A Motorcycle tour of the Eastern Cape, Griqualand East, Transkei and Lesotho border area
Author: Steve and Carole Eilertsen. email@example.com
biker friends said NaudesNek Pass was one of the highest roads in
South Africa but that its condition had deteriorated badly in recent years
we were sold . . . this would be our first long distance, rural
motorcycle tour on our BMW F650! (26 December 2001 - 6
A year of planning went into this, our first long
distance touring holiday on our much-loved BMW F650 motorcycle. We considered every angle of the
trip, researched from any material we could lay our hands on and wrote up list after endless list.
a trial bike, we knew that 600km of busy national roads on a F650
is no fun, so the first leg of the journey would be by car with the
on our faithful Venter trailer. Finally the big day arrived and we left
Johannesburg with typical end-of-year, city stress levels.
After a pleasant evening with old friends at our base on a pretty farm in Donnybrook in Kwazulu, Natal we kitted out the motorbike, dumped the car and trailer and started out on the first leg of our 1050km trip.
out our itinerary (see bottom of page 2) and you can see that we are not iron-butt, kilometre number-crunchers. We planned only
120km per day on dirt and 200km per day on tar. This gave us ample time
to stop and take photos, chat to the locals, explore the countryside and
most important of all, arrive at our accommodation before the usual late
afternoon thundershowers. Steve is comfortable with virtually any road
conditions except mud - a fact that would be our Achilles heel towards
the end of our tour!
Ixopo is the Zulu word for the sound made by cattle squelching through mud.
Our first stop was Kokstad named after the first leader of the Griqua people, Adam Kok. The ride over mountain passes that wound through plunging valleys was amazing. The town greeted us with a familiar Wimpy sign that was too inviting to ignore. Feeling well fed, we followed the Cedarville road for 20km before turning off onto a well-maintained sand road, leading to Die Kroon (the crown), our accommodation for the night (see the banner pic at the top of this page)
found the farm against a steep hill
overlooking the valley below with its grazing cattle. The beautiful
sandstone farmhouse was built 75 years ago by Basuto stonemasons who where
trained by Italian prisoners of war. From its vantage point it seemed to
watch over the rest of the farm like a sentinel.
Die Kroon offers a twenty sleeper log cabin
with a wooden deck overlooking the largest man made trout dam I had
Mr and Mrs Bester and their son, a deeply religious
Afrikaans family that knew how to make strangers feel welcome, ran the
farm. We enjoyed the rest of
the day sitting by the dam, drinking in the peace and tranquillity
this area has to offer. As we
sat there, we saw a track going right up the mountain to a small house. We
later discovered the house is a hikers hut offering spectacular views from
the top. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to try it out but I look
forward to returning there one day and staying overnight at the top.
At tea, as we sat chatting to the Besters and
learnt that the area is part of East Griqualand.
Before the trip the name “East Griqualand” meant very little to
us and we nothing about its History.
We were told that it was once known as “no mans land” as it was
the area separating the Xhosa and Zulu before the arrival of the Griqua
people under Adam Kok in 1863.
In the morning, we left early for our long trip to
Port St Johns avoiding the busy N2 and taking the alternative route via
Lusikisiki. The roads were good and the views spectacular. The final
section was 20km of stony, dirt road that wound high up into the
mountains, then dropped down, and travelled alongside the cliffs on each
bank of the Umzimvubu River, before leading us into the small busy town.
We stopped for lunch at a Pizzeria on 1st
beach called Gecko Moon, the only restaurant we could find in the area.
They were out of both pizza and friendly attitudes so we opted for a
salad! There are hardly any
restaurants in the area, so unless you have a strong stomach and can eat
at a questionable establishment under canvas on the beach, I would
recommend you ask for meals to be provided at your accommodation.
The Gecko Moon did offer however a product range by
a local white sangorma by the name of “Ken the Healer”. We bought a
tub of 'paste' for my mother in laws gout. (We all
suffer with her gout!) Despite its strange colour and vanilla smell it is
great for tired, sore muscles, so mother in law will have to wait for
another tub from Ken the Healer to arrive by post!
If you head to the highest point in Port St Johns you will find the Millennium Bar with its wooden deck overlooking the whole area - an ideal place for sundowners. Apparently the place to go at night is Tubes, which is a kind of bar come nightclub tucked in the bushes on the river. To explain it generously I would call it…. 'rustic', and 'closed' in the afternoon when we visited.After a pleasant afternoon ride around the area, we found our accommodation amongst high trees and deep bush i.e. Umzimvubu Retreat, a large guesthouse on 1st beach. The manager, Paul, greeted us on our arrival. He is the town's photographer and part time manager of the guesthouse. He was also a great source of information and entertainment. Over drinks in the evening we learnt that he had spent a few weeks in a Lusaka Jail while doing some wild life photography in Zambia, but was now getting over his ordeal in quiet Port St Johns. Paul raved about the area, saying its greatest attractions were only to be seen on a longer stay where you can hike around this untouched part of Africa. To us, Port St Johns was very natural, untouched by commercialism and trying desperately to get tourist’s back into the area again. We were told that things went downhill after the area's bad press in the 'You' magazine some years ago. If you are looking for a quiet beach, then Port St Johns is not the place to be over the New Year period as bus loads of people from the rural areas come down to 2nd beach to enjoy the holidays. Although festive, we looked forward to heading back to the tranquillity of the mountains.
