We re-entered South Africa in the mid-afternoon starving for lunch, so made our way to the nearest food joint we could find with good parking. Security is such a problem here that parking our bikes, our most significant and important possession with all your worldly possessions upon it, becomes all important to the point of paranoia. We simply cannot afford to have a bike stolen, or things stolen from it. So when we stop somewhere and I cant stay with them, it either needs to be in a place which is secure, and there aren’t too many of those in public in South Africa, or we need be close and have direct vision of the bikes.
And even then, as the bikes are so unique, they draw so much attention with people looking and pointing and taking photos, we stress, or more accurately, I stress about them. I put so much time and effort into those bloody things that I should baptise them and apply for formal birth certificates. So where we stopped for lunch in Matatiele, the first major town after descending from Lesotho through Qachas Nek, was a cheap and nasty fast food joint simply because we could park the bikes directly in front. Which was perfect, apart from the food, which was proper shit.
We inhaled our lunch and headed south into a nasty headwind. Our destination technically was the town of Rhodes, although in actuality that was merely a convenient place to sleep after doing the highest pass entirely within South Africa – Naudesnek, our real destination. You might have thought that after a big bunch of mountain riding in Lesotho that the last thing we would want to do is another high altitude mountain pass, but you thought wrong.
Tan on the road to Rhodes
View from the near the top of Naudesnek Pass
Stopped at the top of the pass
Naudesnek provided some great views of the Southern Drakensberg but not too many technical challenges. We descended the other side of the pass into the quaint Victorian era town of Rhodes, which is famous for bikers for its roads. Other forms of tourists might enjoy the lovely views, the trout fishing, or the old and very well preserved 19th century architecture, but we don’t worry about them so much.
The view down the back Naudesnek towards Rhodes
Coming down the back of the pass
Some lovely light at the end of the day
We pulled in to the Walkerbout Inn for the night; how two Aussies could pass up the opportunity to stay in such an aptly named establishment is beyond me. And we then did what any self respecting Aussies would do in such a named establishment – we walked straight to the bar. There we walked in on a couple guys in dusty motorbiking gear plus a real big grey bearded fella in breaches, all speaking Afrikaans. We ordered some drinks and got chatting – in English after they politely swapped for us – and turns out they were part of a group of 11 who were having a weekend of riding in the area. And the big guy was the proprietor, Dave Walker, hence the name of the place.
It turned into a very interesting evening for us as we discussed the good riding roads in the area, farming, farm murders, the government (always a hot topic), Lesotho, and the Lesotho Coup of 1998 and South Africa’s bumbled involvement in it, all while drinking a few beers and a couple rums with a good steak dinner and maybe the odd brandy too. Tanya knocked over the apple cart when she mentioned to a big group of half cut stocky Afrikaaner farmers drinking brandy and coke that such a beverage was for grandma’s in Australia; I quickly ducked and announced quite loudly that I had no idea whatsoever who this crazy woman was, but they forgave her insolence with a good chuckle.
Another enlightening topic for us was that there was no working service station in Rhodes, a reasonably sized town by the look of it on our map, which was a hell of a problem as we hadn’t fueled up since Maseru in Lesotho something like 540kms previous. I guessed we might have had enough to go maybe 60kms, which coincidently was the distance to the nearest fuel bowser in Barkley East.
When invited on the following days ride with the group of bikers, the consequences of the problem escalated as their planned early departure meant an even earlier start for us to get to Barkly Easy and back. Early starts are mean business for night owls like us. Dirty mean business indeed. But with the opportunity to ride with a group of welcoming bikers on unmarked back roads, I endeavored to get up in the morning and face the cold, hangover or no.
I woke at 6am a little seedy and hit the road a little later than I would have liked. It was quite chilly and I pushed to make up time so I would be back and ready for the planned 8am departure. The road was hilly and twisty and great fun, although freshly graded with a very loose top layer of gravel which made for a few arse puckering moments, especially with my new Mitas E07 front tyre. The E07 is marketed as a “50/50” tyre, as in it’s apparently designed for 50% use on tar and 50% on gravel. But after experiencing this tyre first hand, I tend to think of that moniker as a marketer’s macabre piss-take, that 50/50 is actually the expected survival rate of any rider silly enough to ride this tyre hard on loose gravel.
Truth be told, being used to proper knobbies, I probably pushed the tyre just a little outside its design brief by doing the ~60min trip to Barkley East in 45, and paid the price when the front tyre washed out with little warning and binned me to the low side. Bloody thing. And extra embarrassing as I’d just overtaken the rider’s support vehicle who were also in the middle of a fuel run to Barkly East and they managed to witness the entire incident. Oh well.
