I left Knysna at 5:30am, taking the steep climb out of town in the direction of Plettenberg Bay. After about 5kms at the top of the climb I turned left onto the R339 to Uniondale. The road took me on tar and patches of broken glass for 3kms between formal and informal settlements until I reached the start of the gravel road. The road immediately started to climb and wind it’s way through the pine forest plantations as the rising sun shone through the trees.
A few kilometers further the climbing got more intense and the indigenous forestation more dense. The lush green leaves closed over the top of the road providing a shady canopy on what was becoming a hot African December morning. I made a stop to view the 650 year old Outeniqua Yellowood tree that stands 39m tall.
I enjoyed the sounds of birds and beetles and the aesthetic beauty of the forest with its trees, moss, and variety of ferns. It felt peaceful and mysterious.
I was taking the long and winding road leading north to Avontuur (meaning Adventure) and I had a long way to go yet and many climbs.
I was prepared for it having made the decision a couple of days earlier to cycle the Prince Alfred Pass having done some research on the route and the Pass itself.
- It is South Africa’s longest mountain pass at 68km
- It has a vertical climb of about 1000 meters and an average gradient of 1:8
- It was built by Thomas Bain with the help of 250 convicts. He built a total of 29 passes during his lifetime, mostly in the Western Cape.
Soon after the completion of the pass, in 1867, the 22 year old Prince Alfred visited the colony and gratiously accepted having the pass named in his honour (he also killed an elephant on a hunt that was organised in his honour – I am all for name changes)
Elephants once roamed free along the Garden Route and deep into the interior. As more Europeans came the elephants retreated deeper into the forests and the woodcutters followed. Gunshots rang out in the forests for the first time since the dawn of creation. Not only the Elephants were decimated but other species as well, including Buffalo, Lion, Cheetah, Zebra, Hippo, were shot into oblivion and managed to survive only in small pockets, not so the extinct Quagga.
We cannot undo the decimation of South African wildlife but thankfully there are now laws and efforts in place to preserve and hopefully expand what is left. There is a conservation initiative underway to link three mega reserves from Knysna to Addo forming a conservation corridor potentially consisting of 2 million hectares.
After climbing through the forest for about 20kms the landscape opened up to reveal more plantations and baron areas where trees have been harvested near Buffelsnek Forestry Station.
My quads had some relief over the next 10 kilometers as the road descended into the Keurbooms River Valley to a tiny settlement named De Vlugt. Here I stopped for a toasted sandwich, coffee and water refill at a place called Angie’s G-Spot (what is it with the Little Karoo? Ronnie’s Sex Shop and now this). I was informed by the owners that the next 20kms to Avontuur were the steepest of the pass with no levelling out at all and that there would be no accommodation up there. I negotiated a vacant caravan for the night and offloaded the panniers and extra baggage weight into it. I headed up the the remainder of the pass on my lighter bike. It was 2pm.
The next few kilometres were comprised of steep, tight turns and overhanging cliffs.
In one section there is a 100 meter altitude gain in 2.53 kilometers. I think that must have been one of the sections that I got off and pushed.
The gravel road continued to twist and turn and climb it’s way to the top of the Outeniqua mountain range. I arrived at Avontuur at 4:30pm, two and a half hours after setting out from De Vlugt. The cycle back down took all of 30 minutes and what fun, with tight twists, turns, loose gravel and the danger of flying off the edge.
What beautiful scenery I enjoyed on the way down stopping for some pics, as the road and gradient demanded my full focus while on the bike.
I enjoyed a few cold ones with Harold and Angie back at De Vlugt, and a veggie wrap. I had a decent sleep in the caravan and the shower was amazing. How to truly appreciate a cold beer and a hot shower: Cycle Prince Alfred Pass in December. (Getting rid of the dust was a great pleasure)
The following morning I was back on the pass heading south in the direction of the deep blue sea and leaving the hot and dusty desert behind me (unfortunately the Little Karoo is just like a desert with some areas not having had rain this year totally missing out on their Spring rainfall season).
I had to negotiate the climb out of the Keurbooms River Valley with dead legs. The descent soon started and I quickly got to the R340 turnoff to Plettenberg Bay.
I had to negotiate one more big climb on the R340 but it allowed me the opportunity to look back across the valley at the Outeniqua mountains that I had summited the previous day. Yes, those big ones in the far distance.
I took some time to admire this magnificent view before starting my descent to the Bay where I could put my feet up.
Total distance from Knysna to Plettenberg Bay via Prince Alfred Pass turning at Avontuur, 160 kilometres.
Date cycled, 16&17 December 2016.
The Garden Route and Little Karoo, by Leon Nell