Big Fun in the Little Karoo

Blog 11 by Tan:  Big Fun in the Little Karoo


We were excited to be staying with relatives of our friends from Howick, Fiona and Charlie. Sheila and Rodger were rather trusting to be taking in a couple of smelly, road weary bikers but we later discovered as life long yaughties they could relate to living like nomads. We had a great night sharing stories and it was a real shame to be moving on so quickly, however our visas are fast running out and we had a lot more of the country to cover.


The lovely Knysna Heads


Sheila and Rodger took us for a tour of Leisure Island and the Knysna Heads which afforded gorgeous views and a whole ‘nother part of South Africa. On the lookout tour of the Heads we came across a seat dedicated to a guy that Rodger knew that had passed away. He was a passionate biker and yaughtsman. Prior to his death he had resolved to be cremated and arranged to have his beloved Harley Davidson taken out on to his yacht and his ashes put into the air intake and blasted out to sea through the motor. Unfortunately the ashes proved not a good thing for the bike which had a lot of carby trouble after that. Sounded like a cool guy. So much so we could have forgiven his lapse in judgment of owning a Harley.


Cheers to you Jürgen!


They took us to the most expensive street on the Knysna heads which fit very much with the saying that ‘money can’t buy taste.’ Some of the multi-million dollar monstrosities looked like an unholy marriage between Vagas casino and Alcatraz. At the top of the cliffs there were 2 blocks for sale for R1.6M (about AUD160, 000) for a ¼ acre block at the top of the cliff overlooking the ocean and The Heads. They were right on the cliff top so can never be built in, and also relatively flat so not difficult to build on. And it would not be too hard to build the best looking house in the street. Very cheap for a fantastic block. We considered buying it then relocating the Bikie Pikie caravan from Baviaanskloof and living the highlife. But in the end we opted to keep riding.


Mick and I looking like civilians and contemplating a sedentary life on Rich People Street ‘The Heads’


Crack dens in Australia cost more than this ¼ acre block with stellar views was going for


Sheila and Rodger Clancy – our hosts in Kynsa. With their awesome names, love of the water and laidback attitudes you could  easily mistake them for Aussies


After saying goodbye to our wonderful hosts we rode along the coastline to George before heading inland and doing the dirt road up Montagu Pass, which afforded yet more awesome views. The pass was built to safely and quickly access the diamond fields at Kimberly. The earlier ox cart passes up the Outeniqua Mountains were very slow and dangerous, taking a couple of days and littered with dead animals and the occasional ox cart. Montegu Pass was named after the governor of the time who commissioned the pass. Being the former governor of Tasmania, he utilised the Australian colony technique of getting convicts to do the work for free. We stopped at the top of the pass for tea, sandwiches and fantastic scones at a lovely Cape Dutch style house as has become a common occurrence for us – to my supreme approval I might add. The guy who ran the place joked about giving us a discount for not riding a BMW like the vast majority of bikers in the country. We suggested that he might want to instead consider a tax for any Beamer rider and allow himself to retire earlier.


Views of the coast


The stunning Montegu Pass


We don’t have a clever caption for this photo


Cape Dutch style tea house for Devonshire tea


We carried along the winding backroads past a bunch of ostrich farms out to a relaxed and low key campsite called Amber Lagoon located about 25 km west of Oudshoorn. The place is owned and run by a cool German lady who was highly gifted in the art of pancake making as we were soon to discover.


Geometric tortoise – one of the 100 most endangered species on the planet. I think I know why. They seem to spend a dangerous amount of time on roads


Backroads to Oudshoorn – lined on either side by ostrich farms


We spent the next few days chilling out, planning routes and trying to catch up on blog writing and other chores. We had an incredible ostrich egg omelets in cheese pancakes for breakfast. We have done some significant revision to the originally proposed trip, including aborting the West coast to Europe in favour of travelling up the East coast. We had been happy to avoid Sudan and the infamous border crossing into Egypt, which is said to be the most horrendous and corrupt border for crossing with a vehicle in the world. It looks now like it may be on the agenda after all. Although we are still considering freighting the bikes from Ethiopia to Spain where we can still zip down to Morocco. We’ll see what happens.


