Trip Report: The 18 Day Best South African Road trip from the 6 – 24 March 2020
Story by Jo Thompson
If you had told me four years ago that I would be riding pillion from Pretoria to Cape Town, I would have said you were crazy! John my partner, and his late wife had visited South Africa on several occasions and he always promised himself a motorcycle tour. But there we were, off on an adventure of a lifetime, pensioners behaving badly in South Africa.
Welcome to South Africa
It’s day one and we are picked up from our hotel in Pretoria bright and early to collect our bikes. We met the rest of the group the previous evening at the welcome dinner. There are 12 of us on tour including 6 Riders and Pillions from New Zealand (The Kiwis) and 2 Brits, 2 Germans and 2 Canadians (Rest of the world team).
Nicole (an owner of Sama Tours) is our guide for the first day. She is a real biker chick, in the best possible taste, of course. We enjoy a day tour of Pretoria, including the Union Buildings (Government headquarters), Nelson Mandela Statue, and the Voortrekker Monument. Next stop is a Shebeen (African Tavern) for lunch and an African dance performance, which includes us. I will leave that image to your imagination.
This afternoon is our first Safari into Dinokeng Nature Reserve which normally can be ridden, but today it is not possible due to animal activity in the area! I breathe a sigh of relief. At dinner the conversation at the table is buzzing with everyone getting to know each other. Our tour mascot, a small pink flamingo called Fatima, is presented to her first chaperone. Every day a new rider or pillion gets awarded with the care of Fatima. She is awarded to her new chaperone based on what they have gotten up to during the day. It is a great way to hear stories of everyone’s antics! Tonight’s an early night to ready ourselves for the first 400km ride.
Day Two Pretoria to Hazyview
Today our official tour guide, Schalk, takes over the reins. We also have another guide Clayton, riding shotgun in the back up vehicle. We enjoy the early morning ritual of a short briefing after breakfast and then it’s off into the wild blue yonder. I wonder how how my posterior will survive the next 18 days!? We head North to Hazyview through fantastic scenery. I soon master the art of taking photographs on the move as well as using our helmet camera. As we get closer to our destination, we enjoy some awesome “twisties” as Schalk calls them. No wonder this area is known as biker’s paradise! We RIDE the famous Long Toms Pass. This would be the first of many spectacular mountain passes. Hotel Numbi in Hazyview is our home for the next three nights. John and myself’s first port of call is the bar for a well-earned beverage before dinner.
Day Three The Panorama Route
We are slowly getting into our daily routine of breakfast at 7am followed by a short riders briefing to be on the road by 8am. The sun is shining as we head off on the Panorama route, this area isknown as Motorcycle Paradise. I soon learn why: curvy roads, stunning scenery and breathtaking viewsites!
Our first stop is Gods Window, which is unfortunately shrouded in mist but our next stops at “Bourke’s Luck Potholes” and “The Three Rondavels” more than make up for it with clear views of the Blyde River Canyon. Did I mention we are enjoying glorious sunshine all day? In the afternoon we head back to base, enjoy a hot shower and a cold drink or two before dinner.
5 am start this morning, lots of sleepy faces, Safari trucks waiting for us, and it is off to “Kruger National Park” in search of “THE BIG FIVE”. Takeaway breakfast provided by the hotel, we were like school children all eager to see what we had. Kiwis in one truck, rest of the world in the other. We managed to spot four of the big five and many other animals. What a beautiful place, so worth that 5 am start. John and I have a camera each, duplicating everything, just in case we might miss that big shot
Into the Kingdom of Swaziland
We leave Hazyview and head for Swaziland (which has recently changed its name to Eswatini) Schalk advises us to have our passports ready for the border. How exciting to be crossing a border into another African country today!
