A Piece of Africa

A special note on this ride report - This is from way back, it was the very first big solo ride I did. This ride took place in 2010, a time that seems like some other life nowadays!

Day 1

Where to begin a ride report such as this?
Iím not sure where the beginning is, but Iím pretty sure itís not with my bike standing outside the house, packed, ready and waiting. This whole trip probably started brewing in my mind as soon as I swung my leg over the saddle for the first time six months after breaking said leg falling out of said saddle.
With a light heart I pull out, and get all the way down the road before I have to deploy my middle finger at a cager for the first time. Pretty impressive!
At the Vaal dam the roads are wet, but itís not raining. . . Yet.

The first dirt road, from the Vaal dam to Heilbron, is really bad. It was built using big stones in the mix, and these are now sticking out on the road surface, so that I have a choice between standing while riding or having the crap shaken out of me. The fact that these stones are still wet from an earlier rain shower is not helping either.

A piece of Vrystaat dirt.

I stop in all the little towns on the way down to get photographs. I like stopping for photographs often, because I use them as a screensaver on my computer, so that my memories are always close by.
The roads are wet, but it only starts raining in Petrus Steyn.

The sky in Petrus Steyn. The rain started as I pulled out.

The dirt road when the rain lets up for a moment

The tar road Ė the dirt road was in much better condition!

From here, everything is wet, most notably my gloves and boots. In Fouriesburg, with myself and all my gear wet, I decide to rent a caravan instead of sleeping in the tent. A good decision. I have a few beers with my supper at the pub before heading back to the campsite. On the way back I have the absolutely brilliant, if beerĖinspired, idea of parking my bike in the middle of the muddy road in the pouring rain and using my cell to take a photo.
Goodbye cellphone, it was good knowing you!

The photos that caused all the cellphone problems.

The first day of my trip is over, and even though Iím wet I feel great. Some people might kill me for this, but I end the night with a Jack mixed with Appletizer.
The caravan leaks water, but itís still better than a tent and I sleep while the thunder and rain crashes around.
Todayís riding was fun, even though it was mostly tar.

Day 2

Fouriesburg to Aliwal North

I spend some time worrying about riding without a cellphone, and decide to buy a cellphone in one of the towns on my way. Iím up early and get the bike packed and ready. I let it warm up with the choke, but when I close the choke the bike wants to die, so I pull the choke open just a bit again. The day is looking good, but as Iím tying on the last strap the sky suddenly darkens and the first flash of lightning comes down. Itís always impressive how the thunder rolls around in Meiringskloof!
I head out to get the dirt road out of my way before the mud monster can rear its head, but my bike is spluttering and coughing, and doesnít want to pull between two and three thousand revs. I swear a lot and decide I will drain the carburettor at the garage and then phone Groenie if that doesnít work. In the meantime, Afrikaans people have a saying that goes ďRev hom tot hy reg is!Ē(Rev it hard until itís fixed!).
I do that, and by the time I get to the garage things are going better. It turns out I had forgotten the choke halfway open!

I decide to skip the dirt, and although it is raining hard I enjoy the ride, and have my first stop in Ficksburg for coffee, then itís on to Clocolan and Ladybrand. In Ladybrand I buy a cellphone with minimal effort, and feel much better when I have communications again. By now it has stopped raining, and the sun is out.
One thing I love about these long rides is when the towns that I have only ever heard about start coming and going. I spend a few minutes riding through each, taking pics, the adventure is now well under way.
Weppener and Vanstadensrus roll by, and then, with Zastron off to my left, a great big storm is rolling in from the right. I decide to head for Zastron to try and skirt the storm. In Zastron I take photographs of the church and head into a petrol station for petrol.

The Zastron Town Hall.

No sooner am I filling up than the storm comes over the mountain, rolling and looking ominous. When the tank is closed I look at the clouds and I know what is going to happen next. (I check lots of TV, my bra!)

I take my camera out and Iím ready and waiting when the tornado comes out of the clouds and makes touchdown.

This is something I have always wanted to see, but never dreamed I would!
Itís by no means a big one, but itís a real Tornado and now Iíve seen one. Moments later there is a bit of hail, just like youíd see on the TV, and now Iím really impressed.
Then the real deal hail pitches up. We hear it coming some way off, like a freight train coming into town. Even before the hail starts coming down Iím judging the distance that my bike is under cover. I look at the other people standing around, but they seem oblivious to what is about to happen, their cars are left in the open. The noise becomes deafening, and then the first golf-ball size hailstones are dropping down on us. What a spectacular sight!

