South Africa

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South Africa

South Africa
From the monkey valley to hell

In the western and eastern Cape provinces of South Africa there are some almost forgotten historical gravel passes that lead through grandiose mountain landscapes and valleys with bold names. A winter alternative for fans of alpine off-road tours.

Dieter Lobkarn

01/04/1999

They are as harmless as cows, said Ranger Antony, referring to the normal behavior pattern of white rhinos. In contrast to the black rhinoceros, they would not harbor any aggression against bipeds. So so. The theory, however, clearly referred to two-legged people who sit in the car and not to the kind who are on the move by bike. And probably not on excited white-mouthed mothers who are just taking their offspring out. Oh man – and now I’m standing in front of this family team with the darned BMW. What a stupid idea! What looks quite big from the car, looks fat, really fat from the motorcycle saddle, man. And when Mama Rhino suddenly turns her giant horn in my direction and, together with the baby (live weight carefully estimated 1000 kilograms), sniffs at me with my head bowed, I feel for the starter with trembling down. Not a good idea, as it quickly turns out, because the sound of the old boxer completely upsets the armored primal beasts. But they evade, thank God, thunder past me to the right and left. Okay, it’s my own fault, it was my idea. What do rhinos have to do with a gravel tour over the passes of the South African Cape Provinces? Well, I had thought it all over so nicely, wanted to convey the feeling of how it must have been for the first white settlers who pulled their ox wagons over the mountains into the interior of the country and repeatedly came across wild animals. For this purpose I asked Danie Malan, the Marketing Manager of the Shamwari Game Reserve north of Port Elizabeth, if photographer Elke and I could take a few photos with the machine and animals in the background. Always having bright ideas, he immediately agreed. Hollywood’s most expensive film ever produced in Africa will soon be shot in Shamwari: Mambo – the story of an elephant, with poachers, beautiful women and Brad Pitt – ranger Antony was already able to get in the mood. He and Elke had set out in the Land Rover in search of photogenic pachyderms that afternoon, with me carefully in tow on the BMW. Shortly before sunset, Antony found the two latitudes. When they finally disappeared into the thicket after the nerve-wracking confrontation, I can see from Elke’s thumbs up that she has the scene in the can – reward for fear. While observing Africa’s fauna in Shamwari is more for the well-heeled, I can make ends meet in Addo Elephant Park further west, even with a normal budget. Instead of expensive lodges there are nice campsites and huts for self-catering. The food in the restaurant is so terribly bad that you quickly switch to the camping kitchen anyway. As in most national parks, I am not allowed to ride a motorcycle through the park, but the rangers kindly take me on their game drives in their 4×4. After the Rhino experience, I’m actually very grateful to be able to sit in the car. Before the Addo government declared Addo a national park in the 1930s, the pachyderms had a tough problem with their wrinkled collars. In 1918 the local farmers commissioned the professional killer, pardon, big game hunter Major Phillip Pretorius to eliminate the “problem” because they kept nibbling in citrus plantations, which are about as sensitive as china shops. Within a short time there were only 16 elephants left in South Africa. After an outcry of outrage among the South African population, the tide finally turned and in 1931 the Addo Elephant National Park was established. There are now 265 elephants again in the region, and after a few expansions the park is now South Africa’s third largest national park. On the way west towards the gravel passes, I cross a rather desolate area. Members of the Xhosa tribe live in corrugated iron huts on the roadside, who came south from the former homelands in the Ciskei and Transkei to find work in the large car factories of Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth. Although corrugated iron has now replaced straw and clay, the traditions of the Xhosa have been preserved. So there are still the healers, called sangomas, who now practice in a wooden shed instead of the traditional round hut. Just as I am about to pull past a stinking truck in my BMW, a glowing white figure leaps out of the bushes on the roadside. I’m going to hell with it. It is a young Xhosa who is in the middle of his initiation ceremony, circumcision. After the ritual he has to spend some time in the wilderness, painted white all over his