Route planning, ditching ebola and boko haram on the west coast for the ‘relative’ calm of the east coast


In other exciting news I thought I’d go for a short 3km run to see just how bloody unfit I have gotten on a diet of steak, toasted sandwiches and copious amounts of milk tart. I ran past a number of ostrich farms and was amused to have a couple of ostrich running along with me before leaving me in the dust. I was rather pleased and shocked to discover the run to be easy meaning the bike riding is not just getting us stronger but has some cardio fitness element to it as well….even if there appears to be extra cake on the both of us. That night we braaied our first ever ostrich fillet and ate it with vegies and millie pap. It tastes a lot like kangaroo but with a much coarser grain.


Ostrich steak – very lean and very tasty


After a hearty biker breakfast of chocolate and cinnamon crepes with Amarula for breakfast we left for a day trip to Swartberg Pass (Black Mountain) and Die Hel. Of all the passes in South Africa these two came the most highly recommended and as we soon discovered, for very good reason. We had one of our best days of riding of the trip. The scenery was on another level! We rode through the eastern end of the Groenfontein Valley towards Swartberg Pass, where there was a mountain bike race in progress. It was hard enough motorbiking up the pass in the scorching heat of the day so we felt for the poor, tired and fit buggers doing it by bicycle. We felt sorry for them and then we were like ‘brrrrrrppppp eat our dust suckers’.

From Swartberg Pass you can travel down a 48km winding dirt road that takes you to a valley that was once a hidden village of sorts set up by Boer farmers who wanted a bit of privacy one would presume. Nowadays it is a bit of a tourist draw helped along by the fact it is called Die Hel which means ‘The Hell’. With a name like this and given what we had heard we expected some really hectic road conditions but instead it was well graded and just simple riding fun. It was an extremely hot day so when we arrived we looked for shade and a cold coke before jumping back one the bikes and doing the same trip in reverse. It wasn’t as hard as we expected it to be but it was still a fantastic ride. We went to Hell and back with a smile on our face the whole way.


Use this road at your own risk – Challenge accepted!


On the way to Die Hel


Mick and hairpins extending into the distance


Me accelerating into the water crossing for maximum photographic effect


A scorching hot day I really wouldn’t have minding if I had binned it here


About to descend into Die Hel valley


The valley and its hairpins


We continued our way down Swartberg Pass and were totally blown away by the views. It would appear that all the hype was warranted. It was so impressive that when we got to the bottom be rode straight back up again. It was hands down the best pass of all the passes we were fortunate enough to ride while in South Africa.


On the way down Swartberg Pass


Tilted 90 degrees, this is known as the ‘Wall of Fire’


Mick’s bikes and the Wall of Fire


Tanya – gobsmacked and remembering why she became a geologist


The pass dissects some spectacular geology and is said to be one of the world’s best example folding in any range, anywhere. 700m high quartzite cliffs – anticlines, synclines – isoclinal, recumbent and overturned folds – you name it, its got it.


View from the top of Swartberg Pass looking south


That afternoon we did an ostrich farm tour with one of the local farmers which was really interesting. We learnt that historically ostriches were farmed for their feathers, where at one stage the value of white ostrich feathers was the same as gold on a weight basis. They say that at the turn of the twentieth century a single quality ostrich feather could get you a first class passage from Cape Town to London. However, once ostrich farming was found to be lucrative, the level of farming increased domestically and then ostriches were allowed to be exported overseas, breeding programmes in Europe and California flooded the feather market and the feather price dropped significantly. Interestingly the rise in motor vehicle travel, which at the time was mainly in open top cars, was one of the nails in the coffin of the ostrich feather boom. It seems the ladies couldn’t perambulate in new fandangled motor vehicles and sport their ostrich feather embellished fashions at the same time. Either the feathers went of the cars did. Then when World War One broke out the world had more pressing matters to attend to and the ostrich feather market completely collapsed.


