Klein Karoo honeymoon trip

Sunday 16th December ’12. My gallant bride of 2 days, on pillion, and I pulled away from our home in Tokai at 06:30 on a much anticipated honeymoon. Our objective was to spend much of the journey off-road and to see and explore the Klein Karoo.

Slide15Our route took us over Du Toit’s Kloof Pass, stopping at Worcester for a quick refuel and coffee. We then followed the N1 almost to Touws River before turning left and heading past Aquila game lodge towards Die Venster. Here, up against the mountains, we turned right and reached the dirt road for the first time. We stopped to reduce the tyre pressures and disengage the ABS, before settling into a most enjoyable section of dirt road, where deep blue skies, gentle cloud formations and wide open landscapes are one’s only companions. Occasional sheep; several angular tortoises and scattered hawks were the only animals we saw along this route.

After approximately an hour and a half, we intersected the N1 and rode straight into Matjiesfontein for a welcome sandwich and milkshake.

Back on the bike, we went drove 20kms North to Laingsburg, where we turned right and set off up the Rooinek pass. This road eventually turns to dirt road and here we had our first small mishap. I tried to disengage the ABS while still in motion, which technically (and sensibly) is not possible. After a fumble, we lost balance and the bike fell over. No problems, except damaged dignity!

This is an absolutely lovely stretch of road, particularly popular with bikers and it passes though the amazingly interesting and picturesque Seveweekspoort. Near the bottom of the pass, we stopped and stripped off for a dip in a lovely clear pool. The air temperature was fairly extreme so the water was unbelievably refreshing. As an added bonus, we received a free fish nibble from a myriad of little fish. As always, when one finds a small piece of paradise like this, it is marred by selfish graffiti ‘artists’ who deface the rock walls.

After dressing again, we headed on to Calitzdorp, where we stopped for a cool drink. Sadly, this plain Karoo Town has a number of 7 – 8 year old beggars, who are as persistent as the local flies and when their demands aren’t met, they become abusive and apart from wishing an accident upon us, their language gets really foul – Oh the joys of Africa!

We couldn’t get out of Calitzdorp quick enough and headed 15kms up Route 62 toward Oudtshoorn and to our first overnight stop at Red Stone Hills Cottages. This is a delightful spot, run and managed by Petro. We stayed in a cottage called Birds Nest and Petro had stacked the braai fire and placed lamb chops; venison kebabs; mushroom and four salads in the fridge, along with a chilled bottle of Chenin Blanc. Could one ask for more!

Slide3Changing out of our biking gear, we headed to the communal swimming pool for a refreshing swim. For those who are interested in birds, there are a lot of birds about – apparently 210 species can be found there, including 5 varieties of Kingfishers. In addition, two pairs of booted eagles were nesting in the cliffs above our cottage. Red Stone Hills incidentally, gets it’s name from the surrounding hills and cliffs, which in the right light, glow red, not unlike Ayres Rock.

Next morning we set off early with the intention of going up the Swartberg pass. By error but fortuitously, we took the wrong fork in the road and ended up doing a long circuitous route through some amazing scenery and delightful farm buildings. We had to stop to let a herd of dairy cows pass us before ultimately reaching and circling the Calitzdorp dam and heading straight back into the centre of Calitzdorp!

Trying unsuccessfully to avoid the local street children, we went into a small, interesting and eclectic shop come restaurant called Lorenzo’s for breakfast. The tables were set out in a courtyard under some nice shady trees, where it was very peaceful and relaxed and had a pleasant meal.

After breakfast, we set off on Route 62 and eventually passed into Oudtshoorn, where after a quick refuel, took the road past the Cango Caves and crocodile farm and were soon going up the Swartberg Pass. It really is a spectacular ride and great fun to do, despite the heat at this time of the year. We stopped at the top for to take photos and have some water. We had to admire a number of cyclists who came over the pass from the other side, as it is not the easiest of climbs on a bicycle.

