Motorcycle Road Trip
3991 km's (2480 miles) around South Africa
1 to 11 December 2008

The Idea
My good friend Wayne, who lives in Wales, was planning a visit to South Africa to conduct some research he is doing on South African owned classic Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars, an interest I also share. Wayne wanted to visit several prominent collectors and enthusiasts of these fine automobiles, which meant some extensive traveling around the country. As we are both motorcycle enthusiasts it did not take us long to come up with the idea of a motorcycle trip around South Africa.

The Route

Our basic plan was to ride from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back via the Garden Route and Eastern Free State. Wayne made a list of all the people he would like to see, and slowly the route took shape and eventually resulted in what you see in the picture above. The red dots indicate our overnight stops. However, in Cape Town we stayed for three nights, and in Knysna we stayed for two.

The Bikes
As Wayne lives in the UK, I was tasked with sourcing a suitable motorcycle for him to use. We were working on a tight budget, so a Honda from the 80’s proved to be just what we were looking for. Both Wayne and I have previous good experiences with Honda ownership, so when a 1981 CX 500 Custom came our way at the right price we were in business.

My Harley-Davidson Softail Springer (Lucille) and Wayne's Honda CX Custom (Cindy)

Both bikes were thoroughly serviced and prepared for the trip before Wayne's arrival in South Africa. I was working to a deadline because we planned to start our trip just a day after he landed in South Africa.

Special attention was paid to the Honda because one never knows what underlying problems may exist when buying an old bike. All fluids were changed, service items were replaced and all adjustments checked. Generally speaking the bike was found to be in very good condition for it's age, and no major problems were found.

The rear indicators had to be relocated to accommodate the saddle bags required for the trip. We used soft bags on the Honda and rigid bags on the Harley. If I had to do this again I would opt for rigid bags only. They are easier to pack, and do not sag like the soft bags do. We had to devise additional straps over the seat to keep the bags in form, and away from the rear wheel. They also always looked untidy.

Packing the bikes
My clever wife came up with the idea of packing everything inside Zip-Lock bags. This not only kept it dry, it also made everything more compact once you squeeze the air out of the bags. Each individual item was put into a separate Zip-Lock bag which made it easier to pack and remove later. The saddle bags were then lined with large plastic bags, so when we stopped for the evening you simply lift the whole bag out of the saddle bag and carry it into your room for the night.

The pictures above show what we took along. Apart from clothing we also took a workshop manual for each bike, a small tool kit, rain suits, map books, toilet paper, spare cable ties, spare zip-lock bags, cameras and a small bottle of medicine courtesy of Mr. Daniels from Tennessee. The bikes were not overloaded, yet we had everything we needed for eleven days, even semi-smart clothes for evening dinners or other occasions that might necessitate such.

Day one - Departure!

On Monday morning, 1 December my alarm clock reminded me at 3:30am that the big moment had arrived. I was already awake, too excited to sleep. We jumped into our kit and woke my wife up to take a picture of us before we left. As she walked outside the heavens opened and the rain came down. She was not impressed, and neither were we. My wife went back to bed and we made some coffee and sat around for two hours waiting for the weather to improve. At 6am the rain finally stopped and we just managed to beat the morning rush hour traffic out of Johannesburg.

We headed down the N1 as far as Parys, where we left the highway to enjoy the quiet roads and tranquil countryside via Parys, Vredefort and then onto the R59 to Bothaville, Hoopstad and Hertzogville. We soon realised that the small 11 litre fuel tank on the Honda would have us stretching our legs every hour to hour and a half, which proved to be just perfect to prevent stiffness and fatigue. The Harley, with it's slightly larger fuel tank only needed filling up at every second stop, so I soon settled into the routine of feeding my coffee addiction at one stop, and the Harley's fuel tank at the next. This routine continued for the next eleven days.

Our first coffee and breakfast stop was at a lovely roadside stall just outside Parys on the road to Vredefort. Home made chicken pies and real "boere moer coffee" gave us a welcome taste of the local culinary delights that were to become the norm for the next two weeks.
By the time we reached Kimberley it was blistering hot, so I relaxed in the shade and looked after the bikes while Wayne popped into the Big Hole museum to photograph some cars that are on display there.