The average ostrich egg weighs about 1.5kg and is the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs


The males are black and the females brown. During the mating season the males woo the ladies with their highly stylized dance moves 


These ostriches had been recently plucked of their nice white feathers


Today’s ostrich farmers have looked for other markets for the animals besides the feathers, which unsurprisingly are sold principally to Brazil. Leather was found to be a good potential market as ostrich leather is quite lightweight but strong. Lots of the leather that our farmer guide exported made its way from Oudshoorn to the fashion capitals of Milan and Paris. Also, meat became a good market domestically and then internationally as ostrich meat is very lean. When the bird flu crisis hit all ostrich meat exports to Europe were banned and many ostrich farmers struggled with 50% of farmers leaving the business. And due to huge culls there was a shortage of ostriches so the poaching of feathers took off. Europe then re-allowed ostrich meat imports but only with strict new controls, which the farmer spoke about. Lots of the work of ostrich farmers is tracking movements of animals and also testing so if one were to test positive to bird flu it is easy to cull all animals that have been in contact. Most money (about 60%) is made from leather, but a significant amount comes from feathers and meat also. The carcasses are then sold for fertilizer. Only 25kg of meat is butchered off of a 100kg ostrich. Another interesting fact is that the male ostriches have all their male bits on the inside. I learnt this upon observing the disturbing sight of one of the males defecating. When this happens EVERYTHING sees the light of day before the waste is removed and EVERYTHING makes its way back to where it came from. It was an alarming sight like something from a horror film. Bet you’re glad I bought that up.


You can see the malicious intent in the eyes of this ostrich


Be gone vile, featherless being!


One of the ladies looking coy for the camera


Mick with a recent hatchling – the fatality rate with these guys is 10-50%


That night we went to an excellent braai restaurant called Karooboom where we gorged ourselves with steak and ribs and spent the evening chatting with the proprietor about the region and his experiences growing up during Apartheid and then post 1994. He spoke how the ANC (African National Congress the current (and if they get their way probably indefinite) ruling party) had recently (in May) been voted out of Oudtshoorn in favour of the DA (Democratic Alliance, thought of as a progressive/liberal party for whites). However the ANC is refusing to leave the offices so the DA can move in. The central government won’t intervene to get the ANC to move out. When we first got to South Africa and people rather grimly suggested that South Africa would one day be like Zimbabwe we thought surely, surely that is an overreaction. But then you hear unbelievable stories like that and shudder.


More tortoises – Found these two guys fighting each other in slow motion with a bigger guy nearby

Views of the Groenfontein Valley


Before we knew it, it was time to move on to our next homestay at Swellendam. We rode out through the western end of the Groenfontein Valley to Calitzdorp then through to Rooiberg Pass which was great riding and views. I came within an inch or so of hitting a crazy bushbuck that chose the worst possible time to cross the track. It took a good 10 minutes to calm down after that.


I rescued this little guy from the middle of the road


Then Mick rescued him from my excellent plan of taking him around the world


Views from Rooiberg Pass – different scenery and not as steep as other passes but really scenic nonetheless


We were running a bit late so went for the tar to get to Barrydale a little faster and stopped at Ronnies Sex Shop for a beer. The place is a bit of a biker haunt and a must stop sort of place. The ride through Tradous Pass on the way to Swellendam was another stunner of a pass. Our host for the next two nights was Lauren who is the sister of our mate Charlie from Howick. She cooked some great food and plied us with great wine and kept us entertained.


