While tours are quality asphalt based, there is an incorporation of some great gravel riding, if you so wish. Read why Diana has a huge smile on her face
Off the road and into the fun
South Africa has an excellent road network, with most surfaces boasting smooth tarmac that makes riding a motorbike an easy-going and enjoyable experience. Yet as we ourselves appreciate variety and have a heart for those who enjoy a ride on the wilder side, all of our tours may also incorporate some off-road experience. And just to give you a little taste, here are three of our favourite dirt tracks. Be assured, for those who prefer to stay on even asphalt, there is always a way around. So the choice really is yours.
Into the heartland
After the turn-off from the R 26 between Hobhouse and Smithfield, the R701, a 70 km gravel and mud road, takes you through wide open country. Here, the red soil is baked hard under the harsh African sun, the scrubs and bushes are gnarly and bent from hot winds and the arid climate. The magnificent mountains of Lesotho provide the backdrop to the somewhat isolated and tranquil area you ride through. The road is straight for most parts, so you can see well ahead and take in the grandeur of the scenery. Do not let yourself get distracted, though. While the track is easy enough to ride, its gravel surface, ribbed with a bumpy underlay where the ground has been pushed together and compressed by heavier vehicles, may pose some challenges.
If you are lucky, you get to see some of the wildlife, as the area is particularly popular with bird watchers. The farms alongside the dirt road keep merino sheep, cows and horses. Most of the fields are fenced off, so close encounters with farm animals are rare. The nearby Caledon River Nature Reserve holds some fine examples of rock art, the artistic heritage of the indigenous San people. The little town of Smithfield at the southern end of the gravel road is one of the oldest towns in the Free State. The town markets itself as “halfway to anywhere in South Africa”. And indeed, when riding the R 701, you really feel like you are right in the heart of the country.
The R 701 can be included in the Epic South Africa Tour.
Through the Great Karoo
Another chance to experience the “true feeling of Africa” is a ride along the R407 between Willowmore and Klaarstroom. The gravel road takes your right into the Great Karoo. There are some twists and turns, where you might want to watch out, lest the bike slips on the cobbles and stones that cover the solid but somewhat dusty ground. Despite the soil surface and gravel, you can go quite fast along the track, should you wish to do so. However, it is well worth it to hold back at times and give yourself a chance to soak up the atmosphere of the area.
Time appears to stand still in the semi desert. Large proportions of the 92 km track appear to just stretch endlessly. The terrain is more modulated than it initially appears, especially towards the end of the track as you approach the first foothills of the Swartberg mountains.
Do not let the arid appearance of the Great Karoo fool you. Underwater streams and ground water holes make the area habitable and in large parts also good for sheep farming. While average annual rainfall is low, the Great Karoo does see some heavy rainfalls and thunderstorms occasionally. As the baked soil cannot absorb the sudden and heavy downpours, flooding may occur. In order to prevent the road from being washed away, concrete drains cross the roads in irregular intervals. They reach a depth of up to three metres. Despite their size, they are often hard to spot, and warning signs are rare. The suddenness, with which the drains sometimes appear, has in the past caught more than just one of our riders by surprise. A good few were sent flying when shooting in and out of the drains at speed. We are happy to report that so far, neither men, women, nor machines were harmed during those unsuspected airborne experience. And we would like to keep it that way, so please watch out when travelling along.
The R 407 can be enjoyed as part of the Epic South Africa and the Cape Conquest tour.
In the footsteps of gold diggers
When you ride from the historic gold-digging village of Pilgrim’s Rest and around Kruger National Park, you are spoiled for choices. You can either take the tarmacked R 533 and enjoy the twisties and stunning vistas on Long Tom Pass. Or you take a turn to the right just after the village to find yourself on a 20 km dirt track that, despite being well travelled by locals, has not yet made it into the official AA road map.
While not long in distance, this track leaves nothing wanting for any off-road enthusiast, or indeed for anyone curious to find out what this whole off-road fuss is all about. For most parts, the road is about one lane wide, sometimes wider, seldom narrower. It winds its way along the flanks of Mount Sheba, following the topography, thus offering some up- and downhill riding as you go along. Large sections of the dirt road run through dense indigenous forest. As you ride under the green canopy, the track twists and turns before you. Rocks, roots and stones force you to get out of the saddle and onto the pegs. It is good to keep concentrated, as the sunbeams filter through the leaves and branches, and the play of light and shadow might conceal the odd pothole, sand patch or blotch of mud. The surrounding mountains catch a lot of rain, so the ground can get quite wet and muddy in parts. Be prepared to get your bike and boots dirty.
When the forest opens, you are greeted by open grassy plains and a view of the stunning panorama of the Northern Drakensberg.
The dirt road may be ridden as part of the Lowveld Legend and Epic South Africa tour.
Incorporating off-road into our tours
The three roads described are part of our standard guided tours. However, it is up to our clients whether they want to ride them or not. Likewise, due to weather conditions or other circumstances, we might decide on alternative routes, as your comfort and safety are paramount. Self-guided tours might incorporate more off-road riding, if you should wish so. There sure is no shortage of off-road tracks and unsurfaced mountain passes around South Africa. However, we prefer only to recommend those that we have ridden ourselves, so we can be sure of their condition. If you are interested in finding out more, just contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
+27 (0)83 652 4040 (South Africa)
+49 176 2402 8086 (Germany)
+27 (0)79 833 9502 (Switzerland)
email@example.com (South Africa)