Memories of a motorcycle dash across the Moordenaars Karoo to Verneuk Pan
Stellenbosch to Sutherland - 425 kmThe name Verneukpan (Deception pan) conjures up old images of a silver-blue, bullet shaped vehicle – Sir Malcolm Campbell’s "Bluebird", chasing over the desert-like landscape in 1929. A grand old story of true grit and determination. Subsequent to this failed, epic attempt to break the world land speed record (Can you believe that his 352km/h was too slow for this 1929 record attempt?), there had been others, such as Vic Proctor who crashed out at 160km/h on his Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle and sadly, Johan Jacobs' fatal crash in 2006.
Sadly, Verneukpan do not boast the same speed records as the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah; but what made all these men brave to trek over great distances to Verneukpan ? We simply had to see for ourselves.
We left Stellenbosch at break of day and slipped over the Franschoek pass in the early morning glow. The journey was planned with gravel travel in mind and we therefore steered onto the Breede river meander, just outside Villiersdorp. We followed this beautiful road all the way to the outskirts of Robertson before we were forced on a short asphalt dash through the Kogmanskloof to Montagu. The balance of the day's route promised to be gravel travel all the way to Sutherland.
Our route took us on a short 4x4 track outside Montagu and then into the heart of the Anysberg Nature Reserve. The starkly beautiful landscapes that were increasingly becoming more and more semi-desert like gave us new respect for the earlier pioneers that survived this wilderness to establish the first formal farming activities in the region.
After a long 16 km down a stony and sandy 4x4 track to Tapfontein, it was midday with a lot of riding still ahead of us. From Laingsburg we headed due north into the Moordenaars Karoo and after a brilliant motorcycle ride down lonely country roads we eventually summited the Sutherland escarpment to the astronomical capital of South Africa.
Sutherland to Verneukpan - 461 km
As we left Sutherland in the early morning, we were engulfed in an impenetrable fog cloud that slowed us down all the way to the top of the Ouberg Pass. A quick roadside breakfast and a cup of coffee whilst enjoying the awesome vistas of the valley below put us in good stead to descend the beautiful and steep old pass into the Tanqwa Karoo. Far too quickly we reached the stunning Gannaga Pass and the town of Middelpos, where we could refuel and grab a cold drink.
We arrived at the Verneukpan (57km long and 11 km wide) speed track section in the glow of the late afternoon sun and immediately sensed its attraction – a perfectly flat surface as far as the eye can see. The perfect pan was only marred by the fences of local sheep farmers and small, but viciously sharp, stones that surfaced in places.
With the sun setting on the horizon and post repairing the only puncture of the trip, it was our time to launch an all-out GS attack on the Verneukpan land speed record. Not as easy as it sounds ! Our willing steeds grunted faithfully, but we were low on high speed courage and spared them the rod, very conscious of the long way home.
What a thrill and privilege to twist and turn, brake and slide on a wind less Verneukpan on a late afternoon in December 2010.
Verneukpan to Merweville - 479 km
Saddled–up and ready to go by 6h00 for the long day ahead. Alas, no grunt from my trusty steed’s stomach. Strip, test, jump start, more stripping and more testing – nothing, nada, nichts ! It was time to phone a friend with superior knowledge ……Hey, but there is no mobile reception out here on Verneukpan!
It took a 25km ride down a sandy track with five farm gates before I reached the friendly farmer’s house to phone a bike mechanic for advice. Two questions later and the problem was identified – back to Verneukpan to apply my new found knowledge. It was 10h00 before we left the dust of Verneukpan behind.
Our route south would take us on dusty back roads to Williston, Fraserburg and the beautiful Oukloof Pass before our late arrival, tired but happy, in the Karoo town of Merweville.
Merweville to Stellenbosch - 413 km
As the sun rose over the mountains we tackled the all gravel and steep Rammelkas Pass ("rammelkas" is a single "Afrikaans" word to describe a rickety old vehicle full of rattles and squeaks ). What a great ride ! - a must do for every adventure rider within striking distance from Cape Town.
From Sutherland we took the stunning and all gravel R356 to Ceres and re-entered the Boland region over the Bainskloof Pass. What a ride !