4100KM AROUND THE SOUTHERN PART OF SOUTH AFRICA IN 11 DAYS1
October 31, 2016 by DAVE JACK
I have written previously that I believe that there are two basic types of holidays on which one can embark, a destination holiday or a touring holiday or if one is really adventurous one could always combine the two but then one needs time to really make that sort of thing worthwhile.
What I would like to do is to invite you to come with me on a touring trip we have just completed and which we chose to do on Harley Davidsons over a period of 11 days in total – 10 days of riding with a rest day in the middle – covering the southern part of South Africa leaving from Johannesburg and back.
If one is going to do this sort of trip I believe there are a few basic ground rules. Firstly, keep daily distance travelled to around 400km. There are a few reasons for this. It isn’t tiring and it gives you time to stop for sight-seeing and coffee and lunch breaks and you don’t find yourself having to rush the final stretch of the day to get to your destination for the night in the dark.
Remember the trip is all about what you see whilst you are travelling and not about what you see at your daily destination.
Secondly, and this is especially important if you choose as we did, as your mode of transport, a motorcycle, is to stay hydrated and the best way to do this is with good old fashioned water. Every time we stopped we drank 500ml of bottled still mineral water. I find that the effects of dehydration are dizziness and tiredness and on a motorcycle that is not pleasant.
Thirdly, experience has taught us that if we are in a small group as we were the best accommodation is to stay in four star guesthouses. If you choose these establishments you seldom go wrong and they are substantially less expensive than hotels.
Anyway join us on our ride now.
To get out of Johannesburg is always a problem and our trip was no different. We had to do 400km straight along the N1 to Bloemfontein and there isn’t really a great deal of scenery other than farmlands with grazing sheep and cattle. Our first stop for fuel and a cup of coffee was at the Kroonvaal “services” about 120km from Johannesburg a short hop from the start but just to get going and to get into the “feel” of the trip and to fill the bikes.
On through Kroonstad where we didn’t stop to Ventersburg for a stop, fuel and a cold drink and then the final stretch of the day to Bloemfontein. Not a great day’s riding in view of a dreadful wind blowing in parts of the Free State and then on top of that, major roadworks that slowed us down between Kroonstad and Ventersburg.
And today we pointed our bikes in an easterly direction towards Queenstown where we intended to overnight with our first stop being just some 50km from Bloemfontein at the little town of Reddersburg to fill the bikes and enjoy a cup of the nicest coffee around at the little restaurant adjoining the filling station. We had enjoyed their coffee previously so we knew about it.
After the coffee it was on to Aliwal North for lunch and we were horrified to see how very low the Orange River was as a result of the drought that’s sweeping the country.
The interesting thing though is that when we crossed the Orange again on our return trip close to Colesberg on the way home just over a week later it was flowing strongly there and that is not that far from Aliwal North as the crow flies.
After a very pleasant lunch at a grill house at the edge of the Orange in Aliwal North we set off for Queenstown on the last 140km for the day, arriving there mid-afternoon. We travelled the N6 between Bloemfontein and it is a good road but again not too much in the way of scenery.
One good thing though is that there are plenty of fuel stops at the various towns on this road.
Excitement today because we were going to be seeing the sea for the first time on the trip. Destination for the day was Jeffrey’s Bay and we would also see a change in the scenery as we got closer to the coast.
We left Queenstown on the R67 and followed that all the way to Grahamstown but there was a great deal of roadwork activity with stop/go but we were fortunate that our total stopping time couldn’t have much longer than about 10 minutes in total.
Nothing much in terms of scenery until we reached Whittlesea then it changed substantially and we get mountains and particularly the Nico Malan Pass is quite stunning. It was spoilt a bit because of the roadworks taking place on the pass but we were still able to take in its beauty as we were with the Ecca Pass near Grahamstown, and again roadworks and it is even more spectacular and longer than the Nico Malan Pass. The Ecca Pass is a little over 6km in length.
A big warning though. In those rural areas be very careful of animals on the roads. Cattle, sheep and goats. There are signs warning about wild animals but they are not the concern. You’ll see plenty of baboons but whilst they are very dangerous animals if you get near them, it’s the cattle, sheep and goats that wander all over the roads that are the real danger and if you hit one of those you could be in serious trouble.
If you prefer to travel at night. Think carefully about it – then don’t!
The vegetation changes as we get closer to Port Elizabeth and we start to see all sorts of aloes for which the region is so well known and we slowly start to see the mountains so familiar in the Cape.
