Photos in this article by myself and by photographer Bruno Gila who was my guide on the tour
South Africa is a land of contrasts and adventures. Compared to small, flat, densely populated and cultivated Denmark, South Africa offers huge wilderness areas with mountains, rivers and wild uninhabited nature. It is hence a wonderful place to spend your holidays and it offers so many hotels, game lodging places and restaurants that it is very easy as a tourist to find accommodation and eating options, that you do not even need to book in advance.
All you need is a suitable vehicle like an off-road capable motorcycle or a 4 by 4 car with low gear range. Notice that public transportation is not really available nor suitable for tourists, and my friends have told me that taxies are driven by drivers having very little feeling for safe driving to say it mildly. I have several times seen taxis driving wildly though dense traffic using the horn like a siren.
After the Rolling Vikings fantastic motorcycle tour in Namibia in 2013 Bruno Gila had now planned a tour for 2014 taking us from Pretoria down to Eastern- and Western Cape Provinces to experience some of the worlds most beautiful off-road areas, with Baviaanskloof and Die Hel as the highlights of the tour.
This article describes our tour day by day, listing the major cities we passed, so it can be used as a tour guide in case someone would like to take the same route.
The route we took on this tour - excluding Baviaanskloof and Die Hel - is well suited for beginners as it starts easy and gradually increases in difficulty level. The first 100-200 hundred km of gravel roads are well suited for off-road beginners, flat and in good condition. The next 100-200 km has slightly increased difficulty level with 5-10 % slopes on lightly eroded surface with good margins to dangerous road edges, free fall and death. Hence you will graduately increase your skill level as the tour progresses.
Riding through Baviaanskloof and Die Hel is however quite a different story. These roads has many parts with up to more than 20% slope on very eroded surface and often no margin to dangerous road edges, free fall and certain death. So do not ride through these roads unless you have the required skills.
We left Pretoria shortly after 8 am when the worst rush hour traffic was fading away. The traffic on the highways in the Pretoria - Johannesburg area is quite intense, but not worse than can be expected near such large cities every where else in the world.
Going south-south-east from Johannesburg via N3 the temperature increased so after a couple of hours driving we felt a little drowsy and stopped for coffee at a very nice antiques shop just next to exit number 107 (coordinates -27.551237,28.84057). Everywhere we went to eat in such places in South Africa I was deeply impressed with how well maintained and how nicely decorated buildings and surroundings are. Very often decorations are made with old farmer machinery and tools (see above middle picture) or simply old junk stuff as will be evident from many of the pictures later in this article.
Passing Harrismith we headed south west via R74 and R712 towards Golden Gate Highlands National Park which unfolded itself on both sides of the tar road with green plains and red mountains. I spotted Springbok, Wilderbeast, Blesbok, Oryx, Zebra and Ostrich in great numbers.
Shortly after coming out Golden Gate we stopped for lunch in the middle of the beautifull small village Clarens at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains just 10 km from the Lesotho border. Clarens has become known as the "Jewel of the Free State" due to the beautiful nature, the tranquillity and the art and craft shops. Just see the two pictures below from the decorative parking area outside the small restaurant which is hidden behind the wind mill.
Some 150 km out of Clarens we stopped for coffee and a enjoyed the local art decorations. Bruno
was thrilled by the scooter, because driving Vespa scooters in Italy with
Vespa Culinary Tours Eatalia
is his second passion.
Enjoy this movie from one of his tours!
The scrap art on the right picture below is made from old cars. It is impressive how much the South African people put into art work and how well maintained their houses and surroundings are. Notice that you don't see any litter on my many pictures - in fact you don't even see any litter bins! People apparently keep their litter in pockets until they get home or near a litter bin - nice. And the salary level for employees is so low that they can afford cleaning and decorating.
Late in the afternoon we approached Wepener via a tar road with many deep and wide pot holes, so we had to keep a sharp lookout. After a few minutes search inside the city we found Lord Frazer Guest House (tel: +27 82 579 1822 mail: email@example.com), booked a room and parked our bikes in the yard behind the hotel. After a meal in the hotel restaurant, some bears and tour planning for the next day we went to bead early as we would make an early start in the morning.
Route: Wepener > Smithfield > Bethulie > Venterstadt > Steynsburg > Hofmeyr > Cradock > Pearston > Jansenville > Addo > Patensie > Tia Ghee Tent Camp.
We left Fraizer hotel very early at 05.00 without having breakfast, as we had planned quite a long route for the day. Coming out from Wepener we soon hit the first gravel road, some 100 km leading to Smithfield. It was flat, comfortable and easy, so we did not lower tire pressure, because we expected alternating tar and gravel throughout the day.
The gravel roads this day also offered a little climbing - not more than about 10% slope and neither difficult nor dangerous. So if you have no - or very little experience - with off-road driving this would be a perfect road to take. I hope I will be able to take my adult children this way in the future.