Again, great riding, we never tire of the scenery. Our lunch stop is at the Ngwenya Glass factory. We walk through the viewing gallery watching the glass blowers. I have no idea how they cope with the heat! They spend all day melting glass,blowing and shaping it into incredible glassware. Our next stop is the Swazi Candle factory, another great spot for African curios and wax creations. As we gear up for our last stretch of the day, grey skies loom in the distance and awesome lightning lights up the sky. We quickly scramble to put on waterproofs, but luckily we only catch some light rain. As we arrive at Mantenga Lodge, the heavens open up! It is a great spot for the night, the restaurant has a full view of Execution Rock. Why Execution Rock you ask? I think you need to Google the history on that one!
Day Six Swaziland to St. Lucia
“On the road again” I think there is a song somewhere there. Our Destination for today is St. Lucia. During our morning briefing Schalk says we may see Hippo’s walking through the town ( I think he is a bit crazy). We take in more of the Swazi scenery and roads before crossing the border back into South Africa once again. Our hotel for the evening is the Elephant Lake Hotel with pool and of course a bar. Guess where John and I went first? It was not the pool! Dinner was at the hotel restaurant while we watched a Hippo mother and her baby hippo calf taking a short cut through the car park into town. Perhaps Schalk is not that crazy after all?! It was one of many highlights of the tour.
Here is a shaky video of the Mamma and Babby hippo:
Day Seven, Wildlife Day
Another 5am start for our third and final safari. Another takeaway breakfast and again we share the truck with the Rest of the World Team, leaving the Kiwis to discuss their Rugby and Cricket. I would just like to say the whole group were great fun and a pleasure to ride with. Our African guide for Umfolozi National Park was charming and could spot a Rhino a mile away in the bushes. We were sure they had tracking collars on but, we couldn’t see them “haha”. For John and I this was the best Safari of the tour, seeing most of the Big Five and many other animals, our camera’s working overtime. The only thing we didnt see was the ever elusive leopard. We end the day with a Lake Cruise, watching the Hippo’s keeping cool before their night-time adventures into town.
Day Eight: St. Lucia- Oribi Gorge- Margate
Today is a long day, 462km and our first view of the Indian ocean. We head for the small coastal town of Margate. It seems strange that I have never been to Margate in the UK. I don’t worry about the long rides, as there is a different view around every corner. We stop at the famous Oribi Gorge, where you can swing out and down into the gorge – a 160metre free fall with nothing but a bungee cord attached to you! Not for me or John, but two from the “Rest of the World team” take the challenge (Cindy from Canada, and Thomas the crazy German) leaving us to spectate and take in the beauty of the gorge. I love watching other people do crazy things!
Day Nine Margate to Coffee Bay
Today we head for the Wild Coast, destination Coffee Bay for 2 nights. Our Lunch stop is at the Port St Johns waterfront. The ride into Port St. Johns has some incredible twisties. Here we encounter some other bikers who have hired bikes from SAMA Tours and are doing their own self-guided exploring. Our lunch stops are always a minimum of 40 minutes, which gives plenty of recovery time for leg stretching. This evening we arrive in Coffee Bay. It is a remote part of South Africa and there there is only one road in one road out. Our accommodation consists of quaint wooden chalets with all modern conveniences, a few yards from ocean. Obviously our first stop is the bar, I could really get used to this lifestyle.
Day Ten, Coffee Bay Rest Day
Today is a rest day, although I would use that term loosely, as SAMA have thought of everything and want to give us the full South Africa Experience. John and I take a morning stroll along the beach with two of the hotel dogs as company. We eat lunch back at the hotel where I ask one of the local ladies to show me how she ties her head scarf. I don’t think I really mastered it. After lunch, the group enjoys a trip to the Hole in the Wall in 4×4 vehicles instead of the planned bike ride. They’ve had a lot of rain recently which made the roads unsuitable for bikes. On arrival at Hole in the Wall we risk life and limb making our way across the beach and up the slippery slopes to the top of the hill. Now anyone who knows me, knows I am not the most sure-footed person, but it gives the rest of the gang much amusement to see me on all fours. Was it worth it? Yes! Back at the hotel we are greeted by African drummers and dancers- a great end to a wonderful day.
