Die Hel of a Wild Coast ride
Day 1 - Cape Town to Gamkaskloof Die Hel
2 GSA's, a GS1200, a GS800 and a 2010 110 Landy
four 21 year olds and 3 almost half centurions
6am we hit the road and left sleepy Cape Town – from the start of the N2 the wind blew, as we progressed closer to the pass it blew some more, and then on top of the pass it blew a little bit bit more. An uneventful first leg of boring tar to George where we met our 4th rider Colin who had convinced his good wife to cart his excess kit to George from St Francis Bay with his whole house stuffed into his truck, sadly we had to send his wife home with half a truck of surplus kit.
With rain threatening on the mountain pass we left for Die Hel with a little trepidation – only Colin had conquered die Hel before … the three of us Ross GSA, Stu GS1200 and Dean GS800 were a little nervous given the name of the road. After a short introduction to the first dirt up the Swartberg Pass we came to the turnoff to Die Hel ….No photos can do the place any justice, every turn in the crusty road delivered yet another amazing view. We sailed through the 48km with a slight mishap where Dean fell in the same river crossing … twice.
I should wax lyrically about Die Hel ... those of you who have done the ride would agree that no waxing or wooing can paint the picture that is Die Hel. I can only say that perhaps God should consider making an application at the Land Claims Court to see if he can get it back ... it really is heavenly!!!
We spent the night in the Gamkaskloof dorm and save a few rumblings from the snoring 3 it was a good night. The facilities are great - clean and organized.
Day 2 - Die Hel to Graaff Reniet on gravel
Kettle bubbled to life at 6:30 – Grant decided it was rise n shine time, but we soon bored him to death and we all went back to sleep until 7:30. At 8:30 we hit Die Hel again … it was/is the most amazing ride ever – to a non biker its difficult to explain what the experience is all about, standing as high as giants on the foot pegs, an overwhelming sense of freedom, wind tugging at your clothes, knobblies shredding the sandy/rocky road, the ghostly swirl of the faint dust from the rider in front of you … you take in so much at one time that you are in an enthralling mind-space. The BMW bikes are a bonus too; they are like a hundred tethered buffalo’s all controlled by the throttle. They climb any hill, twist through any bend – Stuarts bike has the new BMW engine and he has to temper his accelerator so that we can keep up. It’s simply the most spectacular of place, as we made our way way down the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert I thanked that God fellow that we were in one piece and mentioned the Land Claim option - We may have to pay more taxes for the name changing but its worth it!
A quick breakfast in Prince Albert (where the word "quick" hasn't been invented yet!) and 400m of tar we were back on the gravel. Long straight gravel roads in great condition saw us fly through the 300km and we checked in at the Red Geranium ... we visited the local Spur and were impressed with their ability to mess with the American staple diet - the hamburger! We wont revisit the Broken Teepee Spur again!
Day 3 - Graafies to Tarkarstad to Bedford - Hogsback
After km of tar we took a gravel road 60km before Tarkarstad - what a revelation these roads are the gravel changes from orange to white to purple to grey …changing every few kilometers. A few stray leguaans and dassies darted between our wheels as we wound our way through the mountains and rolled into Tarkarstadt … loud banjo banging and a PEP Store loudspeaker promo drove us out of the town.
Little did we know what awaited us for the next 100km down to Bedford - the sweeping white snake of a road could cause me to spew forth realms of exultations and bore you to death with the awesomagenessness that we rode through. At the start the arid Karoo spat a rocky road at us, after climbing a few 100 feet into the pass it was as if we had taken a wrong turn and were riding through Irelands sweeping green meadows … I wish I knew how to add photo's ...
Lunch at the Butcherbird Restaurant in Bedford was a real treat - really worth the little detour. A storm was brewing as we left Bedford and as we started the climb to Hogsback the heavens opened and drenched us, the road was a slippery mess - arriving in Hogsback we left the bikes to steam in the rain and headed into the local Hogsback Tavern ... we mulled around sheepishly waiting for the right moment to ask the lumberjacks propping up the bar if they knew where our lodgings for the night were - given that its called "AWAY WITH THE FARIES". Fortunately the burliest of the jacks declared that it was run by his brother ... phew, we had heard that Hogsback can deliver some alternate characters. The accommodation was comfortable and the claim to have the best pizzas in SA failed to live up to the chefs claim ... maybe 18th or 19th!!!
