Ever since our first tour in California in 2010 we have constantly been planning our next trips. In the 12 months following California we had gone up and down the UK on several long weekend rides, been to Paris, Brussels, and spent a week touring the North of Spain.
In July 2011 my work was taking me to South Africa for a conference and of course in our minds this became our next touring destination. It was a fantastic opportunity to do some biking in a country both of us knew very little about. We had sketched a rough plan; spend some time visiting friends in Cape Town, and rent a motorcycle for a 5 day tour. But that was as far as we had planned… We knew nothing of South Africa and all we could do was ask our non-biker South African friends to recommend some destinations and read guide books; all very helpful but not geared towards a motorcycle holiday.
4 weeks ahead of the planned trip we ran into Alex at the Adventure Travel Film Festival organised by the iconic Austin Vince and Lois Pryce. We had come prepared with a map of South Africa, hoping to find someone who had ridden there who could give us some tips. We met Alex and was the best encounter we could ever have hoped for!
Alex runs Kaapstad Motorcycle Adventure Tours, a company specialised in tailor-made motorcycle tours in the Western and Eastern Cape regions of South Africa. He has spent many years in South Africa and knows the roads like the back of his hand. He is also a ranger there so has an intimate knowledge of the country. Alex was at the festival to promote his company but unfortunately he could not accompany us on such short notice. This, however, did not stop him from taking the time and effort to help us plan the coolest motorcycle trip we’ve done so far! Within minutes of meeting him we were all looking over a map of South Africa; Louise and I were frantically drawing on it and taking notes of Alex’s recommendations on routes to takes, places to visit, accommodation, people to meet etc. After about an hour we had our trip all planned and couldn’t contain our excitement for the trip ahead. Alex went so far as to email us a couple of days later with links to Google maps and guesthouses and a detailed itinerary for the 5 days; talk about a useful encounter!
I met Louise in Cape Town after my conference and we spent 4 great days discovering this fantastic city; but neither of us could wait for the Monday morning when we’d pick up our bike. Monday came and at 8am sharp we were standing next to a BMW 1200GS, being taught how to unlock the aluminium panniers and where all the buttons were. Now; I know that some people have views about the 1200GS but we were going to ride for 5 long days, 2 up, with a lot of distance to cover, so we decided that it may be the best option; and we were not disappointed. I ride a Kawasaki Nomad 1600 at home so I am used to big bikes and had no problem handling the GS.
Once all the paperwork was signed and my credit card swiped through, we pointed our front wheel north out of Cape Town and headed for the mountains. Whoo hooo! This was going to be fun!
The first destination was Hermanus, on the coast, south east of Cape Town. As we rode out of the city, heading north we were both overtaken by a feeling of elation; the weather was fantastic, the bike felt great and we were finally riding in Africa! We made it out of the urban traffic, past the dockyards onto the N1 highway and towards the Cape wine region. Because Hermanus is only 1h30min away from Cape Town we took to the long way round and took in some beautiful scenery. As soon as you are out of town, and in the mountains leading to the wine valleys the scenery changes completely and you could be excused for thinking you are in the Rioja region. We stopped at the Solms Delta winery for a taste of local wines, surrounded by historical Cape Dutch farm buildings.
After we tasted and bought some wine (the rider spat it all out, I promise) we headed towards Hermanus, our destination for the night. Alex had recommended we stayed in Aloe Guest House which we did (www.aloe-guest-house.co.za/). It was an unassuming building from the outside but the inside was great. The guest house has secure parking for the bike which we appreciated and offered great big rooms with even bigger bathrooms; all fitted to modern standards. After a drink and a look at the map of Hermanus we headed out to the centre for a well deserved dinner. Hermanus was pretty quiet that night; I guess it’s understandable for a Monday night in the height of winter…but we found a welcoming Italian restaurant, had our food and headed back to the guest house to call it a night….And enjoy the totally underrated comfort of a hot water bottle! Now, whereas the weather in South Africa in July is comparable to spring in the UK, it does get pretty cold at night. And South Africans, instead of wasting energy on heating have just continued using the old system of the hot water bottle. It’s cheap, easy and it works wonders! As a matter of fact I’ve decided that it might be a biker’s best piece of equipment when touring in the colder months; small, robust, cheap, easy to use and very effective. Enough said.
Morning number 2 saw us departing from Hermanus, riding through the waterfront. We didn’t spot any whales (bit too early in the season) but couldn’t help stopping to take in the beauty of the coastline and the warmth of the splendid morning sun. We had a long day ahead, 360km to Oudtshoorn; the Ostrich capital of the world. The road took us passed Swellendam, before which we had decided to do some off-road… We took some dirt roads and got totally lost. Not a problem though because in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles and miles of fields we came across the smallest train station. It was a bit surreal, there it was, a miniature stone built, victorian style train station… It must have been used to transport crops in the past. In any way, the railway helped us find our position on a map and soon enough we were back on the tarmac. We stoped for lunch in Barrydale, a small town on the R62, and one of the first nice surprises we cam across; imagine a small isolated village, with only a couple of tarred roads, but with a quaint deli in the middle. After lunch we still had quite some way to go and we decided that our last stop would be Ladismith where we stopped for tea and cake. The weather was becoming quite cold and the sun was now pretty low. We still had a couple of hours of riding before reaching Oudtshoorn. We rode the last hour in the dark, not recommended on a bike but the winter sun sets early in South Africa, and I guess we were fooled by the vast distances to cover 2 centimetres on a map of the UK looks ok; on a map of South Africa it’s at least an hour’s ride!
First impressions as we entered Oudtshoorn were not great. We were cold, tired and did not know where our guesthouse in the dark of the night. We stopped on the side of the road to read our guidebook but were on our way quickly as we had attracted some dodgy characters… To be fair, if I was a dodgy character I would certainly be interested in 2 lost Europeans on a £12k bike… Anyway, after some searching and a bit of luck we found our guesthouse. Lavender Guest House had been recommended to us by Alex and we were not disappointed. It was a beautiful old stately home that had been converted in a guesthouse. We were the only guests that night and after giving us the keys the landlady’s mother, a lovely lady who spoke little English, left us alone; Goeie Nag!
We dined at Jemima’s which had a fantastic menu. This was to become a habit in South Africa, but this restaurant was really top notch. I had the mandatory ostrich steak which was a delight. We highly recommend you have dinner here if ever you are in Oudtshoorn, it’s the kind of quality you get from high-end restaurants in Europe, but about 2 or 3 times cheaper.
We woke up quite early and decided that we would not have breakfast at the guesthouse. Our guidebook recommended to pay a visit Buffelsdrift game park and we decided to try to get a breakfast there. Great idea! On arrival we were seated on a sun drenched terrace/observation deck overlooking a natural pool with hippos on the opposite bank. The breakfast was “international hotel” style, ie good and plentiful and once again very affordable.