After leaving Kimberley we started keeping an eye out for somewhere to spend the first evening. We were hot and keen to spend the late afternoon relaxing and cooling off in a swimming pool or river. About 55 km outside Kimberley we saw a sign for accommodation, which led us to a riverside resort called Modderrivier. I was still negotiating rates with the owner when Wayne spotted the swimming pool and decided he was riding no further. Twenty minutes later we were both in the pool with beers in hand. That evening we were kept awake by a noisy peacock and the owner's dogs ate my slip-slops. (Total mileage for the day: 575 km / 357 miles)

Day two - The great Karoo

Sunrise in the Karoo is spectacular. The air is crisp and the sky is very large. The best way to describe the surrounding countryside is that it is a green desert, this is rainfall season after all. We got going very early because we were hoping to reach Matjiesfontein, which meant a long day's riding in very hot conditions.

We were now on the N12 heading towards Three Sisters, where the road intersects with the N1 to Cape Town. The N12 was very quiet, and we had the road mostly to ourselves. About one hour into our journey we saw rain on the horizon. In the Karoo you can see about one hour into the future, and sure enough, an hour later we had to stop and put on our rain suits. The rain came and went, and we soon dried out.

Riding the Karoo is one of those ultimate "freedom" experiences, and something each biker should do at least once in a lifetime. I am sure that these roads were built especially for motorcycles, and that they flew Willy G. out to consult when they were planning the route.

We had no idea how the bikes would handle extreme hot conditions. By mid day the Oxford thermometer I had mounted on my instrument console indicated 56 deg celcuis (133 deg Fahrenheit), although that is in direct sunlight (but so are we!) I was worried about the Honda's 27-year old liquid cooling system, and the fact that the Harley has one cylinder tucked in behind the other, away from direct air flow. However, the bikes did not miss a beat, it was the riders who suffered the most. This necessitated frequent water stops, and wetting our shirts to cool down.

Breakfast at Victoria West.
One of our many coffee and biltong stops.

After riding almost 700 km we finally reached the historical town of Matjiesfontein, and immediately made our way to the old bar for some cold refreshments!

That evening we had a delicious dinner in the Lord Milner hotel while owner David Rawdon entertained us late into the night with his hilarious stories.
(Total mileage for the day: 692 km / 430 miles)

Day three - arrive in Cape Town

From Matjiesfontein we had a short, but scenic ride to Cape Town via the Hex River Pass and the grand Huguenot tunnel. After hundreds of miles of flat Karoo countryside and long straight roads the twisty mountain roads of the Western Cape came as a welcome change. However, after the Karoo straights I felt rusty, and had to take it easy until I got used to hauling the big twin around corners again.

Wayne hard at work on his research at another of our coffee and biltong stops, this time near De Doorns. Note the collection of vintage bikes in the background.
Our destination and home for the next three days was Sue's house in Bergvliet, Cape Town. Sue is one of our dearest friends who's home is always open to weary travelers, and she really looked after us during our stay in Cape Town. It was like arriving at home, but in a different town. (Total mileage for the day: 306 km / 190 miles)

Day four - The Franschhoek Motor Museum

We were very fortunate to meet and visit many vintage car collectors in Cape Town, in the line of duty (Wayne's research), but our visit to the Franschhoek Motor Museum was one of the highlights. It was decided that we had to travel to Franschhoek by means befitting that of the occasion, so our good friend Barry obliged. He drove us there in his stunning Rolls-Royce. After spending the last three days in the seat of a motorcycle enduring the heat of the Karoo this air conditioned luxury was a real treat!

This is just a small sample of the stunning cars on display at the museum. Grand Rolls-Royce's, rare Mercedes Benz's...

...Bugatti's and Bentley's...
...but my favorite exhibit... Remember these!?

(If you are interested in old cars the Franschhoek Motor Museum is a must visit. See their website for more information)

My "classic car" friends are however used to things mechanical of a more refined nature, and they just could not get over this Harley-Davidson machine of mine. They were fascinated by the sound it made, and referred to it as a farm implement, or tractor. I had to endure comments like "did you bring your own plough, or must we supply one?". But the best comment I heard was when an elderly fellow, after hearing me start up and fiddling with the choke,  walked up to me and asked, "are all the cylinders on the same bike?"

Day five - The Cape Peninsula

The Cape Peninsula is one of those magical places that offers spectacular scenery, interesting roads and lots of photo opportunities. We decided to do the Peninsula in a clockwise direction, starting at Muizenberg and following the coastal road via the many old-style fishing villages like Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simon's Town.

