Sunday 25th Dec Xmas Day
Santa arrived in Coffee Bay! Later, as the children in the hotel were wondering where he had gone, Susan and I also departed.
Only @5 km up the road we approached an army road block. Troops were stationed opposite each other in the road side drains. The fist soldier on my right, who was manning a tripod-mounted machine gun, readied himself to open fire! Calm down, buddy!
We slowed to a halt and were questioned by the officer in charge, who could clearly see that we were tourists, and who quickly got confused by the two smiling Aussies rabbiting away in a strange English accent. My smile was more to do with my amusement that if the troops had opened fire they would certainly have shot each other!
The ride out of Coffee Bay seemed better than the ride in, as the weather had cleared and I knew how far it would be back to the N2. This is tribal land, and apart from loose cattle stock, donkeys, goats, children, hitchhikers and taxis there are also constant potholes to keep one alert.
We skirted around a car which had run off the road and bounced back again, leaking fuel onto the ground as people who were smoking approached for a look!
Every child on the whole 100Kms waved heartily as we passed. Susan suggested that they thought I was Santa in my red BMW riding gear! Now I have a complex!
We stopped in Butterworth on the N2 for lunch, where we discovered that the café made pizzas. It was a real contradiction for us, that a white African woman was scolding the black African staff for not knowing how to make Italian pizzas in the middle of Africa! As if they are interested!
South of Butterworth we descended the Kei Pass, and riding started to get good. Only the skittish mountain goats on the road prevented us from really winding the bike up and pushing the boundaries a little.
We took the R72 to Port Alfred, a pretty road running along the back edge of the sand dunes parallel with the Indian Ocean.
We found the Royal Guest House, which was possibly the cleanest and best equipped of any of the lodgings so far. All the finishing touches were there to make the guest feel at home, and the owners/operators obviously go to great lengths to get that right. At 3pm we munched away at Christmas dinner in a French restaurant on the estuary, as it would be the only chance we would get to eat before everything closed for the day. Our waitress was a lovely girl, and we threatened to take her with us. In fact, Port Alfred is a lovely place.
Monday 26th Dec
Rejoining the N2 at Ncanaha, we rode through Port Elizabeth and the famous Garden Route to Knysna. We enjoyed excellent riding weather, and saw lots of roadside wildflowers and pine plantations (some of which had been burned, however) A few more motorbikes started to appear on the roads again – something we hadn’t seen for a few days. We could see why – this area is indeed scenic and pretty.
A stop off at the worlds’ highest bungy jump (214 metres) off the road bridge over one of the deepest of five gorges in the area was a welcome break, but the wait to do the jump was too long so we continued. (Yes, I did seriously consider jumping!)
Note the size of the vehicle on the bridge….
Towards Knysna there are the rocky ranges of the Grootwinterhoekberge group on the right, and sand dunes on the left, which makes for lovely riding and scenery.
Once in Knysna there are lots of shops in the small town, and plenty of activity. We found this to be a good base for two nights.
Tuesday 27th Dec
One of Susan’s ambitions has been to get ‘up close and personal’ with elephants. Today she fulfilled that desire. We rode in the cool early morning to Knysna Elephant Park, where we walked into the bush with the elephants, fed them, stroked them, crawled underneath them, and generally learned from their handlers all that we wanted to know. These elephants are all orphans, brought from elsewhere, and have formed their own ‘family’
This was the first time that the calf had copied the dominant female and lay down for us to get a closer look.
The weather warmed up, and matched the inner warmth felt by all on this encounter.
We rode back through Knysna, past pretty coastal towns and some nice twistys and on to George, where we took the splendid N12 to Oudtshoorn. This road takes you up the Outeniqua Pass, one of the finest mountain range roads you will ever experience! Pictures will not do it justice, so we rode it three times instead! The surface is clean, there are passing lanes on nearly every bend, slow traffic moves left for you to pass anyway, there is good forward visibility, and there is always the creamy sound of an Italian twin out to impress.
Baboons sat on the guardrail in a humanlike posture, watching the show, scratching.
I was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Talking of cats – just through the picturesque town of Oudtshoorn is Cango Wildlife Ranch. They breed cheetah and ostrich, but also run a complete zoo. This is a ‘must see’ if you have any inclination to see and appreciate animals up close. The big cat displays are excellent and will amaze you, as will the snake collection, crocs, turtles etc.
