Proud stockists of Ural sidecars & spares
To Hell and Back via 'Moer Toe'
Once we left Aberdeen it’s 28kms to the turn-off into the vastness and roughly 30kms into this, the Karoo landscape goes into serious overdrive. And so we had our lunch and drove through this spectacular space. This is big sky country on another scale – all this space actually induces a kind of trance – a Karoo-trance with stillness as opposed to John Denver or a symphony or anything else in my head!
And while I’m in my own little surreal trans-world we stop for a leg stretch and bottom rest in Rietbron. It’s Sunday afternoon and the town looks exactly like those Western movie towns just before the High Noon shoot out. Nothing stirs on the streets, a wind rustles past some tolbosse and in the corner of your eye you could swear you saw a curtain move, but nothing else!! And of course you can clearly hear the theme song of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’.
This is the honest truth, in more than 4 hours of riding we saw 3 people! They were waiting at the bus station in Rietbron, grandaughter, daughter and ouma waiting patiently. I concluded that Rietbron had to be real because all 3 waved back when I greeted. It was not a figment of my entranced imagination.
We rode into Prince Albert on the last golden rays of the day. It’s very beautiful and our approach took us straight to the beautiful church in the centre of town.
Supper at The Swartberg Hotel turned out to be a culinary feast – fabulous! I think I enjoyed the Salmon Parcels more than the Chocolate Chillie Mousse – but just.
I wish all my Monday mornings meant heading out to Gamkaskloof via the Swartberg Pass. The approach from the Prince Albert side into the Swartberg Pass actually defies description. This was the third time I had done this and it would seem it gets more impressive every time. It feels like you are riding head on into these towering red cliffs and suddenly you get swallowed by some ancient dragon with stone insides. Once the dragon lets go you are ascending the pass on the beautifully crafted stone buttress walls, curving and bending all the way to Teeberg.
We had to have a group photo and then it was time for our digression into Gamkaskloof.
Very soon after Teeberg one turns into Gamkaskloof , also known as Die Hel although the inhabitants were never keen on this name as it was quite a religious community that lived here. Those days are long gone – not necessarily the religious bit but definitely the inhabitants. Today there is still one woman who is a direct descendant of the original Gamkaklowers living in …. no I won’t say it because it is a very beautiful place and I agree with the inhabitants.
Initially one drives through beautiful fynbos and proteas which changes and eventually down in the belly of the kloof, you would swear you are smack bang in the Bushveld! There are 57 gobsmacking kilometers with the last 7 really tightening the turns so to speak.
The vegetation changes dramatically as do the scenery and rock formations. It became quite clear at our first watering stop that I had some top box housekeeping problems. As I opened my top box to take out my camera the smell of good old OBS was quite overwhelming – even for me it was a little early on a Monday! I had a little bottle, for medicinal purposes of course – cold weather, monkey anxiety, driver fortification, etc – riding in my top box.
The screw top jiggled loose, these things can only happen in top boxes and was now ruining my journal, hat and every other soakable thing. This wasn’t the end of it, the coffee jar which had been deposited there in some haste did exactly the same thing. This kept me busy for a little while.
Finally with my top box sorted I could resume my magical Monday. In fact so well did it go that I caught up with everyone else and for some reason arrived at a gentle little stream first and all by myself. It never even occurred to me that one could get stuck here – well I did! Well and truly stuck. So much so that team Pitt had to help me get Narki out of the water. By now I was not striking a particularly elegant pose anymore – in fact at first Grant and Nerine thought I was washing my bike – I ask you! Once again I viewed this as a brief interlude on my magical Monday morning ride.
For a long time one rides watching the road snake ahead of you like a mule trail in the Andes. I know this because in December I wasn’t always convinced that we would actually be riding there or that it really was for vehicles. Luckily I was prepared this time and knew the best spot for lunch was just on that particularly impressive bend where you think you’ve done this, piece of cake! I knew I needed a little bit of help with the last 7 kms down into Gamkaskloof so couldn’t wait for our roadside picnic.
I have tried this before and am now completely convinced. Those little packets of tuna and crackers – they never really taste the same if you have it at home without the breeze in your face and the fantastic scenery. This was a particularly good one – the view that is!
As I’ve mentioned in more than one Trip Report before I have my own little issues and demons when it comes to high roads and passes. Anyway I can happily report back that I did not succumb, I did not become a screeching, front brake clutching shrew (to Ryno’s relief I’m sure) – no, I rode all the way down composed and controlled. If it carries on like this I’ll have to confess to moments of delight in the incredible view down the valley.
