It was some months back that it was decreed that a winter adventure would be in order. Sometime in May or June would work. What with the weather fairly settled and the seasonal CapeDr Workshop workload light enough to allow for some two wheeled time away from the city, things simply fell into place.
With the “permission slips” signed by our Better Halves we slipped into planning mode and it wasn’t long before things had been substantially hashed out and the relevant dot on the map selected.
Our Cape Town Correspondent, Gus, had decided to add an extra few days to his adventure and so in-spanned some of his local adventure crew for a trek through the magnificent Baviaanskloof. Apparently this ride took the lads along some lesser known routes. Perhaps there will be another story… Although, what happens in the Baviaanskloof may have to stay in the Baviaanskloof!
Anyhow, planning continued here in Kwa-Zulu Natal and it was decided that I would meet Gus in Nieu Bethesda. From Nieu Bethesda our goal would be to get to the confluence of the Orange and Vaal Rivers near the town of Douglas in the Northern Cape at which point we would part company and make our respective ways home.
On the day of departure, Kwa-Zulu Natal, or at least the area in which I live and a lot of the area through which I’d be riding on day one, was in the grip of some lousy weather… It was wet and chilly and with snow falls on the Southern Drakensberg, the outlook was not ideal! But as a commitment had been made, and with the prospect of some dry and slightly warmer weather after Estcourt, I headed out on the well packed BMW GS1200LC. As always when I am faced with adverse weather, I was extra cautious as I made my way up the N3 to my first stop at Winterton and the Pig and Plough for some fuel and hot coffee. Oh, and a brunch as well. It was very welcome and very good!
The weather had improved substantially and I was in great spirits as I tackled the Oliviershoek Pass to climb over the escarpment and into the Free State.
I had been looking forward to riding through the Golden Gate National Park again and was certainly not disappointed! The smooth tar roads, lovely curves and sublime views were all that I could have asked for! Just had to remember to watch the road and stop to look at the views!
Fouriesburg and the Fouriesburg Country Inn were my targets for the day. The inn was just as I had remembered it from a previous visit: homely and comfortable. Dinner was a wonderful home cooked affair and just a little romantic as my table was right next to a cozy fire. Alas, Dearheart wasn’t with me for this adventure… Next time, hopefully!
After a lovely farmhouse breakfast I departed Fouriesburg. The air was chilly at 6,5°C; but I saddled up and rode off: places to be, things to see! No complaints though: the GS has heated grips and if one is dressed for the occasion, all will be well!
Pretty soon after skirting Ficksburg, Ladybrand and Hobhouse I reached the junction of the R26 and the R702. The decision was easy: go straight. Left or right would have kept me on the tar but it was gravel that I was after! The R701 from just outside Wepener took me to Smithfield. This strip of gravel was just what I needed, or so I thought… At the junction I chatted to a fellow who had just come off the gravel and he was taking a break. He mentioned to me that the authorities were busy grading the road and there was about 7km of newly graded, but unfinished, road not too far along… “Oh well”, I said to my helmet, “we must do what we must do”. As it happened, the smell of freshly graded gravel soon filled my helmet and I came upon the dreaded layer of dry, soft and unsettling (for me) newly graded stuff. “Slowly catch the monkey” I quipped to nobody.
Well, after about 2km of this “stuff”, it was all over. The grader driver had parked his yellow Praying-Mantis lookalike to one side and was taking a break. I was very happy again! I saw only one or two other vehicles on the gravel as I made my way to Smithfield. Funny how the farmers’ bakkies (pick-up trucks) and their wives’ Volvos are always going fast…
It was a pleasant ride into Norvalspont where I spent the second night of the adventure. Now Norvalspont is probably not well known to many folk. It is a small town that lies just downstream of the Gariep Dam wall and from what I could tell, there seemed only to be a handy workshop for things mechanical that needed repair, the Glasgow Pont Hotel and I think a general dealer. This little spot had me thinking of Middelpos… Another small country town with a heart of gold. The Glasgow Pont Hotel (1 Main Street, Norvalspont, Phone: 051 755 5010) makes reference only to the night sky when it comes to stars, but I can tell you this: it is a clean, homely overnight stop. And there is a long bar to boot! My dinner was a home-made Venison Pie with fries and gravy! It was wonderful!
