Experience the Northern Cape, South Africa

Social enterprise Open Africa and mountain-biking events organiser EcoBound are collaborating on the exciting Bikamino project, with a view to using the concept of “bikepacking” (off-road cycle touring) as a catalyst to generate unique small-group tourism opportunities in the Namaqua region of the Northern Cape province.

The Namaqua Coastal Route region in the Northern Cape is a place of breathtaking divergence and jaw-dropping beauty. Set on the tipping point between coastal plains and an arid inland escarpment, the area constitutes a minimalist landscape strafed by a vigorous climate, where extreme elements have shaped a space rugged beyond belief.

The landscape bristles with a botanical profusion of shrubs, bulbs and succulents, with quiver trees and granite outcrops spiking high against the sky. During spring, the dry valleys and plains of Namaqualand are transformed into a floral wonderland with the arrival of the wildflower blooms, while autumn heralds the coming of a secret “green season”.

Beyond the Northern Cape plains and outcrops, abundant with semiprecious stones, crystals and other geological treasures, the icy Atlantic Ocean awaits. This underwater paradise unfolds along a spectacular coastline, dotted with quirky villages such as Kleinzee, Koingnaas and the fabled Hondeklip Bay.

Sometimes known as “Eenkantland” – or the “Land left out” – it brims with a myriad life forms, all superbly adapted to this harsh and minimalist habitat, and many wonders await visitors along the fascinating Namaqua Coastal Route. And the best way to experience the striking landscapes, fresh air and star-studded nights are from the saddle of a mountain bike …

The Bikamino concept is the brainchild of a number of role players. The initial idea came from a collaboration between EcoBound (an adventure company with more than 30 years of event-coordination experience) and veteran adventure photojournalist Jacques Marais.

They then collaborated with Open Africa, a non-profit organisation focused on community development and opportunity creation in the grassroots tourism sector, and with a particularly strong presence in the Northern Cape. The eventually established the Bikamino model, a unique, small-group tourism concept with four pillars.

Spiritual journey

Jacquesmarais
(Image: Jacques Marais )

The name Bikamino borrows from “bike” and “camino”, the latter referring to the spiritual walking journeys so popular with pilgrims in Europe. At the heart of the Bikamino concept will be an established 12-day bikepacking route, enabling mountain bikers and gravel-biking enthusiasts to experience a spiritual journey by bicycle in the Northern Cape.

The original route will traverse the Namaqua Coastal Route, as this area lends itself to a journey in the saddle, with wide open plains, endless gravel roads, low traffic volumes, a full range of accommodation options and – above all – a safe and secure riding environment.

The idea is to grow Bikamino beyond just the Namaqua region, with routes planned for Tankwa, Augrabies, the Karoo Highlands, Camdeboo, Richtersveld and at least a dozen other regions throughout the province and country. Eventually, all these riding regions will be linked by mountain bike routes, allowing riders to travel by bicycle between them.

The process will be kick-started along the Namaqua Coastal Route through a focused three-day stage race along a key section of the Bikamino route, and it is envisaged that this event will also serve to create major marketing impetus for this “spiritual bike journey”. EcoBound will run this through its events arm, organising all the logistics and requirements, with the Namaqua region benefitting from accommodation, catering and tourism-related income.

In addition, there will be a push from Open Africa and all parties involved to create trails at the various Bikamino route nodes. This will further draw weekend visitors to the various establishments where the trails are being created and will also allow community members and organisations to become involved as far as gear supplies, catering, trail maintenance and accommodation are concerned.

Cultural experience

There will be a focus on home stays in informal settlements to allow international riders to experience the distinct, friendly culture of this beautiful province, while at the same time uplifting the people of the various areas where Bikamino routes will be established.

While most people think of Namaqualand – and much of the Northern Cape – as a destination to be visited only during the spring flower season, Bikamino will endeavour to draw people to the province for 12 months of the year. So, if you daydream of stringing together endless gravel roads, exhilarating “enduro” downhills and the lazy zig-zag of a single track along distant ridges, Bikamino will be just the adventure for you.

For more information, contact EcoBound at +27 (0)44 871 4455 or email team@ecobound.co.za. For update emails, sign up at the holding site at www.bikamino.com. The full website will be up and running around the end of July 2018.