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South Africa by Bike
Exploring a destination on two wheels has some undeniable appeal. There’s something more immediate when you don’t experience a new place with a layer of glass between you and the environment, as travel at a slower pace allows you to truly see the sights, not experience them in a blur. This is perhaps especially true in South Africa’s Cape and Little Karoo regions. Here, on a bicycle tour, you’ll be able to feel the Atlantic breezes, the warm sunlight under cloudless skies, and spot Cape zebras and antelopes. 

Cari Gray, the owner and founder of Gray & Co. and a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, has created a weeklong itinerary that includes some of the most appealing towns and regions of South Africa. You’ll begin in seaside Hermanus, just outside Cape Town, and explore the Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Rides along the coast will offer opportunities to spot African penguins and swim at some of the country’s most beautiful beaches. You’ll then head inland to the Little Karoo, a semi-arid region whose landscapes recall the Australian Outback and provide a dramatic contrast with the lush coast. Finally, you’ll end in Cape Town, with a day to explore highlights, from Table Mountain to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
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    Photo By flowcomm
    Day 1
    Land this morning in Cape Town, where you will be met at the airport by a driver who will take you to the town of Hermanus, just over an hour to the southeast. You’ll check into the Marine Hotel, your base for the next three nights. Then why not get your bearings and soak up the fresh breeze by taking a walk along the cliffs above the sea, overlooking Walker Bay. Every winter, beginning in June, southern right whales gather here and remain until November. The town can also boast that it has the world’s only whale crier, who sounds an alert on his kelp horn whenever whales have been spotted.

    Before dinner at the hotel, you might also explore the Old Harbour, five minutes on foot from the Marine Hotel. Hermanus was first established in 1855, and for a century its harbor was a busy center of fishing and whaling activity. Eventually whaling was abolished, while a new harbor was built to the west of the city center to accommodate a new generation of fishing boats that focused on the area’s abalone. Today the Old Harbour consists of historic buildings and restored fishing boats. You’ll also find a Whale Museum, with an enormous skeleton of a southern right whale and other displays that provide an introduction to these majestic animals.
  • Day 2
    Bike to Caledon
    After a breakfast at the Marine Hotel, you’ll transfer by van to the starting point for a 24-mile ride to the town of Caledon. You’ll be pedaling by the vineyards of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, planted with pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.

    “Heaven on Earth” is the English translation of the name of this valley, one of South Africa’s most interesting wine regions. It’s a small area, yet within it there are three different appellations. The first you’ll ride through is home to two of the area’s pioneers, Bouchard Finlayson and Hamilton Russell, who planted the first vines here in 1981. In the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the fertile soil is composed of the sandstone and granite of Table Mountain. The Hemel en Aarde Ridge, at the end of your ride, is the coolest of the three regions.

    You’ll have a picnic lunch amid the vines at one of the area’s wineries, and then head back to Hermanus in the afternoon. You can explore its downtown and visit some of the many galleries selling works by local artists. Alternatively, choose to unwind by lounging poolside back at the hotel—there’s one in the courtyard, as well as a “tidal pool” overlooking the sea—or soothing your muscles with a massage at on-site Carchele Spa.

    Dinner tonight will be at a bistro in town.
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    Photo By Erik Britts
    Day 3
    Kleinmond to Gordon’s Bay
    Fuel up at breakfast because there’s a 35-mile bike ride to Gordon’s Bay ahead. A driver will transfer you to Kleinmond, then you’re on your own two wheels for the ride along the coast, including an optional stop in Betty’s Bay for coffee as well as a chance to see the town’s resident penguins at the Stony Point Nature Reserve. There’s a boardwalk through the reserve, one of the world’s largest colonies of African penguins, allowing visitors see them in their natural habitat, while the area is also home to three different species of cormorants.

    Get back on your bikes for a gradual three-mile climb uphill, the journey made easier by the inspiring coastal views. The final 16-mile stretch runs along the beaches at the base of the Hottentot-Holland Mountains before you arrive at Gordon’s Bay. The flora here consists of shrubs and plants known as fynbos, which is particularly stunning when the wildflowers are in bloom. You’ll end your ride at Gordon’s Bay, a pleasant town at the eastern edge of False Bay, with its beautiful Bikini Beach popular with locals.

