THE FINAL PHASE of our trip began on October 8, 2017, when we rode from Ais-Ais, Namibia to Springbok, South Africa. While I’d travelled in South Africa once before, in 2001, my experience of motorcycle riding through the country was not in any way comparable. There’s a very different sense of connection with land when you’re riding over it, feeling the weather on your person, and breathing-in and smelling the air around it.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, each country had its own riding challenges. In Botswana, it was the treacherous pot holes. In Namibia, it was the brutal gravel roads. In South Africa is was dangerous wind sheer and wind gusts – the wind came out of nowhere and could move you on your bike! Thankfully, with Rene in front of me, sometimes I was able to see the wind move him so I’d know to brace myself for being hit with a gust. Other times there simply was no warning.
You may recall I mentioned in my African Adventure I post, that in my zeal to pack lightly, “one item I decided to leave at home I would regret daily for almost a week”. Well, our week in South Africa was the week. My hi-viz mesh motorcycle jacket (seen in many of my pics) came with two zip-in liners: a waterproof one and a thermal one. Unfortunately, I left my thermal liner at home. I’d erroneously thought “South Africa in their Spring, I won’t need a thermal liner”. I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong! I was very cold riding my bike throughout most of South Africa. I wore my waterproof shell, my cooling vest (dry of course) and a small jacket I’d brought to wear on the plane but it simply wasn’t enough. My outer shell was mesh so those winds that were gusting all around us were blowing right through my jacket. Yet another entry for my “live and learn” file…
I’d been sick the day we arrived in Springbok (see African Adventure III for details) so I just went straight to my room and rested until dinner. I didn’t go out exploring the area as the others did. Instead, I poked-around a number of public rooms. One sitting room contained a very surprising item: a plaque regarding a Canadian made item. Now, I’m not surprised that someone would be pleased with Canadian-made machinery. What was surprising to me was that someone chose to wood-mount the “Made in Canada” machinery label and then hang it on a sitting room wall with pieces of art!
RIDING THROUGH WESTERN CAPE
As we made our way southward through the province of Western Cape, the Atlantic Ocean was close at hand. While it likely was the source of the wind, it was also a source of great beauty. Western Cape is the only region in the world in which rooibos tea is naturally produced. We pulled into Clanwilliam, fairly early in the afternoon. That evening, we had a a seaside, seafood dinner cooked over an open fire with the setting sun as a backdrop.
Although we had some gravel roads (most were paved) the landscape was greening-up both naturally and through irrigation; the days of riding in the desert were behind us. In the pics below, I look rather puffy. That’s not because of all the delicious food we’d been having. Rather, it’s because under my hi-viz jacket was my waterproof shell and another jacket with my cooling vest underneath! I might be smiling in the pic but I’d been freezing along the road.
We cut eastward across Western Cape province to Oudtshoorn. On our way there, our “support van” got a flat tire so we had to pull-over while that was addressed. We also rode through beautiful ,sweeping, lush scapes. It could be because we were coming from the desert, but the area seemed particularly lush to me.
Oudtshoorn is apparently the ostrich capital of South Africa. In fact, ostrich was on the menu our first night in the area. Given the stomach issues I had in Namibia, I passed on the offer to consume ostrich. I will say that, to me, it looked a lot like steak. We stayed in Oudtshoorn for two nights allowing us a full day to explore the area on our own.
We all went a a variety of directions during that “rest” day. I joined a group that first went to the Meiringspoort waterfalls and then into a nearby town (Prince Albert) for lunch. We went our separate ways after lunch. Everyone else was coupled-up, except me. That was fine as I had big plans re: the exploring I would do on my way back to Oudtshoorn. Instead, I “freaked myself out” riding the 100+ kms back with little to no other traffic, thinking about I could be attacked and no one would know because no one else was around… Needless to say, I did absolutely NO exploring and barely stopped to capture pics of the beautiful landscape. And, I made a mental note to never again opt to ride for over an hour by myself in a foreign country.
One more note about Oudtshoorn, our accommodations were operated by a gay male couple; the first openly gay folks I’d met in my nearly three weeks in Africa. The accommodations were beautiful and the food (prepared by one of the two of them) was amazing. Our group had a great time there. Unfortunately, a future reference to that couple would result in the loneliest moment of my entire trip.
Cape Agulhas and Boland Mountain Complex
When I visited South Africa in 2001, our tour guide told us that when we were at the Cape of Good Hope that we were at the point where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet. I even have pics from the exact meeting point. Well, don’t believe everything you’re told! Turns out that the two oceans meet at Cape Agulhas – some 300 kms to the south-east of the Cape of Good Hope.
After spending time at Cape Agulhas and taking the obligatory pic at the point where the oceans meet, we made our way to our beachfront hotel in Arniston. Arniston is known for its colourful cottages and boats. In fact, in May 1996, Time Magazine named the town as one of the World’s Ten Best Hideaways.