body, which is not easy as close to the city as he explains. His English is amazingly good. The heat is clearly bothering him and he empties the offered water bottle with one gulp. In the past, it was easy to spend time in the bush in the thick vegetation of the Transkei, he explains. Since the young men are not allowed to see or speak to women at this stage, their fathers brought them food and drink. Here the fathers work all day and there are no natural sources of drinking water. Still thinking about the boy, I almost miss the exit to Hankey, the entrance portal to Baviaanskloof. The first Dutch settlers named the valley after the numerous baboons that lived there. Which, by the way, they made short work of. The remains of a leather factory are cruel evidence of this. Soon afterwards, the small town of Patensie appears, today a center of fruit growing and also the last opportunity to refill the 32-liter fuel tank of the BMW before the wilderness. From here a gravel road stretches 120 kilometers through an almost untouched mountain landscape. To the right of the path, the region’s highest peak, at almost 1,800 meters, rises into the blue sky, the Cockscomb (Hahnenkamm), as it was aptly named because of its five points. The gravel route between Patensie and Willowmore was built by Thomas Bains between 1880 and 1890. Together with his father Andrew Geddes, who came to South Africa from Scotland in 1816, he oversaw 32 of the most important road and pass projects in the Cape Province. The white immigrants, who were gradually pushing north, needed ways to bring their belongings further into the country. Bains and Geddes literally laid the foundations for this. Comparable to the military roads of the First World War in the Alps, the old passes are now hardly of any importance. Ideal conditions for enduro riders, as they lead through beautiful mountain regions. Dusty, the BMW climbs the first mountain crossing, the Combrink ?? s Mountain Pass, which runs through a nature reserve. The tight turns are difficult to drive, and the hard “corrugated iron” surface almost knocks the handlebars out of my hands. But at the top the steep ascent is rewarded with a magnificent view: in the east back to the crossed valley and to the west over the extensive Bergplaas plateau, whose long, golden, shimmering grass gently sways in the wind. A few recently released mountain zebras are supposed to make the rare breed at home here again. Shortly afterwards, however, it is not a zebra crossing that forces me on the brakes, but a giant turtle that marches calmly across the slope. As I get closer, she withdraws with an indignant sigh into her huge, truck-wheel-sized tank. The descent is like a rollercoaster ride and is great fun with the GS. The fynbos vegetation typical of the Cape region grows to the right and left with beautiful Protea plants that bloom in many colors and mix exotic scents in the airstream. A piece of private farmland interrupts the nature reserve, then it goes back to state territory. At Doodsklip, the rock of death, I come across a nature conservation authority campground on the bank of a river. Legend has it that people were once mysteriously killed here. As I chug across the tree-lined square, a few baboons disappear into the nearby undergrowth amid screeching protest, a giant tortoise slowly pulls itself over the sand with its clawed front legs. Shadows move behind the bushes, pairs of yellow-twinkling eyes stare out of the semi-darkness. Not a particularly comfortable place. Just five kilometers away there is a campsite that looks like something out of a picture book. In a bend, the Kruisrivier River has created a natural basin with a snow-white sandy beach. I dive into the water and let the heat and dust wash off my skin with relish. No one in sight, just an osprey circling above me. Rooihoek is the Afrikaans name of this beautiful place: red corner, because the setting sun makes the monumental rocky landscape glow red in the evening. The wake-up call comes shortly after sunrise. Heartbreaking. The commanding male baboon of the valley welcomes the new day. The followers answer polyphonically. The steep rock walls reinforce the concert, sleep is no longer possible. Before the Grassneck Pass, the river invites you to jump into the water again. A couple of children are happy about the variety that my swim stop brings and are visibly amused by all the clothes that a motorcyclist wears and has to take off before a bath. When you reach the top of the pass, you can see the Karroo desert. Then it goes on a well-developed and fast drivable slope to the west in the direction of Willowmore. Shortly before the tarred road begins, you have to cross a narrow gorge flanked by red rock walls, then the wind blows the dust out of the cooling