Directing Member of the BMW MOA (Motorcycle Owners of America) - Cape Conquest Tour
By Vance Harrelson
I had read about South Africa for years and created a short list of what I would like to see and do if I ever went someday. The catalyst that set the wheels in motion was an unsolicited email from Due South Motorcycle Tours describing a seven-day motorcycle tour out of Cape Town, personally led by Due South owner/operator Joe Visser, which is restricted to just six bikes. As it turned out, we were the only riders booked on this tour, so it was truly like riding with a friend.
As in England, in South Africa you ride on the left side of the road. In our pre-ride meeting I let Joe know that I would be right behind him for good or bad like a Blue Angels wingman. What did take some getting used to, was the “filtering” that motorcycles are allowed to do in South Africa. Filtering means going to the front of the traffic line, whether that is in city traffic, construction zones, or wherever, really, on the shoulder of the road, in the opposite lane or up through the middle. While it was a bit unnerving, this alone saved a tremendous amount of time, especially around the cities.
Riding along the coastline headed east from Cape Town is spectacular. Just over the mountains from Cape Town we came down into Camp’s Bay. The strip along the beach there reminded me of South Beach Miami with trendy shops, restaurants and high end condos. We stopped in Hout Bay for a cappuccino and snacked on smoked snoek at the fish market on the pier next to the local fishing fleet. We worked our way further along the coast past Chapman’s Peak and out to Cape Point National Park. I mistakenly thought the Cape of Good Hope was the southern-most point of Africa, and by the number of tourist buses and the crowds, it appears that most other people in the world think that, too. Although extremely crowded, we enjoyed our visit to the park and a ride on the funicular (cable car) up to the lighthouse on top of the mountain where the wind is never less that a steady 40-50 mph. As we left the point we were sure glad to be on bikes instead of crammed into one of those tour buses. From the looks we got from several of the bus riders, I think they were jealous.
We continued our trip around the point and stopped in Simon’s Town at Boulder’s Beach. This is another popular tourist spot with a meandering boardwalk along the beach where you can see the colony of African penguins that took up residence here in the early 1980s. Our next stop was in the small village of Muizenberg where we had dinner at the local Blue Bird Garage Market. It was filled with a collection of local artisans, specialty cooks and crafts. Here I experienced a local favourite, lamb bredie, a thick tomato-based stew served over yellow rice. It was fantastic!
More world class riding along the coast the next day included lunch at The Barrel Bar and Grill in Betty’s Bay. This was another example of a roadside pub which would normally be passed up on a larger tour. We pulled up out front and were immediately greeted by the owners and welcomed inside. We chose a table on the outside deck under the warm afternoon sun with a view of beach in the distance. Continuing along the coast, we arrived in Hermanus and the bay known worldwide for whale watching. The park along the shore is lined with outdoor eateries where we enjoyed an afternoon cappuccino and a beautiful view of the bay. We saw several whales surface and a blow or two. Late in the afternoon we arrived in the small village of Kleinbaai. Our accommodation again was a small coastal B&B. Our hosts were fantastic and served a dinner of salad, baked potatoes and grilled steaks that would make Kansas City proud.
Kleinbaai is the epicentre for Great White shark diving along the South African coast, and as luck would have it, a trip into the shark cage was included in our tour. The sharks are drawn toward the boat by a well-planned baiting exercise – a nasty concoction of chum constantly added to the water and a floating man-made decoy that is supposed to look to the shark like a dying seal. I let Mari and Joe convince me it was a good idea to struggle into a wetsuit and submerge myself in the rough, cold water inside a cage with seven others for a look into the face of these prehistoric eating machines. They sure are ugly up close!
From Kleinbaai our route veered inland across a beautiful mountain range and back to the coast again to Cape Agulhas, the actual southern-most point of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. There is a nice boardwalk, park, the Cape Agulhas lighthouse and a museum. This was one of the stops on my bucket list, and standing there at the monument for pictures that afternoon, I felt like I was a long way from home, but I was really glad to be there.
Early the next morning we headed inland once again; the rolling farmlands and massive fields of grain, vineyards and fruit orchards made for amazing scenery as we worked our way up the Garden Route. Our destination for the day was the small village of Klaarstroom, just north of the Swartburg Mountains and the spectacular Meiringspoort (pass), an unbelievable ride of 20 kilometres through the gorge cut into the mountains by the Groot River. The road remains almost level as it winds through the towering, craggy rock faces. We arrived at the Klaarstroom Guest House, a 100-year-old farmhouse, just ahead of a thunderstorm.
Our next destination was Storms River back along the coast. This meant almost a full day’s ride, and even though we planned a late start to let the weather clear up, we rode in pouring rain through the open range of the Karoo and the lush fruit orchards closer to the coast. A couple of cappuccino stops and a warm up near a roaring fireplace helped make the day more tolerable. We were really glad to arrive in Storms River and seek refuge from the rain late in the afternoon.
The following day was a rest day. We dried out, washed clothes, visited the Tsitsikamma National Park and took in the web of suspension bridges spanning the Huisklip Beach gorge.
The next day we rode through a couple of mountain passes. Past the mountains and another roadside lunch stop we began our trek across the little karoo area, which meant long, straight roads for at least 100 kilometres. We pushed hard to make a required stop at Ronnie’s Sex Shop, about 20 kilometres outside of Barrydale, before they closed for the day. This place in the middle of nowhere is not a sex shop at all, but a rather unpretentious pub along Route 62 that attracts travellers from all over the world. Our lodging for the night was at an eclectic old hotel in Barrydale with well-appointed rooms and an inhouse restaurant serving an upscale menu.
On our last tour day we rode back into Cape Town through mountain passes and the wide open range of the karoo before encountering typical Friday afternoon city traffic.
Before we endured the 17-hour nonstop flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, we spent three days at the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, getting up close and personal with elephants, rhinos, giraffes, cheetahs and white lions. The 1,200-mile Blue Train run to Pretoria following our safari was a whirlwind of fancy clothes, five-star luxury and amazing cuisine.
Our South African adventure may be behind us, but the memories and friendships formed in those 15 days are perhaps the best souvenirs we could have. We found South Africa to be warm and welcoming, with extremely friendly people and spectacular scenery.
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