Despite being surrounded by beauty, I experienced something very ugly while in Arniston. During our dinner, members in our group began teasing one of the men in our group who had apparently “caught the eye” of gay hoteliers from the previous night. That was bad enough, but then the conversation descended into sophomoric comments about not “bending over”, etc. Despite us being an adult group of primarily Canadians (in which gay marriage has been legal nation-wide since 2005), and despite everyone in the group being fully aware that I am a lesbian, no one said or did anything to address the homophobic comments. In fact, the banter just continued – unchecked. Finally, I stood-up and wished everyone a good night and I left. Yes, I could have addressed the comments head-on myself but really – why bother? I was pretty gutted. To his credit, the next morning Rene “checked-in” with me before we hit the road.
That next day, we headed to Stellenbosch. En route we stopped at Stoney Point Nature Reserve (a.k.a. Penguin Point), near Betty’s Bay. It’s home to one of the largest successful breeding colonies of African Penguins in the world. We spent about an hour at the site watching and photographing the fascinating flightless birds. We got on our bikes and rode through the spectacular Boland Mountain Complex to get to Stellenbosch.
We stayed in Stellenbosch for two nights. That allowed us a full day to explore the area; this time I did NOT stray off on my own. I joined and stayed with a group of riders for the day. Among other things, we rode approximately 30 minutes to the gates of Victor Verster Prison. That’s the prison Nelson Mandela was in for 10 years after leaving Robben Island Prison. It’s also the prison from which he was released, with one hand raised while the other held Winnie’s hand. That iconic moment was captured in a statue entitled “Long Walk to Freedom” which was unveiled at the Prison gate in 2008 to honour Mandela’s 90th birthday. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit such a historic landmark.
We left Verster Prison and returned to Stellenbosch. This gave me the afternoon to do souvenir shopping. No where else we’d visited in the previous three weeks was conducive to doing so. We’d picked-up small mementoes, here-and-there, throughout our trip, but Stellenbosch is a city with full service shopping opportunities. Let’s just say that I made-up for lost time.
DAY 22 – FINAL DAY
Our final day was October 15, 2017. We loaded up our bikes one final time and left Stellenbosch in the mid-morning. Our first stop was at the Cape of Good Hope. Even though I’d been there before in 2001, it was still great to get back there again. With all of our biking gear and with our time constraints, we weren’t able to hike to the look-off point (as I did in 2001), but we still had a great time at the ocean’s edge. There was lots of wild life at Cape of Good Hope: ostriches, baboons and other primates. While we there, a baboon stole a woman’s purse and ran around the parking lot with it. We were well entertained watching folks trying to catch the bandit. In the end, Piet our co-leader (who is originally from South Africa) caught-up with the thieving baboon and returned the purse to the grateful tourist.
We left the Cape and made our way to Chapman’s Peak Drive. With 114 curves in 9 kms, the drive skirting the rocky coastline of Chapman’s Peak has been named “one of the world’s most scenic drives”. Having ridden it, I would agree – it was spectacular! How great to end our trip with such feast for the eyes.
Finally, we made our way through Cape Town and pulled into the motorcycle return centre. So, with an odometer reading of 5261.5 kms, I returned my bike. The trip that I put a deposit on nine months earlier for, bought new gear for and took an off-road motorcycling course for – was over. No more pot holes, no more gravel roads, no more wind sheer and no more freezing despite wearing every layer I had. And, no more amazing animals, no more awe-inspiring sand dunes, no more camaraderie with the other riders, no more spectacular sweeping scapes. My “Victoria Falls to Cape Town” motorcycle trip came to an end.
RENEDIAN “VICTORIA FALLS TO CAPE TOWN” VIDEO
In recent years, the Renedian website has posted a video (below) highlighting the “Victoria Falls to Cape Town” trip that I took. I strongly recommend taking a moment to see it. It truly captures the essence of our trip. Nothing will ever fully capture what I experienced, but this video provides a good sense of things.
My three-week motorcycle trip through Southern Africa is the travel highlight of my life! Just to put it in perspective, I’ve had the privilege of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China and numerous other areas including the Canadian Rockies and Kluane National Park in the Yukon. Further, I’ve had the privilege of cycling through the Donegal Region of Ireland, doing an Outback safari in Australia, swimming in the thermal Pamukkale pools and hot air ballooning in Turkey, cruising through the Caribbean and Alaska, plus hiking and kayaking in Abel Tasman Park in New Zealand and countless other awesome experiences. And still, without a doubt, my three-week motorcycle trip through Southern Africa is the travel highlight of my life thus far!
Now, had I not gotten my motorcycle license in 2011 and switched from scooters to motorbikes in 2013, I would have missed-out on this life-altering trip in 2017. So, as I said in my very first blog, if you’ve “always wanted” to ride but you’ve not gotten around to it yet – just do it! You never know what amazing experiences are waiting for you!
2 thoughts on “African Adventure IV: South Africa”
I found your blog! Can’t wait to meet you and ride with you in person in July 👏
Hey Joanne –
Thanks so much for checking my site out so quickly! Fingers-crossed I’ll be able to join you folks in July.
BTW, I’ve bought tons of gear at Revzilla over the years – I even mention you folks in my “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know” blog (March 8th post).