En Route - Through the Great Karoo

Eastern Cape Summit Tour
From the motorcycle diaries of Willem de Wet

imageOn the Road Again

It is going to be a great one! We are heading for the Eastern Cape high mountains again! Our aim is to ride as many gravel roads enroute and then conquer the highest and most scenic gravel passes of the Eastern Cape. As we slip over the Helshoogte Pass towards Franschoek that glorious feeling of being on a two wheel tour again starts to sink and settel in.

We ride the magnificent Franschoek Pass and turn onto glorious gravel roads towards Greyton. The countryside is beautiful and green after the recent rains. Just short of Greyton, James’s KTM front wheel springs a leak. However, nothing can dampen our positive state of mind -we have all the patches, compressor, spare tubes and tools we'll ever need. Or do we? The spare tube/s appears to be a dud/s and our patch work highly suspect. After a good hour or two of patching and re-patching tubes, we manage to keep most of the air inside the tube. We ride through Greyton without incident and then more glorious gravel roads to Riviersonderend where we join the N2 highway.

In Swellendam it is time for a tube swop at a local tyre repair facility before we head for Suurbraak. First-up is the beautiful Moodies Pass and then it is time for the lesser known Gysmanshoek Pass. After crossing the upper reaches of the Gouritz River we turn onto the Attequawas Ox wagon route where it starts on the Vredelust Farm. The “soul food” gravel ride to Bonniedale Guest Farm, our overnight stop, is one of the many highlights of the day
View on old Ox Wagon Trail Moodies Pass

How Green is my Valley

It had been raining heavily throughout the night and the brilliant early morning gravel ride through canopied pine plantation roads was deceivingly treacherous with muddy patches and small streams abound. "Skilllfully" we manage to keep the rubber on the road and from Haelkraal we meander south-east to Groot Brakrivier. More glorious gravel roads to George and then the ride up the historic Montagu Pass… a rare biking experience!

However, our luck would not last the entire day. James’ front tyre developed another puncture! Several attempts later to fix/replace the inner tube it was decided to send a rescue mission, with the wheel and all, to George, to resolve the problem for once and all. Two and a half hours later we were on the road again! The day was running out on us and we rerouted through the Langkloof Valley to Port Elizabeth. We arrived as the sun was setting over Algoa Bay.

Herbertsdale surrounds James tending to a flat tyre

Towards the High Mountains

From Port Elizabeth we turned towards the high mountains via the Shamwari Game Reserve to Alicedale. A brilliant ride with giraffe and other wild animals flanking the road. Again James’s dreaded tyre puncture returns to haunt us. Sometime later we are mobile again and ride some magnificent gravel roads through private game reserves and finally, the vrot “Burchell’s” Pass into Riebeeck East. What a feast!

With still plenty of riding ahead of us we turned onto more gravel back roads towards Fort Beaufort. However, it was not long before James’s got unstuck with the same flat tyre again. Demmit man, there is clearly something wrong with this rim! We manage to “fix” the puncture and plod along to Fort Beaufort. Tired and sweaty from the intense midday sun on our backs we turn onto tarred road and race the last 10 km into Fort Beaufort.

Where is James? I decide to turn back and are met by a dreadful sight of James’ KTM, a mangled piece of steel next to the road. James sitting on his haunches some distance away but appears to be fine. His protective gear and helmet is ripped to shreds but he is alive and unscathed.

James explains that his front tube exploded as he picked up speed on the tarred road and lost control of the bike at speed. With the magnificent local help from Stellios (…from “3 Farmers and a Greek” fame) we managed to clear the accident scene quickly and arranged a lift for James to East London. James was alive, but his tour was over.

We initially planned to ride the testing old Katberg Pass, but this was out of the question now as it was already mid-afternoon and it was necessary to reroute. Straight up the Nico Malan Pass on the R67 to Whittlesea and onto Queenstown. From Queenstown we follow R359, Noneni’s Nek Pass, the R402 to Cala and the Cala Pass. With the sun setting in the West, we arrive in Elliot. Then a short 20km odd up the stunning Barkley Pass to our overnight destination at the Mountain Shadows Hotel.

into the wilds of the Eastern Cape Lucky escape