The descent was really wonderful too and we stopped at the bottom of the pass to cool our feet in the stream. From there, it was only 5 kms to Prince Albert.

Our first night’s accommodation in Prince Albert was at Dennehof B&B, which was absolutely lovely. It is beautifully maintained and well run and we had a lovely room with an adjoining, al fresco spar bath. The neat communal swimming pool was a few meters from our front door. Naturally, the first priority was to take a dip in the pool to cool off and then lie on the loungers and relax for a while.

Next morning, after a really good breakfast on the communal deck, barely able to hear each other above the cacophony of bird noises, we were on the bike by 9:00. It was already seriously hot and, we knew, going to get a lot hotter. Die Hel is only accessible from the top of the Swartberg Pass and it is recommended that one allows at least 5 hours for the return trip. The boards at the start of the road to the Gamkaskloof Valley announce that the distance is 48kms and that the road is dangerous.

The Gamkaskloof valley discovered by a group of Boers, who were trying to avoid the war (and the British) and who lived for a hundred odd years at the foot of the valley, almost completely isolated from the rest of the world. A very rough road was built at some stage and the place is accessible if one has a 4 x 4 or bike. The main concern on travelling this road is that it is very narrow and there are enumerable blind corners and switchbacks. One needs to be extremely cautious to avoid either a collision with any oncoming vehicle or to steer off the road to avoid such an event. The road surface is variable from firm and smooth to quite rocky.

The descent to the restaurant took us about 1hr 20 and was most enjoyable and some of the views were stupendous. The last few kilometres being particularly steep and windy and this is handled almost exclusively in 1st gear. It is recommended that before attempting this section of road, one observes to see whether there are any vehicles ascending and if not to wait a further 5 minutes before attempting the descent. I wouldn’t like to be the person having to reverse a vehicle up the pass!

We estimated the temperature at the bottom of the pass to be at least 45 degrees. The thermometer read 41 degrees in Prince Albert. Done up in all our black biker gear, we really felt the heat. As an aside, I bought myself a summer airflow jacket the day we arrived back home.

At the bottom, the vegetation is very green and lush, fed by the stream running through the valley. The restaurant is very pleasant and well stocked to cater for hungry and very thirsty travellers. We had a sandwich and cool drink and watched various parties arrive. It is interesting to chat to other motorcyclists, who are ever friendly and wont to share a story or two.

We decided to complete the journey, which continues a further 7 kilometers down the valley to it’s conclusion at the museum, which gives a very interesting account of how the folk of Die Hel lived.

On the return journey, we stripped off to soak in one of the drifts before attempting the ascent. Unfortunately, we didn’t get off to a very good start, as coming around probably the steepest and sharpest hairpin, we came across a 4×4 driver, who had parked in the middle of the road to take photographs and as a result, we ran out of space and pace and fell. My beloved was fine but I fell on my ribs on a large rock and really hurt my rib-cage, particularly as I had elected to leave my jacket unzipped in an attempt to beat the heat. The chagrined vehicle occupants were terribly apologetic and helped pick the bike up and dust us off and we were on our way again.

We had a nice ascent and ride despite the heat and arrived back in Prince Albert 7 hours after we had originally set off. The experience was amazing but we were completely exhausted, mainly I believe as a result of doing the trip in such intense heat.

We were up early the next morning to rode to the centre of the Town, turning right at a large sign advertising the Bush Pub. This route took us immediately to a beautifully smooth 55km dirt road that ends somewhere North of Klaarstroom. It is the most desolate area imaginable and didn’t see another vehicle; human or animal, barring a few sheep and two horses. The road is delightful and very easy going, only once, when reaching the top of  rise, did we hit a patch of thick soft sand, which gave us a little warning shake up.

We finally reached the tar road and headed South to Oudtshoorn, where we spent a night before two relaxing days in Knysna before heading home along the N2.