Escape to the Great Karoo

Blog 10 by Tan: Escape to the Great Karoo

We decided to leave the Wild Coast to avoid the rainy weather, which is far from enjoyable when riding a motorbike. We felt that through the riding alone we got quite a feel for the place and given that our visa was starting to run out we’d better get on our way. Our destination was the remote artist enclave of Nieu-Bethesda in the Great Karoo.

Little Nieu-Bethesda

The local pub

We rode our longest day of the trip so far at 550km, which is barely down the road and back in Australian terms but makes for a long day over here. We were looking forward to somewhere remote, quiet and dry and Nieu-Bethesda fit the bill nicely. This was a scheduled stop so that I could have a few dedicated days of working on my university essay. Over the next few days we spent most of our time in the garden of a local café eating crepes and drinking coffee while I tried to figure out all that is wrong with the Chinese economy and while Mick read the fifth Game of Thrones book like a man possessed.

With Ebola doing its thing in West Africa throwing our original plan to get to Europe out the window we embarked on some detailed new route planning

Where we hung out for most of the day eating cinnamon crepes and drinking homemade ginger beer

Mick getting excited by vintage vinyl only to discover it was mostly 70s era Africaneer folk and gospel albums and he already has heaps of those

Security at the local honesty shop – appropriate in Nieu-Bethesda not so much the rest of the country

Lots of dead things in the desert

Mick with ‘Fabio cat’ who did nothing but annoy us and look fabulous

The next few days passed peacefully in this way as we got into small town life and visited all of Nieu-Bethesda’s tourist attractions. We visited the local craft brewery, the honesty shop, fossil centre, pizza restaurant, pub (where we watched the Springboks defeat the All Blacks), tennis club for braai night and browsed the weekend market. But the biggest tourist draw was the Owl House, which is a garden full of concrete sculptures/monstrosities built by a local eccentric old duck. It seems that the sculptures were her way of dealing with life long depression, and her house with its artwork have put the town on the map so who am I to criticise.

A local capitalist at work (note her earrings for confirmation). Was so cute I had to buy something from her. I got a loom band ring for 20 cents

We met some friendly local bikers who shouted us a beer at the pub and gave us some good tips

Mick in the Owl House


Weird-arse sculptures

More of the same

We went on to cruise the awesome roads around Nieu-Bethesda and Kompassberg Mountain. We managed to see a bunch of game along the way including kudu, springbok, wildebeest and zebra. We then headed to the home of a fellow biker that was kind enough to extend us an invitation to stay with him on his farm under the proviso that we ‘left his sheep alone’; a stab at Aussie’s being sheep shaggers. Now this is a bit disturbing to hear that in South Africans are laboring under the misconception that we Aussies might take a second glance at a herd of sheep when everyone knows it for the New Zealanders that barn doors are closed. Addressing this gross misunderstanding should be at the top of Australia foreign policy agenda. The ride out to his farm was incredibly scenic with great rock formations along the road – dolerite weathered away along joint planes leaving the rocks looking precariously stacked on top of one another. Nice!

Backroads of Nieu-Bethesda

Ride around Kompassberg Mountain

The ride in

Awesome dolerite formations

Johan put on a braai for us and told us about life as a farmer in South Africa, which must be said, sounds pretty precarious. Many farmers face the risk of losing their farm and house to land claims, which are overwhelmingly successful when they are made by people claiming to have a family tie to that land however tenuous. This introduces an obvious level of insecurity to life on a farm but the larger preoccupation relates to the incidents of farm murders, which I must say I was quite ignorant to. It seems however that the government goes to considerable lengths to keep the numbers of these murders out of the papers. With ‘creative reporting’ an instance when a farmer is murdered on his property but has a tv stolen it is a robbery and not a farm murder. We learnt that there is a private data recording body on farm murders which is sourced mainly from information provided by family of people murdered in farm ‘robberies’. According to them there have been around 3,800 farm murders in South Africa out of 42,000 commercial farmers, which is basically 1 in 11.