    After lunch, you’ll return to Hermanus for an afternoon at leisure. One option is to play a round at the Arabella Golf Course. Surrounded by the hills of the Kogelberg mountain range and the Bot River Lagoon, it is one of the Cape region’s top courses.
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    Photo By The Robertson
    Day 4
    Bike Around Stanford
    Today’s destination is Stanford, on the banks of the Klein River. While there were early Dutch settlers in the area, the town is named after the British settler Sir Robert Stanford who established his farm here in 1857. It’s best known for its many restored Victorian and Edwardian buildings and antique shops.

    You’ll spend the day riding in the fertile hills around Stanford, where wineries include Raka Wine, the Misty Mountains Estate, and the Sir Robert Stanford Estate. The limestone soil, as well as the cooling Atlantic breezes that blow up through the Klein River Valley, help produce exceptional full-bodied reds and crisp whites. Even if you aren’t an oenophile, you’ll enjoy drinking in the landscape of rolling hills covered in fynbos.

    After your ride, you’ll transfer to the town of Robertson in the area known as the Little Karoo, a semi-arid desert that is a popular weekend destination for the residents of Cape Town. It sits next to the Great Karoo, which separates the Cape region from the rest of South Africa. Here, aloes and succulents grow underneath cloudless blue skies, creating a dramatic contrast to the country’s coast.

    You’ll spend the next three nights at the Robertson Small Hotel. South African-born, London-based designer Sophie Ashby redid the 10 colorful rooms in 2016, filling them with original art. The hotel also has two swimming pools and landscaped grounds that include a cactus garden.
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    Photo By John Hickey-Fry
    Day 5
    Bike to Montagu
    After breakfast, you’ll depart on a 22-mile ride along Route 62 to the town of Montagu. The road winds its way up hills and down valleys, past towns with a frontier feel and Cape Dutch style houses. It’s an area that’s been compared to the Australian Outback, with its desolate beauty.

    You’ll ride through the Kogmanskloof (often Cogmanskloof) mountain pass, which follows along the Kingna River. You’ll pass a century-old English fort before descending into the charming town of Montagu, with its cottage gardens, teashops, and fruit orchards (the area is famous for its dried fruits). Montagu is also a center for adventure travelers, with the added perk of area mineral springs where you can soak after a long hike or ride.
  • Day 6
    Bike to Swellendam
    This morning you’ll embark on a 40-mile ride to Swellendam, one of the area’s oldest settlements. You’ll be riding through the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains, an area of astounding biodiversity. You may spot Cape zebras, baboons, or genets—an unusual cat-like creature—en route.

    The town of Swellendam was, very briefly, its own self-declared republic after it rebelled against Dutch rule in 1795 (though the British soon assumed control of the town). In and near Swellendam are some 50 historic and natural sites that reflect the culture and history of the Cape Dutch people. You may want to visit the Drostdy Museum, a collection of Cape Dutch buildings with period furniture set amid landscaped grounds. Bontebok National Park, South Africa’s smallest national park, is just to the south of town and offers opportunities to learn about the flora and fauna. The park is named for the bontebok, an antelope that is indigenous to the area. When it was established in 1931, there were only 30 bontebok in the park; thanks to careful management practices, the population now numbers 300.

    After sightseeing and lunch in Swellendam, you’ll return to Robertson for the afternoon and evening.
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    Photo By South African Tourism
    Day 7
    Cape Town
    Last but certainly not least is Cape Town, about a 2.5-hour drive from the hotel this morning. You’ll have most of the day to explore the city with a local guide, who will tailor the activities to your interests. You might ascend to the top of iconic Table Mountain to take in views of the city and sea beyond and explore the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a lively shopping and dining district. You can also choose to head south toward the dramatic Cape of Good Hope, with a stop at Boulders Beach, in Simonstown, to swim alongside the resident African penguins.

    You’ll spend your final night in South Africa at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, at the foot of Table Mountain. A grand dame that first opened in 1918, the hotel is poised to begin its second century with contemporary upgrades and timeless style thanks to recent renovations.
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    Photo By South African Tourism
    Day 8
    After breakfast at your hotel, you’ll be met by a driver for your transfer to the Cape Town airport to begin the journey back home—unless you’re inspired to extend your stay in Cape Town, which Cari and her team would be happy to arrange.