Africa Twin Adventures recently had the pleasure of hosting a group of Australians in South Africa, and we put together a custom tour that slotted between their other excursions, such as a trip to the Kruger National Wildlife Park.
As this was their first trip to South Africa, the intention was to showcase the fantastic riding available here, as well as exposing the group to as much scenery and South African culture as possible. While the two week timeframe might seem generous, there is so much to see here and the intention when organising a trip is that it is not too rushed. We also took into account that the four men would be riding, and two of their ladies would be travelling in the back up vehicle, so it was important to keep the group together and not try to cover huge distances. Fortunately right on our doorstep we are blessed with terrain and scenery that changes constantly and I can safely say no two days were the same.
After meeting the group two days before the start of the trip to have a chat and hand over their goodie bags, I knew it was going to be a lot of fun. The Australians are known for their sense of humour, and it wasn’t long after the briefing that the jokes started. As the group had met Rod, one of the locals in our riding group on a previous ride in Patagonia, we included him and three of his mates for the first five days of the trip. Rod and his mates always provide entertainment, and it looked like we might need help countering all the Aussie chirps!
While Jim Hoffmann owns and rides an Africa Twin in Australia, the other three were used to riding smaller bikes, but after a couple of adjustments at Honda in Cape Town before we left, everyone was feeling comfortable, and the morning was spent getting used to the bikes on paved roads as we headed out into the countryside.
After a coffee stop in Franschhoek and lunch in the Slanghoek Valley we headed through Ceres and into the Cederberg where we had our first taste of gravel roads. After a couple of stops to regroup and to allow the ladies in the backup vehicle to join us, we twisted our way down to Mount Ceder, our overnight accommodation.
We decided a traditional South African braai (barbeque) was a great way to start the trip, as besides providing great food, it is a very sociable affair. In the period from when the fire is lit, until the food is ready, a good few beers and glasses of wine are usually consumed, resulting in colourful stories of the days ride as well as past rides. It was a fantastic way to end the first day and for everyone to get to know each other.
Day two started with breakfast and then a ride to the Stadsaal caves to look at the 2000 year old Bushman rock paintings, before winding our way through the Cederberg. The locals decided to take a more technical route via Wuppertal, and we all regrouped in Clanwilliam for lunch. After lunch it was a short trip over Pakhuis Pass to Bushmanskloof Wilderniss Resort, giving us the afternoon to enjoy this special place.
After ice cold beers for the guys and Gin and Tonics for the ladies, some of the group treated themselves to massages while others just relaxed under the trees before going on a game drive to explore the area and its wildlife. The beauty and luxury of this resort nestled between the rocks is really something special.
Day three started in a relaxed manner, with all of us enjoying breakfast on the terrace overlooking the ostriches and antelope having their own breakfast on the lawn in front of us. After waving goodbye to Bushmans Kloof it was time to head out of the Cederberg valley and into the vast plains of the Great Karoo.
While some could describe this area as desolate and even possibly boring, the clear skies and wide open plains where you can see for hundreds of miles, has a charm and beauty of its own. The roads here are made for riding a big adventure bike, and the absence of traffic and being able to see miles ahead, make covering the vast distances easy. A quick stop for lunch and fuel in Calvinia and we headed down the longest unpaved road in South Africa towards our overnight stop at Gannaga Lodge. Situated at the top of a plateau, the last few miles up the unpaved Gannaga Pass with its switch backs and sheer drop off is always thrilling, and there is no better way to enjoy the views from the top with ice cold refreshments from the cool box in the back up vehicle.
As always Johan and Robert, the owners of Gannaga Lodge, made us all feel at home, and the traditional South African farm dinner as well as the days riding stories were both enhanced by a couple of bottles of good wine. Naturally one of the Aussies who during the day had managed to drift off a dead straight road after admiring some sheep, provided plenty of ammunition for banter. The rustic but comfortable and clean accommodations, as well as the friendly and down to earth owners, always make Gannaga Lodge a great stop over.
A spectacular sunrise over the Karoo plains greeted us on day four as we made our way down to Sutherland, best known for its observatory, located here due to the high altitude and clear skies of the Karoo. After a coffee and refuel of the bikes we headed to Ouberg Pass, the steep and rugged unpaved road back down to the Tankwa Karoo. The views from the top are stunning, and even with a wide angle lens, it is impossible to capture the vast space and beauty of this area.
Tankwa Padstal is an icon and quirky stop through the Karoo, and after a quick lunch we made our way via a few fast twisty dirt roads to Inverdoorn Game Reserve. After an evening game drive to view the big five, a great dinner outside around a roaring fire rounded off the day in true African style.
On day five we said goodbye to the local riders, and headed across the mountains into the Little Karoo. Immediately there is more vegetation and the roads are a little more twisty as we head east and towards Sewe Weeks Pass. This spectacular road gives you the feeling you are riding straight into the mountain face, but after a few miles of twists and turns you ride out into the plains of the Little Karoo. A couple of nice twisty paved roads and we were all sitting round the pool at our guest house in Kalitzdorp enjoying the sunset.
Day six was a relatively short day, and after winding our way on the dirt roads to the foot of the Swartberg Pass, we soon realised the last two riders were taking a bit long to join us. After a bit of a wait we got word that one of the bikes had a rear flat, so while the others enjoyed coffee and the views from a nearby coffee shop I rode back to repair the puncture. It never ceases to amaze me how many punctures are caused by nails picked up on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. All part of adventure riding, and we were soon heading over Swartberg Pass, another iconic dirt road.
