Proud stockists of Ural sidecars & spares
2015 Karoo Ride
We ate our picnic lunch a little way out of Sutherland and then it was just us and the magnificent Tankwa Karoo. It was a beautiful ride through the Tankwa Karoo and on and up the Gannaga Pass to Middelpos.
One sometimes hear people talking about a one horse town meaning there is not a lot happening. However in the case of Middelpos this would literally be the case. As we rode in the first thing we encountered was a beautiful Arab horse being cooled down and so started our encounter with a very interesting place and the busiest barman, shopkeeper, horse rider, goat’s cheese maker, petrol pump attendant, dog breeder and hotelier I’ve ever met.
I just loved Middelpos. What was not to like. Here they make award winning goat’s milk cheese, they breed prize winning Boerboels, they ride beautiful Arab horses and life seems to have a different pace from what we are used to.
Really loved the generous dinner consisting of Lamb as well as Bobotie and quince and pumpkin fritters and barley wheat.
That night I slept like a baby and woke up looking forward to riding the Gannaga Pass down into the Tankwa again. After breakfast we milled around to take a few photos and do some last minute shopping in the General Dealer with most interesting notice in the door encountered to date (see pics I don’t want to spoil it for you and I promise it’s real).
It was while we were shopping, milling and hanging around that we learnt that Koos had lost his wallet (the first thing that went wrong in Koos’ day that Tuesday,. This gave us the opportunity to chat to Hannes and his dad that we learnt that the Van der Westhuizen family owns the entire little village of Middelpos. That explained Hannes being mayor of and occupying most other positions in Middelpos.
After giving up on Koos’ wallet, we waved Hannes and his dad and Middelpos good bye. The Gannaga Pass was breath taking, giving one the opportunity to look out over and into the vast beyond called the Tankwa Karoo.
I tried to find out what a Gannaga is – personally, judging from what I saw driving down the pass I’m convinced that a Gannaga is a stone lizard person. I saw them in the pass, they would be busy and would stop moving the second I turned to look but I could see them from the corner of my eye. I can just hear you thinking too much space gets to people. Maybe, but I dare you to come up with a better explanation for a Gannaga! Also saw ‘botterbome’ in this pass – never knew what they looked like.
Well let me tell you too much space (or maybe the Gannagas!) does get to people. Shortly after Koos couldn’t find his wallet he did manage to find reverse gear on the Gannaga Pass. Wanting to take a photo which he had missed he reversed so enthusiastically that he managed to overturn his sidecar in front of our back up vehicle. James could only look in utter disbelief at Koos’ antics. With little damage other than his dented ego and a broken indicator on the bike, James helped him back onto his wheels and he was on his way again. Incident number 2 for the day.
We rode on to the Tankwa Karoo Padstal. The road claimed a few flat tyres – the backup vehicle wrote off a tyre and we had other victims of the tyre eating road. At the Tankwa Padstal, Hein the proprietor, suggested we ride the old Postal Route or Transport Route back the next day. He also gave me to 2 beads for Emma if she ever wanted to start her own dreadlocks – really found him immensely generous with knowledge and info offered (and beads of course). Nice to see the Padstal is up and running after burning down a while ago.
We were now encountering the Afrika Burn travellers on the road into the Tankwa. Luckily we turned away to the Skittery Pass. From here the world around us turned into a fossilised Jurassic Park, truly unbelievable what nature can come up with. Everywhere one looked you saw something set in stone – and I mean this literally. In this fantastic rock world we rode on to Katbakkies Pass and beyond.
Before beyond and Wuppertal we said goodbye to Froukje and Fanie. I was sad for the loss of their company but glad that we had spent some time riding together and getting to know them a little. I’m looking forward to riding with them in future again.
The quality of the scenery was now directly related to the work one had to put into the riding and the riding before we get to the little village of Eselsbank was positively amazing.
It was at Eselsbank that Koos’ luck finally ran out all together. He hit a tree stump that had not been cut off properly with his sidecar wheel and literally flung his sidecar over. Although this was done at walking pace it happened so fast that most of us witnessing it could not believe our eyes. Real bad luck or maybe it was Fortune’s way of making sure Koos stayed out of harm’s way for the rest of the journey?
After the drama and excitement and loading Koos’ sidecar onto the trailer we rode down the Eselsbank Pass. Unfortunately the magnificent beauty wasn’t always appreciated by me. I didn’t enjoy the gradient or the sheer drop but luckily Narki has the heart of a mountain goat and she seemed to enjoy it so we made it down safe and sound.