Do remember to visit the Gariep Dam wall if you are in the area. It was quite something to see the might of the Orange River being retained by this amazing concrete structure, never-mind seeing the entire Orange River forcing its way out through a single pipe! Yes, a very big pipe, but still…
Morning came all too quickly and I was soon on the GS again and headed for Colesberg for breakfast. Today I had to meet Gus. He had sneaked into Nieu Bethesda a day early and he kindly rode out of town to meet me somewhere along the N9 just after Middelburg. As I was topping up with fuel I received a picture of the sign under which I would find Gus. After one or two “stop-goes” as a result of construction work along the road I came across my adventure partner for the next few days. “This way” he chirped after our mutual greetings and a short break. He had found an alternative stretch of gravel that would take us into Nieu Bethesda. Well… It wasn’t long before we came upon a locked gate. The track we were riding along was shown on both the road map and the GPS as being a public road: we were a bit baffled… After chatting with a nearby farm worker it became clear: the farmers had locked the gates in an effort to thwart the poachers. Although the fellow had the key and was happy to open the gate for us, he said that there was a second gate “at the other side” which was also locked… he didn’t have the key for that one…
A little dejected, we re-traced our route back to the N9 and swung right at the first sign pointing to Nieu Bethesda. At last some gravel! We climbed into the hills, a scenic ride for sure. In fact, at the high point it was decided that a celebratory beer was in order: we chased the beers with some trail mix while toasting the grand views around us!
The Karoo Lamb, a restaurant and shop, beckoned after our “lap of honour” around Nieu Bethesda. Soon we were “stoep sitting” on the veranda watching the world go by. Well, if watching a donkey cart loaded with tourists, a local on his bicycle and another local on his motorbike go past is the world as it is known here; then ok. Such is life in Nieu Bethesda: slow cooked to perfection!
We were about halfway through our “stoepsit” when Paul and Lucie stopped to see that we had arrived safely. Our digs for the night, the Ibis Lounge is run and managed by Paul and Lucie. This establishment is very well run and was certainly very cosy. Our room was called the “Happy Room” and it was definitely that! Bright colours all over, underfloor heating, electric blankets, heated towel rails, TV and a double shower “nogal” All these comforts will tend to make most of us happy I guess! The food was brilliant, prepared to very high standards by Paul. We even had a roaring fire in the dining room! Fellow adventurers: This Ibis Lounge is grand, but perhaps better suited to taking your better half to! It’s not the cheapest spot, but for a special occasion well worth it! After a hearty Ibis Lounge breakfast we headed out of town towards the farm, Wildealsput, in the DeAar-Britstown district. This farm belongs to my Uncle and Aunt and they kindly let us stay over for a couple of nights. We effectively enjoyed a rest day with them and around the table at a typically Karoo meal of a free range lamb roast with fresh veggies, a few beers and many cups of coffee, we solved the problems of the world!
Our one memorable stop on the way to the farm was in the little town of Richmond. We supped upon a superb pizza for lunch and spent far too long enjoying this quaint little town whose claim to fame is the annual Book Fair. Or so we thought… It turns out that the Book Fair, important as it is, is not a huge affair, but rather an intimate sharing of the love of books (should intimate, sharing and love be in the same sentence in a tale of adventure?) and a few readings. Just goes to show you…
The time on the farm sadly had to come to an end. We took the pretty decent gravel road off the farm and headed towards Strydenburg on our way to the Northern Cape town of Douglas which was our next port of call. We agreed that a short tar detour to Hopetown was the right thing to do so that we could take a look at, and ride over the Old Wagon Bridge which crosses the Orange River and is located just outside the town.
The Douglas area is a patchwork of green lands, irrigated by the water from the Vaal and Orange Rivers, and came as a pleasant surprise after riding through much brown, dry countryside. The ride into Douglas presented a varied palette of road surfaces for us ranging from hard stony gravel to loose sandy conditions which I certainly wasn’t enjoying. Bruce + lack of skill + fully laden GS = not a very happy guy! Thankfully though, Gus stopped to review the map and happily (in terms of sandy roads, at least) we discovered that we had taken the incorrect side of a “Y” junction and were heading towards Victoria West! It’s not very often that one is happy to have taken a wrong turn! Actually, I was ecstatic!
What came next was quite brilliant! We rode along one of the best gravel roads I have tackled for a very long time. It ran adjacent to the railway line and we found ourselves breezing along at around 100km/hr! This is highly unusual for us: we are staunch proponents of taking things easy and taking the time to stop and enjoy the views. But there are times when conditions just all align themselves and life is good on the gravel!