Check out the size of these golf balls!

The cars get badly damaged. Windows are shattered, panels are battered and I feel bad for some of the people.
When I make my way out of town Iím riding on a sheet of ice. Just out of town there is a Ďstop and goí(roadworks), and I get to take some spectacular hail photos.

The rest of the run down to Aliwal North goes without incident, and soon I ride my bike into the Eastern Cape for the first time.

In Aliwal North I find the campsite locked and deserted and smelling like the local sewerage works. Iím thankful, and head for a Bed & Breakfast. After buying some supplies in town I head for the Deck for a few beers, then head back to the B&B, where I make a pleasant braai and throw my stuff out to get dry. I also meet up with a new kind of smell that I had not known up till today, the smell of riding boots after two days of wet riding. Phew! The boots sleep outside!
I find some ice in the fridge and have my Jack on the rocks tonight, then have a better nightís sleep than last night.


Aliwal North to Nieu Bethesda

I head out of Aliwal early. The dirt road to Burgersdorp is fun and in good condition, but in Burgersdorp Iím disappointed to find the Blockhouse locked. I suppose vandalism is the main culprit here.

I get to do my first mountain pass.
I have to admit, we donít have mountain passes where I live, so Iím not at all sure what I am up against. It starts out good, but then there is an unexpected water crossing. It has a cement bottom and is not deep. Interesting, I think as I bomb through it. The veld around here seems dry, wonder where that came from. Then there are some more mud puddles, and then a little stream. Then the mountain pass starts in all its glory, and itís one great big bloody mud bath. All in all, I did about a kilometer worth of paddling, another fifteen kilos of first and second gear, and another fifteen kilos worth of pussyfooting around in third gear. I do an equal amount of swearing and laughing in my helmet. Sorry about the lack of photos, but I was concentrating hard on keeping the bike right side up.

I can only stop at the dry spots for photographs, but the scenery is fantastic and the day is open. I can see rain showers in all directions, but very few drops make it to me.
Later on I do hit a big storm, but Iím through it in a few minutes and the road is manageable if wet.
In what looks to be normally dry and barren landscape, one of the rivers is in full flood.

In Hofmeyer I have a delicious home-baked game pie for lunch.
I hit some stop and go sections on a tar section, but they take nothing more than ten minutes each, so no problem.
As I start the last piece of dirt from where I cross the N9 to Nieu Bethesda it starts bucketing down again, and once again I get a soaking. Once again I have to ride the muddy stuff, but I keep the speed down, donít try any heroics and soon the rain lets up and I roll into Nieu Bethesda no more than a little damp.

Personally, I was disappointed with Nieu Bethesda. It is a one horse town, and the horse, sadly, died a few years ago, but that does not stop the enterprising towns-people from flogging it. The whole town was locked up, the restaurants closed and the streets rolled up. I give the Owl House one look and decide I donít want to go in there, it is a bad piece of nothing that the town needs to get over. It is a town that would like to be Clarens, but the seedy houses and overpriced shops pull it down. Unfortunately the majority of the art exhibitions were closed, so maybe there is something in town that I just donít know about. As always, I say that you have to go there yourself to decide, donít believe everything I tell you. And even if the town is seedy, the roads and scenery in the area are well worth a visit.

The Owl house backpackers is okay to stay in though. Everything is old, but it is painfully clean and the bedding fresh. I can recommend this place if you need a place to stay over one night.
After looking at the restaurant menu I decide I know when Iím being ripped off and opt for some of the food I carry with me for supper. I have the whole house to myself though, and I make use of the kitchen table to update my notes.
When I go to bed I leave my boots outside to stand guard. Nothing will sneak past those boots without needing serious medical attention in the nasal department.


Nieu Bethesda to Willowmore

The lady at the backpackerís reception told me that the tar road starts 4 KM out of town. Apparently it is not the same road as the one I had planned out on Mapsource, because I get 30 beautiful kilometers of dirt before I arrive at the R63 tar road.

From here it is a short hop down to the Camdeboo National park to visit the Valley of Desolation. As those that have been there will know, the views are stunning and the scenery well worth a visit.

