Valley of Desolation

South Africa Motorcycle Holiday 2015

Firstly I have to say Wow!! Riding a motorcycle in South Africa is an amazing experience, which redefined my perception of the South African culture and landscape. My choice to go on a motorcycle trip in South Africa partly driven by not having many options available during December, and the limited time available due to work commitments.

I hadn’t been to South Africa before, and had originally planned to subscribe to a guided tour for extra peace of mind. However due to the limited interested in a guided tour during December, the only option available was a self-guided tour. I was initially hesitant to undertake a self-guided tour in an unfamiliar country with a dangerous reputation in certain areas, but this perception quickly melts away when you start riding and meeting people on your journey.

Bike and gear

A few of bike hire options were available, the BMW F650, F800 or R1200GS. I’m not a big fan of the boxer engine BMWs primarily due to hitting my shins on the engine, so I decided to opt for the F800. The F800 offers a slightly higher seat and riding position which suits my 6ft 4inch frame. The bike was fitted to two hard panniers and top box, which provided plenty of space for luggage for the trip, and daily items such as water, and a small complement of spares and maintenance items.

  • Lightweight armoured jacket with removable armour. The jacket is light enough to wear as a casual jacket with armour removed, which saves having to wear another jacket or fleece during the evenings and to and from the airport.
  • Kevlar armoured jeans. Wearing leather jackets and trousers is not practical, and you will be sweating unbearably during the summer season. Armoured synthetic trousers are also good, but the jeans offer the added benefit of being easier to wear off the bike and save you carrying additional clothes.
  • Hydro pack / rucksack. The summer temperatures in South Africa make biking a thirsty experience, so keeping hydrated is important for maintaining concentration when riding for long periods of time. I previously made the mistake of not buying a hydro pack when riding in Thailand in 2012, and didn’t want to be caught out again in South Africa.
  • Trainer style biker boots. Whilst wearing normal style biker boots offer more protection than the trainer style boots, the trainer style is more practical and also saves packing large biker boots as part of your luggage.
  • Summer biking gloves. I experienced some rain in the mountains near Oudtshoorn, but not enough to warrant packing wet riding gear.
  • Workout / gym t-shirt. I packed a few of these shirts because they help regulate your body temperature when you start to sweat.
  • Flip-front crash helmet with a built in sun visor. The flip front makes life a bit easier when you have to stop and take pictures or take a drink for your hydro pack. The built in sun visor makes the transition from day to night riding easier, and sun glasses are not impact rated in case of a an accident.
  • Soft inner pannier bags. Although not necessary, it does make life a bit easier when transferring your luggage from the bike to hotel, rather than having to unclip the hard cases and remount.
  • Helmet mounted camera. I had previously used bullet style cameras in the past, however my old system was low resolution and an upgrade was required. After looking at the pros and cons of the GoPro range I decided not to go down the GoPro route and purchase the ION Pro camera. The specification was good enough and the camera was very easy to operate. The negative was the lack of a built in view screen, so you have to set-up the correct position of the camera using test record or connection to the ION application on your smartphone.

Cape Town to Cape Agulhas

Although I had opted for a self-guided tour, Tony France from 20151207_140707http://sa-motorcycle-tours.com/ rode out with me to Cape Agulhas on my first day, which helped a lot when getting to know an unfamiliar bike and country. When I had transferred luggage from my suitcase to the bike, I left my suitcase and other non-essentials at the rental location, then we started to make our way to Cape Agulhas. I used to own a Yamaha TDM 850 in the USA which is I used for many road trips, and the BMW F800 felt very similar after a few miles had passed.

After leaving the suburbs of Cape Town the traffic starts to get much lighter as we start to head up the coast. We stop for a quick rest at False Bay to take in the view and a quick check of bike and equipment. False Bay is a nice introduction to the South African coastline with morning mist rolling in from the surf and light winds blowing the sand across the road. After heading up through the twisting costal roads we start to head slightly inland, passing through vast areas farm land with rape seed crops stretching out in to the horizon.

Cape Agulhas to Plettenberg Bay

CapeAgAfter saying goodbye to Tony, I headed out of Cape Agulhas bound for Plettenberg Bay. The journey starts by following the coast road out of Cape Agulhas before heading in land, which provides an amazing landscape of fields stretching far in to the horizon. After passing through the vast fields the landscape becomes greener with trees and plantations, which takes me through the historic town of Swellendam. The ride through Swellendam was my first view of a Dutch styled colonial town, with beautiful buildings and tree line streets.

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After Swellendam I ride through Mossel Bay, and start to see thicker forests and beautiful lakes before riding alongside the Knysna lagoon to Plettenberg Bay. After I’d unpacked and freshened up at Laird’s Lodge, I headed out to a restaurant which overlook the beach for a well-deserved seafood platter and glass of South African wine!