Riding into Wuppertal we were left with no time to explore due to all the time lost during the various incidents during the day. It was getting late and the shadows were stretching so we had to make a bee line for Heuningvlei (yes the pun is absolutely intended!).
Riding into the sunset with a less than clean air filter made for some interesting times as the climbing out of Wuppertal on the road to Calvinia is c for seriaaas. Finally Narki and I sputtered and coughed into Heuningvlei. Isaac spoiled me by changing Narki’s air filter (again).
That evening Koos proceeded to make his sidecar spew flames and smoke looking like something straight from Dante’s Inferno – he also found his wallet! The rest of us, bar Marius, proceeded to fill up petrol tanks and jerry cans as we had some fuel issues the next day if we didn’t fill up from our back up vehicle.
It would turn out to be one of the mysteries of the trip why Marius didn’t fill up with all of us – maybe he was so mesmerised by Koos’ display of flames and smoke he just forgot?
Apparently the snoring later would also be straight from the Underworld. But before we get there something about Heuningvlei. What an incredible inspiration. Heuningvlei is currently home to 28 families. Farming is mostly tea. We stayed over at the Back Packers which is owned by the community. Daleen organised our meals, dinner and breakfast, with the community who brought us our warm cooked food – what a treat. Supper was mince (like my mom made) and KFC or Karoo Fried Chicken, absolutely splendid. Thank you for a wonderful stay. The accommodation was spotless and fantastic. I cannot recommend Heuningvlei high enough.
Next morning dawned beautifully and this time I got to enjoy the incredible jaw dropping stone formations in the early morning sun with low clouds floating in and out. In this very strange landscape I rode past a herd of goats with a baboon right with them and it looked as if he was looking after them, very weird but not at all out of place in this strange landscape.
Koos still tried to ride his sidecar which resulted in us riding on ahead and losing touch with our back-up as Koos’ sidecar had to be put back onto the trailer and they then took another route to Matjiesfontein.
The previous evening we had discussed it and the decision was made to ride the Biedouw Valley and then follow the Postal or Transport Route as per Hein’s suggestion. It was a beautiful ride and once we made the decision to stop waiting for our back up and push on, everybody had a fantastic time. We devised a better way of indicating what gates were to be closed or left open and rode on and on until we got to a little river of boulders.
When I arrived at the river of boulders, where there is a pont for when there is water in the river, I saw Ryno on the other side and without thinking Narki and I climbed into the stream of sand and rode to the other side taking it nice and easy like just a Ural can in the deep sand. It is a sand track the width of a car like a bridge through the boulders.
Marius and Danie both ride BMW GS bikes with sidecars attached. These are magnificent machines but the power to weight ratio is not ideal for deep sand. Danie had his Eben monkey who is worth more than his weight in gold with him so between Eben and Ryno helping and pushing and shoving the 2 GSs go through. Jaco and Jude each rode the sand in their own style – always interesting to see the different approaches.
At the time I did not think it funny but I had to chuckle when I look back on the next stretch of the Postal Route. Suddenly the road got quite rocky and the angle we were climbing, as well as the rutted condition of the road made for some serious wanting to get to the top. I had some intense Kareedouw flashbacks from our riding the year before and almost lost my sense of humour for a moment. Luckily the road levelled out and we had a beautiful ride down into the Tankwa again. That was until we hit the traffic coming to Afrika Burn (still!!) and rode 80kms into oncoming traffic in the dust.
We all heaved a massive sigh of collective relief when we pulled in to the Tankwa Padstal again.
Lunch time, bunch up time and fuel up time. We were heading for Matjiesfontein from here – what an indulgent treat as we were staying over in the Lord Milner Hotel.
Once we had all freshened up a little after all the dust from the Afrika Burn cars and traffic and we’d had something to eat, it was time to fill our petrol tanks from our little jerry cans. I think I did mention that none of us to this day know or understand why Marius never filled up his GS in Heuningvlei. It dawned on him at the Tankwa Padstal that he was now fuelless. None of us could help him as we were all using our last drop to get to Matjiesfontein. We left Marius to wait for James with the back-up vehicle or to sort some petrol from Hein at the Padstal, whichever happened first.
Speaking of Hein – he did us another kindness by telling us about an alternative route we could ride to Matjiesfontein. This route would not involve being accosted by the balance of the 10 000 strong army of Afrika Burn drivers on that road I mentioned before lunch – it would involve 3 gates - but hey we are good at opening and closing gates. Thank you Hein, it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon’s riding and before we even got to Matjiesfontein Marius had caught up with us!!