(A note on the above photograph of the flowers. I have been back to that spot three times since that first visit, and always make sure to get a photograph of that plant!)
At this stage I decide to put the Jiko stove to the test for the first time and brew myself a cup of coffee at the picnic site. I hear another bike go up, but Iím out of time and canít go chasing after him. Sorry if it was one of you, maybe next time.
After riding down I take a few photographs of the dam.

I roll into Graaff Reinette. Everything here looks brand spanking new. The houses are newly painted, the lawns are manicured and everything is fresh and clean. I would dearly love to go down and spend a week in that town, but for now I have to refuel because the long road ahead is waiting but time is not.
Jansenville and Klipplaat come and go, and so do a couple of deep Karoo water crossings.

Deep Karoo Water Crossing

(Wait for it, this little joke is going to come back to bite me in the bum).

By 4 PM Iím in Willowmore, where I make camp at the Finchley farm about 2 Km out of town. This was a nice place to camp in, I can recommend it. In town I stock up on beer and some thick, fat lamb tjops, and the night is quite pleasant, if a bit cold.

The horses that kept me company as the stars came out.

Offensive FootWear

Tip Ė I didnít have a braai grid that night, but instead of braaing the tjops inside my varkpan ((lit: pig-pan)camp cooking pot - army style) I turned the varkpan upside down and shoved it in between the coals. This made sure the tjop still had plenty of braai taste.

Day 5

Willowmore to Die Hel

Today was going to be the highlight of my trip.
I head out of town early as usual, and the first piece of road is long, straight and fast. For the first time I allow my speed to creep up a bit, because this piece of dirt from Willowmore to the N12 is good.

Some interesting rock formations on the way.

At the end of this dirt road I find a place which I had seen in many ride reports, but didnít even realize it was on my route. Poort Pourri. (Sadly, on my recent ride past there I stopped, only to find that this place does not exist anymore, it is now a private residence).

At the N12 I head south and get to ride the spectacular Meiringspoort in the Swartberg Nature reserve.

Just after the poort I turn West at De Rust, and soon after that I leave the highway and take the dirt road that runs South of the Nature reserve. It is a fantastic road running in the valley, well maintained and full of tight twisting turns.
I like skillies (tortoises). They are the only things that canít quickly run away from the embarrassment of being in the same photo as a KLR.

Stopping far too often for photographs, this road takes me longer than maybe it should, but it is well worth the extra time.

Look how green and lush the valley is.

Then I head North on the R328 towards Swartberg Pass, and soon my first worries start.
As Iíve said, I have a lot of dirt experience, but no real experience of dirt mountain-passes. The Swartberg Pass is a LOT steeper than I had thought it could be, and I take it slow, keeping my own safety in mind. I donít want another chance at lying next to my bike with a broken leg.

The road climbs and climbs, and then climbs some more. I stop often for photographs, the views are breathtaking. At The Top, the ice cold wind is also breathtaking, but this high on a mountain I suppose that is to be expected.

A few hundred meters further down the road I find the entrance to Die Hel, and head down this much-anticipated road.
Right at the entrance a large black snake passes the road in front of me, and for the rest of the weekend I keep my eyes open for more large black snakes, but donít see any. I realize Iím starving hungry, and stop for a lunch of biltong and dry wors.

My lunch spot.

A few 4X4 vehicles pass me, but mostly the road is quiet. On the mountain tops around me the clouds are rolling over, but nothing looking like real rain. Soon after I get going the road becomes interesting, and it keeps it up right down into the valley. I keep my eyes on the road and bring the bike to a dead stop when I want to take photographs or look at the scenery, the time I rode my bike off the cliff in Lesotho still a fresh lesson in my mind.

The view I had seen on so many ride reports. For a guy on a bike, that view holds a promise of paradise.

Right up to the last piece where the road head straight down, the road is not technically challenging, but it is hard work. There are many switchbacks, lots of steep up and downhills and four or five water crossings.
The water crossings are the biggest issue, as I paddle the bike through them and now have wet boots again.

Two of the by now well-documented water crossings.

Between the devil and the deep blue see. Or rather between the mud puddle and the cliffĖface. The road shoulder is washed away.

I ride carefully here.

