Motorcycle tour of Eastern Cape South Africa Naudes Nek Pass

 

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

 

Arriving in Barkly East marked the start of the wild and remote region of our trip. These areas, often snowed in during the winter have roads that see very little traffic. Cape vultures, storks and black eagles are common and horses are used where the  4 x 4 vehicles can no longer go.

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On arrival at the farm we were greeted by a large well built man who’s skin showed he was a man who was hardened by many hours in the sun.  Baasie Vosloo, a name that is known throughout the Barkly area greeted me with a huge hug, which knocked my breath away for a moment. Then he ordered his sons to get us all a beer!  

The farm has been in Bassies's family for three generations.  It is awesome, set high up in the hills far away from civilisation.  Baasie farms on horseback as the cattle and sheep graze in places that are unreachable by vehicle.  He was later described to us as the original “Man from Snowy River”, apparently a movie, which I had not seen, but everyone laughed and agreed. 

The farm has three self-catering units in very different areas. 'The Shoppe' is nearest to the farmhouse and is the original farm stall Baasie's mom managed years ago but is now a fully furnished cottage with a patio overlooking the farm below.  There are two other fully furnished houses, one built in sandstone with loads of character and a smaller one deep in the mountains. All of them however offer wild trout fishing, hunting, horse riding, hiking and total privacy. 

A rainstorm on the night we arrived made the local roads muddy and slippery. We knew that the trip to Maclear over Naude's  Nek Pass after rain was going to be impossible, so we waited and hoped for a few dry days before we started the next phase of our trip.  Luckily two dry days followed and we headed for Rhodes, a quick trip from Moshesh Ford (about 40km) but it would break the next leg before we tackled the difficult pass the following day.

For the novice there is trout fishing on Bassie's dam while for the experienced angler there are the wild trout in the river in the trees in the distance

Rhodes is a small town that is very much like Pilgrims Rest but without all the commercialism.  The homes are beautifully restored and the surroundings are quite spectacular.  It is the closest town to “Tiffendale” the ski resort for winter sports. Rhodes survives off tourism and offers fly-fishing, hiking, mountain biking and hosts many sporting competitions all year around. 

We stayed at Walkerbouts, a guesthouse which offers dinner, bed and breakfast and is run by Dave, a father Christmas look-alike who loves cooking.  The place has enormous character and warmth and the food was unusual but wonderful.  Be careful though, over dinner we heard a story about Dave cooking up a storm one night but not telling anyone what they had eaten until, with a huge grin, he announced they had all eaten sheep testacles, a delicacy in some countries! 

Our run of uneventful touring finally ended outside Walkerbouts. Steve misjudged the width of the bike with its panniers while trying to park and hit a bakkie that broke the pannier off the frame, cracking it badly. Hundreds of uneventful kilometres behind us and we have an accident in the car park!! I soon learnt from Steve that you could use a hot needle to make holes in the pannier's plastic shell and sew it together with thin wire.  The following morning the pannier was back on the bike with more stitches than an ice hockey goalkeeper! Now I know why Steve never leaves town without a supply of bits and pieces for those unexpected events. 

After a wonderful breakfast and a quick walk through the town we got on the bike to head over the “Naude's Nek Pass”, the whole reason this trip was planned in the first place and definitely the highlight. We were delayed awhile however when a local dog bit Steve while he was posing for a photo on the motorbike. (see pic below) He was not impressed and asked the owner why she did not move back to Johanessburg where the dog's obvious skills could be better utilised!  

Rhodes. All the charm of Pilgrims Rest - without the tourist traps. Note the large Alsatian who moments later had his fangs buried deep in Steve leg!!

Lundeensnek

For the adventurous a trip to the Lesotho border and back via  Lundeensnek makes a great all day excursion from Moshesh Ford or Barkly East. This trip takes you past the highest accessible point in South Africa  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding near Rhodes

If you plan to do any riding in a 100 km radius of the village of Rhodes it is a good idea to limit yourself to a maximum of 150km per day.  

 

Although we knew the road was bad we had no idea how tough it was going to be.  With all the rains the mud and puddles had not dried up completely.  The road was rough but manageable although there was no sitting back to enjoy the ride. You had to plan your route over each section dodging the mud, deep ruts, loose stone and rocks.  The grunty F650 handles wonderfully uphill and powered it’s way to the top but it is a lot harder going downhill with no power and trying to navigate the umpteen hairpin turns on a surface covered in loose stones, ruts and channels.

The scenery however is spectacular as you go higher and soon you can see forever with those blue-silhouetted mountains far in the distance and the familiar lush green hills and valleys all around you.

(Top) The first 100m of NaudeNek Pass as it begins its 64km journey to Elands Heights.

(Right) At the top and now for the steep descent down from 2740m which had the bike popping and wheezing for air.

By the time we got to the top at midday we realised we were making slow progress and needed to get to Maclear before the late afternoon rains.  We had heard from many people that there was a public phone booth at the top from which we had planned to phone the kids from.  We found the phone in a small tin house that looked more like a rural toilet, but unfortunately, the tin house was empty. The phone had been stolen, and there was no cell phone reception as an alternative, so sadly we got back on the bike.  

After Naude's Nek Pass we dropped back down heading towards Elands Heights on the long road back to Maclear. The fastest we were able to go was about 40kph, as we crept along trying to stay on the road.  It was muddy in a lot of places and the back wheel slipped out a few times but we recovered unconcerned. Eventually however our luck ran out and the back wheel hit some very slippery mud as we crested a blind rise/corner.  It slid out and Steve tried to gain control by putting his foot down to push the bike upright. It worked the first time but then the wheel slipped out again, this time going down the side of the road into the ditch. The rest of the bike followed eagerly with its two riders! The mud rushed up and we were dumped into the ditch to the now familiar sound of cracking panniers. 

