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In a gloomy cowshed at the BMF tail end show in Peterborough, I was chatting to Alex Jackson of Kaapstad motorcycle tours South Africa. Our usual topic of conversation was touring and biking around the UK, South America and South Africa, and of course how nobody seems to be very interested in buying gear or booking holidays due to the onset of winter.

I was pondering about my next holiday when Alex said “It’s about time you and Carole came out to Africa with me. I’m planning a new tour that includes Swaziland, Lethoso and riding through the game reserves on our bikes. Its never been done before”. “Are you mad” I said what Rhinos, Giraffes, Hippos and motorcycles, not sure about that? Then the penny dropped, this could be great, I’ll ring the wife. Carole didn’t really hesitate at all, she said “that sounds good go for it”.
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The tour was booked for August 2014 so we booked the flights and before we knew it the day had arrived. The flight to Johannesburg is about 11 hours, and with the excellent service and plenty of wine from South African Airways, and only 1 hours time difference, we arrived in great shape, around 9am. Promptly ferried to our hotel and settled in instantly.

The first day was free to check out the bikes, I had a BMW 1200GS , just the job. After that the rest of the day was free to go and explore the city.

In the afternoon we found ourselves booking a trip & we were on the bus heading for Soweto. After a tour of the township we were dropped off and left in the hands of one of the local guides for a walk around the streets.

I’m not phased by poverty because of the work we have done with the kids in Peru and the tours to China, India and Egypt. The shacks are close together so that the electrics can pass from one shack to another all electric being stolen from the local train power line. Even though there is obvious lack of sanitation with about 5 port-a-loos for hundreds of people there is a sense of pride in the air. Everyone is milling around with what seems to be a mission and people coming out going to work immaculately dressed. The kids are friendly & amused by our visit.
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After our walk we visited Nelson Mandela’s House and the apartheid museum. That’s an eye opener but well worth a look. A good place to see is the monument which holds the 10 pillars of freedom charter. Such hopeful ideals which held so much promise. So much has changed & yet in many ways poverty is still the biggest divider of race.

Day 2 we are loaded and ready to go. The first leg is to Golden Gate National Park, about 320k. Once we had battled the rush hour traffic leaving Jo’burg heading south east, the countryside opens out and the roads are brilliant, instant freedom. A superb ride through the plains and townships with hardly any traffic at all.

As we arrived in to Golden Gate the sun was setting and the colours of the mountains and cliffs were amazing. The hotel couldn’t have been more isolated it was perfect in every way.
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As soon as we chucked the bags in the room Alex thrust a map of the park in my hand and said “right go now before it gets dark, there are two loops of single track road cutting through the mountains”. This was our first escape on our own. I managed to round up 3 of the others John, Andy & Chris. Another brilliant dusk ride, the light was cutting through the peaks and valleys with lines so sharp that at times they didn’t look real. Vivid reds and oranges, this was to be our first real encounter with the local wildlife. From out of nowhere came a large bison who thought it would be a great idea to race the bike at about 40mph. He was right next to us for about 80 yards then cut straight across the bows up on to a ridge. Then he stopped and stared us out. I think maybe this was just a game but it really got the adrenalin going.

Up on the ridge we found a vulture hide. As Carole wandered off to investigate I scanned the plains for anything else. ”Can you see anything?” said Andy. “Yeah baboons I think” after he picked himself up off the floor from laughing, Andy said “I don’t think so” mmmm maybe it’s the light. By this time it was getting quite dark, so we headed back to the hotel....
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As I was unloading the bike Carole was it the room, I could hear her laughing Wassup! As I chucked the panniers on the bed, on the back of the door was a large notice...PLEASE LOCK ALL DOORS AND WINDOWS OR THE BABOONS WILL STEAL EVERYTHING. So I wasn’t going mad I did see them on the plain.

The next day we headed out through the park brilliant riding with abundant wildlife. Zebra, Antilope, Kudu and of course loads of baboons. Again, superb roads with mountain ranges in every direction. Leaving the Free State and heading into Kwazulu-Natal it gets more isolated. This is riding heaven for me. I love the feeling of loneliness on the road, that’s probably one of the things I get a kick out of. As long as the tanks are full and there is plenty of water on board I’m happy.

We headed north west on to an unmade road for about an hour and arrived at Rorkes Drift . Well I supose most of us have seen the film Zulu, but when you get there it has quite a feeling all of its own. There is absolutely nothing around at all, totally isolated. Makes you wonder why we wanted it. Everybody seemed to split up and explore it on their own.
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When you think just 150 British and colonial troops successfully defended the garrison against an intense assault by 3,000 to 4,000 Zulu Warriors, with walls only around 6ft high, this was quite an achievement. We left the garrison and headed for our hotel a stunning thatched hotel on the buffalo river. An interesting evening, talking with our host. An English x-army guy, who told us more interesting facts about the battle and the area of countryside around us.

