Why tour on a motorcycle in Africa. Read what Marco has to say about his experience.
When it comes to memories that last, it does not always have to be a big tour. Sometimes, a short tour can leave just as many memorable impressions. The opportunity to go on such a short tour arose in 2015, when my job took me to work on a project in South Africa. What is more, my colleague, friend and fellow biker Thorsten, aka Toddie, was part of that project. So when getting packed, we both threw our bike gear in with the business suits, hoping we would find a way to put it to proper use. We only had three days to go on a bike trip, and we intended to make the best out of it.
After some enquiries, and a long chain of “I know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody”, we managed to not only get the bikes sorted, but to also find the right person to guide us for our short, three-day trip.
Born and bred in South Africa, Joe is an independent tour guide. Running his touring company Due South pretty much as a one-man-show, he is able to tailor his tours according to the wishes of his clients– from three days up to four weeks. Joe had organised everything for us, the bikes, insurance, accommodation, and the routes, of course. So we did not have to worry about a thing when we were on tour. Instead, we could just relax and enjoy the scenery.
It was an early Friday morning when we hopped into our rental car and drove up to Pretoria. There, we were supposed to meet Joe, our guide, as well as our “thunder ponies”, the bikes we would be riding for the next day. I had decided to get a Tiger 800XC for the tour. Back at home, I ride an earlier model of the African Twin. The Tiger seems a worthy successor should my trusty bike ever get a bit long in the tooth. The tour seemed to be a good opportunity to do some extensive test riding. Toddy went for BMW 800GS. And as we pulled into parking lot in Pretoria, there they were, all shiny and sparkling in the morning sun.
While we got ready to start, Joe asked us about what we wanted to do while on tour. All we could think of was to spend three great days, and to get a passport stamp from Swaziland. So off he went, and we followed.
The first 350 km took us east along a well maintained, albeit slightly boring freeway, to Mpumalanga. From there, a short detour led us into Swaziland. As Joe told us, Swaziland is one the last absolute monarchies. The reign of the King is pretty much undisturbed by the existing parliament. Joe took us to the border, where Toddi and I got our passport stamped in exchange for a small fee. The roads got quite bad as we set out to discover the kingdom. “We ride on until we see the first houses”, was what we had agreed on. When we returned and met Joe at the border again, he told us that we would have to turn up our speed a notch in order to get to our lodge before dark. Needless to say, we were by no means opposing that plan. So, as Joe opened up the throttle, we just flew after him.
Despite our best efforts, it had already gone dark when we got to the lodge. Joe explained to us that he usually tries to avoid riding after dark, due to safety reasons. And indeed, we would have gotten to the lodge a lot earlier, had Toddi and I not paused for a lot more than the usually number of photo stops. However, we did not mind getting in a bit late, and we spend a brilliant night at the lodge, with all of us chatting a lot.
Day two held some off-road riding in store for us. The distinct red sand of the Lowveld stained our gear and bikes. However, it was brilliant to stand up on the pegs and just plough through the breath-taking scenery.
God’s Window was another highlight of the day. It lies in the south of the Nature Reserve. The views are simply stunning, as the cliffs drop almost sheer to the Lowveld, 700 metres below. A small pathway led us from the parking lot to a rather smallish, but very pretty patch of rain forest. Ferns, mosses and dwarf yellowwoods grow on top of the 1,730 metres high Quartzkop. Near Graskop, you find numerous waterfalls alongside the road. Some of them are well worth stopping for, like the Berlin Falls and the Lisbon Falls, only to name two. Just behind Graskop, the road turns towards Pilgrim’s Rest.
We stopped by an old mine and went for a lovely walk to a nearby village, where we had lunch. Then we stopped again at Blyde River Canyon. The 800 Meter deep canyon consists mostly of red sandstone. It is regarded as one of the greatest wonders of nature on the African continent.
That night, we stayed in a fantastic lodge. After dinner, we sat and chatted with the German owners for a long time. As a special highlight, we got to see a rare planetary constellation. Apparently, this constellation can only be seen in the night sky of the southern hemisphere. As far as I recall, it involved the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and … another planet, the name of which I cannot quite remember. Could well be that we saw even more stars, as our hosts were quite generous with refilling our drinks...
Day number three, our last day, took us unhurriedly back to Pretoria. We never felt like we were merely on the way back, as Joe stopped a couple of times to point out various highlights of both, nature and culture of his home country.
Our lunch stop at biker bar turned out a real treat. The two foreigners were quickly eyed up, and then invited right into the middle of the action. The bar had everything a good biker joint should have: easy going talks, jokes, stories about biking, cold beer, good food. With English being one of the official languages of South Africa and therefore widely spoken, it is easy to start chatting to almost everyone, almost everywhere.
Late in the afternoon we rode back to Pretoria to return our “thunder ponies” – dusty, but otherwise intact. As we got back into our rental car, we did not only take our dirty gear with us, but also a lot of memories of unforgettable experiences and fascinating moments.
We had initially decided to go with a guide, because we did not really have time to plan the tour ahead. And to be honest, we were also a bit afraid that we might accidently end up in a “no-go-area”, or ride around in the dark, looking for a place to stay. And we also liked the idea to just ride, without having to constantly check the map, the satnav, or our watches.
All these tasks we put into Joe’s hands, and he really did a very good job. We drove for 1,250 km, and Joe did not even look at a map once. He also certainly did not need a satnav. When he handed us a map and some material on the tour before we got started, we asked him where he kept his map. He simply said:” This is my back yard”! He knows the roads, bars, restaurants, lodges and a lot of people around the area. We always felt safe and comfortable in his presence.
Upon returning to Germany, Thorsten and I decided that one day we want to go on a longer tour with Joe. His Epic South Africa tour, from Johannesburg to Cape Town, along the Garden Route and back up to the Kruger area, is definitely on our bucket list.
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