The last piece down is another story though. I keep my eyes on the road, concentrate and donít even think of taking photographs on this stretch. It is much harder work for both me and the bike. I keep it in first gear, stand up and have to work the bike to get it down safely.
At the bottom I go and check my options for sleeping for the night. Strangely, a caravan is cheaper than camping, and once again I go soft and decide on clean bedding. There is only one other group of people there for the night, and I make things easy for the lady at the restaurant by telling her Iíll eat what she is making for the group, which turns out to be Lasagne. I do talk her into making me a salad though, which she does without any extra charge. And what a bowl of salad it was!
After booking in and paying I decide to ride to the end of the valley to see what it looks like. Itís very nice, and I must say I think that a one day visit is a bit of a waste, the place is worth walking from end to end.
Right near the very end is a bridge, and the river is flowing over the bridge. Itís early in the season though, and I reckon there wonít be any moss on the bridge. Famous last words, and moments later that joke I made about the Karoo water crossings comes back to bite me in the bum.

After unstrapping the top-heavy, water-drenched luggage and carrying it out of the river I go back to pick up the bike. Iíd been lucky that the bike had stopped against a post on the bridge, otherwise it might have gone over. Also, the river level over the bridge was low, so no water was sucked into the engine. I still find it amazing how fast I managed to hit the kill switch though!
So now I have wet boots, wet clothes, and wet gear. I learn that Ziplock bags, into which most of my stuff was packed, is rainproof, but not river-proof.
I ride to the caravan and after unpacking I ride in flipĖflops and without any gear first to pick up wood to make a fire and then to go and have supper.


Dropping my bike in the river must have demoralized me a bit, because I start worrying nonĖstop about how Iím going to get out of The Hel, and spend a difficult night trying to figure out how Iím ever going to get out of here.

Day 6

Die Hel to Carnarvon

Iím up early and pack the bike for the much dreaded ride out of The Hel. It might be because I am solo, but I have a big dread of dropping the bike and then struggling my arse off to pick it up. By 4:30 Iím up and getting ready, not able to sleep anymore because of worry.
I pack my luggage so that I can stop at each water-crossing and first carry my stuff over, then walk back to fetch the bike. I put my Camera in a ziplock back, and my cell goes into the cameraís bag.
What actually transpires is a great big fun trip out of The Hel. Once again it is hard work, but this time the bike does a lot more of the work than I have to. On the way up, after the first really steep part I stop to give the bike a chance to cool down while I take few photographs.

Again it is only the small water crossings that are a real bother, but I donít walk my luggage across as I had planned. Charged with adrenaline I ride them, and once again my boots get a soaking. In hindsight that was stupid, I should have walked them. Right at the end where the road once again joins the Swartberg Pass I get drenched by mist rolling off the mountains, but Iím sweaty from the ride, so I donít mind one bit. In fact Iím smiling in my helmet. By this time riding in the rain is something Iím used to, and the mist does nothing more than cool me down.

I cannot describe the feeling of having survived Gamkaskloof solo.
I go down Swartberg Pass, stopping only at the sign that says ďTeebergĒ for photographs.

Of course by now I feel like Superman on my bike. I take note of this, and force myself to go slower. Solo, idiot, youíre riding solo, take it easy!
Prince Albert is a nice enough town, but Iím chased with adrenaline from the mountain riding and I only fill up my tank, then shoot off into the Karoo again.

I still have to reach Carnarvon before night, and I have, without realizing it, set myself up for a hard and fun ride, through a place called Oukloof Pass.
There are three Oukloof Passes in South Africa, this one is on the way to Carnarvon from Prince Albert. The Koekemoers river runs through the valley, and you cross the river 23 times to get to the other side, 25 if you take into account that the GPS wanted me to take a route through a locked gate on a road that looked like it would only lead up to a farmhouse. Luckily for me the river is dry, but it has been flooding a day or so previously, and the sandy crossings are still damp, while there are large water pools in the dry riverbed.

If you ever get the chance to do this pass, go for it, it is a pleasure to ride.
Once out of the pass I have to give it stick to Carnarvon, as itís getting late.
Frazerburg is one hot place today! The locals are hiding from the sun, peeking out of shady spots to look at the mad sunĖcrazed monster biker taking photographs.

Only a few photographs, then I hit the dirt again. I still force myself to stop and smell the proverbial roses, and take some pictures.

