At the beginning of September, inter-provincial borders opened for unhindered internal traveling around South Africa. We had been waiting to take a road trip up to Johannesburg in order to spend time with Joe’s girls (Jade 12 and Erin almost 10). We quickly set about planning a trip that would visit some old friends and make some new friends as we got away for a looong ride of almost 10,000 km (combined mileage)…
Well we could’ve called it the ‘Long Way Around’ or perhaps the ‘Long Way Up’, or even the ‘Long Way Down’. However, decided to avoid a law-suite and simply call it: ‘Lockdown Release’…
We left on a balmy Spring Friday morning and took an extra-long zigzag route from Bloubergstrand (our home) to the tiny hamlet of ‘Klaarstroom‘ just North of the mighty ‘Swartberg Mountains’ separating the Little Karoo from the Great Karoo hinterland. Our ride took us over several passes starting through the Durbanville Hills Wine Route via ‘Malanshoogte Pass’ and the gravel farm ‘Spes Bona’ road. Through Stellenbosch up and over ‘Helshoogte Pass’ with its perfect sweepers. Through Franschhoek… I stop to ask if Diana is ready for a rest stop! No she says, go go go…Over ‘Franschoek Pass’ we go and find the largest Dam in the Cape Town water supply chain 100% full on the other side (Theewaters Dam); our winter rains have filled all the major dams and the Cape is well set for the coming long dry summer season (Cape is winter rainfall). We immediately take on another gravel road through the fruit farming area to Greyton. The ‘Rusty Gate Pass’ affords us some great riding and allows some amazing vistas over the surrounding countryside. After a leg stretch and bite to eat in Greyton we ride the fast N2 highway for a short burst. Diana disappears into the distance on her F700GS, not sure if she wants to exercise ‘Candy’; (yes, her bike has a name) or perhaps she realises we’re a little behind time to get into Klaarstroom before dark. I catch up and we head past Swellendam together. Over the stunning ‘Tradouws Pass’ we ride and onto ‘Route 62’ through Barrydale. After the shortish ‘Kruippoort Pass’, two more amazing passes follow: ‘Huisrivier Pass’ and ‘Meiringspoort Pass’. We arrive at our lodging around 6pm. Later than planned but we did add well over 100 km to the days ride with our manic hunt for mountain passes, a stunning first day, an ice-cold beer and the last of the sunset cresting the iconic ‘Swartberg Range’ allows us a moment or two for reflection.
The next morning, we head out along the gravel road R407 to Willowmore (95 km) incorporating the short ‘Palingspoort Pass’. The road is in stunning condition, we cruise at 90+ kmph for extended periods only dipping our speed for the inevitable drainage culverts which are well marked. We enjoy wildlife sightings including Springbok and Ostrich. On one corner we find ourselves amongst dozens of Karoo sheep, otherwise its a fast gravel 'highway'. Some more superb gravel to Jansenville follows. Our overnight is in Cradock, time is slipping away yet again after our extended ride on the gravel sections. We decide to take on an uncharted ‘road’ to Pearson, a ‘link road’ if you will. What a dog of a road!!! I say dog as I don’t want to use stronger language. In my helmet I am constantly cursing our choice, the further we get down this track, the less chance of turning around. In fairness this bit did give us an immediate forewarning of what was to come, should’ve listed… we feel each and every jagged klip (stone) and the huge wash away ditches along with pitted gravel potholes which appear unexpectedly and almost impossible to avoid. It is also raining a bit now, I’m not sure how our tyres manage to take the hammering, but they do, somehow!!! Diana’s bike starts to offer up electronic warnings re: ABS malfunction. We stop briefly before soldiering on (thanks to our bikes for being such troopers). We stick to tar for the rest of the ride to Cradock via Graaff-Reinet over the ‘Naudesberg Pass’ and ‘Wapadsberg Pass’ as we’re really not sure wazzup with the Beemer and time is creeping. I miscalculate the new longer distance and added weight of the panniers, we just manage to make Cradock on the whiff of a petrol (fuel) rag. Day two ends and we are okay albeit arriving wet and even darker than yesterday, in both weather, light and mood.
The morning does not bring better weather, we awaken to rain falling on the corrugated iron roof of the old guesthouse. We head out into the chilly rain towards Queenstown. Quite suddenly Diana’s hazard lights come on and she stops. ABS malfunction, the entire ride to Queenstown takes at least two hours longer due to continuous cutting out of the Beemer… aaagghhh… also the rain won’t let us go, we are wet and cheerless, continual opening of the visors also allows added fogging in. We disengage the ABS and the bike allows us to progress at a decent pace through the afternoon and as we find better drier weather (via ‘Nonesi’s Pass‘ and several smaller passes including the ‘Cala Pass’). Overnight is in Ugie, a small village just South of Lesotho and in the mountains. A power failure leaves us in the dark for several hours, but we are safe and dry as we listen to the thunderstorm outside.