Eventually we get to Colchester to a lunch stop and fuel stop before heading on to Port Elizabeth where we find the win howling and the very angry waves splashing onto the concrete “bollards” separating the beach from the road but it doesn’t matter because we see the sea for the first time and the excitement of that. The sea spray reaches our bikes though and we end up with sea spray all over the bikes but we push on the Jeffrey’s Bay for our overnight stop.
Today a distance of 420km.
Today will be, for me anyway, one of the highlights. We ride the Garden Route from Jeffrey’s Bay to Still Baai.
First Stop though was at the Storms River Bridge to fill the bikes and have ourselves a cup of coffee and marvel at the structure of the bridge once again.
On this trip we didn’t have time to get down to the Storms River Mouth, the turn off to which is about 10km further along the road towards Cape Town as we have made arrangements to meet friends in Knysna for lunch but if you are on this trip take the time out to go down the Storms River Mouth. You won’t regret it.
After leaving the bridge we headed south through Plett and on to Knysna where we met friends at the “Heads” for lunch.
Lunch done further south with a brief stop at the top of Kaaiman’s Pass to look at Dolphin’s Point
Then on to Still Baai for the night.
Another great day coming up. Still Baai to Gordon’s Bay and we rode via Hermanus getting a glimpse of a whale quite close in as well as a couple of dolphins frolicking in the waves in the bay.
Then it was on towards Gordon’s Bay via one of my very favourite drives, Clarence Drive between Rooi Els and Gordon’s Bay.
It doesn’t matter how many times I ride it I simply never get tired of the sheer beauty of that piece of road and eventually we reach Gordon’s Bay.
Today we have a fairly short ride that takes us to Paternoster where we’ll spend two nights and where we get to have our “day off”. We stopped in at Melkbosstrand which is a charming little town not far from Cape Town for a cup of coffee and I decided it’s the sort of place I could quite easily live but we didn’t stay too long before it was back into the saddles and on our way. I guess before I got too comfortable there!
We know that there are a lot of our Harley friends at Langebaan so we go there first to say hello to them before we ride to Paternoster and park our bikes for two nights.
After our rest day it’s time to turn the Harleys to face north and reluctantly head for home and it’ll take us four days to get back to Johannesburg and we have lots of sight-seeing still so do before we get there.
Today we are heading to Matjiesfontein and getting there via Picketberg and Portville. Very bad roadworks the entire distance between those two towns so I was please to get to Porterville.
Then it was the very pretty ride through Tulbagh, Worcester, Robertson and into Montagu through the famous entrance that has been carved in the rock.
A stop in Montagu (where there are more roadworks) for coffee and we then left the town via the Koo Valley and the Burger’s Pass
We reached the N1 at Touws River and then the short ride to the Lord Milner Hotel for the night.
The Lord Milner doesn’t have proper parking for our bikes so they very kindly offered to let us park our bikes on the verandah! Thank you folks!
Another day with one of my favourite rides today. We left Matjiesfontein and headed up the N1 until we reached the turnoff to Prince Albert, a quiet little town where we stopped for about an hour for coffee. This photo shows a Monday mid- morning rush hour traffic in Prince Albert!
Our hour or so there allowed us to just soak up the peace and quiet before we pushed on to Meiringspoort which is a compulsory stop for anybody travelling that road. A warning though. Be careful of the tortoises wandering across the roads. There are usually a fair number of them!
Meiringspoort is breathtaking. There is just no other way to describe it.
The photos show it a little bit of what it’s about but don’t do it justice and I certainly can’t in words.
If you have never been there, put it on your bucket list along with Clarence Drive I mentioned earlier.
After Meiringspoort we rode to Willowmore where we stopped for lunch and then on to Graaff Reinett for our overnight stop. That also was our longest day at a little over 500km.
The ride from Graaff Reinett to Bloemfontein doesn’t offer very much in the way of exciting scenery and it’s only the Lootsberg Pass if one stops at the top and looks back towards Graaff Reinett that offers any sort of view and that is quite stunning as you take in the splendour of the Karroo.
On through to Middelburg for a coffee stop and then it was next stop Colesberg for fuel and some lunch and then the last stretch to Bloemfontein.
Our last day simply day one in reverse and we were home. Holiday done and thoroughly enjoyed. Total distance covered – 4164km from home to home.
Did we see much? We did indeed. Have we got the art of a travelling holiday sorted? I think we have.
Do I recommend these kinds of holidays. Without any doubt, but as I said at the start, it’s not what you see at the destination each day that is important. It’s what’s you see every kilometre as you travel. That’s what makes the holiday!
Great summary of what was obviously an amazing journey on amazing machines