With these statistics it is no wonder that people are concerned. We heard of farming communities with neighbourhood security details replete with assault weapons and night-vision goggles. All this exists as there is essentially no realistic expectation of the local law enforcement providing any protection for the farmers and their interests. It is quite a scary scenario when you consider that the farming population of South Africa has been very nearly decimated, in the true sense of the word, and the farmers themselves are forced to provide their own protection. Sobering thoughts.

Sundowner time

My studies continued to mess with our African adventure so we stayed on another day at the farm to get the essay written and submitted. We had a bunch of other boring chores to see to, like washing clothes as well as a bunch of little bike jobs that had cropped up and been duly relegated to the ‘do it later’ list. Mick fixed my heated hand grips, adjusted his hand guards and replaced rear sprocket bolts and dash switch and rebuilt my steering damper which had been leaking for some time. With those jobs seen to and the essay starting to take shape we headed out with Johan and his wife Christa for a sundowner overlooking the gorgeous Aussie-like scenery of the farm.

Backroads to Graaf-Reinet

Puff Adder – we saw a few of these colourful guys sunning themselves on the road

Massive tortoise – lovely to look at but hitting one on a bike would be nothing like in Mario Kart

After a near all-nighter the essay was submitted with MUCH relief (and went on to get a mark of 97% I might add ‘whoop, whoop’). In the meantime Mick had a blat around the winding backroads to Graaff-Reinet. We stayed on for one last night with Johan and Crista and got to try some more traditional Afrikanner food which is quite sweet and therefore right up my alley. After bidding a fond farewell to our kind hosts Johan and Christa and their lovely dogs Piojie, Stoffel and Siene we made our way to the Valley of Desolation. Which again offered some great views and a nice little geology fix.

Our hosts and their boys

The Valley of Desolation

Picture time

It was a long way down

Johan and Christa recommended this place for kudu biltong and droewurst – great biking fuel

We headed south towards our next destination but I was struggling to stay awake on the bike after the last few late nights. We stopped for a coffee and a sugar hit at the next convenient place, which (no joke) happened to be the Daniell Cheetah breeding Centre. So we arranged for a latte and a tour of the centre where we saw meerkats, cheetah, leopard, serval, caracal, and two lions that had been rescued from a planned canned hunt. Canned hunts take lions that have been raised in captivity, hand reared by humans and are then sold to hunting safaris. They are then released into unfamiliar surroundings, generally quite small fenced parks, for foreigners (usually Americans) to shoot. These lions walked up to the mesh like house cats to rub their faces up against the palm of the guide for affection. The notion of some cashed up tosser going up to one of these pussy cats and shooting it and feeling impressed with himself is tragic and pathetic, if I might say so myself.

He was not yet full-grown, but already huge

The lion craved affection

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What a stunner!

The best part of the tour was getting to get up close to Gia the cheetah. She was so beautiful, inquisitive and affectionate. She especially liked Mick, licking him and rubbing her head up against his. She jumped up on him for a hug and was so adorable. Sadly the guide disciplined her and she went off in a proper adolescent sulk.

Gia the cheetah

Happy to death!

Biker-cheetah love fest – She didn’t mind me but loovveed Michael

We learnt that cheetahs can get up to full speed in just 4 strides and they can reach speeds of 115-120km/h. They are the only big cat with non-retractable claws which work like running spikes. At about 50%, they have the highest hunting success rate among the big cats. However they lose a lot of their kills, about half, to other larger predators like hyena, lion, or a wild dog pack, as cheetahs are way too specialised for running and therefore, quite lightweight and fragile and can’t do all that much to defend themselves. In fact they mostly just run to hunt not to escape predators or hunters, they just hide in the bushes which is why so many get killed. Many die from heat stroke and dehydration bought on by excessive energy use through running. Females live alone except when they have cubs while the males form cheetah possies and have these epic ‘bromances’ that can actually leave them to die of heartbreak at the death of one of their hommies. Absolutely gorgeous animals. I’ll be eating Cheetos with a whole new appreciation from now on.