Day 4 Hogsback to Mboyti
another early morning start, we headed north out of Hogsback and had a great 30km of dirt roads that meandered through trout dams and rivers. Lovely scenery all the way. Well we reached the tar road far too soon, we joined the R61 which will take us boringly to Umtata, Port St Johns and Lisikisiki before we turn off to Mboyti. Well other than it being hot (35) and infested with the worst drivers in the world it was an uneventful 226km. Other than a blue wasp that had found its way into Deans jacket and started singing his back … he did a strip for the locals much to their amusement. At last the Mboyti turnoff appeared and we relished the opportunity of dirt and clear roads devoid of the f$£@%ing idiots who buy their licenses at the PEP in Tarkarstad. The road to Mboyti is 35km of joy …it went on and on through a tea plantation and dark forest track and narrow valleys, We stayed at Mboyti River Lodge Camp site and cottages and managed to watch the rugby at the Lodge …. The real Springboks had come to play – sadly it gives that moron coach a reprieve! The obligatory afternoon rain tested our braai and pot bread capabilities
Day 5 was a rest day and we unpacked our fishing rods and got to do some catch and release fishing off the rocks - the place is alive with king fish, garrick and shad. The coastline is amazing and really lives up to its Wild Coast title. We were a little miffed with the attitude of the Mboyti Lodge staff, they made us feel a little unwelcome (we were staying at the self catering venue) - and were generally unhelpful. My mate and owner Peter Kirsten is going to kick some ass when he gets back from his coaching stint in Zambia!!!
Day 6 - Mboyti to Hole in the Wall
I had been on one of the 4X4sites and managed to download a hand drawn map with distances and "specia features" like washed away bridge, really bad road etc but it showed a dirt road route from Umngazi Bungalows to Hole in the Wall without having to head too far inland - after a pit stop in Port St Johns (God should ask Lucifer if he can swap Port St Johns for Die Hel!!!) What used to be a little gem of a town is a slummy pit - if I never go there again it will be too soon!!! BUT 17km out of town the slum was forgotten as we entered the real Wild Coast ... The roads were pretty testing and traversed sections of mud filled potholes, raggedy rocky sections, and river crossings. Everything was thrown at us today. The scenery is spectacular; the occasional errant cow, goat, donkey or sheep that saunters into the road at the most inopportune time only breaks the pleasure.
The people are generally friendly … when we stop to ask the locals for directions at the many intersections we are offered some of the various pleasures the region has to offer – mainly the smoking kind!! It was noticeable that the attitude of some of the early adults (20 to 25 year olds) isn’t as friendly and they have a really arrogant attitude. The small kids are happy go lucky and the persistent cry of “sweets sweets sweets” reminded us that we weren’t the first white folks through there.
The going is good but it is pretty slow … the many little dams that have gathered on the roads proved to be exciting … you never know how deep they are and the dark brown water doesn’t give up any secrets until you halfway through the quagmire. But its magnificent and as we reminisce about the journey this evening you begin to understand what the calling is to ride these crazy journeys.
We were going to stay at Coffee Bay but it had a Port St Johns flavour so we continued on to Hole in the Wall. A lovely ride to the hotel, so sad tho' that due to petty crime that they have had to give the place a bit of an Polsmoor styling ... barbed wire and gate guards et al. But it was a pleasant stay, clean and a good basic meal at the restaurant.
Day 7 - Hole in the Wall via Bulungula and on to Xora Cottages (Xhora Mouth ) – 110km
What seemed like a simple task …. famous last words … a mere 28km the way the crow flies would take us to Bulungula where we has planned to stay the next two nights. The days ride looked to be very good all on underused gravel tracks. After backtracking 7km to Coffee Bay where the bikers refueled and the Landy headed off toward Bulungula … so 14 extra km for us and we started to roll through the undulating hills and the 58km looked like it was going to be a breeze. 3 hours later and some testy road conditions we turned into Bulungulu Hippy Hangout … the scent of 12 different strains of the Wild Coasts finest was permeating the air.
… a few non descript individuals were mooning around and we were told our booking was for the next day … but they will like see if its like shooowaaaah possible like man to like pull innnnnn. We would have to wait for the main man to see what he could arrange. They didn’t take well to the bikes and general macho image we were projecting as we lazed on the lawn overlooking an inviting estuary, perhaps our kid goat mimicking also caused some bunny hugger mayhem – a kid goat of about a week old had a 10 minute conversation with Matt … this drove the last remaining dreadlocked goofballs into the estuary and they wandered into the distance – bong in hand!!! On the way down the rocky road into Bulu we had spotted a river about 3km south of us and thought we would pop over there the fishing wasn’t good at Bulungula.