Ronnie’s Sex Shop – it’s a bit of an institution. Story goes that friends of Ronnie’s thought it would be funny to pain the word sex in his sign. And that is all it takes to make the punters come – including us – sex, hehehe


Tradous Pass on the way to Swellendam – great views, nice windies and asphalt smooth as a baby’s bottom


The next day’s miserable raining weather fortuitously coincided with a day of bike maintenance. Mick checked the valve clearances on my bike which were tight and fixed the neutral light which had been routed poorly and was rubbing on the chain. He also repaired his license plate light which had stopped working when his bike got hit on the Wild Coast. We said a fond farewell to Lauren and were sad to have to leave so soon but the next day’s ride was to be quite the milestone for us. We were to visit Cape Agulhas which is the first of the ‘4 ends’ of the trip. When we came up with the trip we liked the idea of riding from the southern most tip of Africa to the northern most tip in Europe. We aim to do the same thing with the American land mass too.


This is the kind of hospitality that these South Africans have been showing us. Still can’t believe that people invite us smelly, stranger, biker Aussies into their house and go to so much effort for us


Lauren – sister of Charlie, provider of warm bed and conversations, cooker of lasagna and supplier of wine


The next morning however, my bike was not playing ball. When my fairing was put back on the power supply relay decided not to work. Mick did some diagnoses and with 12V in all the right places, decided the relay had failed. We stopped at a local auto store and bought a new relay and sure enough, that didn’t fix it. Mick by this point was thoroughly shitted off with all these minor motorbike issues.

We came up with an interesting route to the end of the African landmass. We rode down to Malgas on the eastern side of the Brede River and crossed on the last hand drawn pont in South Africa. The wind on the way to Agulhas was hellish, and the last 25kms from Bredasdorp was really bad south easterly that made our necks sore and the bikes work really hard. Wind is the enemy.


Tanya pulling the hand drawn pont


Mick chilling out after a horrendously windy ride in


We made it to Cape Agulhas and got the obligatory photographs. We then celebrated the milestone at the local famous fish and chippie where we met a lovely Polish now South African woman who took a keen interest in the trip and just generally made our day. We then rode to Somerset West on some back roads through some timber plantations and pass a small nature reserve. We got to the coast and we were going to do the famous coast road to Somerset West but it was so windy we headed inland onto the N1, which was a pretty poor decision as the traffic was busy and most drivers seemed to be on the crazy side of the sanity ledger.


Happy to be where I am


Sometimes we can’t believe we are doing this trip. This was one of those times


We snuck the bikes past the pedestrians only sign for a sneaky photo op. We are the outlaw bikers they speak of


The first of the ‘ends’ – next one is Nordkapp the top of Scandinavia


Tan packing in some awesome fish and chips – now cannot eat chips without vinegar


Tan and the bottom of Africa


We were put up for the night at Stu and Ros’ (friends of friends from Howick, Beth and Pete) place where we met their gorgeous kids who relegated us with tales of their pet hamsters. I particularly loved the story of their “friend who had a hamster but she fell on top of it one day, but it was ok as it only had one of its eyes pop out of its head so they took it to the vet who sewed its eye shut and now it’s a pirate hamster”. Classic.


6 Comments on “Big Fun in the Little Karoo

  1. Another wonderful blog. Great news guys, hope the plans are going well and hanging out for the next blog as always.

  2. Great stuff, thanks for the always entertaining read. Also a lovely distraction from a LOOOONGG days work. I can’t wait for the Pirate Hamster chapter!

  3. Noted the progression of tyres and tread patterns – what’s available, or definite decision to more “hard road friendly”?

    A marvelous progression of local encounters, best exposure to the grass roots values. Cheers, and go forth!

    • At that time I’d tried a more compromise tyre, a 50/50 (tar to dirt) tyre, but its pretty shit. Poor grip on the dirt, although some good milage gained on the tar. But that said, I like grip, so we’ve one back to a proper knobby for gravel and sand. Cant beat them.

  4. Cheesy ostrich egg omelets yum. And yes Michael that tortoise definitely wanted to come too.
    so awesome that first Earth End is registered. Ride forth xo

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