Together with the Drakensberg Mountain Range, the Outeniqua Mountains and the Hottentot Holland Mountains, the Swartberg Mountains (which run east/west between the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo) are formidable, mysterious and quite exquisite. The Swartberg actually comprises of 2 ranges: The Klein Swartberg to the west of the Gouritz River (strangely, the higher of the two ranges) and the Groot Swartberg to the east. Just 3 magnificent passes traverse these mountains - Seweweekspoort (read about our ride here) in the west, Swartberg Pass in the centre (read about it here) and Meiringspoort in the east.
Having ridden 2 of the traverses, we found ourselves, on a misty, drizzly day, at the height of the holiday season, in the tiny town of De Rust, at the southern entrance to Meiringspoort. The place was jammed with holiday makers, with huge numbers of people in SUVs, sedans, motorbikes, tourist busses and sports cars vying for parking places and seating in the restaurants. We took a drive through the very picturesque poort, stopping often at the various view sites and elected not to ride it because of the traffic and rainy conditions - a ride for another day...
We sat on the stoep outside our room at Housemartin Guest Lodge, enjoying the cool green gardens, sipping a glass of wine and plotting some rides for the next few days. We had heard that there was a lovely waterfall about 30km away on the Oudemuragie Road, the one that goes from De Rust to the Cango Caves area. Alas, this would mean a few km (about 2) on the main road (N12) before turning west onto gravel, which was not ideal with the holiday traffic, but there was no alternative so that's the way it would have to be. Dinner was at Herries just down the road and what they lacked in sophisticated dining they more than made up in quantity of food.
We set out bright and early the next morning, sticking to the (thankfully) wide dirt shoulder on the N12 as we headed out of town. Traffic was not too bad but still, it was wonderful to hook a right onto the deserted Oudemuragie Road. And that's when the splendid views began and didn't stop! Olive trees lined the excellent gravel road and, in the distance, in the early morning light, the Swartberg Mountains looked magnificent. We pootled along the valley floor at a leisurely pace, the Yamaha motors humming quietly on their eco settings, but that didn't last more than a few kilometres before the climbing started and we nudged up the power settings a notch.
Still, it was wonderful to be out in this fresh, clean environment, thanks in no small way to yesterday's rain. We passed through farmyards, vineyards, fields of sheep and wonderful grasslands, the new, yellow pompom flowers of the acacias lining the road perfuming our way. The climbing got steeper and, by this stage, we were very grateful for the ebikes. A small bus sounded a friendly beep, beep and as it passed we saw that it was pulling a bike trailer - it seems we were on part of the Gravel Grinder route. We passed them later after we crested the climb, water table set up, waiting for the riders.
The road dropped down now, the Rust en Vrede waterfall turnoff a few kilometres further on. It's signposted but keep a sharp eye out for it, as the sign is not very visible. There's still a 2.5km climb before you get to the waterfall parking area and another 100m hike before you get to the falls themselves. It's worth it though - the cascading water so out of place in this arid environment.
As we began our ride back and the climb up the mountain again I noticed that the display on the bike indicated that I had just 26km left on the battery. (All that climbing!!!) Mmmm, this for a 30km ride. Not good. I did make it back though. Much of the route was downhill so I had the power setting at zero, and for the bits that I needed a bit of help, I nudged the power up to eco+ or eco.
On the way down, we came across a fellow cyclist pushing his small wheeled, folding bike up the pass, all manner of panniers, bags and cases hanging off the little bicycle. By now the temperature was rising fast and in that heat we really felt for the guy. We stopped for a chat and offered him water. It turned out he was a Frenchman exploring the country for a few months. He was covered from head to toe - hat (not helmet), balaclava, long sleeved, lightweight jacket, long trousers and shoes of sorts. There was not one piece of exposed skin. We chewed the fat a while, wished each other well and continued our respective rides (or pushes, as the case may be), grateful in the extreme for the full suspension, 29" Haibikes and the few watts remaining in the battery.
Back in De Rust we made straight for Rays Coffee Shop on the northern edge of town. Their hamburgers are just fantastic and we wolfed them down, the icy cold Windhoek Draughts taking the edge off our thirst. My battery gave out about 50m from Housemartin Guest Lodge - how's that for wringing out the last remaining dregs of power?
Route Distance: 60km round trip.
Route conditions: The roads are excellent and, while there is a fair bit of climbing it's not as though you are doing Swartberg Pass. Do keep an eye on battery levels - you are going to be using some power. Do be careful along the short section of N12 and stick to the shoulder. We did have a few cars pass us at speed. Remember, lots of water, sunscreen and a bit of cash. There is an entrance charge to the waterfall.
Housemartin Guest Lodge: S33° 29.328' E22° 32.201'
Rust en Vrede Waterfall: S33° 23.767' E22° 21.392'