In the morning we set off for about a 330k ride further north for a two night stop in Swaziland. We reached the border early afternoon, and after getting our passports stamped and the bikes licensed we were away. The best way to pass the time at border crossings is a photo shoot with the guards. They do love a photo session in Africa.

It’s amazing how the geography changes to tropical like almost instantly. We arrived at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. This was to be our home for the next 2 days, staying in traditional beehive huts and free to explore the park. The first stop was the bar. I found it a little bit intimidating trying to enjoy a cold beer with two or three crocks staring at us from the lake, but safe in the knowledge of a 3 foot wall round us. I was a little bit more relaxed, until I wandered round outside and discovered that the wall finished 20 feet away and the crocks could just amble their way into the bar at anytime.
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Talking to one of the rangers I said “how often do they escape into the bar.” “Mmmm” he said “can’t really remember but we normally just shoo them back in to the lake.”Ok we’ll be off then. This is a great park with abundant wildlife. Me and Carole took a walk out into the bush early the next morning. “Stunning,” Africa at its best. That evening we returned to the bar (crocks safely in bed?) for a great evening meal sat round the bonfire with warthogs for company and Swaziland tribal dancing. It was John Colyers birthday so a little more alchohol was required than normal, that always helps with the sleeping.

The next morning we packed up and headed northwest to the border back in to South Africa and up towards the Kruger. This is where the wildlife really takes off. As we approached the park I caught sight of three giraffe running beside us. It was one of those double take moments, by the time I’d nearly knocked Carole off the back of the bike with excitement and stopped, they were disappearing into the bush.

Arriving at the gates of our next park we were escorted straight to our lodges. In the car parking area was a ford Sierra with every panel dented or pushed in. There was a woman loading the boot, yes all the usual woman driver jokes and mocking, she smiled and said you will be meeting Dennis later and then drove off.
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In case you are wondering Dennis is a large male rhino with attitude who has a whole story of his own. Growing up in the park a number of years ago he was shot at and hit through the nose by a poacher after his horn.
After this incident his attitude changed now Dennis likes to ram everything and anything, cars, trucks, other rhinos ect, (he is particularly fond of silver ford sierra’s).

This was a little daunting because in a couple of hours we were going to be allowed to ride our bike through the park with no protection. At dusk we took as much weight of the bikes as possible, the tracks are a bit rough so it made life a bit easier. Within four of five hundred metres we were approached by a pair of rhinos, who circled us for what seemed like ages, then a very large rhino and baby. Please don’t let this be Dennis I said, but we were safe, Dennis was reported to be miles away by another ranger.

Soon we were followed by giraffe and lots of Kudu, antelope and warthogs. The perfect evening with the sun going down looking across the ranges to Mozambique it was time to return to the camp.
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“That’s good Carole” I said no signs of Dennis. We then jumped into the 4X4 for a quick night drive, rounded the first corner and came face to face with quess who, yes Dennis. He stared us out and then charged straight at us at full speed hitting the exact spot where I was sitting lifting the wheels off the ground. The power of this animal is amazing, as soon as he turned away the ranger put his foot down and we were out of there like a shot.

The next morning we headed for Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre They have a fantastic selection of rescued animals and if you are brave enough they will let you in with the big cats and vultures.

The next ride is back to Johannesburg via Dullstroom. Interesting hotel, pack your woollies it was cold in them hills. Lots of great scenery and very Highland like hills. Again brilliant riding and fast roads.

On arrival in Jo’burg we packed up and boarded our flight to Cape Town, around a 3 hour flight. Cape Town it has to be said is possibly the most versatile and welcoming cities I have ever visited. The backdrop of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean is awe inspiring.
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We wasted no time the next day, it was straight up table mountain, and a complete tour of the city. Day two we hit the road and headed to Cape Point a good 8 hour round trip. Penguin watching and lunch at Simon’s Town is a must.

Our next quest was to head up the east coast to Hermanus whale watching. This stunning coastal road is not to be missed, the undulating twists and curves of the road is second to none. Sitting in the cafe having lunch and watching pilot whales breaching just a couple of hundred meters from the shore is a jaw dropping experience and finished the tour to perfection.

Many thanks to our friend Alex Jackson at Kaapstad Motorcycle Tours
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