Lunch at Prince Albert hotel was followed by the magical paved road that twists through Meirings Poort, with 25 low water bridges in just 12 miles. A bit more dirt road and we arrived at Madi Madi, the beautiful game reserve on the Kamanassie river. Unfortunately due to the drought at the time, there was no water in the river, but the upside to this was the abundance of antelope grazing on the lawn in front of the luxury chalets we were staying in. After dinner we noticed that another of the bikes had a puncture, but with plenty of time and a suitable place to work this was quickly fixed.
Andrew and Don had decided to start day seven with an early morning horse ride, and as soon as they were back we all settled down to a hearty breakfast on the porch before setting off for the coastal town of Knysna. The sudden and dramatic change in climate when crossing the mountains from Uniondale down Price Alfred Pass is fascinating, and within 5 miles you go from a dusty drought stricken area, to lush green forests and wet roads. Riding the twisty dirt roads under a thick canopy of trees with monkeys looking down, you wouldn’t be too surprised if you came across a character from The Lord of The Rings.
Riding out of the forest we are greeted by the ocean for the first time, and wind our way down to the sleepy town of Knysna with its picturesque lagoon dotted with boats. The Turbine Hotel and Spa is our base for the next two days and after dinner at a seafood restaurant at the Waterfront we have an early night.
Day eight being a rest day, some of the group took the back-up vehicle to visit a nearby bird sanctuary, but Andrew being a keen fisherman decided to charter a fishing trip for himself. While we all wished him luck, I have to admit we were all a little surprised when he arrived back with a large Grunter and two nice Steenbras. Andrew then had a chat with the hotel’s chef, and that evening we were treated to a great dinner of grilled fish.
Day nine we were back on the bikes as we hit the dirt roads through the forests. The beautiful seven passes road twists and winds its way through the forests towards George. This quiet, narrow road with its old bridges led us down to Wilderness for a coffee break and to soak up the ocean views.
Botlierskop Game Reserve was our destination for the evening, and we arrived early, as the afternoon game drive is always a treat. After checking in, we joined our guide for the 3 hour game drive, with a stop for sundowners while watching some lions being the highlight. With so much to see, three hours turned into four, and we eventually made it back to camp in the dark, a bit chilly, but we quickly warmed ourselves around the fire at the lodge.
Day ten was spent mostly on dirt roads as we continued in the direction of Cape Town, riding over the rolling hills between the farmlands towards Swellendam. While only being a few miles away from the main highways, choosing the back roads is always more interesting, and no other vehicles on the road make it much more relaxing. With plenty of time in hand we cruised through the countryside enjoying the picturesque landscapes. After lunch at Diesel and Crème in Barrydale we headed down Tredoux Pass to our guesthouse in Swellendam. With the temperature in the high 30 degrees Celsius, it was not long before we were all cooling off in the swimming pool with an ice cold drink in hand.
Day eleven started with a dirt road to Malagas, to cross the Breede river on the last hand drawn pont in South Africa. With a bit of a gap between Andrew and the rest of the group, we decided to cross before he arrived, resulting in plenty of chirps across the river.
After filling the bikes in Bredasdorp our next stop was Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. After 10 days of perfect weather, it was bound to happen, and as we approached Agulhas it started raining. Nothing too serious, but on the way back after the obligatory photos, one of the dirt roads on our route had been resurfaced, and the rain had turned it into a skidpan. A quick detour and we were soon sitting in a country restaurant in Napier drinking hot coffee and eating homemade pies.
With the weather still looking a bit dodgy we decided to take the shortest route to Hermanus, our last overnight stop. Situated in the middle of this little holiday town, our guesthouse overlooked the harbour and was in walking distance of all the good restaurants. We celebrated a fantastic trip and our last night together with great seafood and wine, with the sounds of the ocean ensuring good night’s sleep.
Day twelve started with a walk along the coast for some of the more energetic members of the group, before breakfast overlooking the ocean, with a couple of wales breaching in the distance. Our route back to Cape Town hugged the coast line, and with the weather having cleared, we stopped often to take photos or just admire the view.
We then headed to the wine region of Stellenbosch for lunch, and sat under the oak trees at Spier wine farm enjoying our last meal together.
After lunch we hit the highway back to the city, and very soon the traffic and bustle of city became apparent. When leaving on a trip, the change doesn’t seem that noticeable, but after spending twelve days in the countryside, you completely relax, and you only really become aware of this when getting back to the real word. Just as important as the scenery and the fantastic riding are the people that you spend your time with, and we were very fortunate to have a great group of Aussies on this trip. Adventure riding always seems to attract positively minded people and this group was no exception. When organising a trip where the ladies travel in the back-up vehicle, you obviously need to take them into account as well, and both Jan and Cheryl were always a pleasure to have around.
Handing over the bike keys at the end of the trip was a bit of an anti-climax, however clearly the trip and the bikes left a lasting impression, as Don, Andrew and Les all ordered Honda Africa Twins when they got home to Australia, with Jim already owning one. Later that evening we all got together for dinner again, and the local boys that had spent the first few days with us joined us for a proper farewell.