I returned to Rhodes with 40 litres of fuel between the front and rear tanks, and we decanted the ~10l rear tank into Tanya’s bike in readiness for the days riding. We headed back up to Naudesnek and turned left, uphill, north, towards Lesotho. Within a couple kilometres of easy dirt we had reached the 5 star hotel at Tenahead, and we barged in unannounced and uninvited like a proper gang of dirty bikies, and politely ordered tea and scones.
Moving on from our scone stop we headed further up hill. The road we were to ride follows the Lesotho border and comes in on South Africa’s only ski-field, Tiffendell, from the East, and sees little, if any maintenance. It provided quite a few steep and tricky climbs and descents with large and loose rocks. Within the group of riders there was a swag of F650 Dakars, a pair of R1200GS, a Yami S12, an XR650R and also an L, and a 640Adv, although none were loaded to any level of consequence, certainly not to the point of our fat DR piggys. Tan was the only lady and on one of the bigger bikes, yet handled it with aplomb. I think with such an audience determination alone was all that was needed to ensure she didn’t drop it.
Chris, local sheep farmer and former military man on his F650 Dakar
The road from Tenahead to Tiffendell
We had a brief stop at Tiffendell to admire the melting slush, and descended back down through a valley I’m not too sure what it was called. Nevertheless, the views and the riding were first class and it was a shame when it all came to an end at the bottom. There, everyone split up and went their separate ways. The night previous one of the guys, Dassie, had mentioned that we were welcome to stay at his farm near Aliwal North if we would like. Staying with local people in their homes is such a rewarding and educational experience that we’ve made it a habit to accept invitations if we can fit it in, and the opportunity to stay on our first farm in SA was too good to pass up. We gladly accepted.
On the way down from Tiffendell
The final descent down the valley
We promised Dassie that we weren’t axe murders and followed him back to his house through some vicious gusting wind. I was glad for our fairings, as although the wind was pushing the bikes all over the road, our bodies had a level of protection. Dassie was on an XR650R with no protection, and the same winds that were knocking our bikes around looked like they were trying to knock his head right off. Talking about it later, he did mention it wasn’t a particularly pleasant riding experience.
A kilometer or two after entering through a farm’s boundary gate, Dassie came to a gentle stop with his bike idling away happily and him twisting the throttle frustratedly – his throttle cable had snapped. After a quick chat we backed up my DR with the towrope and dragged the Honda the last 4km home. Dassie’s wife heard the bikes coming and came out with the kids on a farm quad and was mightily amused by site of Dassie coming home on the end of a rope.
Dassie being towed home
We had settled in on the stoep with a few beers and the braai fire going when a cute little creature wandered up to the table. “Oh wow you’ve got meerkats here” I remarked. I looked at Tanya, with her intense affliction of loving all things cute and cuddly, knowing the mere thought of meerkats would be near enough to make her wet her pants, and I wasn’t half wrong. She could barely contain herself at the sight of them, and then stroking, and then holding them. Luckily we brought a few external hard-drives for photos storage as Tanya ran the camera battery flat clicking away maniacally.
Fantastic view of the Kraai River from the stoep
Mick and the mother meerkat
Adolescent meerkats investigating my motorcycling gear
Tanya in a state of delerium
Classic meerkat pose
The mother and 3 babies
We, and by we I mean Tanya, ended up cooking another sticky date pudding with Dassie and Elanie’s kids which went down a treat. When staying with people we like to contribute in some way and the Sticky Date, the pudding by which all other puddings are judged, is not such a common dessert here, so always goes down well. We are just a little worried that we are leaving a trail of type-2 diabetes across the country…
Saying goodbye to Dassie and Elanie our wonderful hosts
We hit the road the following morning after some fond farewells and thankyou’s, and made our way to Lady Grey and Joubert’s Pass. 2 days previous when saying our goodbyes on the side of the road with the group of 11 bikers, we had actually received a second invitation to stay on a farm the other side of Aliwal North, so we didn’t have far to go. I put together an interesting looking route over Jouberts Pass, whih was quite scenic, and made our way to Rob’s house.
Tanya saying goodbye to the dogs
The road to Joubert’s Pass
Peach blossoms on the way down from Joubert’s Pass
We arrived after Rob had finished working his cattle for the day, and immediately jumped on his little farm bikes to see the farm. Tanya was in love with his little CRF230L, its 120kg weight was a far cry compared to the ~175kg of the DR, and probably 200-210kg’s all up loaded and fully fueled. We packed a couple beers in a backpack and made our way to a nice spot overlooking the farm. It was a tough way to finish the day.
Tan enjoying the itty bitty CRF230L
Sundowners with Rob on his farm
Rob was working his cattle again the next day, so we woke to the sound of cattle in a stockyard and much complaining as mothers were split from their calves. At lunch Rob twisted our arms to stay another day; we’d planned to stay a day and move on to the Wild Coast somewhere, but Robs farm was such a nice spot and Tanya needed a bit of quiet time for her study, so we decided to stay a second day.