fins on the smooth asphalt strip and dries the sweat-soaked clothes, but the subsoil is already dissolving in Uniondale . On coarse gravel it goes over the Prince Alfred Pass, which runs through the Outeniqua Mountains and the dense Knysna Forest with its mighty yellowwood trees to the famous Garden Route on the Indian Ocean. The clouds that move from the Pacific inland stick to the mountain range, rain out and create this green zone that is reminiscent of a blooming garden. I roll down to Knysna, the one with its countless beds & Breakfast signs, the coffee shops and pubs represent the tourist center of the region. In front of “Charly’s Tapas”, a wooden structure built on stilts in the lagoon, there are already a couple of motorbikes. A good place for a break. After all, the best oysters in South Africa and home-brewed draft beer are to be found here. Then I drive back into the mountains and north of Knysna in the direction of Rheenendal, on the Seven Passes Road, which runs parallel to the busy Garden Route. Alternately tarred and graveled, this further work by street artist Thomas Bain leads to George. The path meanders through lush greenery, monkeys screeching in the thick undergrowth, birds chirping. Only now and then does a ray of sunlight come through the green canopy of leaves. It probably still looks like it did in 1867, when Bains drove the road through the jungle, and the next delicacy awaits in George: South Africa’s oldest passable mountain crossing, the Montagu Pass, which opened in 1847. Since it is a listed building, it is still as wonderfully narrow and bumpy as it was when it was built. A festival for the GS. The green vegetation is reminiscent of mountain routes in the lower Alpine or Pyrenees regions. Only there is less traffic here. The landscape changes on the other side of the pass. Since the humid Pacific clouds rarely get here, in the Karroo it is called and dry, it is ostrich land. Hundreds of thousands of the birds live here on farms. Oudtshoorn is the world’s ostrich metropolis. While feathers were once very popular, and later cholesterol-free meat, today the leather, which is characteristically grained by the quills, is the most expensive part of the mighty ratites. North of Oudtshoorn is Bain’s masterpiece: the Swartberg, his seventeenth and last pass. It took Bains four years to drive the slope, which climbs up to 1,585 meters, into the mountain. Up to 400 convicts worked on it in the absence of machines with picks, spades, hammers, chisels, wheelbarrows and gunpowder. A fire was simply lit under large rocks and, after days of heating, cold water was poured over them, which instantly burst them. The first car, a Panhard from 1902, crossed the Swartberg in 1904. The car is now in the C.P. Nel Museum in Oudtshoorn. A faded black and white photo shows its former owner, a certain Dr. G. Russel, courageously crossing a ford. Even gravel drivers who are spoiled by the Alps will get their money’s worth on the Swartberg. But it gets better. Shortly after the pass, a slope branches off to the left, into hell. The excursion to Die Hel – the Gamkaskloof valley got its nickname because of the extreme heat in summer – means a further 47 kilometers of dusty piste. And then the same way back, because hell is a dead end. The first inhabitants of the valley were Bushmen. Whites came in 1830, the first permanent house was built about seven years later. In 1841 the first farm was founded with Onderplaas. Until the road to the Swartberg Pass was built in 1963, Gamkaskloof was closed to the outside world. All essential things had to be carried over the mountains in Prince Albert’s pack donkeys. Nobody lives here today, the last farmer left a few years ago. The machine hums steadily, every now and then it forces holes to abruptly change course, then it goes up and down again, like over the back of a kite, with a cloud of dust on the rear wheel and a dull feeling in the stomach. Behind every ascent I expect a view of the valley, but only see the yellow-brown ribbon of the path that meanders through the green landscape and loses somewhere on the horizon. All of a sudden the slope ends at a steep drop. The valley floor is a good 1000 meters lower. In between a couple of extremely steep switchbacks. I carefully thread the BMW down. A few smaller stones loosened from the front wheel click far over the rocks down into the valley. If you want to go to hell, you have to drive very well – an old advertising slogan that fits damn well here. Once at the bottom, I set up camp and grill some chicken legs that I brought with me in my rucksack. Even the can of beer wrapped in a damp sock is still reasonably cool. Soon the Southern Cross will rise in the night sky. If I could sing, I would do it now. I’m in a hell of a good mood.

