We completed our 2023 summer ride through Europe (read about that trip Europe for Four Months in 2023) by flying directly to South Africa for a 20-day tour. This was a "bucket list" destination for us. The motorcycle tour company that we had chosen for the trip some years before was offering a discount for trips booked early in 2023, so we took advantage.
At the end of the Europe trip In mid-September, we put our Kawasaki Versys back into storage in Heidelberg Germany then flew from Frankfurt to Johannesburg South Africa. This was such an odd flight for me as it is more than 10 hours with no time zone change. I've never flown so far without changing time zones. It makes the flight feel even longer once you get back on the ground and so much clock time has elapsed.
South African Motorcycle Adventure (SAMA) Tours met us at the airport to transport us and our riding gear to the first day hotel in Pretoria. We stayed two nights getting a chance to both explore the area and rest a bit before starting the ride.
Our tour included a rental motorcycle, which we were assigned in Pretoria, a BMW F750GS. The same model as we rented in Colombia during 2021 (Colombia, that's in South America) so it felt very familiar. Somewhat under powered but adequate especially given that our tour included a chase van containing all our luggage. So all that went on the bike was the two of us and a few things for the day. In total there were 9 bikes (3 with two passengers) along with a lead and chase tour guide on bikes and one more in the van. 11 Bikes and 15 people in the group.
And now all loaded up, off we went to some interesting stops around the Pretoria area before arriving at the Zebra Lodge. This was the first of our three safari experiences. From the Lodge, our truck tour brought us up close to many game animals including zebra, springbok, giraffe, ostrich, and so many more. We were also treated to a drum concert ending the day.
Another full day's ride through great scenery lead us to Hippo Hollow Country Estate, a resort near the Kruger National Park where we enjoyed a three night stay, which enabled a full day truck tour in Kruger. Such a fantastic place! Elephants, water buffalo, zebra, giraffe, springbok, gazelle, monkey, and even lions (at a distance!) were up close and part of our day. We completed the day at an elephant experience near Hippo Estate where we learned much about elephants, touched them, feed them and took a ride on one. So amazing!
Next off to the Kingdom of Swaziland, now known as Eswatini, where we stayed at the Summerfield Botanical Garden & Exclusive Resort. Eswatini is a self-governing kingdom fully contained within South Africa. Thus, as we entered the kingdom it is an international border just like any other. That includes passport checks and all that goes with it. Summerfield was a spectacular resort where "our room" was an entire building including a bedroom, bathroom, office, and living room with a entryway porch and bedroom patio. Wow! Monkeys were everywhere.
For the next two days we switched from a focus on local creatures to local history.
First, a stop at Bloedrivier aka the Blood River monument where we learned about a key part of South African history known as the Battle of Blood River. Here in 1838 the Voortrekkers (who would be the core of the future South African nation) took on the Zulu Kingdom in battle. About 460+ trekkers faced 17,000 Zulu warriors. The Voortrekkers withstood repeated assaults and lived to tell the tail. This battle is central in fostering Afrikaner nationalism and founding the nation. Many interpreted the battle success as God's intervention and hence the divine right to exist as an independent people. The larger experience is reflected in the Voortrekker Monument, which we visited on the first day of riding.
Second in our history visits came at our stay for the night the Isandlwana Lodge. A rather new small lodge on the side of a mountain with a spectacular view of the valley below. The entire valley wall is glass from floor to ceiling. The building is built into the land with boulders that are part of the mountain inside the structure. Here in the KwaZulu Natal heartlands, The Lodge enjoys a sweeping view Isandlwana battlefield in the valley below.
In 1879 this valley was the site for a battle between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom where 20,000 warriors attacked a British column with 1,800 British, colonial and native troops and 350 civilians. In the end, 1,300 from the British force were killed. Isandlwana was a disaster for the British. The embarrassment of the defeat forced the policy makers in London, who to this point had not supported the war, to support the pro-war contingent committing whatever resources were needed to defeat the Zulus. The Zulus did not have the manpower, technological resources, or logistical capacity to match the British. After another more extended campaign, with a heavily reinforced British field army in South Africa, the Zulu Kingdom was defeated and ceased to exist as an independent entity.
Moving from the country's history to being part of history. We crossed another border entering Lesotho, a fully contained country within the borders of South Africa. Traveling here is like entering a time machine taking us back to the 1800's. Outside of a very few larger cities, people live in simple hut or structures and travel by foot, horse or donkey. There are very few vehicles or modern structures. Most of the country is very mountainous with the lowest point at 1,400 meters (4,593 ft) elevation and 80% of the country above 1,800 meters (5,906 ft). Our destination was the Semonkong Lodge for a two day stay. In contrast to most places we stayed, this Lodge was very rustic with wood fired stove heating, limited electricity (the generator turns off at 9 pm) and various animals wondering the grounds. Often horses, goats, or sheep would be hanging out in front of our door. There were many activities available to fill the day (hikes, rappelling, horse riding, etc.). I choose to read a book and enjoy the view. The Lodge's main building had a separate generator powering the only television much later so you could hang out at the bar, argue with others about the rugby game and enjoy a beer. The main building also provided all our meals and generally provided a living room for the extended group at the Lodge. A great chance to meet others and learn about the area. Locals passed through and by the Lodge all day carrying loads, pushing herds to new locations and waving with a pleasant smile.
With the high elevation, all of Lesotho provided the best motorcycle riding with reasonable pavement, constant curves and non-stop ups and downs. I really enjoyed the ride! But, on leaving the Semonkong Lodge we encountered the worst weather of the trip with heavy cold rain. Temperatures were no more than 12°C (54°F). This made the mountainous travel very tricky. Visibility decreased to just a few feet. Debbie wisely got off the bike at the first opportunity and joined the growing "team" in the heated chase van.
After two days riding, we arrived at Zuurberg Mountain Village, a remote oasis in the Addo Elephant National Park. This Lodge was another throwback to a closer point in time. It felt like we had arrived in the 1930's. The Lodge has a great room with large fireplace and extensive seating with overstuffed couches, chairs and tables. Staff were never far away happy to provide a drink or snack. The Lodge cats wondered through from time-to-time and Toby, the local dog, was pleased to sit by your side, soak up the warmth from the fire and encourage your stroking them. It was easy to imagine a British hunter holding court here after a long day of elephant hunting telling tales while sipping brandy and stoking a cigar. Day two was another all day truck safari through the Addo with the best elephant encounter of the entire trip.
Now we arrive on the coast beginning the Garden Route. Here we road slowly west along the coast enjoying a range of views and stops, all were very nice. We stopped at the southern tip of Africa, which is the south most point on the continent. Eventually working our way to Cape Town and the end of the tour. After turning in our bikes at the SAMA Tours office in Cape Town, we stayed another three days in the city touring the area. It is South Africa's most visited city. Beautiful!
Finally we were back at the airport to head for home. Shortening what could be a long story, our flight was not available so we re-booked onto Qatar Airways with a flight to Doha (10 hours) followed by a flight to Los Angeles (16 hours) after just a one hour break. After about five months finally back home.
Such a great trip! Time to plan the next trip.