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Trails and Tourism in the Valley of Abundance


The town of Tulbagh dates back to 1743, when the farming communities formalised a village around the old Dutch Reform Church. Agricultural activity far pre-dates that. The first European farms were established in the fertile valley not long after Jan van Riebeeck arrived in the Cape, in 1652. Before that, the nomadic Khoekhoe pastoralists drove their hardy Nguni cattle into the valley, where the town now nestles, to make use of the valley’s excellent grazing.

Nearly completely surrounded by high mountain peaks, where the Groot Winterhoek and the Witzenberg Ranges converge, Tulbagh has the perfect landscape for adventure sports. Ziplining, hiking, horse riding and of course mountain biking are staples for the region’s more active visitors; for Absa Cape Epic entrants, the final activity is clearly of the most interest. In modern times, the Tulbagh Valley is still an area of abundance. Located just 120 kilometres from the centre of Cape Town, it is one of the Western Cape’s tourism hotspots and attracts visitors from all walks of life. Along with its famous wine estates, historic Cape Dutch architecture and olive groves, it has become an adventure seeker’s playground.

The Absa Cape Epic has visited Tulbagh on four occasions and for all of the Race’s four visits to Tulbagh, Saronsberg has hosted the race village. Founded in 2002, the farm produced its first harvest in 2004, at the same time as the riders were departing Knysna in the inaugural Absa Cape Epic.

In 2020, those who conquer the Queen Stage will find themselves in Tulbagh; here, a host of new trails have been sculpted and a few old favourites and foes have been left to change with the elements. Stage 3 takes riders out to explore the growing network of trails on a short but brutally intense route, before heading towards Wellington where familiar trails await during Stage 4.

Since the race’s first visit in 2011, Deon Wilkens has been hard at work building trails in some of the most remote areas of the valley. His eldest son, Stuart, is also an avid mountain biker and has recently returned to help on the family farm. Wilkens Junior’s addition has often drifted to trail building rather than fruit farming though, something that 2020 riders will be thankful for!

The newest additions to the Tulbagh trail network are sure to thrill when the seventeenth Absa Cape Epic rolls across them. Cut high into the slopes of both the Winterhoek and Witzenberg Mountains, the trails wind through Fynbos and old-growth protea nitida groves and require fitness to reach and skill to conquer.

The terroir, highlighted by rounded sandstone pebbles and the occasional larger rock slab, is completely unique to the area and demands absolute focus and accurate line choice from start to finish. While the weather is unpredictable, March is likely to be warm and dry – a fact based on the town’s history of only receiving three days of rainfall in the month, and the average temperature hovering around 22 degrees Celsius. It could, however, be windy. The element that every cyclist loves to hate. A few knots of wind will add to how dry the air and trails are, making visibility, courtesy of the dust, and dehydration two additional concerns for 2020 Absa Cape Epic riders.

But to those who find safe passage, the luxurious Saronsberg and its surroundings offset the effects of two hard days in the saddle.

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