Rob’s Nguni cattle, an African breed
Rob wanted to work out how many calves he had, how many cows were with calf, and how many old cows he had
Splitting of calves from the mothers
The complaining mothers
Cows about to get… tested
The Barry White tunes were playing….
Looking at teeth to see how old they are
With Tanya studying for her BComm, I was idle so offered Rob an extra pair of hands to help out where I could, and on farms, there is always work to do. He mentioned that he wanted to build another chicken coop, his original one had become old and it was difficult to keep the chickens in and the local chicken eating wildlife out, and also to keep clean. He was interested in making a mobile coop so it could fertilise his Walnut Grove and simply be moved once an area had been covered in droppings. Now I’m no chicken expert, but I know shit and that made good sense to me.
Rob had an old shed that a willow had fallen on in a storm, so the frame was bent beyond repair and had been stacked up. He also had an old trailer that wasn’t being used, and wondered if it was possible to use those together to build the coop? Sounded plausible for sure. He asked if I could design something up and that got me thinking.
The old bent up shed frame all piled up
The old trailer to be the home for the coop
Over dinner (we cooked a curry and apple windsor) I mentioned to Rob that to go through all the steel and stocktake what was there and what was usable and what was not, and then design it would take probably two days. And the likelihood of the design being not right would be high – designing and building from new steel is easy but building from scrap requires a certain degree of improvisation. “Why don’t I just build it?” I offered – I figured I could design it on the fly and build the frame in about 3 days. Now, no matter how many times I build things and massively underestimate how long its going to take, I always seem to do it. 30min jobs take 2 hours, 2 hour jobs take 4 and 3 day jobs take….. 3 days of course, this time would be different!
Rob had the steel brought up to the shed in a couple separate loads throughout the next day, and by the afternoon I’d sorted through what was there, found a suitable floor material from the scrap pile, come up with a plan of sorts in my head of what was achievable with what was available and started cutting and welding. Day 1 of 3 was complete and I hadn’t gotten very far – this wasn’t a good start.
The start of the coop frame
Over the coming days while Rob worked with his cattle, I worked on the coop, Tanya studied and worked on her upcoming essay. We generally finished the day with some sun-downers, although there was one early start where we rode up the nearby hill for wonderful views for sunrise – a sun-upper. During this time I did some welding and fabrication training with two of Robs employees, but even with the help of some extra hands it became apparent that my 3 day estimate was wildly optimistic.
Some welding training with the fella’s
Off on another Sundowner on Rob’s bikes, including his paint-shaker 640Adv
3 bikes on top of the local mountain for sun up
Enjoying a flask of tea and a view
The view of Robs farm from the top
Tan on the ride back down
Trail riding on the fat DR
Nearly at the bottom
Another sundowner on the DR, and pushing the limits of what is rideable on the big piggy
It was a fair bit steeper than what it looks
And narrow and a bit loose too
6 days later the coop frame was finished. Our 1 day stop over had turned into 8. While we had been there, one dog had puppies and we tried to adopt another, family had come and gone, we got to know some of Rob’s staff, we found a favourite restaurant in Aliwal North, plans had been made and changed and we joked about getting on Rob’s payroll. We felt like part of the furniture by the time we hit the road. But it felt good to be on the move again.
Gi Gi with a gut full of dogs
Gi Gi with her 8 puppies
Bella, the sweet little dog we wanted to steal quite badly
Nap time on the farm
T-bone at The Little Ranch. The best t-bone I’ve ever had, by a mile – cost about $10
Keeping an eye on the fella’s welding on the frame. They were pretty good but a bit impatient, I was always telling them to slow down
Putting together the last of the base frame. It needed a fair bit of extra stiffening as the shed frame was quite lightweight steel
Checking what’s possible with what’s not bent. Lots of measuring and thinking was required
Lifting the base to put it on the trailer
And lowering the base
And welding it down
Putting the roof in place ready for lifting. Two of the 4 original roof trusses were straight enough to use (one needed a bit of straightening) and they went at each end of the frame
Welding the purlins in place
We had to make a 3rd roof truss out of some random bits of steel that were straight. The fellow with me, Johannes, helped out whenever he had spare time and seem to enjoy the project. He had a good feel for welding and fabrication
Putting the 3rd truss in place
When lifting the roof, we used a gantry to hold one end steady
Rob had an old-school rope block and tackle
We then lifted the non-gantry end onto the trailer by hand and tacked it in place
And braced it when it was square
We then lifted the other end by hand – it was good to have a big group of hands to muscle it into place
The 4 guys that helped
Tightening the roof bolts down
Finishing off the bracing. The shed frame was quite light weight so I strongly braced it, especially as when it gets pulled around and moved it will twist and rock and will need to be very stiff
Handing over the finished frame to a happy Rob. Its braced asymmetrically to leave room for a door
Saying goodbye to Rob – legend