Big Five reserves in the Eastern Cape that welcome motorcyclists include Kariega, Sibuya and Amakhala, to name a few.
My friend Gill used to mock me when I did something she felt was incomprehensible: “You’re such a boy!” she’d scoff. I know this thought went through her head whenever I planned a motorcycle roadtrip – Gill wouldn’t have been Gill if it hadn’t, for she loathed the potential lethality of things two-wheeled – but it was the one time she’d bite her tongue.
Like the friend she was, Gill understood bikes weren’t just fun for me, they were important. As a kid, I was addicted to the western novels and one Spanish phrase that rumbled my gut back then (and still does) was Vamanos, vacqueros! – “Let’s ride, cowboys”. I later discovered I didn’t like riding horses. This “loss” was countered by watching Easy Rider, which left me with the understanding that the way for me to truly appreciate “big sky country” was alone and on a bike.
BMW Motorrad SA recently loaned me one of their top-of-the-range adventure bikes, the R1 250 GS HP – the acme, as far as the Bavarian company is concerned, in terms of power, robustness, sophistication and comfort. Every province in South Africa offers something special to motorcyclists. However, if you are able to combine the Western and Eastern Cape in your itinerary while riding this versatile beauty, you’ve reached roadtripping nirvana.
There’s so much to see, so much to do … the real challenge is determining how much time you can allow yourself for the trip. I figured on being away from home for seven nights; just one en route to the Eastern Cape via the N2 highway and one on the R62 return leg. Making Kenton-on-Sea my “destination” made the trip a 2 500km trek, with the bulk of riding on the first and penultimate days. My first night would be at Gamtoos River Mouth – where I have friends – and the last outside Ladismith in Kannaland.
Space is at a premium on a bike, even when you’re riding solo, so packing is an art … especially when the foundation of your luggage is nearly 30kg of camera and computer equipment. A spare pair of jeans, shorts, tracksuit top or fleecy, synthetic sports tops or lightweight T-shirts (they dry overnight), extra socks and two pairs of thermal longjohns are usually sufficient for a week away.
Obviously you’ll be wearing leathers or another reinforced riding jacket and boots for the actual time spent in the saddle. Walking shoes are essential if you’re wearing motorcycle boots so, to save space, I wear hiking boots while riding and pack sandals for after hours. All SANParks reserves along the N2 are bike-friendly, including Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) where you can ride into Main Camp and park before hiring a hop-on guide for the day.
Other Big Five reserves in the Eastern Cape that welcome motorcyclists include Kariega, Sibuya and Amakhala. I have visited four-star Kariega (www.kariega.co.za) several times by bike, riding to the main lodge which is about three kilometres from the entrance gate. With no large cats, elephants or buffalo on this part of the reserve, awkward encounters are unlikely.
There is no such thing as a self-drive “safari” at Kariega (as with all private reserves) so I joined the other guests on game drives and river cruises. By and large, reserves in the Eastern Cape are much less expensive than their counterparts in Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Sibuya (www.sibuya.co.za) is an eco-destination bordering Kariega (both are about 130km from Port Elizabeth) whose unique selling point is that guests are transferred to and from the reserve by boat from reception at Kenton, where there is secure parking. They are accommodated at one of two luxury tented camps on the banks of the Kariega River or a stunning bush lodge.
“Budget” options include Woodlands Cottages and Backpackers (www.woodlandscottages. co.za) or Intaka Bird Lodge (www. intakabirdlodge.com), two splendid self-catering establishments on the R343 between Kenton and Makhanda (Grahamstown). Both have river access – Woodlands to the Bushman’s and Intaka to the Kariega – so kayaking and birdwatching are popular alternatives to day excursions to the reserves. There are an abundance of value-for-money places to eat and enjoy sundowners.
My favourites are Stanley’s Country Restaurant high above the Kariega River and the Sandbar Floating Restaurant on the Bushman’s. Other Sunshine Coast attractions include beaches where you can fish, bathe or hike for kilometres without seeing other people and arty-crafty Bathurst with its giant pineapple.
There’s a popular phrase, “there’s no thirst like Bathurst”, which seems to be based upon the fact that the (original) Pig & Whistle pub is permanently packed. Back to wildlife experiences: rustic, secluded and authentic, Quatermain’s 1920s Safari Camp (www.quatermainscamp.co.za) at Amakhala is less than 70km on the N2 from Port Elizabeth and one of the gems of the region. Reception is a very short ride from the Carnarvondale entrance to the reserve. Guests are picked up and transported in game-viewing vehicles along an extremely dodgy road to one of the quirkiest bush facilities I’ve ever experienced. Quatermain’s is owner-managed by Riaan and Julie Brand who describe it as a throwback to “the heyday of exploration.
“Our intimate six-bed camp offers you the opportunity to experience ‘Africa under canvas’, with three crisp white tents fitted out with military campaign-style furnishings … the choice of pioneers, hunters and explorers of that time.” Apart from seeing the “usual” predators and herbivores, says Julie, “guests can look forward to hearing the pitter-patter of little cheetah paws in the not-too-distant future”.
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