A Motorcycle tour of the KwaZulu Natal, Memel area
Steve Swanepoel Memorial Challenge

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Author: Steve and Carole Eilertsen. stevei@icon.co.za

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I do not ask for whom the road tolls

The road tolls for me . . .

I love the open road, to see it disappear over the horizon or around a mountain spur. I enjoy the sense of community with the other road users as our different lives cross momentarily en route. For me a deserted dirt road is a destination and I love to stop to breathe in the swamping silence and feel the buzzing warmth on my back. Back on the road I look forward to the next town, one I have never visited before and a name that results in blank stares from my friends when mentioned around a braai fire.

You cannot view a motorcycle without its rider. Each rider has his own interpretation of biking – an interpretation that is a combination of his choice of machine and the person he is. Such a person was the late Steve Swanepoel - a mad, stalwart biker who helped pave the way for adventure biking in South Africa when adventure motorcycles did not even exist. In those early days, riders would ride dirt roads on anything with two wheels and a running engine. The rest of the biking fraternity have now caught up with his off-road lifestyle but are still to adopt his two-hour sleep in the veld over midday!

Therefore, a combination of an obscure town called Memel and an organized memorial ride to a fallen rider and my wife Carole and I signed on the dotted line. The arrival of our new baby did not deter us as Joshua is blessed with doting grandparents that would take care of him for the weekend. Steve would have approved. A biker all his life it was routine hospital stay and a botched operation that got him before his time.


Verkykerskop. A Grade Two Town (Dion)


I grade towns on a 13-point scale shown below using fuel, food, drink and toilet facilities as the yardstick. (Chain and conference hotels are not considered when grading.)

Grading Number.     Description.

1. Diesel only and the locale is deserted.

2. Diesel and one type of petrol. The petrol attendant works at the spaza shop down the road.

3. Diesel and both types of petrol. The petrol attendant also sells chickens on the side.

4. More than one brand of petrol station. You can also buy a cold drink from a locked fridge. There is an ATM in town.

5. Petrol stations with locked toilets. The key is wired to a large wooden block but the door is loose having been forced open a number of times.

6. A local hotel that serves steak, egg and chips in the bar but has no printed menu. The friendly barmaid is a gentle reminder why you spent thousands of rands on orthodontal treatment for your kids.

7. Bottled water is available. The town also features two churches i.e. one with straight lines built 100 years ago with the roof on top. The other, only 50 years old, with diagonal lines with the roof that touches the ground on the corners.

8. The public toilets are public and therefore open, but you have to dry your hands on your pants and your face on your T-shirt.

9. Wimpy Fast Food and / or Spur Restaurant with a TV where you can watch the game.

10. The public toilets have soap, disposable paper towels and insipid piped music.

11. The town offers a choice of small, owner-run restaurants that offer different menus. One of them has a vegetarian menu.

12. The town has an owner-run boutique coffee bar with freshly baked cakes that closes at 5pm.

13. A late-night boutique coffer bar that also sells imported beer. In addition, it has baked cheesecake and not the fridge-tart sort.

Straight roads and flat country through the Free State

This trip Carole rode pillion due to her recent pregnancy. Panniers, top box, tank bag, GPS and we were sorted. Leaving Johannesburg we headed south towards the Free State. I think straight roads through flat country are underrated. The relaxed drone of the powerful engine and the hum from the tyres is both relaxing and hypnotic. There is something bizarre about travelling at 140kph and yet the countryside still crawls slowly by. This allows you a brief look into the lives of those that live alongside the road. In particular, I feel a kind of kinship with the herders as they ride their horses bareback through the fields as they tend to the cattle.

Memel, on the border of Free State and KZN is a pretty, grade 6 country town with a wide main road. Its main claim to fame is Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve just east of the town. This natural wetland is the sanctuary of many endangered water birds. To the west (and to the east) lie the Balelesberg Mountains where the ride took place.

Cliffdale Hotel, Memel. Good food, good hospitality

The once deserted hotel is now a smoothly running family business – friendly, relaxed, cold beer and the usual pool table in the bar. The dining room offered good South African country cooking. For the uninitiated, this is cooking that offers all the food groups, cooked in as few pots as possible. We met the other 35 participants and admired the vast range of off-road machinery outside the hotel. Not all riders are created equal. Some bikes were already covered in dust and two of them already had bent and missing pieces. Others in concourse condition where being gingerly offloaded from the back of bakkies and trailers.

The next morning the mainly happy crowd armed with maps (with GPS co ords) gathered outside. Simon Fourie missed his plate of hot porridge and had to settle for cold muesli, but he got over it later. The weather was good and we left on the 350km dirt road ride.

Thirty minutes into the ride the only error on the map caused confusion i.e. follow the GPS co-ords or follow the contradictory directions? Remembering the briefing of the previous night of “when it doubt, go straight”, some of us went straight! Why did we take this advice? Its logical conclusion is a round-the-world-trip starting in Memel, South Africa! Other riders ignored the advice and turned right as indicated by the GPS co-ordinate (this confusion has been corrected in the co-ords supplied below)

After an easy and relaxed 85km ride through undulating countryside, we arrived still somewhat confused at Verkykerskop, a type 2 town. The only petrol pump had a lengthy explanation bleached white by the elements. I could not read it but filled up anyway, as I needed extra fuel should I get lost. The entire trip does not have a single petrol station worthy of the name except for the town of Newcastle 50km from the end of the ride

Verkykerskop, a grade two town is a blast from the past. If you have been around the block a few times the town is filled with all the old stuff from your childhood. From wagon wheels to those old red, chest-type Cola Cola freezers


The odd signs of Verkykerskop, many of them, particularly those for household products, familiar from childhood.

The "Eat and get Gas' sign had that 50's feel when people seemed inclined to state the obvious.

An hour later, our group arrived at intersection number seven. We came in from the North while another group arrived from the South. Reunite and confusion now irrelevant, we all blasted off in hot pursuit of a few riders who seemed to know where they were going.

Despite it still being dry and brown from winter the blossoms were already showing (Dion)



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