Route 62 – 4 days (any motorcycle)

It’s a South African classic for a reason. On Route 62 you’ll see the best of the Karoo on tar roads that are easy and fun to ride. Tyson Jopson took it one step further by doing an out-and-back loop from Cape Town, with the country’s best gravel pass smack bang in the middle.

Swartberg Pass, Karoo
The highlight – the top of Swartberg pass

Distance, duration and riding pace

This trip is all about the outbound journey (665km). We took it easy from Cape Town to Matjiesfontein and then klapped it back on the N1 (well, we did it on a pair of Royal Enfield 500s, so klapping is a relative term). I quite like this style of road trip, because I have this mechanism in my head that makes me do everything faster, when I’m facing home. That dangling-carrot mentality doesn’t lend itself to stopping to smell the roses, so I find doing all the dallying on the outbound trip perfect. I’m never in a hurry then. As I mentioned, we did our Route 62 trip on Royal Enfields (which suit the Karoo aesthetic perfectly) and averaged about four hours of relaxed riding (with lots of stopping in between) a day. You can do it faster, obviously, but why?

R407, Prince Albert
This is the R407 – a lekker (relatively quiet) stretch of tar that goes through Prince Albert.

Why this route?

To ride Route 62 in its entirety takes quite a while (it goes all the way to Port Elizabeth). This trip lets you experience almost exactly half of it (and the good half, to be honest) and is also something you can do in a long weekend. There are also a ton of small mountain passes along the northern ridge of the Langeberg, some of which have the most magnificent gentle curves.

Gravel road, Matjiesfontein
We found loads of little gravel tracks that go nowhere – lots of fun for a quick outride for sundowners. This one was in Matjiesfontein.

How the route runs

The route runs from Cape Town, but things only start getting interesting once you peel off towards Franschhoek. From there it’s regional roads all the way to the R62, which starts just before Montagu. The route leaves the R62 just after Calitzdorp, to head up the Swartberg pass and then to Prince Albert to start closing the loop back to Matjiesfontein and then on to Cape Town. Here’s a map.

Day One: Cape Town to Barrydale

Head out of Cape Town early to beat the N1 traffic towards Durbanville. Take the Klapmuts exit, then right onto the R44 under the highway and left onto the wine farm-studded R45 into Franschhoek. Then it’s left onto Lambrechts Road and up the magnificent Franschhoek pass. After Theewaterskloof dam, turn left at the T-junction to stay on the R45 past Villiersdorp. Then it’s onto the R60 to Robertson. At the right time of year you’ll see gorgeous spring blooms on the roadside. After lunch in Robertson, hop onto the R62 and up the pass to Montagu (allow extra time, there are often stop-gos). Head east on Route 62 north of the Langeberg and into Barrydale.

Day 2: Barrydale to Prince Albert

Hop back on the R62 towards Calitzdorp and then north on Calitz Street, which soon becomes a gravel road, to a T-junction. Turn left onto Swartberg pass. Give yourself at least three hours to get over the pass, and stop often for photos. On the other side, join the R407 to Prince Albert.

Day Three: Prince Albert to Matjiesfontein

It’s a short riding day, but you’ll want to leave early enough to give yourself time in Matjiesfontein. There’s a lot to check out. Take the only road out of Prince Albert (R407) to the N1, where you’ll see an Atlantic Oil fuel station on your right at the junction. Turn left on the N1 towards Laingsburg. It’s another 30 kilometres from there. When you see the small house with the red roof on your left, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Day Four: Matjiesfontein to Cape Town

It’s about 250km back to Cape Town on the N1. For a bit of variety take the R101 over Du Toits Kloof to Paarl. You’ll find the exit just before the Huguenot tunnel.

Gravel road, Prince Albert
Messing around on the gravel road just outside Prince Albert.

What kind of bike?

You can do this on almost any bike. It’s mostly tar and the gravel stretches are well graded. I’d avoid a superbike or something overly sporty though. The hairpin bends on Swartberg Pass are quite tight and things can get a little loose. If you’re on something with a hair-trigger throttle and performance tyres, you may have to really tip toe through some of the bends with your legs out. One, that’s no fun and two, your friends will laugh at you. Some sort of a dual-sport is the best option. If you want to up the fun factor, take a scrambler or cruiser-style motorcycle with a lower ride-height (keep an eye out for rocks though you don’t want to smack your sump plug off). We had tons of fun chucking the Royal Enfields into the hairpins and getting a little loose on the exits (we took the luggage off before doing that).

Swartberg Pass, Karoo
We spent ages on Swartberg Pass – just because it was impossible not to stop at every viewpoint.

