and vibrant are his creations that Syd Cullis jumped over the fence to feed the donkey painted on a wall, and we waved a greeting to the old woman perpetually leaning on a stable door, waiting for the fisherfolk to return from the sea. Many ‘undulations’ later the team faced the 17-kilometre climb to Mountain Mist near Aurora, standing at roughly the same height as Table Mountain. While the frames of the cycles were up to the challenge, the frames of the cyclists were beginning to falter, except for Dashing Don Timm, who was crowned ‘King of the Mountain’.
From Mountain Mist’s log cabins, perched on high, we could see the coast in the west and the Cederberg, Swartberg and Piketberg in the north. A pair of Verreaux’s Eagles soared in and out of the swirling mists above us. Ann, the owner of these 168 hectares of pristine fynbos, lives respectfully with nature and treads lightly on her surroundings, which she also shares with a variety of small mammals, baboons, a vast selection of bird species and even the occasional leopard. The closing stages of the Tour de Fleurs began with a white-knuckle ride out of the mist and into the sunshine below. Swathes of yellow and white daisies carpeted the veld as we headed for Kersefontein, an historic 1744 farm situated on the banks of the Berg River near Hopefield.
As the weary travellers arrived at the beautiful homestead, having endured challenging, muddy terrain, they were welcomed warmly by Julian Melck, whose ancestors have been welcoming visitors similarly for the past eight generations. While the estate’s old outbuildings have been tastefully converted into luxurious accommodation, Kersefontein is still a working farm. Cattle and horses graze around the homestead, dogs shepherd sheep, poultry peck, and Paw Paw, the enormous pink pig, trundles around ‘like an old Merc’, as Julian puts it. That evening candles flickered in the Victorian dining room’s chandelier as the scrubbed-up team were finely wined, dined and entertained in a gracious manner.
Appropriately, Le Tour de Fleurs ended with a day spent marvelling at the spectacular blaze of wildflowers in the Cape Columbine reserve. Over the dunes and in nooks and crannies among the Strandveld boulders, thousands of exquisite little gems turned their faces to the sun. Our aches, pains and strains were forgotten as the team pondered, “How are we going to top this tour next year?”