We were very clever and our intrepid brother leader on Frodo made us buy braaivleis at the butchery in Prince Albert. Monday night we were rewarded with one of the best braais I’ve ever had. The skaap tjoppies were just wonderful and the fire and evening turned out to be the perfect ending to an excellent day’s riding.
Seeing as I was the one in charge of the bacon roll breakfast on Tuesday morning I decided that we would be eating these after we had climbed that spectacular 7kms out to the top of the stone cairns where we had lunch the previous day, as I couldn’t eat anything before. Although the previous day had gone very well I still had some leftover butterflies in my tummy about the ride out. I was convincing everyone that it was better to ride this stretch as early as possible as oncoming traffic on this part isn’t always what one welcomes, well at least I don’t!
You know that feeling when the exact thing you are stressing yourself silly about comes true right in front of your eyes! There way at the top of the pass was a little truck winding its way down! I almost grabbed my leftover sherry I was so unimpressed.
I waited for the truck and once it had passed couldn’t get little Narki up there fast enough! She turned out to be a real mountain goat, almost a klipspringer! We were all rewarded with lekker bacon rolls (with Simba chips for the adventurous eaters!) at the stone cairns. We had some misfortune though. Madol didn’t execute one of the hairpin bends quite the way he intended and ended up on his side with his sidecar on its side as well (no that’s not why they are called sidecars!) damaging some muscles in his shoulder in the process. I take my hat off to him – he still rode out and down the Swartberg Pass. It must have hurt like hell and he never complained!
Our ride out went without any further mishaps and once we joined the Swartberg Pass again it was like riding on a highway. At the top of the pass the view of the Klein Karoo on the other side of the mountains is truly memorable. It looks like a quilt. I have never ridden the road from the foot of the Swartberg to Oudshoorn so I was pleasantly surprised!
Oudshoorn was less pleasant though – our back up driver struggled for 25 mins to get parking and one of our sidecars riders was given a parking ticket!! Coming in from the relative isolation of the Swartberg and ending in bustling Oudshoorn takes a bit of manuevering to adjust the head space. Once we had finished our Wimpy burgers we all felt a little better and we were ready for the rest of our day.
After lunch we set off for the Montagu Pass which starts at Herold on the top side. On the way we passed some very curious ostriches and did a quick air filter change (actually WE changed nothing, Ryno did it for me – one of many – thanks Ry and everyone else who helped me with Narki’s air filter!) We rode past Kapteinskloof, past Perdepoort and then we descended the mighty Outiniqua Mountains via the Montagu Pass. At the bottom of the pass we fueled up in George and headed for Brenton-on-Sea. The road from George to Knysna through Wilderness proved to be both beautiful and frustrating.
After seeing the ocean as you round the bend and come down into Wilderness, the sea disappears never to return. This combined with the 80km per hour speed limit for long stretches proved to be quite an-noy-ing!!
Luckily we were staying at the Brenton-on-Sea cottages and this little Gautenger couldn’t get down to the beach for sundowners fast enough. We ended the day enjoying the sunset with a drink in one hand and our feet in the ocean and excellent company. All was happiness again and although we had a lekker kuier at the Nauticus Restaurant that evening it was the only positive thing we could say about the restaurant. We waited for an hour and a half for cold, old food – go figure!
Wednesday morning dawned perfect. Not a breeze with a magnificent sunrise. We were all sunning ourselves like little meerkat with our cups of tea and coffee. What a fantastic way to start the day – especially if the day involves riding through Gouna Forest and up the Prince Alfred Pass to Baviaanskloof.
Saying we were looking forward to the day’s riding is an understatement. But first we had to sort breakfast – we couldn’t face the Nauticus so Mike, who knows this part of the world well took us down to the shop at the caravan park and we had some of the best chicken pies I’ve ever eaten. In fact, I would give it my vote for best chicken pie anywhere!
I like riding through Gouna and just as I was getting ready to spot a fairy – I had seen a number of fern fronds move in the beams of golden sunlight out the corner of my eye – the road ended in a steep climb and there we were back on the big road between Diepwalle and Velbroekdraai where the big tree is! Never saw a fairy or an elephant.
At Velbroekdraai we waited for our back up driver, visited the big tree and generally talked some nonsense. It wasn’t long before we were on the road again and gearing up for the main course – Prince Alfred.