The black stipe below the eyes serves as a natural pair of sunglasses for the cheetah keeping the sun’s glare out of their eyes

The next day we rode through Baviaanskloof, the motorcycling mecca many a South African biker had recommended us to visit. The riding was fantastic as was the scenery. We didn’t managed to see the rhino that roam the park but saw some big bucks of some description and heaps of baboons which is to be expected given that Baviaanskloof means Baboon Valley. There were some great winding passes and a couple of fun water crossings. I don’t know what it is about water crossings but for some reason I can’t help myself but floor it through them much to Michael’s disapproval as he is certain I’m going to go too fast one day in too deep a crossing and drown myself and the bike. Whatever buddy. Eat my waves!


More rocks!

Having said that I did have a near flying over the handlebars moment on a deceptively deep water section that I entered so hard and fast it produced a wave of muddy water over the top of me to the point that I couldn’t see a thing and was totally drenched. But I stayed on the bike and had the sense not to turn around to Mick to see the ‘I told you so’ face he was no doubt sporting.

We stumbled on a campsite already filled with a group of bikers and decided that was as good a place as any to spend the night. We opted to splash out on luxury caravan digs where for an extra $5 we were able to avoid dealing with the tent and the threat of rain. So for the night we were ‘bikie pikies’ and it was fab. The bikers were mostly from East London and a really great group of guys. There were a group of 8 on a bunch of F650 Dakars, XT660 Tenere, KLR650 and an Africa Twin. Our quiet night of blog writing (always planned and always avoided) turned into a night of socialising, beer drinking and discussions of our collective motorbiking brilliance. Taking pity on our plans for dinner from a can they cooked us a braai feast and kept us entertained, which topped off the day of great riding.

Scenery in the Valley of the Baboons

Mick in his waterproof Won-z made by the Aussie company Jackson Racing

Our ‘Bikie Pikie’ palace

After joining the guys for a hike through the kloof nearby we parted ways only to meet up further down the track for the traditional bikers feast of tea and biscuits at a local farm stall. From there we took the winding backroads from Baviaanskloof to Uniondale. Along the way Mick managed to run over a big black snake on the last pass out of Baviaanskloof called Nuwekloof Pass. Mick’s clutch cable snapped as soon as we hit the tar in some kind of cosmic act of retribution for Mick’s snake murder. Mick was able to stop in front of a tea house (many thanks) and replace the cable quickly enough. Glad we carry spares.

Our new biker mates stopped for morning tea

Tan with Izak one of our new found biker buddies

Totally my kind of riding – winding, scenic dirt road riding punctuated by civilized tea breaks

Great dirt roads on the way to Uniondale

Mick replacing his clutch cable in front of the local cop shop

From there we headed to ride Prince Albert Pass, which had come highly recommended by biker friends. We were gutted to see the road was closed for maintenance but fortunately a local guy turned up while we were moping at the “Road Closed” sign and told us it was fine to do. We didn’t know how reputable a source he was but he said what we wanted to hear so we went for it. Our reckless disregard for municipal road signage was rewarded with fantastic views and pleasant riding all the way down.

Road closed, eh?

Looked open enough to me

On the way down Prince Albert Pass

Check out the body language. Mick is totally charming a extra generous slice of milk tart out of the lovely old duck who ran the tea house

We stopped for tea, scones and milk tart at a lovely little teahouse at the bottom of the pass at De Vlug before heading on to a more the local biker’s haunt called Angie’s G-spot where Michael could get a beer and feel like a tough guy biker again. From there we moved on to the coastal town of Knysa, via some dirt roads into the back of some shanty township to spend the night with family of Fiona and Charlie’s, our hosts from back in Howick.

Winning at advertising

Some of the bar paraphernalia. Mick was giggling like a schoolboy at the rude comics adorning the walls

4 Comments on “Escape to the Great Karoo

  1. Hope you are loving Botswana and really looking forward to those blogs. You guys are a great writing duo, we just love them and check all the time. So good and grateful for the effort you put into these blogs. Happy travels…

  2. Just found your RR on ADVRider and now this blog (sometimes I just want to read your and Mick’s stuff rather than all the comments). Thank you, thank you for a wonderful, entertaining account. Well-written, nice sense of humour – superb!

    • thanks for the feedback chris, we really appreciate it. Sounds cliche but it really does keep us going!

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