Nelson Mandela's home is in Qunu, not far from Kokstad. Thabo Mbeki was born in Indutywa on the banks of the Gxaxaka river, also close by to Kokstad.
Our next stop was Maclear. The roads were in
excellent condition but we had to watch out for livestock, which often just
appeared around blind corners. The locals advised us however that it was the
horses that you must watch out for. They are unpredictable and can dash out
in front of you but other livestock usually stay where they are being used
All this translates to survival rule number one on this trip i.e. never race through a blind corner or over a blind rise! Besides the livestock there are still the vehicles stopping for passengers as well as children and dogs crossing the road.
We drove through yet another awesome mountain pass
surrounded by deep valleys with the mighty Drakensburg in the distance.
We stopped occasionally and would just look
down the windy road we had just travelled. Sitting in silence we would allow
the breathtaking scenery to sink
deep into our memories so that it could become a source of inspiration once
we returned to our usual city lifestyle.
We arrived in Maclear and had lunch at Winnie's
Coffee Bar, which comes highly recommended for their salad rolls. On our way out, we met a couple travelling on a Suzuki
Hayabusa motorcycle. They had left
Clarence in the Free State that morning and were stopping off in Maclear for
lunch. They were heading off to their accommodation on the South Coast!!!
When we worked out the distance they would travel that day we were shocked. They may
have one of the fastest bikes on the market, but this area is not for
speedfreaks unless you have a death wish.
Woodcliff Farm House and Cave Tours, run by Phyll
Sephton was our booked accommodation for the night.
The road there was awesome and we thought we had seen the most
amazing scenery but it all fell short when compared to what was to come.
The farm was situated at the end of a deep valley.
In every direction you could see imposing mountains and cliffs. We swam in
the river watched by horses grazing far in the distance and shaded by willow
trees. We walked as far as we
could into the hills, not wanting to miss out on anything. We were in awe of
this incredible place.
Because it was only a one-night stay, we stayed in
the farmhouse and not in the self-catering cottage. Phyll Sephton, our host, is a remarkable woman. She had taken
over the daily running of the family farm when her husband died 6 years
ago. She lives there with her
two daughters and manages every aspect of farming as well as offering a guest house and B & B.
She is also an experienced field guide who takes groups to view the
paintings on her hiking trial. Her knowledge and passion is contagious as
she shows you the various tools she has found in the caves that the early
San people inhabited. She explains each piece with authority and allows you
to hold it and feel how the stone tool was used.
She has hosted a National Geographic team who were doing research
in the area and other groups of visiting international palaeontologists.
Then next day we sadly left Maclear and travelled
through Ugie and Elliot on our way to Barkley East.
The beginning of the trip was beautiful with those 'neatly mowed'
rolling hills that are so typical of the Drakensburg area. Then the landscape started to change as we entered the
Barkley Pass. Huge craggy, rock formations replaced the soft green hills.
The area now had that unmistakable dryer 'bushveld' look with
indigenous tress scattered on the hills.
Barkley Pass is very impressive, as you seem to go
up forever as the views around you become even more spectacular.
The town of Barkly East is quite big compared to the others we had
seen but it was Sunday and as with all small towns on a Sunday, the place
was deserted and only a café was open.
Lunch consisted of a white bread roll with Willards crisps stuffed
into it, which we ate near a waterfall on the Moshesh Ford road.
Our accommodation for the next few days was near Moshesh Ford, about 40km from the town of Barkly East. We travelled a gravel road where we navigated our way round and through large, slippery mud puddles until the mother of all road puddles stopped us dead in our tracks. It was about 100m long and stretched from one side of the road to the other! There was a marsh on the one side and a fence on the other. Judging by the ripples and reflections the puddle was deep so we didn’t want to go straight through as the possibility of the 170kg motorcycle falling over in the middle at is hit a submerged rock or pothole was very real. We tried the side near the marsh but sunk quickly into the mud, so turned the bike around and tried the other route. It was tricky to get between the deep mud and the fence but finally after unpacking our gear to enable us to manoeuvre the bike more easily, we got around. As we sat on the other side repacking and feeling very proud of ourselves, a local on an old bicycle, dressed for town, casually rode through the middle of the puddle! It was a little humiliating as we realised the bottom was obviously quite flat and offered good grip! We consoled ourselves with the fact that discretion is the better part of valour!
Ruts and Channels
We soon learnt that the ruts and channels that cut across the road are not a problem as long as you do not hit them too hard. Standing, helps the bike to move cleanly over them.
is the channels
that run down the road that are the problem. Sometimes it was better to drop
down into them and power along the bottom until they end.
Hunting and Fishing
Beside the usual outdoor attractions all of these areas offer hunting and wild trout fishing in the fast running mountain rivers. Barkly East is particularly well known for its wild fowl hunting with all the extras like horse back riding and specially trained retriever dogs.