Day Eleven, Coffee Bay to Port Alfred.
As we leave the hotel this morning, African ladies help us with our luggage, balancing our bags on their heads. I love their colourful dresses and head wear, such a change from our drab English black. We head inland to East London for our lunch stop at the Museum café. Unfortunately the museum is closed due to Covid 19. Of course there has been talk of the virus, but we are determined not to let it dampen our spirits. Grey skies loom and we stop to put on our waterproofs which are thankfully not needed. Our accommodation is at “The Links Costal Inn” and we have a huge apartment. The bar is upstairs in the main building, where we have a spectacular view of Port Alfred along with amazing lightning in the sky.
Day Twelve, Port Alfred to Storms River Mouth
There is great excitement in our daily briefing as Tour Guide Schalk advises that we are heading towards the world famous Garden Route. We follow the coastline into Tsitskamma National Park, all the way to to Storms River Mouth. What a beautiful place! We sit in a huge open sided marquee and eat our lunch overlooking the ocean (I hope you are all jealous). After, we enjoy a walk to the suspension bridges between the sea cliffs. Well, I have to say that John and I only manage to get halfway. We decided the VIEW of them was just as good as walking on them!
After Lunch we are on the road again heading to Misty Mountain Reserve. I am enjoying the scenery so much, my camera constantly clicking. As we ride down a dirt road, I think to myself that we have arrived in paradise! The owner gives us a brief talk about our accommodation. It is important to keep doors and windows closed as we might have some unwelcome guests (monkeys). We are apparently in a tent!? What? Imagine my thoughts!
But this is nothing like any tent that I have stayed in before. There is a huge bed, a spacious sitting area, a roll top bath and an outdoor shower. We enjoy a drink before dinner at the main building, sitting on the veranda with a view of the ocean. John and I would love to return here one day!
Day Thirteen, Storms River Mouth – Knysna – Oudtshoorn
Today we are heading along the coast and then inland into the Karroo Desert. I must say that throughout the tour, I have never once thought: “OMG another day on the bike” It has been pure joy and what an experience for a 68-year-old pensioner! Our first stop is famous Bloukrans Bridge Bungee Jump (at 214 Metres, it is the highest Bungee Jump in the world) but there are no takers today, not even Thomas and Cindy. We carry on to the Knysna Heads with more wonderful views and head over the wonderful Outeniqua Pass to our destination for the day. Bike riding just doesn’t get any better than this! Yet again, I am free to take in all the beauty of South Africa from the back of the bike. We arrive in Oudtshoorn and our accommodation for the next two nights is Adley House- a beautiful colonial style villa, with stunning gardens and swimming pool. This evening we enjoy an Ostrich BBQ. We say our goodbyes to Clayton our back up driver as he has a holiday booked for him and his wife. I must say we will miss him, his sense of humor, general cheerfulness and (like Schalk) his knowledge of the country is to be applauded! He also put up with a bunch of mostly older bikers. Drinks on the veranda with like-minded bikers marks the end to another perfect day.
Day Fourteen, Rest Day Oudtshoorn
Today is a rest day, but we have the option to join optional activities or just relax by the pool. John and I chose the Ostrich Farm tour with a few others and a few more did the Elephant experience. During the Ostrich Farm tour I got to cuddle and feed ostriches and also defy logic by standing on ostrich eggs. Those that did the elephant experience got pulled in for cuddle by giant elephant trunks. Both activities were awesome and not to be missed! Later on, John and I, Jamie and Schalk took a ride following Nicky (owner of the hotel) on his Harley across to Prince Albert through the Meiringspoort Pass. The Swartberg Pass was on route, but closed due to rain. Yet again it has been another stunning day, riding in glorious sunshine. I have truly fallen in love with South Africa.