Two times this day driving through the Karoo Desert I saw spitting cobras on the road heating themselves in the sun. One of them lifted its head half a meter above ground, spread out is neck and hissed at me as I passed it with just 1.5 meter distance. I'm told that safety distance with spitting cobras is 3 meter, as they can spit their venom quite far. Heavy boots and goggles are hence reasonable safety gear to wear!
We stopped at Thamela Farmstall for coffee and biltong just 5 km north of Jansenville on R75 (coordinates 32°53'55.90"S / 24°41'19.22"E). Here Tilana Backeberg served home made juicy and tasteful game biltong. Game biltong is cured and dried meet made from Kudu, Oryx, Eland and other antelopes and even ostrich. It is excellent to bring on off-road tours as a fast snack for when you are hungry and still have hours to drive before coming to a restaurant. Tilana also urged us to try her famous Kudo pie, but at 15.30 in the afternoon we were not yet ready for more.
Bruno demonstrated the many ways to wear the buf that he always carries on his off-road trips. The buf is a universal clothing item used for protection against everything: cold, sun burning your neck, dust entering mouth or nose, collar scratching your neck and helmet bending and hurting your ears when you take it on and off 50 times a day, sun stroke.
When I mentioned the two spitting cobras I had seen on the road this morning to Tilana, she pointed to one of her two large German Dogs, and explained that they yesterday had made a lot of noise while fighting a 2 meter long spitting cobra. The dogs had indeed managed to kill the snake and one of the dogs had then slept through the hole afternoon upon all the excitement. My guess was that the dog had actually received some of the snakes venom, but had been able to survive it.
Arriving to Patensie it was utterly dark when we had finished tanking and Bruno announced that he
could not find our destination Tia Ghee Tent
Camp on his GPS, and he was unable to reach Eric by phone! (later I found the coordinates at
the road sign to be S33°4306 E24°4432).
Eric was waiting for us at the tent camp together with Raymond and was out of cell phone coverage. Asking around at the tank station nobody could tell us where this tent camp was, until I asked 3 policemen just leaving the tank station. Hurray - they knew where it was and helpfully escorted us 4 km out of town and pointed to a sign at the road side saying Tia Ghee Tent Camp - and behind that sign seemed to be nothing but dark and dense forest on a mountainside! And also a narrow gravel track leading into and up through the forest.
So we went off-road in unknown terrain in the dark night. After 3 km on that road with several turns and bends and side roads we came to a sign with Tia Ghee hanging upside down and an arrow pointing left we decided to turn right. After another km we finally came to the camp via very narrow tracks and parked the bikes between the trees. Here we were greeted by Eric and Raymond and lead over a small stream and up a steep hillside using battery lamps to be able to see anything in the darkness.
Eric escorted me about 100 meters further into the 'jungle' via a narrow track passing several dark green tents, and the last tent was reserved for me. It had a very comfortable queen size bed with a 12 volt lamp on a small table (image above left). Next to the tent was a very small and primitive shed with toilet and shower. In fact this was indeed a luxury tent camp. After unpacking and change of clothes I walked back along the trail - thank good for my excellent head lamp - and to the camp fire, where I was handed a beer and formally introduced to Eric's friend and college Raymon, both of them very experienced adventure riders with many many years of off-road riding. I was clearly once again in the midst of people with much more off-road experience than myself - just like in Rumania - two years ago. The thought of this was very challenging but also a little bit frightening.
In fact Eric and Raymond are not just expert off-road riders. They are also experts on BMW motorcycles and BMW cars, as they are since many years owners and managers of BMW shops in Johannesburg and George, so off-road driving is indeed an integral part of their life style (we visited the BMW shop in George two days after, as you will see later in this article).
Next morning I took a few pictures of the beautiful camp site. The roads did not look nearly as scary in bright daylight as they did by night time.
This was the day I had been waiting for with excitement and admittedly a little fright, because we were now starting out towards the famous Baviaanskloof which is a World Heritage Site with unspoiled nature and an extreme diverse landscape having multiple mountain passes and deep river crossings.
Coming to the entry of Baviaanskloof we were met by a giant disclaimer of liability sign warning us about all kinds of hazards (picture above left). There are long parts of the road which can only be passed with 4by4 cars having low range gear and high ground clearance, or with off-road bikes able to pass through 1 meter deep water depending on resent rainfall. It is hence what Bruno refers to as advanced adventure riding and not for off-road beginners!
In case you don't have sufficient off-road experience, you can still experience a large part of Baviaanskloof by driving in from the western end, and then simply turn around when/if you find it too difficult. You can maybe even pass the wide river crossing by walking the bike through the river, helping each other. Your boots and pants will get wet inside anyway you do it.
Remember that there is close to 200 km to the next fuelling opportunity, so you'd better make sure you have enough fuel and water, and also enough time before night fall! There are camping and lodging possibilities though.
The article is still under preparation. As time allows, I will add more pictures and details.
