Any reason to travel to the far North of South Africa is welcomed, and add to this a weekend at perhaps one of the best known country hotels, most find it hard to avoid getting excited.
And so it was this month when Southern Cross and Traditional Triumph collaborated on a weekend trip to the famous Coach House Hotel in Agatha, a small community in the mountains above the town of Tzaneen. We gathered at the dealership on Friday morning with threats of rain and bad weather, and as soon as the traffic calmed, we headed-out to the crossroad settlement at Bapsfontein for our trip North.
Once we were free of the traffic and the ever present traffic police, we found our pace and rode towards Groblersdal after skirting around the town of Bronkhorstspruit. The road was relatively busy and between watching for potholes (which were not that bad) and the crumbling left-verge of the road (which was bad) we reached Marble Hall where we stopped for lunch at the Whitehouse Guest House - a pleasant oasis that we will certainly revisit. The staff were fabulous and the food - well, let's say it exceeded expectations. After our fillup, we left the town under increasingly heavy clouds on our way to the next point at Chuenespoort, a rather impressive pass into the true bushveldt along the R579. Traffic became heavier as we reached the former homeland capital of Lebowakgomo, but after turning off the main road at the top of the pass, we enjoyed an almost deserted road to the settlement of Boyne and nearby Moria. The road itself was in excellent condition - wide verges and excellent surface, and we were able to make some time up as we headed towards the threatening clouds and the Wolkberg (Cloud Mountain).
The roads guys in this region have done a fantastic job of resurfacing and improving the R71 between Polokwane and Haenertsburg and we cruised to the summit on a road that truly deserves to be included on any bucket-list in increasingly chilly conditions as the cold front arrived. By the time we reached the town of Haenerstburg, the mist was heavy and the temperatures had dropped considerably, so we continued on to our destination, this time following the Georges Valley route to Tzaneen which has only recently been reopened after almost two years of work. I was expecting the worst and was pleasantly impressed with the road which although potholed in places, was quiet and in fair condition. We reached Tzaneen and then took the road to Agatha in lifting mist - but a light drizzle, reaching the Coach House along yet another sweeping experience in good time.
The Coach House - for those that don't know, was South Africa's first five-star Country House Hotel. It was built and nurtured by a giant in the hospitality industry - Guy Mathews, and it earned a well-deserved reputation for its fine dining, excellent rooms and incredible views. Alas, after Guy's death some years back, the hotel went through a bad patch - as did the region as tourism numbers dropped, and today it is probably a good three star hotel with some amazing rooms and the same views. Our group rushed to the magnificent hot showers and gradually gathered in Buchan's Bar for pre-dinner drinks and the usual leg-pulling. Dinner went all to quickly and we all eventually fell into our beds exhausted but happy.
Saturday morning saw the weather lifted - well almost, and we decided to do a circular route which included some incredible roads to Phalaborwa, Mica and Hoedspruit where we stopped to gather ourselves before the next leg. The R40 between Hoedspruit and Hazyview has a bad reputation for traffic, goats, untended children and potholes, so we started out with trepidation about what to expect. Yes, the traffic was there, but the road itself is in very good condition. Travelling through the settlements of Acornhoek and Bushbuckridge was an experience what with taxi's and carts, but the locals were genuinely happy to see this convoy of bikes. At Bushbuckridge, we turned onto the R533 towards Graskop and what a road! Twisties like I have long forgotten on a road that is almost perfect in its surface and traffic. Most bikers tend to stick to the direct route between Hazyview and Graskop, seldom trying the Bushbuck leg, and it is a real treat. This route eventually took us up towards the darkening clouds at Kowyn's Pass, where we hit mist and light rain again - oh, and a maniac in a Gold GT who thought it wise to shoot pass seven bikes and four cars in heavy mist without a care! We reached Graskop just as the mist lifted.
After a great lunch at Harries, we took the R534 along the escarpment past God's Window and through Bourke's Luck. The road remains one of the regions best biking routes and we were not dissapointed as we headed down past Blydepoort and through the Abel Erasmus Pass to the JG Strydom Tunnel - all worthy of repeating on future rides. The road is well kept and generally safe and we managed to keep a good pace as we traversed the passes and curves on this exciting road. Our return to Agatha was uneventful and we got home by 4pm and into the bar for the Cup Final. Again, dinner was a great experience and another early night followed.
Leaving the Wolkberg and Agatha is always a bitter-sweet experience. After some debate about the route home, we decided on Magoebaskloof Pass - a must on any ride, and on to Johannesburg via Roedtan, Potgietersrus and Naboomspruit. Riding up the Magoebaskloof pass early in the morning is a pleasure - clear roads and sweeping curves, and we found the route well maintained and had I been travelling alone, I would have done it again just for the fun of it. But as time was not on our side - and clouds were threatening again, we moved on down the pass to Moria, retracing our route to Roedtan where we diverted to Makopane (Potgietersrus) and followed the 'old' route to Warmbaths and our final lunch.
For those that feel the North is jaded or not worth visiting, think again The weekend was 1400 kilometers of incredible roads, sights and experiences, and something that I cant wait to do again. And of course, the Coach House is just........ well, special. Experience it yourself.