Where the Karoo meets the Garden Route, back roads lead through lonesome kloofs and along impressive passes. This area is a pleasure to explore by motorcycle. By Kirsten Fugard-Marshall
Of our many two-up motorcycle escapades, jaunts into the remote mountainous areas of the Attaquaskloof and Gamkaskloof on the Garden Route are hands-down favourites. By combining both locations into a single trip, you get challenging backcountry roads in one adrenalin-fuelled adventure.
We’ve done this route in the saddle of a Yamaha Super Tenere 1200 and equipped with capable gravel tyres, helmet comms and Craig’s technical riding expertise. We usually fill up at the Route 62 Stop in Barrydale ahead of the 90km ride to Bonniedale Holiday Farm.
A short stretch on the R62 leads to the Brandrivier junction, where you join the wide gravel road. This passes through a fynbos landscape dotted with classic Karoo farms and, in autumn through winter, dazzling orange aloes.
After a brief tar section on the R323, the route continues in the direction of Herbertsdale. You then skirt the magnificent Langeberg mountains to join the R327. Soon after crossing the low-level concrete Jan Muller Bridge over the Gouritz River, you will come across a sign we know well. Alongside a well-used farm gate stands a signpost for the Attaquaskloof Ox Wagon Trail. The ride from Barrydale to this point is relatively easy-going; now the true biking adventure begins!
Into the Attaquaskloof
Once you enter the kloof, the terrain changes immediately. This is the start of a 20km loose, rocky jeep track with steep inclines. There are one or two short sections where I tend to climb off and relax my white knuckles. I prefer to walk the 20–50m while Craig negotiates these gnarly sections. It’s on these squirmy parts of the track that it’s clear why routes of this nature are best done solo. Without the hindrance of a pillion, stand-up riding lets you handle the road better.
The slow, bumpy ride from the main gate to the farm reveals a landscape of glorious rolling mountains. During our trip in June this year, following heavy rains, the profuse fynbos was particularly lush. Fortunately, the small streams resulting from these downpours are seldom deeper than 30cm and manageable by motorcycle.
After four farm gates, you arrive at Bonniedale Holiday Farm. We usually stay in an equipped caravan, but they also have campsites, tented accommodation, a 16-sleeper self-catering chalet and rooms in the farmhouse.
Up Swartberg Pass
The second leg of this journey, to Gamkaskloof, starts off along an undemanding gravel road. It leads through sections of towering pine trees to the tarred R328 at Ruiterbos. The Eight Bells Mountain Inn at the foot of Robinson’s Pass is a good spot for breakfast and Oudtshoorn an essential refuelling stop. Reconnecting with the R328, turn left at Cango Caves – we usually stop at Kobus se Gat restaurant for a leg stretch and coffee. It has become tradition to leave with a warm parcel of their legendary roosterkoek, our ‘padkos’ for the journey into Gamkaskloof.
The well-maintained gravel road to Swartberg Pass is cut into the majestic Swartberg Mountain Range. This is always such a thrilling ride for us. The layered mountain vistas around every bend are far-reaching and absolutely breathtaking! From the summit, the Otto du Plessis gravel road leads to the fabled Gamkaskloof, also known as Die Hel or The Hell.
Gamkaskloof should be attempted by experienced off-road riders only, after checking on road damage, water levels or a complete road closure after heavy rains. A reliable source of this information is the Gamkaskloof (The Hell/Die Hel) Facebook page. It is important to allow sufficient time for the arduous journey to Die Hel. This can take up to 3 hours one way on the 48km track.
The deeply rutted and rocky trail towards the viewpoint at Eland’s Pass leads over the Huisrivier crossing. The crossing can reach a 20cm depth in dry season and 45–60cm in wet season, making it impassable by motorcycle.
The view of the Gamkaskloof valley from Eland’s Pass reveals a 400m descent. A seemingly unnavigable 1km track follows tight, twisted hairpin bends, without guard rails. If you take a measured and steady pace, however, you will reach the bottom without any problems.
Before tackling the last section, take in the unspoilt surrounds and absolute silence of this incredible World Heritage Site. From this vantage point, it’s easy to imagine heavily laden donkeys winding their way down the trail. In the early 1900s, the first residents of the valley relied on them for supplies.
After negotiating the last stretch into Die Hel, it is worth spending a couple of hours wandering through the small historical settlement. Be sure to visit the Gamkaskloof Kiosk, owned by the family of the only remaining born and bred Gamkaskloof resident, Annetjie Joubert.
We love the thrill of our shared motorcycle adventures and this trip, through Attaquaskloof and Gamkaskloof, simply can’t be beaten!
Watch on YouTube: The Three Kloofs Mega Route
Kirsten and husband Craig Fugard-Marshall are the team behind Tracks4Africa’s series of “Adventure Trail Finder” YouTube videos. When not out in the field, they arrange guided and self-guided motorcycle tours through MSA Travel.