If Thomas Bain were still alive I would write him a proper letter telling him how impressive his passes are and thanking him for the incredible joy he has brought to so many travellers. I would even offer him a ride in my sidecar! I am not usually given to overt admiration of people but he certainly was an exceptional road builder.
It is a very beautiful pass to ride. It is also the only pass where the other pass users have turned out to be so consistently impolite and unfriendly every time I’ve ridden it. The experiences of the other sidecar riders bore this out. These drivers seem to think the pass belongs to them? Strange notion.
Just after we crossed the Keurbooms River, we stopped for a fabulous picnic spread which James and Joshua, our back up, team had put together. Lekker! We all made it out the pass with knees and elbows intact.
In Uniondale we fill everything we can with fuel and eat some ice cream on the shop stoep while we try and spot a ghost or two. We now pointed our noses and our sidecar front wheels in Willowmore’s general direction.
In no time we were at the turn off to Baviaanskloof. I can never tell when it’s going to happen but when it does it is sidecar heaven. Everything comes together to create perfect riding conditions – the light, the temperature, the scenery, the road – all of it just goes magical. The stretch from the turn off to Makkedaat’s Caves where we were staying over was like that. Narki felt like an eagle, literally like her and I were airborne and will you believe Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Cabal’s Barcelona was bellowing in my head – where from!!?? What do Barcelona and Baviaans have in common other than starting with a B? My head can be a very strange place but I wasn’t complaining I just enjoyed every second.
There’s an official sign welcoming you to the Baviaanskloof and not too long after this it becomes clear that these mountains are very close family of the Swartberg mountains. The same colours and squashed contours – fabulous and eerie.
Everything about the Makkedaat’s Caves seems other worldly. From the very warm welcome by Tannie Hendriette, to the enchanting accommodation (like something from a children’s story book) to the supper in the barn, to the expectation of meeting a leopard up close and personal ,to the 3D stellar display in the night sky – words cannot do this place or the people justice.
Thursday morning we enjoyed a fabulous Baviaans breakfast and it touched my heart that Tannie Hendriette insisted on saying a prayer before we sat down to eat. It was good to know that we would take a prayer with us.
The early morning riding was pure bliss – going through pockets of cold air and back into the sunlight and having the big mountains all around us. The little river crossings were mostly dry and now and again we had a little bit of fun with some water. Last year the water had been a big issue but it soon became obvious that even Smitskraal , the longest and deepest of the ‘driwwe’ wouldn’t be a problem. Says me – haha - who turned out to be the only one who got stuck in it! Well I suppose someone had to?!
Riding Baviaans for me meant over load. It is overwhelming in many ways – the distance, the expanses, the drop offs, all of it. The landscape changes all the time and you have to adjust your riding rhythm constantly. The last stretch out is an unpleasant business of being shaken on concrete patch work at a pretty hectic incline. The gaping abyss on the side doesn’t make it easier and James’ description of feeling very exposed for a long time sums it up for me. It was first gear riding for a good long stretch and I would lie if I said the view was impressive. It probably is but I never looked. I was so busy not fixating on the side that I developed tunnel vision. For future reference I think a better way of experiencing and discovering Baviaans is spending a little longer in there? What stood out for me were the conversations with Oom Boet and Tannie Hendriette and the sheep cage on a cable with a pulley one of the farmers built a number of years ago to cross a ravine. Those sheep must have been the only sheep in the world who travelled by cable car when they were moved to greener pastures!
Now is a good time to tell you that Madeleine had been overheard the previous evening as saying that cleaning your Ural’s air filter is overrated! By the end of the next day Olga’s air filter needed cleaning TWICE in the Baviaans on the same day! Needless to say, Madelein still has not heard the end of this.
Between this last long climb and Patensie we rode past the little plaque with Andre Cuyler’s name on it. It’s a very poignant reminder that we should never under estimate the mountains because you really can lose your life if it goes wrong.
We finally found Raymond again where he was waiting for us at the ‘border post’ or the gate out the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve. Ray missed an entire group of sidecar riders waiving at him at the lunch stop and never looked back again. Maybe the he just wanted some alone time? We were very happy to see him smiling and no worse for wear and we wondered where he would have stopped had there not been a boom?
I’ve never seen the Gamtoos Valley. Oh my word, this is where the Ceres juice box gets its design! This place is a little like fairy land with white Iceberg roses lining the road side for literally a few kilometers. It really is pretty.