We met our friend Steve for breakfast in Kalk Bay. Steve, an experienced Adventure Bike tour guide (Qwe Qwena Tours +27 21 559 8510) gave us invaluable advice on our route when we were planning the trip.

After Simon's Town the road winds it's way up the Swartkopberge and then turns inland towards the Smitswinkel Flats, and the Table Mountain National Park to Cape Point.

The Whale Viewing Point near Cape Point.
Cape Point.

From Cape Point we rode towards the quaint seaside village of Scarborough, and then on to Kommetjie, surfers paradise (or so I am told).

On the M65 between Scarborough and Kommetjie is Slangkop lighthouse, the tallest cast-iron tower on the South African coast.
I have a fascination with lighthouses, so we had to stop and climb to the top.

Dating back to 1919, Slangkop stands 33 meters tall, and the 5 000 000 CD light has a range of 33 sea miles. The study of lighthouses is called Pharology. I guess I am a bit of a wannabe amateur Pharologist.
(Total mileage for the day: 138 km / 86 miles)

Day six - The Southern-most tip of Africa

After three days of enjoying Sue's hospitality it was time to leave Cape Town and head towards Cape Agulhas, the Southern-most tip of Africa, and also the point where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.

Leaving Cape Town we rode along the R310 coastal road towards Gordons Bay, and then onto the R44 towards Betty's Bay and Hermanus.

Near Strand we passed this comical scene. This takes the concept of the wind pump to new levels!

The R44 from Gordons Bay to Kleinmond (known as Clarence Drive) must be one of the most scenic roads in South Africa, winding it's way along the cliffs overlooking False Bay.

After visiting a vintage car collector on a Protea farm near Botrivier, we rode to Bredasdorp, and then turned due South for the final run down to Struisbaai, and then L'Agulhas, the little village at Cape Agulhas. The notorious South Easter wind was pumping at full tilt, which made for very hard going on the two naked bikes. I have never before experienced such severe winds. I saw that Wayne was lying flat on the Honda's tank in an attempt to pierce the wall of wind. So I tried the same on the Harley, and almost caused Wayne to lose control and crash with laughter. It must have looked ridiculous with my head down below the large headlight, my arms still up in the air above my shoulders hanging from the tall handlebars and my size 12 boots stretched out in front to reach the forward controls. Thank heavens no-one took a picture. This was only mildly successfully, so I decided to return to my normal seating position and rather risk being blown off the bike than look totally uncool.

We reached Cape Agulhas late that afternoon, booked into our B&B and headed straight for the lighthouse where we bought beers and sat and relaxed for a while. The thought struck me that we have reached the turnaround point. Up until now we have been riding in a direction away from home. However, from here we slowly start traveling back towards Johannesburg. It was a bitter sweet moment. On the one hand I was having so much fun, I did not want the trip to end. Yet, on the other hand I was starting to really to miss my family, and looked forward to seeing them again. But, we still had almost 2000 km (1240 miles) to ride, so the trip was far from over.

This is as far South as you can go in Africa, and also the point where the two oceans meet. I am standing in the Indian Ocean, and Wayne is standing in the Atlantic Ocean.
(Total mileage for the day: 295 km / 183 miles)

Day seven - Route 62

We got up early and probably woke the whole up of L'Agulhas with the Harley as we rode slowly out of town, stopping at the little harbor at Struisbaai for a quick photo.

We rode to Swellendam, and then along the N2 for a short distance before turning North towards Suurbraak and the Tradouws Pass. It was here that Wayne decided he wanted to take a picture of a bike on the road, as opposed to all our other pictures which are static. In order to achieve this he had to get far enough ahead to stop and get his camera out before I caught up to him. He came past me like Cork Ballington, and disappeared around the corner ahead of me, bum off the seat and knee on the ground. In true testimony of his experience and skill levels he managed to safely negotiate the tight bends of the pass and get far enough ahead to stop and successfully take a picture of me as I rode past.

At Barrydale we turned East onto Route 62 and stopped at the famous Country Pumpkin for a delicious breakfast. Owner Derek is a big biker fan, and every biker that stops there is given a Route 62 badge.
Another interesting place to see on Route 62 is Ronnies Sex Shop, a real country pub and grub place. It used to just be Ronnies Shop, but after he added the word Sex business is booming. The latter is not available there, or if it is,  it wasn't offered to us...

