Motorcycle tour of Eastern Cape South Africa

A Motorcycle tour of the Eastern Cape, Griqualand East, Transkei and Lesotho border area

Author: Steve and Carole Eilertsen.

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When 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 January 2002)

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. Being 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 motorbike 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.

Check 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!

Our trip took us on a giant loop from Donneybrook, Kokstad, Port St Johns, Maclear, Elliot, Barkly East, Rhodes, Maclear, Mount Fletcher, Matatiele, Kokstad and back to Donneybrook. For a lot of the trip the Lesotho border was clearly visible to the North.


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)

We 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 ever seen.  

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.

Die Kroon with its timber chalet dwarfed by the imposing hills and huge trout dam.

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.

The view from our accommodation at Port St Johns showing the Umzimvubu river flowing into the Indian Ocean

Nelson Mandela

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 to traffic.  

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.

This is the road to Maclear.  One of life's great secret pleasures is stopping at the side of the road and allowing the silence to seep into every part of your body and mind. 

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 Bushmen rock 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. 

She also mentioned that she was getting re-married the following weekend!  Her sister was out from Zimbabwe and her soon to be husband, John, a dairy farmer and vet were also staying in the house. Naturally they were all busy preparing for the big day. Well, here’s to an incredible women and her family, who made our stay on her farm an experience to remember.

This is the road to Woodcliff Farm House. It is a wonderful feeling as you open the throttle and power your way up the narrow dirt roads. 

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. 

It 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.

















This is both the road and the puddle! We eventually took the bike through the grass on the right hand side. (note the bike on the other side!)

*** Page 2 ***

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.