Our stop for the night was at a camp site that Gus had stayed at previously. We paid the man his R100 per head and it wasn’t long before our tents were pitched and the frosties were being enjoyed on the banks of the Vaal River! Gus had nipped back into town to get the makings of our dinner, some firewood and a few more ales. There’s nothing much that beats sitting in our camp chairs at a crackling braai fire, with a cold one in hand as the sun sets after a long day on the bikes!
Supper was one of Gus’s specialities: Braai Broodtjies. Cheese and tomato sarmies toasted over the coals with a foot of the finest Boerewors gently sizzling nearby. “Pass me another beer please!”
The final day of our adventure together dawned clear. The low mist over the river hung like a veil in the chilly morning air as we brewed our morning cappuccino and stirred our instant oats… We were to visit the confluence of the Vaal and Orange Rivers this morning before Gus went West back to Cape Town and I went East back to KwaZulu Natal.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting at the confluence of two of the largest rivers in South Africa, but it turned out to be a meek and mild affair. One simply blending into the other. No drama! I suppose that when either, or both, of the rivers are in spate, things would be a whole lot different and no doubt would be quite a sight to behold! As a matter of interest, the Orange River, at 2200km in length is the longest river in South Africa with the Vaal River in third place at 1750km.
Sadly the viewing area at the confluence was in a state of disrepair. It seemed that the effort someone had gone to some time ago to provide information boards and public toilets meant nought… Things had been vandalised and were simply being left to fade into a lonely oblivion.
And so it was back on the road for the two adventurers. We bade each other safe travels and farewell at the junction with the R357. Honda Africa Twin west to Cape Town, BMW 1200 GS east to Pietermaritzburg.
I had planned a simple route, involving much blacktop, back to KwaZulu Natal. However I had thought that at least another gravel strip would be in order – I had seen on the map that I could take the R357 towards Kimberley, join the R64 to Boshof and Dealsville at which point I’d hit the R703 to Brandfort and stop for the night. I missed the turn off… I soon found myself heading towards Bloemfontein and the N1! Oh well, so be it! One of the joys of riding a bike is that plans can change on the fly… I stopped at the Engen One Stop outside Bloemfontein for fuel, a meal and a break. As it happened, I ended up having a free half chicken burger and chips. The chicken fillet was inedible – not even the steak knife provided was able to make a dent in it! I summoned the manageress and to her credit, after trying to cut the fillet which shot off the plate, she announced that the kitchen staff would be hearing from her and that I was to “have this one me”…
The plan was now to reach Marquard for the night. After about sixty kilometres of N1, I swung right and headed down the R708 to Marquard. The road was littered with potholes and due caution was exercised. Watching out for these dangers along with staying vigilant for any animals leaping out of the tall grass that lined the roadside was quite tiring after a longish day in the saddle!
I did a lap of Marquard which had closed itself down – it was mid-afternoon on a Sunday – what was I expecting? Anyway, I called a number listed on a B&B sign and the friendly lady aimed me at my digs for the night. Five star! But nowhere was open in town for dinner so I broke out my tinned meatballs in spaghetti, heated it in the microwave and served dinner. This was followed with a mini Ultramel custard and Kitkat chocolate for dessert! Not too shabby hey! After dinner I languished in a wonderful deep bath, soaking away the day’s stresses…
The final day of the journey arrived. It was chilly as I packed the bike for the last time on this adventure. I was looking forward to the last stretch and after paying the B&B lady (R750 for the night without breakfast I felt was somewhat steep…), I moved gently out of town, still frowning at the cost of a bath and a good night’s sleep! Hell, I had even washed all the dishes I had used! The Ibis Lounge in Nieu Bethesda started to look like great value!
The route home took me back along some of the roads I had used seven days back. I found it quite pleasant going the other way, past Clocolan, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg and Clarens. Of course the ride through Golden Gate was just as grand too!
The big GS was running well and I fairly cruised past the Sterkfontein Dam and down the Oliviershoek Pass back into home territory in KwaZulu Natal. Home was calling. I arrived mid-afternoon, patted Jabulani the GS and started to unpack.
Here are some of the approximate basic travel statistics for interest:
- Trip Distance: 2450km
- Fuel economy: 21 km/litre (about 4.8 l/100km)
- Fuel cost: R1410
- Accommodation & meals: R2960
- I fitted a pair of Michelin Anakee Wild tyres to the GS before the trip. After around 2600km the tread depth has gone from 10mm (new) to 7mm after a good mix of tar and gravel. I found the tyres to be excellent.
- Tyre pressures used: Front: 2.2 bar, Rear: 2.4 bar.
Till next time, keep the rubber side down!