Points of interest along the way

Heres a list of highlights in the order that youll reach them:

1. Best view of Franschhoek, Franschhoek Pass. Look out for the lay-by on the right, after the second hairpin.

2. Bourbon Street, Robertson. Surprisingly good veggie burgers (R72) for a place that serves everything from Tex-Mex to sushi. Tel: 023 626 5934.

3. Diesel & Créme, Barrydale. Legendary milkshakes and burgers. You can also enjoy a great nights sleep in fine linen on a comfy bed at the Karoo Moon Motel. From R400 pp sharing. Tel: 028 572 1008.

4. Karoo Art Hotel, Barrydale. Gorgeous themed rooms in a quirky building with many nooks to explore. (Room 15, great bath!) From R560 pp sharing B&B. Tel: 028 572 1226.

5. Ronnies Sex Shop, Route 62. Classic roadside coffee (R15) stop with some rather naughty adornments. Tel: 028 572 1153.

6. Die Handelshuis, Calitzdorp. Home-made ostrich or lamb pies (R35) that’ll make your mouth smile. Tel: 044 213 3172.

7. Calitzdorp Station Bar, Calitzdorp. Great little hidden hang-out in a warehouse next to the railway line. Tel: 081 473 3232.

8. Skelmdraaibend, Swartberg Pass. Lovely viewpoint that looks down over the Groot Swartberg Nature Reserve. Look out for the ‘Skelmdraai’ sign.

9. Dennehof Karoo Guest House, Prince Albert. Beautiful old farmhouse converted into guest rooms. From R580 pp sharing. Tel: 072 842 3056.

10. Swartberg Hotel, Prince Albert. A Full House breakfast (R65) that lives up to its name. Tel: 023 541 1332.

11. Country Store and Stay, Prince Albert. Antiquities and old-town relics as fascinating as they are charming. Tel: 023 541 1077.

12. Matjies Motel, Matjiesfontein. Decent rooms set inside the gardens of the famous Lord Milner Hotel. Be sure to grab a drink at the adjacent Laird’s Arms too (the barman might even whip out the disco ball). From R555 per person sharing. Tel: 023 561 3011.

13. Railway Museum, Matjiesfontein. A blast from the past – see an old railroad switch and peer into the station master’s office. R10. Tel: 023 561 3011.

14. The Old Post Office, Matjiesfontein. Buy books from the building where Olive Schreiner sent letters. Tel: 023 561 3011.

Matjies Motel, Matjiesfontein
Rumoured to be haunted, dinner in the grand dining room at the Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein is a lekker throwback to another time.
Dennehof Karoo Guest House Prince Albert
The Dennehof Karoo Guest House in Prince Albert was a marvellous find at a good price.
Country Store and Stay in Prince Albert
The Country Store and Stay in Prince Albert is your typical Karoo ‘goetes’ store.

Fuel stops

There’s fuel at all the major towns, which are never further than about 80km from each other (Barrydale to Ladismith). The Enfields don’t have big tanks, so we basically just filled up whenever we saw a fuel station Franschhoek, Robertson, Ladismith, Calitzdorp, Prince Albert, Laingsburg, De Doorns.

Railway line, Matjiesfontein
Up for sunrise to get some photos – always worthwhile!

Any dangers along the route?

Route 62 is pretty safe. The roads are long and you can see miles in each direction. Keep an eye out for stray animals wandering into the road. On the gravel bits keep an eye out for large rocks. Sometimes they’re loose and sometimes they’re bedded in. Both can be dangerous for different reasons: if you go over a loose one you might lose traction and wash out. If you go over one that’s bedded in it can damage the bottom of your bike, especially if you’re travelling two-up with luggage. Other than that, keep an eye on some of the gravel turns that can get a bit pebbly.

We made a pit stop in Ladismith and hung out with a herd of a sheep.

Gear and equipment

There were three of us so we loaded one bike up with leather panniers (they were rubbish but they completed the vintage look see below) and all of our clothes and then we rode two-up on the other bike. It didn’t leave room for a lot of stuff, but you really dont need all that much anyway.

Calitzdorp Dam, Calitzdorp
We took a little break on the gravel road that goes past Calitzdorp Dam to Swartberg Pass.

General advice about the route

Take it easy. Stop often. Keep in mind that the temperatures can vary quite drastically during the course of the day. We did it in November and the mornings were still surprisingly crisp and the afternoons would then get super hot. Added to that, things get chilly as you go up Swartberg pass, so we ended up stopping a lot to rearrange our clothing situations. Take rain gear for unexpected showers.

Any doctors or hospitals in the area?

We didn’t need any but there are hospitals in Robertson and Prince Albert and doctors in Calitzdorp and Ladismith. Always carry an ICE card (I have a sticker on my helmet) and a number for emergency services.

Route 62, Karoo
Sometimes we’d just pull over in the middle of nowhere and blom about watching no traffic go by.

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