A stunned silence followed. Anxiously we checked on one another and thankfully, we were both were ok. We disentangled ourselves from the bike and assessed the damage.  The pannier frame was bent and the good pannier was now also broken but everything else seemed fine.  To get the 170kg bike and luggage out of the ditch on this slippery muddy surface was difficult. We finally succeeded however by piling stones into the ditch to offer some grip and pushed it out.  Once however we started the motorbike and put it into gear, the back wheel would not move.  We finally found a stone tightly jammed between the small sprocket and the chain.  Nothing serious, luckily!  We washed ourselves off in the clear water running in the bottom of the ditch. We had some lunch staring at the bike wondering if we should be grateful or angry. As it turned out 'grateful' was the correct choice, as we never saw another vehicle for over four hours! This is seriously wild, craggy and lonely country! Apparently, the local stock farms are all but deserted because of stock theft from nearby Lesotho.

In the ditch - but unharmed. The mud which caused the slide also provided a softer landing!

After a punishing 64km, we finally hit tar and gratefully arrived at our accommodation - the Royal Hotel in Maclear.  We were exhausted as we flopped into a hot bath and then crawled into bed. 

At about 10:00pm we woke up to a roaring birthday party, happening in the pub a few metres from our room.  The music was pumping so loud we could not even attempt to ignore it and get some sleep, so we accepted our fate, cursing both the owners and the birthday boy! Steve used the time productively by sewing up the second broken pannier and I put the TV on full and caught an old movie accompanied by the now familiar smell of burning plastic! 

The music stopped at 12:00, but we were wide-awake and getting back to sleep was difficult.  Eventually we nodded off and got a few hours of rest. We woke up still exhausted and started our journey to Matatielle.  The first 40km to Mt Fletcher was also dirt, rough, uneven and stony but after the previous day was easy.  By now, we had learnt that the constant opening and closing the throttle and dodging this way and that was not only pointless but tiring - better to settle down into a easy, constant 40kph and enjoy the ride. 

The landscape had changed once again.  The hills were scattered with rocks, some huge and impressive. Rural communities lived in huts between the giant rocks, which form a private haven from the other huts nearby. 

Mt Fletcher was a typical African rural town but I found the people to be the most friendly we had met.  They spoke excellent English and seemed well educated for such a rural community.   We stopped at the only supermarket in the town for a cold drink, thinking that this would be an easy request, being used to an endless variety in even the smallest café in Johannesburg.  Finding one fridge at the back of the shop, I was given the option of a six-pack of cokes or one lonely Schweppes granadilla.  I was amused when I got to the till and started a conversation with some ladies sitting on a pile of mealie meal at the front. One of the ladies told me with great enthusiasm that she was going to visit Johannesburg soon…. by horseback!  I tried to smile politely but the image of her galloping down the M1 amused me all the way to the next town. 

Mt Fletcher to Matatielle was a good tar road with only a few potholes and the occasional sheep or cow crossing. We were shocked at the size of the town of Matatielle, being quite large and busy for such an out of the way place. 

Our guesthouse was called “Sara-Lee” and it was perfect.  At this stage, the once sort-after conversation with strangers had now become tiresome and we craved some time to ourselves, which we were given at this lovely, private guesthouse.  We had a refreshing swim in their pool and caught up on some much needed sleep. 

We left early the next morning for Donneybrook with a sad heart, knowing that this was the last leg of our adventure. We ended the trip riding through the lush green hills of Kwazulu Natal that are typical of this mist covered area, riding silently, trying to capture the last of the magic of this land.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matatielle

Matatielle means the 'wildfowl have flown away' - a reminder of the town's early history when the nearby wetlands were drained for agriculture.

 

We passed through Hala, Hala on a bad sand road high up in the mountains offering spectacular views of the valley below with a strong flowing river cutting through the mountains.  Apparently, white water rafting is offered here, so we made plans to go back in April.  After lunch in a nearby hotel, we took a short walk to Qunu Falls accompanied by the hotel dog that eagerly showed us the way. The Ellerines furniture truck lying at the base of the falls 100m down was however cause for some speculation. 

Mkomazi River Gorge near Hala Hala provides excellent white water rafting for those who would like to try the sport before taking on more challenging rivers

We arrived back at the farm and were greeted by friendly, familiar faces and welcomed into their home. It was a great feeling! That evening we ended our tour watching the sunset while sharing a picnic alongside the Comrie dam in one of the many Sappi Forests in the area. 

The next morning we left, wrapped in the mist so common to the Natal area.  The motorbike tied up on the trailer behind us was a sad reminder that the adventure was over . . . until next time!  

Comments, suggestions and queries are welcome. Send to:
mailto:stevei@icon.co.za

 

TownDistanceAccommodationContact Details
DonneybrookN/APorthill Farm. Self catering cottageGail Eardly
(039) 831 0045
Kokstad121kmDie Kroon Guest Farm. Self catering chalet and B+BFarmstay. 
(012) 322 6980
Port St Johns171kmUmzimvubu Retreat. Guest House with meals extra(047) 564 1741
Maclear198kmWoodcliff Farm House and self catering chalet(045) 932 1550
Barkly East / Moshesh Ford140kmBirkhall. Self catering cottage or housesBassie Vosloo 
082 920 9084
Rhodes40kmWalkerabout. DBBDave Walker 
082 892 6998
Maclear118kmRoyal Hotel(045) 932 1176
Matatiele140kmSara Lee Guest House B+BTina 
(039) 737 3432
Donneybrook210kmPorthill Farm. Self catering cottageGail Eardley
(039) 831 0045

All accommodation between R100 and R200 per person per night
(approx $10 to $20 US)

  

  

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