Henry Fancourt White. A really rather splendid name, what? One imagines a fairly pompous fellow, with a large moustache and a penchant for copious quantities of port after dinner. Not so! It seems Henry was an experienced road engineer from Australia, and his penchant may very well have been for beer rather than for port. And what, you may ask, has all this to do with ebike touring? Well, it was he and his team of some 250 convicts that built Montagu Pass over the Outeniqua Mountains, just to the north of George. As a result the Oxwagon trip that used to take 3 days over the Cradock Pass, could now be accomplished in just 3 hours via Montagu Pass. Well done Henry! And it’s a damn site quicker than that on an ebike!
While tossing around a few riding route ideas with friends Dave and Joy who were visiting us from KwaZulu Natal, we mentioned the delicious coffee and chocolate cake served at Over the Mountain Tea Garden, about half way between the top of Montagu Pass and the N9. There was a rush for helmets, gloves and bikes and off we went!
The climb is not difficult on an ebike (actually it’s not all that easy either) but rather a hard slog. The pass, a little over 17km long, is steep in places (1:6 at times) and fairly rutted but more than rideable. The views of the surrounding Outeniqua Mountains and, across the valley, the modern Outeniqua Pass are magnificent. You’ll cycle past the old toll house, the remains of the blacksmith’s shop and interestingly named features like Die Noute, (a particularly narrow part of the pass), Regop Trek (that’s the 1:6 part) and Stinkhoutdraai (where there is a grove of Stinkwood trees.) There are a couple of beautiful railway bridges and then, at the top of the pass, the stunning views over parts of George and the coastal plain.
Keep going… The ride to Herold and Over the Mountain Tea Garden is just another 5km down the road and it’s lovely after the long climb, the going easy, the road much improved. On the right you’ll pass Herold Wines (Or not. I hear they are very good and maybe that’s another ride) and a little further on you’ll see the tea garden. The coffee and cake is wonderful – well worth the ride – and I hear their Sunday lunches are pretty good too – certainly we’ll be back.
Initially the ride back is a little taxing (the coffee and cake taking its toll) but there’s not much of a climb to the top of Montagu Pass. The ride down is wonderful but do take things easy – the ruts, loose surface and sharp corners need a little care.
Route Distance: A little over 33km from the Engen Service Station in George
Route Conditions: The road surface is generally good gravel – a little rutted in places, steep in others. Weather conditions change quickly in these coastal mountains so it makes sense to pack a jacket even if it’s warm in George, it may not be at the top of Montagu Pass.
Over the Mountain Guest Farm: S33° 50.826′ E22° 26.775′
Engen Garage start: S33° 56.985′ E22° 26.057′