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HHelshoogte Pass in Western Cape province is one of the most exhilarating biking routes in South Africa, with views out across the lush vineyards of Stellenbosch. A panorama of mountain ranges provides a jaw-droppingly scenic backdrop for cyclists taking on the challenge of this route.
The route through the pass was originally built in 1854 and most recently upgraded in 2010. Bicycling is increasingly seen by the outdoorsy traveller as an eco-friendly way to meander through new places. The Helshoogte Pass cycling route offers a safe and scenic way for eco-active tourists to explore the area around Stellenbosch, South Africa’s second-oldest town.
The cycling route links Stellenbosch to the R45 road between Franschhoek and Paarl. The scenery along the way includes the Cape Winelands and impressive Cape Fold Belt ranges like the Jonkershoek and Drakenstein Mountains, not to mention aloof stand-alone sentinels like Simonsberg and Stellenbosch Mountain. They all form a fortress of sandstone that towers majestically over the green valley below.
The scenic little town of Pniel is one of the route highlights, home to historic wine farms like Boschendal Winery. The farms in this region were established by the French Huguenot refugees who settled in the area from 1688. Their buildings present a magnificent collection of classic Cape Dutch architecture.
While the climb up Helshoogte Pass is steep in some sections, the view from the top is very rewarding – and the descent is a breeze.
Near the top of Helshoogte Pass is Thelema Mountain Vineyards, a fruit and wine farm located approximately 640m above sea level. This estate can be visited between 9am and 5pm during the week, as well as between 10am and 3pm on Saturdays.
Other estates that riders might like to visit include the Hillcrest Berry Orchards, a popular breakfast venue, or Tokara, which is well known for its wine-tasting room.
Bicycles can be hired in Cape Town from operators such as Bike & Saddle, Downhill Adventures and Cape Town Cycle Hire.
Helshoogte Pass features in several top South African cycling competitions, such as the annual Die Burger Cycling Tour, which usually takes place in May.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Wesgro [Official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town and Western Cape]
Tel: +27 (0)21 487 8600
Stumble Inn Backpackers
Tel: +27 (0)21 887-4049
Bike & Saddle
Tel: +27 (0)76 540 4249
Cape Town Cycle Hire
Tel: +27 (0)21 434 1270
Tel: +27 (0)21 422 0388
How to get here
You can start the route from the base of Helshoogte Pass, just outside Stellenbosch, which is well-signposted and approximately 52km from Cape Town, mainly along the N1. Alternatively, join Helshoogte Pass from the R45 between Franschhoek and Paarl.
Best time to visit
If you prefer cycling in cooler weather, use this route in autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November) – the winter months from June to August are Western Cape’s wettest and windiest.
What to pack
Decent sun protection is a must for outdoor activities in South Africa all year round.
What will it cost?
It is free to cycle Helshoogte Pass. Mountain bike hire charges will differ from company to company, and some also offer guided tour packages, so shop around.
Where to stay
If you are looking for luxury accommodation, you may wish to consider Majeka House (www.majekahouse.co.za). If you are on a budget, Stumble Inn Backpackers in Stellenbosch offers single dormitory beds from R220 per night and private rooms that sleep 2 for R550 per night.