I got the chance to feel the deep purr of a cheetah resonate through my arms – now where else can you do that? Ambition number #2 fulfilled!
The N12 rolling away towards the Swartberg Mountains from the top of the Outeniqua Pass, is a panoramic and fast road (see picture below)
I had to control an urge to continue towards the range to find the dirt roads so often described by GS riders, especially during the BMW R1200GS launch.
Remember our bad day riding into Coffee Bay? - It just vanished.
Today was biking nirvana!
Wednesday 28th Dec
Today the weather turned on us, so after sharing breakfast with a bus load of Indians from Jo’Burg, we tackled the Outeniqua Pass at normal pace in the rain. Watch out for the lack of grip on the painted lane arrows, we went skating a little but maintained composure. The new Annekee tyres performed admirably, and confidence is maintained when you know and trust the same tyres on your own bike at home.
The clouds cleared by the time we arrived at Oudtshoorn, and we could once more enjoy the splendid panorama of the distant Swartberg mountains while cruising along these fast sweeping roads at a steady 140Km/h. There are lots of ostrich farms in this area, and some wildflowers at this time of year.
From Oudsthoorn to Stellenbosch via the R62, R60 and N1/R44 the scenery is simply awesome! The high rocky crags, reminiscent of the Arizona and Texas backdrops in old western cowboy movies is staggering. Even though the ground is arid and mainly lifeless, the monolithic rock formations are colourful, dramatic and inspiring. At one point we skirted a sheer cliff face, wondering how the road would climb out of this ravine, and then disappeared ant-like into a long tunnel around the next bend. Traffic flowed fast and smooth, and prevented the rider from feeling like you are at a standstill in this landscape of giants.
More than once we scared monkeys off the road, only to see them re-appear in the mirrors and resume their sunbaking.
One contrast was the most untidy, dirty shanty town of all at Worcester, before entering the wine growing region around Stellenbosch which is picturesque and framed by the backdrop of the surrounding Simonsberg foothills.
Note the smoke haze from a bushfire near Capetown.
We were obliged to sample the wine from the very comfortable and friendly L’Avenir Estate where we were based for two nights. Before I had drunk too much, Susan spotted something moving in a nearby bush in the garden, which we thought would be a green Mamba snake, but turned out to be one of the best ‘finds’ for me – a chameleon. Isn’t he a cutie?
Thursday 29th Dec
Susan thought it was hilarious that I couldn’t get out of bed because of a slight hangover (The devil made me do it)
Once compos mentis again, we rode the 50Km into Cape Town, and made straight for the Victoria & Albert waterfront area, where we parked the bike at a very reasonable rate on a secure car park and went exploring. Despite Susan’s distaste of crowded cities and all things commercial, we jumped on a sightseeing bus and did the ‘touristy’ thing.
This is a good, cheap way of seeing the city without concentrating on road signs, pedestrians, traffic lights (called robots in SA) and all other distractions whilst riding in unknown territory.
There are some architecturally impressive buildings to see when you have time to view them at leisure, narrated by someone else. Facts and figures add interest too.
The bus took us up Table Mountain amongst other attractions, but unfortunately the Cape Doctor was blowing a gale, and the cable car to the summit had to be closed, despite having water-filled ballast tanks and carrying 65 persons.
Mmmm… revert to plan B – hire a chopper instead!
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
The first picture shows the Cape of Good Hope in the distance.
Second is Cape Town with Table Mountain behind.
Third picture shows the city sprawling northwards, and the growing smoke haze in the distance from the bush fire which affected the Stellenbosch area some 50Km to the east.
Friday 30th Dec
The trip from Stellenbosch to Graaff Reinett along the N1 is predictably dull, as you are aware that this involves travelling across the southern edge of the Great Karoo, which is rocky scrub and semi-desert. On climbing a slow rise in the highway however, we spotted just one particular oddity in the vastness of the plains – one field full of monkeys. It did not differ from any other area that we could see, but the monkeys obviously thought so.
The air temperature cooled considerably as we climbed the Hex Pass, only to rise again by the time we reached Beaufort West. From here to Aberdeen was roughly 40 degrees, which was cooking Susan as the sun was on her back for the whole trip!