Thursday night we stay at the Patensie Hotel. The riding for the next day was a bit of a mystery as Ryno had no idea how passable or not, the planned route would be for the sidecars.
Now picture this – we are all congregated in the BAR/KROEG, fresh as daisies having our drink before we go in to have supper in the hotel dining room. Ryno asks one of the local patrons what the road condition is like and whether he thinks it could be done by us. This is after he spoke to the hotel owner who was quite non-committal.
I now quote verbatim: ‘die pad is moer toe, ek kon dit nie eers met MY bakkie ry nie!’
Loose translation, the road is shot to hell and he couldn’t even drive this road with HIS bakkie. I don’t know what he drives but judging by the way he emphasized ‘his’ bakkie I take it it’s quite a meneer of a bakkie. This of course then provided all the clarity we needed. If no bakkie could go there it would be perfect for the sidecars!
Before I tell you about driving where no Patensie bakkie can go, I have to tell you about my supper. On the Specials board it said Mussel Pot. This made me very happy and I asked if I could have a portion of spaghetti with this. This is a personal little favourite and nobody has ever understood that the idea is for the Mussel Pot to be served on a bed of pasta. Well this chef did!! If I could have licked my dish at the end I would have and did send him a love letter written on a serviette. So what Patensie lacks in adventurous drivers it makes up for in inventive chefs.
Friday morning and we were heading beyond Baviaans …..(did you hear the drum roll?) or just ‘moer toe’ if you like?!
We are riding the road from Patensie to Steytlerville, the Cockscomb road or the Grootrivierpoort road, whatever you want to call it, it’s still moer toe! At first the road is wide and easy and all goes hunky dory.
But not too long and we turn off onto a track. The views are splendiferous but as experience has taught me over the years, what you gain in one place you pay for in another. And so it was.As the landscape got more and more beautiful the ride and the terrain got more and more technical and physically taxing. Some downhill parts were daunting as this was happening at an angle – riding with your sidecar higher than you isn’t always a pleasant feeling and sometimes causes some intense concern!Also re-remembered (how can one ‘remember’ if there is no such verb as ‘member’?) that riding another person’s line when the going gets sticky isn’t a good idea. It was a valuable lesson to ride my own line again.
After one particularly taxing downhill I stopped under the sign that says Grootrivierpoort and wondered how much more ‘moer toe’ it was going to get. As it turned out that was the worst bit behind us and soon after we crossed the river, the Groot River nogal in which I did NOT get stuck, the road improved as there were some serious road workings being done. Do not know who was more surprised to see who? The road workers watching the band of sidecars passing or us for encountering road works in the wilderness?
After a stretch of road that tested every joint in our bodies, every nut and bolt on our bikes and all our teeth in the process, we stopped for a very well deserved ‘padpiekniek’. We were all finishing the last of our lunch time snacks as we were now riding in the direction of Graaff-Reinet and eventually Nieu Bethesda.
First we fuelled up in Steytlerville. I was most impressed by how clean and well looked after it looked and they had these grand family banners lining the main street. It looked like all the families in town are represented, and I really thought it an excellent idea. Would love to go back to Steytlerville and have something to drink on the hotel stoep. We had to go though.
We took the turn to Jansenville, actually only after we missed the turn but all’s well that ends well. Before we got to Jansenville, somewhere in the mysterious vastness we took a right turn and the signs read Noorsveld. Most surreal image of the trip is this beautiful little church and a few houses in the middle of nowhere. The dirt roads in the Noorsveld are better than our Gauteng highways and we flew on our Soviet steeds.
Graaf-Reinet was really a splash and dash – more for the Lunchbar than the petrol and off we went. Almost in anticipation of ending our grand tour of splendid passes, the weather had finally caught up with us. We had been watching it over our shoulders all day, but suddenly the wind had grown teeth and we even encountered a few drops of rain between Graaff-Reinet and Nieu-Bethesda.
We rode into Nieu-Bethesda triumphant and victorious! All but Madol had ridden back into town a 1 260 kms later. I knew for myself that the ride and the images of mountain paths and passes and all we had seen would stay with me for a long time to come. And also that I had been changed by time spent with my own thoughts, even if Freddie and Monserrat crept in, taken to a place where I feel free and happy.
That night at supper the company was easy and the respect mutual. Stories were retold and jokes shared. And of course the ever present question – where to from here?
Written by: Alpha Greeff