I get to Carnarvon quite late, and after a refuel I head straight for the Carnarvon hotel. I find nobody at reception, but the town drunk points me to the bar area. Here they quickly give me a room, then open up the front door so I can park my bike in the reception area. I remember reading about this, itís a weird feeling pulling my bike in there.

I try to have a shower, but the town is having water problems and there is no pressure. Oh well, Iíll just have to have more beer in the bar then.
The Blikkies Bar is famous far and wide for more than just bikers getting drunk here. As we do.

I check out the menu and find nothing that looks good, but then find out that there is a braai place with a deep-freeze full of meat! Oh boy. At least the braai will kind of hide the smell of yours truly after 6 days on the road.

I try to chat to the locals, but thereís a girl from the Abatoir in the bar and theyíre all trying to catch her eye.†
The evening draws out, with a long chat with Francois the barman, who ends up giving me a sixpack of Black Lable beer and insisting that I take it on my travels with me the next day. Cheers Francois!
I go to bed very, very drunk, but well satisfied with the dayís riding.

Day 7

Carnarvon to Vanderkloof

I suppose the fact that I woke up with a hangover is a useless bit of information, but so it is. I only wake up at 7, then take an hour to pack and only roll out of town at 8.

The first 50 Kilometers of dirt to Vosburg is a killer, with large stones that rattle my hangover in my empty head. (Note: This road has now been tarred. Yep, blacktop all the way!)

From the start of the ride I am on the lookout for other bikes, knowing that it cannot be too long before I meet up with some of the Dogs coming up from the Cape.
At Vosburg I find Rassie, Legadema and Briv, together with Oubok and another lady. They are about to have breakfast, but I decide to push on. I have only a coke, deciding to stick to my rule of no drinking while riding. I wonít tell you what they were drinking. Especially not Rassie!

It turns out that some of the routes that showed as gravel is actually tar, and the road to Vanderkloof goes by at a fast pace.

Iím not going to say much about the bash in this ride report. Good enough to say that it was memorial, and I got absolutely smashed on both Friday and Saturday night.

Day 9

Vanderkloof to Alemanskraal dam

Today, I team up with Cave Girl, so Iím not riding solo anymore.

Our two bikes ready for some action

Early morning dawns over Vanderkloof

Cave Girl had an off on the way to the bash, so sheís a bit sore and stiff, but she frowns at me when I suggest we stick to tar.
When we do get to dirt, the road is in excellent nick, a real dirt highway, not the Karoo Corrugations (Capital letters intended) like I have been doing for the past few days.

Some game along the way

In Fouresmith we find a locomotive in the middle of the street, and there is a railway line running through the middle of town, although it looks unused.

A bit of gravel takes us through Jagersfontein, a little town that surprises me because I had heard bad things about it, yet it seems bright and cheery, and the houses are not all dilapidated as I was expecting.
In Bloemfontein two roads join at a fork. A truck coming from the front drops something over the side just as I pass. I almost have a heart attack knowing Cave Girl is riding right behind me, but she somehow manages to miss whatever it was.

Having lunch at the war museum and/or womenís museum.

When we leave it is so hot that I try out the Hydravest, those things that you soak in water and then ride with. This thing works like a bomb, and keeps me cool for more than an hour before it is dry and I have to take it off. It would probably have lasted much longer if I had not been wearing an airflow jacket. By the time I take it off the air had cooled down in anyway, so itís fine.
We also tried taking the highway, but it was soon apparent that it would be most unpleasant riding with all the cars, so we duly took the next off-ramp to get us back onto gravel.

One of the many beautiful churches we find in the small towns.

Some more dirt riding

At Allemanskraal dam we book into the Aldam estate, where CG requests we get a chalet instead of sleeping in a tent. Thank heavens, because frankly the wind blew a gale the whole night, and tenting would have been unpleasant. After a hearty meal we go for a shower, and Iím surprised when I look at the watch and realize itís already 11 oíclock when we get to bed.
I sleep like a dead man!
Sadly, my battery charger decided that it had had enough, and quit on me, so I could take no further pictures, and therefore I donít have any pictures of the Aldam Estate, or of the next days riding. Admittedly, the next dayís riding was just a full-blast on tar to get home.
Thank you for reading this report and sharing this ride with me. It is a spectacularly beautiful country that we live in, and it is really worth the while to get out there and explore those parts of it that we have not already seen.
(AKA - Leon de Kock)

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