More details to come ...
Further details to come ...
In the late afternoon we arrived at Eric's game lodge named Hartenbos Private Game Lodge where we were bid welcome by his wife Chrissie. After rapid luggage demounting, it did not take long before Eric had equipped us with a refreshingly cold beer. Below right is Francois enjoying his beer on the veranda.
Chrissie's and Eric's home is not like anything I have seen before. It is very large, arranged in two levels with many cosy places where you can sit together in large or mall groups, with artistic furniture, decorations, bar and billiard table. I hope these pictures are able to bring this properly to you, and don't forget to click on them to enjoy the large versions.
I was absolutely fascinated by the very special and beautiful sofa table created from a giant tree root (below left).
Although somewhat late in the day we had a lovely ride through the surrounding area seeing several kinds of antelopes, wildebeest and giraffe. Eric's 4-wheeler even has a game catcher seat on the front hood!
Chrissie and Eric prepared a delicious meal with biltong and beers for startes, followed by grilled game meat, red wine and desert.
We each had our own room for the night. Also here beautiful art and luxury stood in great contrast to the more primitive facilities we normally experience on our off road trips.
Hartenbos Private Game Lodge coordinates are S34°242 E21°5941.
After an early and delicious breakfast at Hartenbos Private Game Lodge we (Eric, Francois, Bruno and I) started out towards Swartberg Pass via Oudtshoorn. The first few km from the lodge were on gravel road, and after some 120 km on tar we reached the gravel road leading up to Swartberg Pass and stopped to reduce tire pressure.
Swartberg Pass is marked as point B on the above map, and is marked with a red arrow on the very detailed
map here below.
This is were the road to Hell begins, its formal name is Otto Du Plessis Road. On the map it is marked as Bad under both dry and wet conditions and only for high clearance vehicles only. If you are in a 4x4 drive car it must have low gear range as the road is very steep and narrow with sharp curves in many places, so it is essential that the car can climb very slowly. Also do not attempt to take this road on motorcycle, unless you are on an off-road motorcycle and is qualified for advanced adventure riding.
THE ROAD IS DANGEROUS and it marked as such on a sign at the entry point simply stating:
"Dangerous Road for 48 km! Use at own risk!".
First 30 km of the road to Die Hel leading up to Elandspad Pass (reproduced with kind permission from Slingsby Maps).
The above picture is an extraction from a very detailed map over Swartberg and Klein-Karoo produced by Slingsby Maps and is of very high quality. The map is sold both on-line and in specialized camping shops in South Africa. Slingsby Maps offer a whole series of maps covering interesting parts of South Africa at very reasonable prices, so I strongly recommend to by them on-line in good time for planning your tour.
The road to Hell and back offers fantastic scenery and dangerous roads. We could only take pictures from the easy parts where Bruno Gila could park his bike. Climbing the steep and narrow parts with eroded and rough surface was not for beginners. Meeting oncoming 4x4 cars added to the excitement, because there was little or no room for mistakes. Eric actually was knocked over on his bike by an oncoming 4x4 car with a driver that did not want to stop, very likely because his clutch might not allow him to start climbing again!
River crossings were frequent, some of them with very muddy water where you can not see the bottom, and
others were via concrete bridges covered with clear water. General rule in the muddy crossings: stay away
from the middle. Ride in the left or right tracks created by the 4x4 cars! If you drive in the middle, or
too far towards the sides, you will eventually fall. I forgot this while going through the very last water
hole before reaching the end of the road in Die Hell. I rode near the middle and suddenly the front wheel
skidded left and down deep. I fell right and landed very hard on my right shoulder - ouch!
Arriving to Hell a few minutes later, Eric's comment when he saw the mud on my bike was "oh - You bought land!"
Speaking of water - from rain, in rivers and holes - you may have noticed on several of the pictures that my packing includes a 50 liter duffel bag from All Terrain Gear. This ATG bag is light weight, strong, water tight and has very convenient straps for fixation to the bike. Its the same bag I used on the tour to Namibia the year before, so it has taken quite some beating. When I came back from this trip to South Africa, I discovered 1 small hole and 4 almost-through holes in the bottom of the bag that I have now repaired. Click here for a DIY article about the ATG Duffel Bag Repair
To be continued ...
More details to come ...
Route: Sutherland > Fraiserberg > Loxtown > Victoria West > Bristown > De Arr > Philips Town > Petrusvill > Van Der Kloof > Orange River > Luckhof > Coffefontain > Petrusburg > Bloemfontain.
... Emoya Estate Shanty Town tin huts ... more details to come ...
Details to come ...
Details to come ...
Details to come ...
Details to come ...
Wood artist Maringire in the morning.
Tour with Charl and his 12 year old daughter Linnι.
The gardener Solly and the pottere Jonatan.
Boikhutso and Cate from Rostenburg Borite Skating Club.
More details to come ...
Endurance in Rumania - A Fantastic Experience
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