We leave Ugie, now it’s my turn for bike problems. The Weestrom (Suzuki DL650) has been giving intermittent starting problems, she refuses to start yet again. After a roll start and a prayer she kicks into life, we head for KwaZulu Natal Several superb passes en-route, including the ‘Katkop Pass’ . Ag nee man (oh no man), the Beemer starts playing up again, we do however manage to reach Bulwer via the impressive ‘Brooks Nek Pass’ . At the local garage we get the right tool to remove the battery cover (finicky little screws all over), as suspected earlier, it's a loose battery lead. No doubt caused on that god-awful uncharted road a few days back. My bike is still on and off starting but we do manage to ride through to our Midlands Meander accommodation. We enjoy the views of the Southern Drakensburg off the R617, we arrive in the dark, yet again! However, we enjoy the place no end, immediately cheering up with a lovely room and fantastic meal. Definitely will be an addition to he tours that pass through the Meander.
The next morning brings beautiful blues skies and lovely warm weather. I manage to fix the starter in the morning, our mechanical issues forthwith are no more for the rest of the ride. We decide to spend a second night on the meander… it’s just so lekker (soooo nice), we ride the Midlands Meander scenic road R103 and visit Howick Falls, take a tour of the Nelson Mandela Capture site museum which is a new well planned museum offering good insight into the man and his life from early life in the Eastern Cape though his University education at 'Fort Hare', incarceration, and eventual release. A true statesmen, we need more of him today... "Lala Ngoxolo Madiba" (Rest in Peace Madiba)...
In the morning, another stunning day beckons. After an unexpected visit from three delinquint Blou Aapies (vervet monkeys) who sneak into our room checking for anything yummy to eat, we herad to another superb breakfast served on the deck. On the road again, we head out along yet another rough gravel road 'Khyber Pass'. Today, however, we consider this philosophically as part of testing out new roads and routes!!! ;). This will ensure our clients will be spared the discomfort of some of these roads in the future. Heading North alongside the Drakensberg Mountains via the ‘Oliviershoek Pass’ and the impressive Sterkfontein Dam into the Free State. We arrive in Clarens after riding through the, as always, gobsmaking 'Golden Gate National Park' with time enough to relax with a cold Windhoek Draught on the patio, have a chat with Dan the biker proprietor (his ‘Honda Fireblade’ is parked in the hotel lounge) and walk into the village for a superb pizza; a stunning canopy of stars overhead on our walk back to the lodge.
Today we are heading to Jo’burg and spend 6 nights. We spend time with old friends and take my girls to the Magaliesberg Mountains for a few days and a farm stay. The girls loved the farm animals on the working farm, we are treated to a sighting and close up encounter with 4 majestic Giraffe on a late afternoon walk, wow, a very special moment as these inquisitive animals follow us for several hundred meters with the sun setting behind them.
After our days spent in Johannesburg, we're back in the saddle and head back to Cape Town via the Free State plains and an overnight in a house made of mud in Smithfield. We have another delay en-route along the gravel pass: ‘Die Nek’ when the Beemer loses her chain, no damage to her bike or my wife. Looking behind and not seeing her even close, left me with an empty feeling, not sure what happened. However all is well and we set about putting the loose chain back onto the sprocket. Fortunately, locals assist us yet again with the correct tool to tension the chain and get the bike back on track quickly. Thanks guys!
Note Well: Over the past 12+ years of travelling around South Africa, one thing you can be assured of is there are many helpful people out there willing to assist with the little hiccups. Now the sun is sinking fast and the chill appears suddenly. We arrive at the Mud House a little cold, we put together a quick meal with what we have and fall asleep in-front of the fireplace.
In the morning, beautiful sunshine comes flooding in. After a long chat with the owner of the Mud house we head off to Hogsback via a few lovely passes including ‘Hobbs Hill Pass’. Last bit of road is a rougher than expected gravel track from Cathcart North of Hogsback. Late afternoon sun and many first and second gear sections ensures we remain vigilant, did I mention how well our tyres performed! Overnight we are sleeping at a backpackers with en-suite accommodation. ‘Away with the Fairies’ in Hogs, such a cool name. The area is famed for inspiring JRR Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ books when he was a young lad growing up in SA (born in Bloemfontein). Excellent food, beer and a drop of wine in-front of our room’s fireplace. In the morning we treat ourselves to a short walk and superlative views over the plains below from our perch high in the Amatola Mountains (elevation: 2,000 m).
Almost back in CT, another gravel road ‘Pefferskop Pass’, not too bad at all but with some bumpy bits in the morning. A few excellent mountain pass roads, lunch stop in Somerset East and then… a long straight stretch as we head across the dry arid Great Karoo to Beaufort West, our final overnight. Really good rooms, nicely refurbished in a grand old hotel, burger in the 50s diner a-la Elvis, Marilyn and James D.
The last day takes us home, we stop in Laingsburg to taste Aunty Poppies’ rooster brood (bread made on the braai (BBQ) with yummy fillings), she is a local legend and been plying her informal trade for 10 years. We plunge down into the stunning ‘Hex River Valley', the terrain changes immediately from Great Karoo dry and arid to Mediterranean climactic lush green vineyards below the jagged mountains with a spot of snow still cresting the higher peaks. One last major mountain pass on the way home is the iconic ‘Du Toit’s Kloof' Pass, weather is good and the pass is relitively clear of trafffic.
We arrive home tired, weary but already talking about the next ride… we kiss the bikes good night, thank them for taking us almost 10,000 km collectively and grab a long ride closing beer while gazing across Table Bay to ‘our mountain’, Table Mountain.
“Life is a Journey… Enjoy the Ride…”
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