Info

The South African Western Cape Province offers an abundance of different landscapes. Hidden between the main routes are beautiful gravel paths – paradisiacal conditions for enduro riders.

Getting there: Many airlines are now jetting into the booming travel destination South Africa. Accordingly, there are sometimes offers of less than 1,000 marks on the market. A regular flight to Cape Town or Johannesburg costs around 1200 marks. Rental motorcycles and transport: Bringing your own machine to South Africa is only worthwhile under certain conditions, as the prices for air or sea transport are quite steep. For example, the return transport of the motorcycle by airline usually costs around 3700 marks (plus driver’s ticket). However, the price can be reduced significantly if several and above all light motorcycles are transported. For example, GS-Sportreisen in Munich, Telephone 089/27 81 84-84, Fax -81, lets enduros be lashed onto shared pallets and thereby reduce the price by almost half. If several travelers come together, collective transport in a ship container is also conceivable. (Incidentally, transport groups can be initiated quite easily via the classifieds pages of relevant off-road travel magazines). Experts for this are the outfitters Woick in Filderstadt, phone 0711 / 70967-10, fax -80, and Darr / Lauche&Maass in Munich, phone 089/28 09 170. All companies also help with calculating the cheapest solution for the traveler. Because rental bikes are unfortunately not available in South Africa at bargain prices either, but rent from 700 to 850 marks per week must be taken into account. For three weeks, for example, the Kawasaki KLR 650, which is very well suited for the tour, costs around 2250 marks for GS sports trips with no mileage limit. At Bike and Adventure (phone 07131 / 58070-0, fax -1) there is the possibility of a 200-kilometer limit per day and then various enduros cost well below 100 marks. Rental company in Cape Town: Le Cap Motorcycle Hire, 3 Carisbrook Street has Suzuki DR 350, Kawasaki KLR 650, BMW R 1100 GS and several Triumph models in its range, phone 0027-21 / 23-0823, fax 23-5566. Buffalo Bikes mainly rents Suzuki VX 800, the daily prices are below 100 marks. Telephone and fax 0027-21 / 45-0718 (in German). Organized motorcycle tours: GS sports trips, bike & Adventure (see above); MHS, phone 089/168 48 88; Prima Klima Reisen, phone 030/787927; Motorrad Reisen Konig, phone 07141/28 48 32.Documents: All you need is a passport that is still valid for at least six months and an international driver’s license. If you take your own machine with you, you will also have international registration and a Carnet de Passage. Travel time: The best travel time for the tour described is between October and November and between February and April. In December and January the weather is very nice, but it is also the main holiday season for South Africans. Hotels and campsites are fully booked. Overnight: South African National Parks has an information office in Cape Town. There you can inquire personally and book accommodation for all national parks directly: South African National Parks Board, 44 Long St., Cape Town, phone 0027-21 / 22-2810, fax 24-6211. The five-star lodge in the Shamwari Game Reserve is one of the most exclusive overnight accommodations in the country. However, full board and ranger game drives are included in the price of xxx marks. Information in Germany from the Shamwari Game Reserve Representative in Dusseldorf, phone 0211 / 739-3868, fax 0211 / 739-3869. In Addo Elephant Park it is much cheaper, there are nice camping facilities and simple huts for self-catering. Reservation through South African National Parks, P.O. Box 787, Pretoria 0001, phone 0027-12 / 343-1991, fax 343-0905. Incidentally, the subsequent confirmation of the reservation must be confirmed by down payment (the easiest way is by credit card number). Baviaanskloof is managed by Cape Nature Conservation. If you want to camp there, you have to book in advance: Cape Nature Conservation, Patensie, Telephone 0027-42232 / 3-0270, Fax 4232-3-0915. The Falcons View Manor in Knysna, 2 Thesen Hill, Knysna 6570, Telephone 0027-445 / 82-6767, Fax 82-6430, offers excellent food and a great view. The hotel is located high above Knysna and has a fantastic panoramic view of the lagoon. Accommodation, breakfast and dinner cost between 100 and 150 marks per person. The rustic log cabins for self-catering at the Knysna River Club, right on the lagoon, are cheaper. Info: Telephone 0027-445 / 82-6483, Fax 82-6484 In Oudtshoorn the Bed & Breakfast Shades of Africa nice and cheap, phone 0027-44 / 272-6430, fax 272-6333. In Gamkaskloof (The Hel) you can camp or spend the night in style in some of the restored old farmhouses. Booking via: Cape Nature Conservation, Private Bag X658, Oudtshoorn 6620, Telephone 0027-443 / 29-1739 Health: No vaccinations are required for South Africa. The medical standard in private hospitals is on a Western European level. It is advisable to take out travel health insurance. Currency and finances: The South African while “Rand” is currently 0.38 Marks. Money in the form of travelers checks should be exchanged in South Africa. The Rand course in Europe is considerably worse than on site. Credit cards are accepted everywhere, only petrol stations only accept cash. A liter of fuel (also unleaded) costs only about 75 pfennigs. Literature: South Africa books are now available in all variants, several of them by the text and image team Elke and Dieter Lobkarn (Internet address: www.houtbay.com/ lossis). Her current travel guide “Cape Town and the Cape Province”, DuMont travel pocket book, 19.80 Marks, contains many details about the region described. The best card for the remote routes is the “Western Cape” sheet from the multi-part South Africa collection from xxxxx publishing house for 26 marks.

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