Day Fifteen, Oudtshoorn to The Southern Most Tip of Africa
We are sad to leave Oudtshoorn as I am sure there are lots more beautiful roads to explore in the area, but that will have to be on a return visit. We head back towards the coast, taking in Route 62 with yet more great riding and spectacular passes. No trip would be complete without a stop at “Ronnies Sex Shop”- A farm stall in the middle of the desert. We buy the obligatory t-shirts and snap lots of photographs. Later, we arrive at Cape Agulhas for lunch and ride down to the Southern Most tip of Africa. We then visit to the lighthouse where you can have your passport stamped, which of course we do, to back up our memory. As we rode into town , I took a picture of a beautiful hotel, thinking: “is that a scene from a movie?” Little did I know that it was the Hotel where we would be spending the night: Cape Agulhas Country lodge. Yet again we have a lovely room with outside terrace, sea views and great neighbours- Pete and Jenny (our favourite Kiwi couple). Tonight we enjoy dinner at the hotel with lots of conversation about the riding and scenery. We are realizing how far we have traveled and how near the end we are.
Day Sixteen, Cape Agulhas to Cape Winelands
Today’s destination is Franschoek in the beautiful Cape Wineland Region. Unfortunately our wine tour has been cancelled due to that dreaded Covid. I was not disappointed as this would have taken time away from the beautiful scenery and roads. Our first stop is at Hermanus, famous for Whale watching but wrong time of year. We sit and enjoy views of the ocean with a cool drink and camera ready just in case of a stray whale. Lunch is at Bettys Bay with penguin watching. You don’t get that in the UK! As we head inland the scenery changes and we are surrounded by numerous vineyards. The descent over the Pass and into Franschhoek is truly amazing with plenty of twisties and hairpin turn (see how I have the lingo) Yet again, we have awesome accommodation at “Le Petit Paris” tonight. As we all gather round the pool for drinks, it is hard to believe that tomorrow is our last riding day. Look out Cape Town here we come!
Day Seventeen, Franschoek to Cape Town via Cape Point
For some reason, I thought this may have been a short day, but its another full day of exploring this magnificent country. Out of Franschhoek we ride yet more beautiful roads heading back to the coast. Our first stop in Simons Town. We follow Schalk up winding hilltop roads to the grave of “Just Nuisance” a famous Navy Dog. The monument has stunning views over the naval base below. Cape Point is our next port of call ,where one of the highlights was Carey having his sandwich stolen by a baboon. I think he had done this before! The baboon, not Carey. We ALL ride on the funicular to the top of the Light House. I never tire of the amazing views and hope all is recorded on camera so that we can bore all our friends to death. Next up is a short ride through the National Park to the Cape of Good Hope for a photo shoot. Blue skies and sunshine have followed us all the way.
Later we ride over Chapmans Peak Drive to Cape Town, taking in Hout Bay and Camps Bay. I could wax lyrical about this ride all day, but you need to experience this for yourself! Around every corner are views of sandy beaches, the ocean and the awesome Twelve Apostilles, all welcoming us to Cape Town. Our final stop is Signal Hill with Table Mountain as a backdrop. What a climax to an incredible trip! Now we head to Bloubergstrand where we part company with our bikes. As we arrive at the garage, we spot a biker bar over the road, it’s a must.
Round up of the trip
I have tried to write this so many times so bear with me. I would like to say a huge thank you to the SAMA Team. Michael was our first point of contact, he made booking our trip hassle free and it was so nice to put a face to a name when he picked us up from the airport. Nicole with her vibrant personality, is a cool cookie and it was a shame she couldn’t have done the whole trip with us. Clayton (Our Back up Driver) made the sun shine even when it didn’t. We were sorry he couldn’t make it to the end of the trip with us. Darryl, the owner of Sama Tours, replaced Clayton as backup driver. His knowledge of South Africa was abundant and we are so glad he shared it with us. Finally there are two people who deserve a special mention. Schalk was our leader for the trip. I don’t know how he copes , but he does with a calm authority and confidence. Thank you once again Schalk, you made our trip a holiday of a lifetime!
The last person for a big thank you is, John my partner, as without him I would never have become a pillion and sure I would never have visited South Africa.
More Pictures of the March Tour below: