The directions came from Roger at the Oban Guest Farm gate as we came up to the junction with the main road:
“Left or right?”
It wasn’t long before the familiar and reassuring sound of good gravel under the wheels had its usual calming effect on us as we rode gently down the road towards the Wilge River and the next junction. The views were simply brilliant; lush green paddocks, herds of cattle doing what cattle do best and the distant crags and crevices that made up the amazing mountains that were sprinkled across the highland plains. The name given to one of these mountains was conjured up many years ago as a result of the use of another type of horsepower that was in use back in the day… The mountain known as “Kiesbeen” is said to resemble the jawbone of a horse and I guess that somewhere along the line a farmer perhaps honoured his fallen horse by naming the mountain after seeing its skeleton picked clean by scavenging vultures.
And so back onto the gravel… Roger and Pat lead the way, following routes on the Garmin that had been conjured up in the office while dreaming of finer things than work on a computer monitor. We had stopped for a few minutes so that Sharon could shoot a little with the new video camera she had been tasked to operate. Once back on the bike, Dearheart was in her element, barely holding on and filming as we rode. Roger commented later that “I’m not even going to offer Sharon any video-ing advice, she’s a natural so let her just get on with it!” Wonderfully encouraging words from the professional photographer leading our adventure!
It wasn’t long before we came upon the tar road that would lead us to De Beer’s Pass. Super blacktop, in amazing condition, begging to be ridden. But that was not to be, not right now… A turn off to the Bedford Dam appeared and we decided to find out from the security guard at the gate if we could mosey on down and take a look at the dam. “Sho, no problem”, came the friendly reply. Soon we were whizzing along another spectacular tarred road, sweeping bends and wonderful vistas opening up as we rode. On arrival at the dam wall there was a sign explaining things: The Bedford Dam is part of the Ngula Pumped Storage Scheme, one of Eskom’s gravity fed hydro-electric generating plants. Water is pumped up to the Bedford Dam when the draw on the electricity grid is low and then in when more power is needed, the turbines built deep underground are gravity fed with rushing water to generate electricity. All very neat and dare we say, reasonably environmentally friendly to boot!
Anyway, De Beer’s Pass was lying patiently in wait… The superb tarmac was smooth and inviting and even the little Honda CRF’s relished the opportunity to drag their foot pegs! Who am I kidding? I am no Valentino Rossi and the CRF250L is hardly a sports bike.
And Dearheart was perched on the back, video camera in hand just waiting to plant a well aimed shot to the ribs!
And let’s not even go down the road of riding prowess, or rather, lack thereof! But hey – it was wonderful to cruise De Beer’s Pass even though the sexy, grandiose MotoGP fantasies were soon crushed by the reality of the whine of an off-road knobbly tyre fighting blacktop…
By now the day had warmed up considerably and after swinging right and traveling on some more great gravel alongside the railway line it was decided that we should find a suitable spot for lunch. “Let’s see what lies beyond yonder hillock” I said to Roger who agreed: “Lead on squire”. A short way along the track we came upon a small patch of grass adjacent to it and within about five minutes we had set out the contents of our Oxford tail packs and were supping on sarmies and cappuccino. Oh, and tea… You know, this tea stuff on an adventure is pretty cool – while waiting for the tea to properly steep we are given time to savour the wild places we find ourselves in. Herds of Nguni cattle mingled on the veld with goats and the occasional wooly sheep. It was all most pleasant, although the beating sun soon had us readying ourselves for the onward trail. We were now heading back towards Van Reenen and thus began the short climb back up the escarpment that De Beer’s Pass had taken us down. There was to be some excitement – a tunnel was indicated on the Garmin GPS! “What? A tunnel?” I exclaimed to Roger. “Lead on” he nodded.
Okay, so what’s going on here? The ride leader offering me the opportunity to ride into the darkness first… I had to wonder about this; was this a sinister ploy to allow me to meet the train first? Or were there ghosts of adventurers past that wanted to reach out their mouldy skeleton hands and tear us from our mounts?
Right – let’s clear things up immediately: I was properly mistaken by thinking that the tunnel was for a railway line… This tunnel was built for road faring vehicles! “And the ghosts?” you ask – well that was just for creative licence, if there is such a thing! The tunnel was fun. It was short, and almost as soon as we rode into the dark the light at the end of the tunnel appeared! The road after the tunnel continued upwards and eventually we arrived in the hamlet of Van Reenen. We made our way to the Green Lantern Inn and enjoyed some light refreshments in the shade of a tree in one of the prettiest gardens I’ve seen in a long time. The little Silky Hen and her chicks even seemed well relaxed. It was resolved to re-visit this Green Lantern Inn someday; we were that impressed!
We had noticed the build up of some storm clouds and after paying the Lady of the Pub we took to the gravel and made our way back to our digs at the Oban Guest Farm. We just made it before the heavens opened! Our pillions were well pleased about this!
It was indeed a great day out on the little CRF250L’s. We managed about 110km in total and were grateful to be able to take a late afternoon power nap before what turned out to be a wonderful home cooked dinner prepared by Kim and her assistant, the conversation centred around the day’s riding, the fine reds that we’d brought along contributing in no small way to the geselligheid! We slept well…
Sunday morning saw some of us up and about fairly early. I wanted to get a few pictures in the early morning light and so strolled up the hill behind the guesthouse. I was greeted by a few members of the local Nguni herd and a lovely view of the surrounding mountains, well, those that weren’t hidden by the morning mist. Photos captured I drifted back to the coffee station and made a mug with Roger who had also popped up. I, keen to maintain the brownie point level, brewed a cup of tea for Dearheart…
Breakfast, prepared by Kim, was just what you’d expect when staying at a guest farm and all that needs to be said about it was that we certainly would not need food for the rest of the day! Kier, Kim’s husband, regaled us with the story of and the purpose behind the Oban Guest Farm as well as all the good riding to be had in the area…. “Shall we ride?” Of course! Kitted up, we hit the starter buttons and headed for the gravel.
The riding plan for the day was to take that “same left at the main road as yesterday”, only this time we were to turn left at the junction near the Wilge River. The plan for the day was to ride around the rear of the other nearby biggish mountain, Nelson’s Kop, and make our way to Colling’s Pass.
The gravel was good, the bikes were running well, the weather was lovely and Pat and Sharon were happy. In other words, life was fantastic! After a short stop at the Wilge River for some photos we rode on and pretty soon came upon a crossroad.
There was some familiarity here for me and it seemed that we should turn right but Mr Garmin appeared to have other plans… It was only a few hundred meters after we turned left that Mr Garmin realised the error of his ways and instructed us to make a U turn. Now back on the correct track we enjoyed more wonderful views and stopped often for pictures. This was adventure biking heaven! Good gravel interspersed with some rocky bits and even some tweespoor here and there. And all the while Dearheart was happily filming, sometimes barely holding on! We came across, and stopped at, a particularly photogenic stream crossing. Many pictures were taken. By now the weather had also warmed up somewhat and we were keen to stop for our picnic. It was resolved to continue along the track for a while and find another suitable spot.
We eventually stopped at the head of Collings Pass. Again the contents of our Oxford tail packs was spread out in the veld and we enjoyed our cappuccinos and tea. The mini Pecan Nut Pies that I had brought along had not travelled all that well… (Note to self: think more carefully about how well baked snacks will travel on the back of a CRF. And also remember to take the milk for Dearheart’s tea…). But they were still delicious. Anyway, the picnic stop was fantastic! We stood looking out over KwaZulu Natal, looking green and lush. Sadly we needed to be on our way again. The gravel track had become a gravel road and we picked up the pace, dropping down off the escarpment, making our way back towards De Beer’s Pass. The gravel morphed into tar and we soon came across the sign indicating that we should bear right to go up the pass. The road going up was just as much fun as it had been going down the day before. Only this time things were somewhat slower… At the top we joined the now familiar gravel road back to Oban Guest Farm and would you believe it – we had just finished the always sad task of packing up after a marvellous weekend of adventure biking, and the rain came down; properly! They say timing is everything…
The Sunday morning ride had us doing another hundred odd kilometers in some awesome countryside! We had also noticed some other tracks that needed exploration and so a return visit now forms part of the “big picture”!
Despite the breakfast we decided to stop at Maharaj’s at the Caltex Filling Station on the N3 at the top of Van Reenen’s Pass. The curry was superb to say the least and we can highly recommend a stop if you are ever driving that part of the road. It is well worth it!
Motorbike Safaris’ Advisor
Road Conditions: The roads vary from superb black top through excellent gravel sections to fairly rough twin track. Our Honda CRF250L’s managed the whole thing with ease as would the average 650’s and large adventure bikes although a little more care may be needed in places if you are riding one of the latter bikes.
Where to stay: We stayed at the Oban Guest Farm (really excellent value). Oaklands Country Manor offers a more upmarket and more expensive alternative as does the Green Lantern in Van Reenen.
What to take: The riding is not extensive so a couple of magazines wouldn’t go amiss. We took our own wine and beer along which seemed fine by Oban and you will need sustenance for the rides if you feel like stopping.
Hope you enjoy the video:
Bruce and Sharon Houghting and Roger and Pat de la Harpe