South Africa is a land of such incredible diversity and it is easy to see why it makes such an unbelievable motorcycling destination. Take today as an example.
We will be celebrating our Human Rights Day tomorrow as a public holiday (Bank Holiday) in South Africa, and as many people did, we took an extra day off to create a long-weekend, with the aim of packing as much riding into a weekend as possible. Yesterday was a really great start with 35 bikers joining us on a breakfast run to the mining town of Cullinan - about an hour out of Pretoria. Incredible ride with really great bunch of people to a town rich in mining history. Great favourite..
Then today, we did our first Southern Cross 'Outride' - a day trip for those fortunate enough to have taken an extended weekend, and interested in getting out of the City. Our destination - Kaapschehoop (Kaapsehoop), a mountain-top village about 25km's from Nelspruit in the heart of the Lowveld and around 350km's from the 'big smoke' that is Johannesburg and Pretoria.
We left the city at a little after seven thirty this morning, and headed out on the motorway towards the countryside. One of the downsides of living in metro's like Johannesburg or Pretoria is the lack of anything mildly scenic or 'bike-worthy' for about an hour in any direction, and going East is no exception. The ride to Witbank (Emahlahleni) must rate as one of my least favourite roads, but after that (and two highway robbery points), the road takes-on a different tone as we start heading into biker's country. With a brief stop at Belfast, our moods improved and after the last toll-gate in Waterval Boven (having to pay a King's ransom), we got off the boring N4 and onto the R539 and the famous Schoemanskloof Pass.
This has long been an alternative to the busier N4 and has over the years become a little 'tired' and unkempt, but what a surprise this time. This is an incredible journey on one of the best-kept roads in the region and the bikes sensed the mood and simply fell in love with the curves, vistas and unbelievable surface. The route has been resurfaced in the last year and provides a fitting entrance to the Lowveld past Old Joe and some amazing passes. While only relatively short - at 60 kilometers, it packs a days biking pleasure into that short distance, leaving you wanting to turn back at the bottom just to see what the road does the other way! Quite amazing!
The R539 rejoins the N4 at Montrose and we followed this into Nelspruit (Mmbombela) - with a short Tom Tom-sponsored detour through Mattafin before turning onto the Kaapsehoop road on the outskirts of the City. While the start of the pass is under some construction in Nelspruit, we soon passed the old Nelspruit Airport and we were clear of the light traffic as we meandered upward towards what has become a sought-after destination by locals and visitors alike. The road is well kept - not quite the quality of Schoemanskloof, but still thrilling with wide sweeping corners and some quite magical views of the Kaap Valley 800 meters below. Approaching the village, you are reminded to beware of the famous wild horses and soon you arrive in what was once a gold mining town. We crested the pass and drove into the village for lunch at one of a number of restaurants and pubs that dot the main 'road'. Kaapsehoop has a bohemian feel with lots of artists and a thriving pub culture. Situated so close to Nelspruit, it has become a great outing for Lowvelders and their visitors, and no trip would be complete without a sighting of the wild horses of Kaapsehoop. Some say these horses are the ancestors of those that were abandoned when the mining activities ended at the turn of the century (and the village was abandoned), while others point to the British army as the source of the original stock after the end of hostilities in the Anglo Boer War. Not sure which is correct, but they both add to the allure of the settlement.
Perhaps it's the side-effects of riding distances at more than a walking pace, but it seems that service in seemingly 'busy' tourist destinations has become a 'nice-to-have' in many towns in this country. I realise that businesses don't want to have staff standing idle at quiet times, but please, why have only one waiter on duty at lunchtime on a busy long-weekend? Our breakfast run on Sunday took two hours to serve breakfast to 35 bikers, because there were only two staff in the kitchen to prepare breakfast at what is regarded as a busy biking destination? C'mon guys,..! Anyway, I digress...
After a relaxing and tasty slow-lunch, we started our ride back to the City by travelling down the mountain to the Ngodwana Mill on the N4, before turning West and heading towards Waterval Boven. The route from Ngodwana to the tunnel at Waterval Onder can be a real treat when the trucks and heavy traffic are elsewhere occupied, and today was a good day for riding this usually busy section. We made good time up and through the tunnel, and soon we were back at the tollgate and saying farewell to the Lowveld.
Although the ride totaled a little over seven hundred round-trip kilometers -and is perhaps best suited to an overnight stay, it was a blast and well worth a day in the saddle. Try this one for a bit of bike therapy when you can, and remember that in the case of Kaapschehoop, wild horses could drag you away if you aren't careful....!