Plettenberg Bay to Addo

20151208_170816After a wonderful evening Plettenberg Bay it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful Plettenberg Bay, and head for Addo. The road from Plettenberg Bay takes me through amazing forests and twisting mountain roads, which steadily becomes more arid as the road takes me further inland. The twisting roads through the mountains provides great riding, and plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the landscape. I start to notice more farms and plantations which are growing Aloe plants, and decide to stop at one of the plantations which offer Aloe products. It was a surprise to me the number products which use extracts from the Aloe plant, so I decided to purchase a few items as gifts for friends when I returned home.

As I near my destination, the sun starts to set, and I get to experience an20151208_131024 African sunset with a burning orange sun which you get to see on so many African documentaries and films. When arrive at my lodge and have unpacked, the evening sounds are transformed by the nocturnal wildlife which surrounds the dining area. I spend a few hours enjoying wonderful African cuisine, helped down by some extremely nice local wine.

Addo game drive

The following morning I headed towards the Addo National Park for a 20151210_155635pre-organised game drive. On arrival at the national park, I stock up on bottled water and also refill my hydro backpack to ensure I keep hydrated. After registration, you find a nice place to sit inside the safari truck before heading out on the game trail. The first sections of the trail is paved, so getting pictures and videos is easier whilst moving, but later sections are rough ground and very bumpy, which makes filming more difficult.

During the day I saw several large herds of elephants, often with youngsters following their mother, joined by truck to tail. It was an amazing experience to see then up close in a natural environment, and they seemed undisturbed by the safari vehicles when they moved past. I also saw families of kudu and zebra (striped and unstriped), warthogs, and large leopard tortoises. The game reserve also a home for large predators such as leopards and lions, but the numbers a relatively small and they are very difficult to spot in the thick scrub which covers large parts of the park.

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Addo to Graff Reinet

20151211_101310I decided to make an early start from Addo to make the most of the cooler morning climate before the temperature started rise towards midday. The planned route travels through the historic Eastern Cape, well known for the battles between the Africans and colonial settlers. As I get further away from Addo, the road starts to ascend in to mountains, which provides spectacular riding and views as the road twists and turns. Upon arriving in Graff Reinet through outer suburbs, the Dutch colonial architecture makes you feel as if you have been transported back to Europe. The tree lined streets and beautiful buildings make Graff Reinet a very picturesque town, with the added benefit of the African sunshine and climate.

Graff Reinet to Oudtshoorn

After enjoying a wonderful evening in Graff Reinet, I make an early20151212_102525 start for Oudtshoorn, but decide to take a sight-seeing detour via the Valley of Desolation, which provides an amazing view of Graff Reinet and beautiful rock formations. The road to the Valley of Desolation climbs up through a mountain range, with switchbacks steep drop-offs. There are several walking trails to observe the rock formations and local plant life, so I decided to take a short trail walk due to the altitude and rising heat.

After spending an hour or so at the Valley of Desolation, I started to make my way back down the mountain in to open plains towards Oudtshoorn, where I saw my first Ostrich running alongside the road. I thought that it would make an interesting take on the roadrunner cartoons if had decided to chase after it on my motorbike, but decided that Ostrich’s off-road skills were probably much better than mine.

The route from Graff Reinet to Oudtshoorn provided an amazing contrast between huge open spaces of open scrubland to lush 20151212_102625farming areas nestled in the mountains. The final 100 kilometres started to resemble the mountains of Wales of Scotland, with moisture in the air and heavy leaden clouds concealing the mountain top. As if to provide an authentic British welcome, it started raining heavily for the last 30 kilometres as I passed through De Rust and Delport. My lightweight jacket kept the worst of the rain out, needed a few ours to dry out when I reached my final destination, an ostrich farm come hotel.

Oudtshoorn to Swellendam

The extra rest day in Oudtshoorn helped me take a break from riding, 20151213_181210and dry out my riding gear. It was also very nice to experience the sights and sounds of the farm, and see how the local community came together for socialising and traditional events. On the morning of departure from the farm, the sunny warm weather had broken through and I was treated to a pleasant ride through sparsely populated mountains before arriving at the picturesque town of 20151214_185819Swellendam. This was my penultimate stop on the tour before heading back to Cape Town, and I started to reflect on the amazing places and sights which South Africa provided. The evening was once again rounded-off by an amazing meal and wine, with the every friendly South African people at the hotel.

Swellendam to Cape Town

20151214_184455Before setting out on my final day of riding in South Africa I was treated to a champagne breakfast on the hotel veranda, watching the sunrise over Swellendam. It was lifestyle and morning greeting which I’d started to become accustomed, but was starting to draw to an end. After packing my bike for the final time, I made my way out of Swellendam to join the main N2 road back to Cape Town. After unpacking at my hotel in Cape Town, I meet up with Tony France to drop-off the bike and pickup my remaining luggage. Tony provided a gratefully received “welcome back” beer before I catch a cab back to my hotel, prior to my flight back to the UK the following day.

Needless to say it was cold and wet when the plane touched down at London Heathrow!!

Useful contacts

H-C Travel http://www.hctravel.com/html/south_africa.html

SA Motorcycle Tours http://sa-motorcycle-tours.com/

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