Inspired by the Camino de Santiago – pilgrimage to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – the Bikamino is a pilgrimage of a different sort. A journey by bicycle; through the ancient heartland of South Africa, past copper mines which pre-date European colonialism, to the wildest of coastlines – the Namaqua Coastal Route. The Bikamino, though set to expand in 2020, launches in 2019 as a three-day/72 hour experience which can be raced or ridden from Okiep to Hondeklipbaai; from the 2nd to the 5th of May 2019.
The lure of the event is the landscape and the people. A region like no other Namaqualand provides endless unspoilt horizons; seemingly harsh but surprisingly fertile soils, rich in minerals and floral biodiversity; and some of the most welcoming people you will ever meet. In a land where community ties are still fiercely tight and because Mother Nature can be a fickle mistress visitors are welcomed as long-lost friends.
In the inaugural Bikamino riders will have 72 hours to navigate the 243 kilometre route from the Okiep Country Hotel to Hondeklipbaai. Part of the adventure of the event is choosing your bike, your route and how you will take on the challenge. There are two route options, a red and a green route. The red is shorter and rougher – more suited to mountain bikes. Longer and smoother the green route is – navigable by hard-men and –women on gravel bikes. Either way riders will receive the route as a GPX file along with a map to ensure they reach the designated check points where they will have to have their Bikamino passports stamped.
Between the start and finish locations there are two designated overnight stops; for the riders who choose to make use of them, stopping to sleep is a personal choice after all. Riders wishing to complete the Bikamino non-stop will need to add bike lights to their essential kit list; but racing through the night, under the spectacular Namaqua stars is encouraged. For riders wanting to soak up the experience and take full advantage of the region’s reputation for superb hospitality the 72 hour cut-off is more than generous enough. Along with the overnight stops, at Naries and Kookfontein, where dinner and breakfast will be served riders can also stop for lunch at Nigramoep and Kommagas.
Each venue has been carefully chosen for its historical, cultural or geographic significance. The Bikamino’s point of origin, the Okiep Country Hotel, is located in the heart of Namaqualand’s copper belt. The hotel sprung up to serve the growing mining community near the dawn of the twentieth century, but the mines around it date back to before the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape. Both the red and the green routes depart Okiep, after a welcoming dinner the evening before the race and a hearty breakfast on the first morning, for Nababeep and Nigramoep. At Nigramoep riders will be treated to their first taste of rural Namaqua hospitality in a valley time has forgotten. From Nigramoep the routes split, offering an exhilarating descent along the Kleinzee water pipeline for the red route riders and a longer more sedate route to the famous R355 gravel road for the green route riders. The asphalt ascent of Spektakel Pass forms the final challenge of the nominal opening day. At the top, the oasis of Naries awaits; along with a hearty evening meal and luxury accommodation for the night.
The following day the routes diverge immediately. Red route riders will follow a 4×4 track into the Buffelsrivier Valley from where the Bikamino’s most daunting climb – a hike-a-bike for all but the strongest – leads into the Kamiesberg Mountains and towards the historic Messelpad. Built as a route for ox wagons to drag copper laden carts from the mines of Okiep to the port of Hondeklipbaai the road is an impressive feat of dry-stone-packed masonry. The Messelpad dissects the remote mountains, passing lonely sheep and goat herders but little other signs of civilisation. Eventually it descends via the Wildeperdehoek Pass into the Namaqua National Park. In the park the second overnight stop of Kookfontein awaits.
Green route riders will take a looping route, which cuts out the dreaded climb from the Buffelsrivier Valley into the Kamiesberg Mountains by following the gravel road to Kommagas. The longer route also includes the advantage of a catered lunch, in Kommagas, before climbing into the mountains via a more gradual route. The routes converge on the Messelpad, treating the green route adventurers to the joy of the Wildeperdehoek Pass views and descent. At Kookfontein luxury tents provide rest for weary riders, who will be regaled by stories around the camp fire well into the night if exhaustion does not lure them to bed early.
The final leg of the Bikamino journey crosses the Namaqua National Park, passing the fascinatingly named Soebatsfontein. The fountain, which is the lifeblood of the village, marks the spot where in 1898 Hendrik Stievert, a farmhand, begged for his life having been caught stealing cattle. From Soebatsfontein the green and red routes cross the Sandveld towards the Atlantic Ocean. A gentle onshore breeze comes up every afternoon as the land warms, in comparison to the Benguela Current cooled sea, so the final stretch is best undertaken with a measure of haste. In the sea-side town of Honeklipbaai the final passport stamp awaits, as does a delicious Wes Kus staple – fish and chips. A restful final night, spent within earshot of the breaking waves, draws the Bikamino to a fitting end.
To join the first ever Bikamino and to research exactly what the adventure will entail visit www.bikamino.com. The event takes place from the 2nd to the 5th of May, with riders arriving in Okiep on the afternoon of the 2nd and departing from Honeklipbaai on the afternoon of the 5th. To stay updated and enthused in the lead up to the inaugural event you can follow the Bikamino on Facebook at Bikamino and Instagram @bikamino.