We literally rode into Matjiesfontein on the last fumes in our tanks.
And what a treat Matjiesfontein turned out to be. Not only were we staying like royalty with a beautiful double bath in the bathroom and a balcony but we get to go on the Matjiesfontein Bus ride. It’s a big red double decker bus that trundles slowly, very slowly, around Matjiesfontein. Even if you go real slow though it takes almost exactly 10 minutes to drive round the sights of Matjiesfontein with a conductor that reminded us every 10 seconds that it was Showtime!
The conductor became the tour guide and took us through some of the rooms at the Lord Milner after we sang a song or 2 in the pub. The pub is a magnificent wooden affair with a picture of Queen Victoria that somebody was kind enough to point out looked a little like Paul Kruger without the beard!
We also saw a spot where a ghost materialises when photos are taken from a certain angle, very Victorian.
That evening we had a superb meal, I mean seriously excellent. The Lord Milner is now run by a wife and husband team. This seems to be a formidable combination as she is the chef (straight from food heaven) and he is Manager. I think the Crème Brulee was the best I’ve ever had, not exaggerating.
Did not know it then but breakfast would be one of the best on the trip – to start my day with Smoked Salmon Trout Scramble is a blessing I’m truly grateful for.
After the beautiful Matjiesfontein Smoked Salmon Scramble the day commenced with a ride to Laingsburg to fill up with petrol – all of us this time haha. We then turned at the flood line marker (really unbelievable to think this happened) and aimed for Seweweekspoort.
Last time we rode through there it was summer and although it was jaw dropping it still looked from this earth so to speak. This time it looked like we were riding into Mordor. I was expecting Gandalf and Frodo and the rest of the Lord of the Rings cast to make their appearance any moment.
A huge fire had come through Seweweekspoort and it was like riding an entirely different pass from before. From the Seweweekspoort we rode on to Calitzdorp and after Calitzdorp we would be riding one of our favourite country roads in the whole world. Just before we got to Calitzdorp though, we rode the Huysrivier Pass, just fantastic.
At Calitzdorp we turned onto this favourite country road or the Groenfontein road to Kruisrivier. We see some inspirational farms and homesteads. Unfortunately we didn’t get to taste any of the many wines on offer along the road. We only tasted the freedom of the open road (man that sounds cheesy!)
Anyway on our cheesy free open road we now ride with the Swartberg Mountains in our sights and the wind in our hair, just cheesing – we felt nothing in our hair as we were all wearing helmets. Having the Swartberg Mountains on our left it meant we would be riding the Swartberg Pass in the not too distant future. But first padkos piekniek. Danie and Eben won prize for most impressive padkos ensemble. It was never ending. They were still producing smoked viennas on the second last day!
The views were almost as good as the padkos – just kidding, the views were sublime. The prospect of riding the Swartberg Pass in the opposite direction from what we’ve done before had everyone quite excited and the thought of a cold beer at the Swartberg Inn in Prince Albert is enough to cause some real joy.
At the top of the Swartberg Pass it was windy, cloudy and freezing. Isaac rode with Ryno and particularly enjoyed it as he had heard about it numerous times, but never ridden it.
That night Ryno and I drew the short straw and got to sleep in the room right above the kitchen in the Swartberg Hotel in Prince Albert. We were literally woken up by the smell of bacon. A whiff is delicious but this felt like we could have been sleeping in the pan – not that fantastic. Well like they say, when your complaints are of excess you are truly blessed so blessed us brushed teeth, washed faces and packed our stuff pronto hoping we didn’t smell like breakfast on the move.
Our bacon day was also Worker’s Day which probably accounted for the fact that although we smelled the bacon being fried, it took forever to get to us. Breakfast was really a clench my teeth affair with one poor lady trying to serve 5 tables being constantly interrupted. It was such a far cry from the previous morning at the Lord Milner that it made me want to cry.
So with tears of relief I said goodbye to the Swartberg Hotel and started a day of riding magnificence. We were heading for Klaarstroom. Before we got to Klaarstroom we had to stop for a photo op in the Rooinek Pass to honour all the Rooinekke riding with us. Haven’t found a Rock Spider Pass yet, still looking!
Klaarstroom came and went and then we entered Meiringspoort. They had recently had some severe flooding in Meiringspoort involving a bus that got washed away. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with the clean-up and maintenance and reconstruction that had already taken place.