Again, baboons played and lounged around on the highway, mostly scurrying off before traffic came too close. On taking a reasonable bend at the top of another range however, I narrowly missed two baboons by swerving the bike, but noticed that the car following me was not so lucky. Neither was the baboon. He skittled the creature, and the moment stayed in my mind for the rest of the day.
We took a plunge in the cool water of the swimming pool of the Kingfisher Lodge at Graaff Reinett, which helped to wash away the heat and change the mood.
Summit of the Hex Pass.- Yeah yeah, we get the idea, it’s a big place!
A stroll in the garden revealed more tiny monkeys in the trees, attempting to enter the cage of another single one, intent on harming it. They looked cute but had ulterior motives at the time.
Saturday 31st Dec
From Graaff Reinett, the N9 to Middelburg, Noupoort and Colesburg, linking onto the N1 to Bloemfontein is also bleak. Throw in a strong, constant breeze from the north and you have a ride day to forget. This does not spoil a trip for me, but simply reminds a rider that you take the rough with the smooth, and bad days make good days seem so much better! If we wanted to remain within a comfort zone we could have hired a car.
We arrived at a country estate called De Oude Kraal, @40Kms outside of Bloemfontein, down a relatively good dirt road. Some idiot forgot to turn off the ABS on the bike and went sailing past the dirt intersection (thinking “mmm..no brakes”)
Afternoon tea was served, and we partook of coffee and half a ton of sticky cakes. The whole place is like a step back in time, and it somehow feels like everything belongs in the scene apart from yourself. Sniffing around the house on the creaky timber floorboards revealed a wine cellar – I even found a light switch!
A walk around the grounds later gave us the opportunity to stretch the aching limbs and view the local flora and fauna. Small bright red finches flitted across the lawn, too shy to be photographed up close. Ostrich, waterbuck, guinea fowl, geese, ducks, peacock, horses and cows all shared the area around the house and grounds. Although the estate still employs a number of workers, much needs to be done to bring it back to its former glory.
Not so with the food however – new years’ eve dinner was a gourmet’s delight. I am told that this is the main reason the locals visit frequently and prefer to keep it a secret.
A well stocked bar (complete with a necktie collection numbering 806) didn’t prevent the other guests from retiring early. Susan and I lay awake in our room listening to the staff throwing their own New Year celebration at midnight. We fell asleep smiling.
Storm brewing near De Oude Kraal
One of the locals.
Sunday 1st Jan – New Years Day
We left the estate and rode through intermittent showers from Bloemfontein to Jo’Burg. Violent thunderstorms tailed us, and we made good progress to keep ahead of them. The rolling hills through the Free State could still be appreciated, as the rain eased and the sky cleared somewhat.
Cruising along the highway through Jo’Burg towards Pretoria, I witnessed a man being assaulted by another with a big stick, but onlookers didn’t move – just watched. From my brief snapshot it appeared that the defendant had asked for the punishment, the aggressor exercising retribution for possibly an attempted theft. Right or wrong, there was nothing I could do about it.
Passing Soweto I conjured up pictures of what life was (and still is) like there.
Having not made any ‘phone calls at all during the trip, we decided it was time to use the prepaid card which Darryl had so kindly organised for us, and ask him how to find SAMA Tours from our fuel stop in Jo’Burg on the N1.
He gave us clear directions and we rode straight there, with certain key points jogging my memory from two weeks previously upon arrival.
Susan, Darryl, Nicole, Jonathan and I celebrated our return in the bar of their house with a coldie or two. We recounted some of our tales, and swapped more conversation than during the limited time of our departure two weeks earlier.
I was happy that we could hand back the bike in good condition, without any mishaps, after SAMA Tours had been so kind, helpful and efficient in all of our dealings.
We really didn’t want to let them down.
Formalities were completed, and we were transferred to our hotel in Pretoria after a guided tour of the area which has much to offer for the visitor. We shall certainly spend more time there in the future. My shout at the hotel bar with pleasure!
Darryl and his wife transferred us to the airport in Jo’Burg on the following morning, and we bade farewell and thanks for a wonderful trip, well organised. Peter and Susan