Our destination for the day was Knysna. Wayne's friends Ray and Sarie very kindly offered that we stay at their place for two days. The amazing thing is that Wayne and Ray had up until now only corresponded, and have never actually met face to face. Yet we, two biker scumbags, strangers to these people, were welcomed into their home like we were long lost family, and treated like that for the duration of our stay. We had a fabulous time in Knysna, and were deeply touched by their kindness.
(Total mileage for the day: 473 km / 294 miles)

Day nine - The long ride

After two relaxing and most enjoyable days in Knysna it was time to hit the road again. We had a booking at a B&B in Burgersdorp, but rather than take the most direct route up the N9 we decided to go via Port Elizabeth to wish Wayne's son Happy Birthday. Living in the UK Wayne has not seen his son for two years, so the extra few hundred kilometers were absolutely worth it for such an occasion.

We left Knysna early and rode in light rain for for the first two hours before arriving in Port Elizabeth later that morning. We stayed there until just after lunch, and then headed North towards Cradock. It was a very long and hard ride. Knowing we had a long way to go before dark we decided not to stop as often as usual, and when we did it was only for fuel and a quick drink to freshen up.

We finally reached Burgersdorp just before dark, and settled in at the Bird Haven guest house, a Cape Dutch style house built in 1902 as a boarding school for boys. It still retains that boarding school feel, and the owner Pat takes care of all the guests much like it still is a boarding school. You feel very much at home when staying there. We had a delicious dinner and were in bed early after a long day in the saddle. Even the train, which literally runs trough the back yard, did not keep us awake.
(Total mileage for the day: 746 km / 464 miles)

Day ten - Prynnsberg Estate
Their Lordships relaxing in the Victorian bath house at Prynnsberg Estate.

On day ten we had a short but very potholed ride to Clocolan, following the R26 as it winds it's way along the Lesotho border. We were still a bit tired from the previous day's riding, so we stayed awake by playing games dodging potholes. Some of the potholes we saw could easily swallow a Harley front wheel, an experience we fortunately managed to avoid.

One of the most remote and forgotten villages we saw along the way was Van Stadensrus. We were in desperate need of fuel, so when we saw the sign we assumed civilization, and ventured into town. It was like stepping back into history. The town consists of a poorly maintained tarred main road, with gravel roads leading off to the few homes that are still inhabited. As we rode into town the few inhabitants we saw stopped what they were doing, and just stood and stared at us, much like in those old cowboy movies when an outlaw rode into town on his horse. I really thought for a moment that we might get shot.

As we were about to leave town a chap in a biker's leather waistcoat emerged from the derelict hotel and waved us down to say hi and have a chat. A fellow biker, he and his newly acquired better half were on honeymoon at the hotel, which we gathered belongs to a friend of his. Needless to say there was no petrol in this town so we pushed on to Wepener on the Lesotho border.

Later that afternoon we arrived at Prynnsberg Estate, near Clocolan. Prynnsberg Estate, a twenty room sandstone mansion, was built by the mining magnate Charles Newberry around 1881. Today it belongs to my friends Rick and Sue, who very generously offered that we spend an evening there.

Prynnsberg Estate in the late 1800's, and as it is today.

With the mansion all to ourselves Wayne and I selected rooms in opposite wings of the house, the first time in ten days that we did not have to put up with each other's snoring! The staff who run the house were wonderful, and we wanted for nothing. Food, coffee and drinks were available whenever we desired it. They even prepared the Victorian bath house for us, a most welcome and relaxing experience after ten days of riding.

Cooling off in the pool.

A delicious dinner was served in the dining room, after which we climbed the long staircase up to the billiard room for after-dinner drinks. It was the last evening of our trip, and we could not have wished for a better and more fitting way to spend it than at Prynnsberg. We nursed a bottle of fine wine and listened to music late into the night.

(Total mileage for the day: 328 km / 204 miles)

Day eleven - Home

On day eleven we rode to Johannesburg hitting the afternoon peak hour traffic in the rain. But we were smiling. We had ridden a total of 3991 km (2480 miles), we have met wonderful people, established new friendships and seen spectacular places.
But most of all, we have experienced the freedom of the open road.
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