Previously I had ridden this pass in the opposite direction and a different time of day. This was a spectacular ride. I loved the beautiful masonry work on the edges of the road and the light falling through at strange angles and lighting up so much of the detail. There was also very little traffic, it was just a fabulous ride. As we exited the pass it became clear that the other half’s brave sidecar was finally coming to a complete standstill. On the other side of Meiringspoort we loaded poor little Monday onto the trailer.
And thus I gained a monkey. So after fortifying ourselves with the biggest portion of ‘melktert’ and hot chocolate we’ve had in years in De Rust, we set off for Willowmore. This is a beautiful piece of riding world and the kilometers flew by. Willowmore was busy and we all filled up and got cold drinks and off we went again in the direction of Steytlerville.
Danie and Eben could almost smell home and decided to ride on to Jeffries Bay. Maybe their padkos was finished? Loved their company as always and felt deprived of their company the last night.
Soon after saying goodbye to Team Cross we turned off the one track concrete road that goes to Steytlerville and we stopped and had the last of our top box ‘padkos’ picnics. We were all down to the last packets of tuna and biscuits and raisins and nuts and biltong and dry wors. It was bottom of the barrel stuff, never mind end of the month Salticrax.
After lunch the road became really exciting – maybe it had something to do with the fact that I now had a monkey! We were travelling along the river and the road was nice and windy and we were going great guns in fact so great guns that I went into a bend way too fast – luckily it just ended in lots of dust and laughing.
There was game all around. We saw 3 beautiful kudu and a little pack of bat eared foxes. Just as the road descended into a crossing over a little stream Ryno hit my leg really hard. Wow I thought, what’s this monkey business. Next thing a kudu launched herself across the road right in front of us, in fact if Ry hadn’t been so insistent and I hadn’t let up on the throttle immediately I’m convinced the kudu would have hit us. As it was I swear I could have touched her if I had reached out.
Being really awake now we had only a little stretch left to Marlu, the farm where we stayed over.
Upon our arrival Lucia met us and showed us where everyone was sleeping. Martin her husband would be home a little later and dinner was at seven. So we got to sit around and shoot the breeze a little and watched the weirdest little cat and Jack Russell duo. This was unbelievable. Bubbles the Jack Russel would drag the cat around in the dust. The cat would be completely happy. In fact as soon as Bubbles lost interest, the cat would find a way to draw her attention again. Very strange. Lucia says she has seen the dog drag the cat up the stairs and the cat always comes back for more – go figure.
Supper was ‘Rooibok’ (no not ‘Rooinek’) Pie and Leg of Lamb - incredible meal. Really good experience as they sat down with us and we had a range of very interesting conversations about what’s happened to the ostrich industry, their Angora goats and the problems with social grants and teenage pregnancies on the farms, to name a few.
Next morning we had a stunning farm breakfast before we said our goodbyes. We really enjoyed our stay with the Dorflings.
The route Ry had planned for the last day was not one we had ever ridden before. At some stage we turned left in the general direction of Klipplaat. In fact, I was so busy checking for jumping kudus that I never saw that there was a sign showing Road Closed. Of course we keep riding, me really not knowing or anticipating any kind of road closure. Anyway the going got real technical, very pretty but good old constant gear changing riding. We met some 2 wheelers coming from the front. They looked a little surprised to find us there.
It was a good ride. Hard work but a lot of fun. At some stage we got a turn wrong after Klipplaat and found ourselves doing the headless chicken jig before we found our way again.
Round about then my dearly beloved monkey suggested that I should try engaging 4th gear on a little stretch of road. This was the perfect opportunity for me fake indignant irritation about back seat (actually in this case side seat) driving and insist that I get to ride in the sidecar and monkey around for a while.
And thus it happened that I got to ride home the last 100 kms or so in style in the sidecar. It must have been my other half’s superb riding skill or maybe just too much farm food, but I could not keep my eyes open!
I snoozed my way through Graaff Reinet and only started feeling vaguely awake again when we rode through Nieu Bethesda to Weltevreden where all the cars were parked.
That evening we had our traditional Karoo Lamb supper and we counted our blessings. It had been a wonderful trip with no injuries and lots of good riding and good eating and entertaining company.
Riding the Karoo for a week reminded me of that old ad where the jingle was: ‘it’s good and clean and fresh tralala …’ because that’s exactly what my soul felt like after a week riding the grand great Karoo.
Written by: Alpha Greeff