Dave, the main man arrived and was pretty shirty that we hadn’t phoned ahead. Our diplomatic relations officer Colin took over before Grant and Ross beat him to death with a cobb of Durban poison. We definitely weren’t the regular clients they host there and after a bit of diplomatic wrangling he kindly offered us a camping spot behind the behind of the back of the backyard. There was a general air of discomfort amongst us and when I checked my GPS and found that the Xora Mouth Cottages was a stones throw away – only 2.5km by the way of that pesky crow. Dave was all too pleased we had decided to leave and offered us a hand drawn map to about 15 other possible alternative places for us to stay … his joy, and that of the guys mooning around a smoky haze was palpable. We heard a huge sigh (or a green smoke filled exhale) as we left.
2.8km the way the crow flies was 62+km by road, back inland to get around the Xora river … I had called the owner of the cottages and when I said we would be there in an hour or so she offered only a pregnant silence …. Ominous I should have thought.
To put it mildly … it was the most technical ride we had experienced, huge dongas, disappearing roads, steep inclines and hairpin bends … sharp drop offs into the caverns bellow. No photo can do it justice … we found the new “Die Hel!!!”. Despite the testing conditions we loved every second, fist pumping one another at every hurdle we overcame. We overcame some of the most hectic obstacles; sadly any attempt to photograph it from either bike or trok would have ended in tragedy of some sort.
Arriving at Xora was breathtaking for anyone who has had an inkling to cast a line … it made Bulungula look like the Liesbeek river. The 62 oddkm took all of 4 hours!!!!!!!
We arrived late afternoon but still managed to cast a line but no fish to brag about. The fish would wait for tomorrow, the owner with his “Wie is jou fokken oom!” T shirt was happy to see another human being other than his lovely wife!!!!
Day 8 - Hanging around paradise found
Grant and Ross woke with the birds at the usual 4:30 sunrise, Colin lay in his bed barking orders of the day … get this ready, get that ready – today we fish! The sun rose on a spectacular day, the rain we experienced every evening had once again done its job and the cleaned everything to a crisp. The boys gradually emerged in dribs and drabs … sleepy eyes, blurred hair but enough energy to attack the rusk box with youthful vigor – the usual “rusks are for coffee drinkers” would blurt from R and G …. Not with any seriousness but merely as a parental warning that the 10th rusk box of the trip needed a modicum of respect and had to last at least until tomorrow.. Rusks, Kelloggs and Jungle oats depleted we pumped up the rubber duck and readied ourselves for the estuary.
We fished the azure blue estuary all day and added to our list of species ... even landing a bream that must have threatened the SA record. It is such a beautiful place that one of us (who will remain nameless because of the SARS implication) bought a small cottage from an elderly couple moving to the comforts of a retirement home in the metropolis of East London - so I guess we will be back ... soon!!!
Day 9 and our final day before civilisation, from Xora Mouth to the Kei Ferry
With only 130km of arduous dirt and a smattering of 220km of tar ahead you would have been excused to think we were crazy to leave Xora at 6:30 on a dark cloud filled sky but we had learned that despite pretty good speed at times dirt riding had a simple equation … 1km = 2 minutes, or 3 and sometimes 4.
The rain came, a heavy mist at first, started in the first few kilometers and pestered us all the way to out exit point at the Kei Ferry crossing which gradually grew closer with a modicum of sadness that we were leaving the dirt … which I might add was pissing me off at some degree, especially as it had decided that on our final leg to turn beastly and attacked Dean with as much venom and purpose as he would attack a newly opened rusk box! Well it grabbed him, flipped him, rolled him around then spat him out as if the buttermilk was sour … the bike took a hammering (R25 000 in cosmetic damage), Dean thankfully suffered only a bruised hand and ego and the wrath of Ross for a few minutes, but in good spirit his armor like demeanor soon prevailed. Much must be said for his courage to get back on his mount and keep up with us for the remaining 30km of wet slippery hell-dirt. His neck brace, padding and helmet were a life saver - he had hit a large half buried rock that the local grader circumnavigates each year at about 80kmp/h and was thrown doll like down the fairly steep gradient. The 800 started 1st turn and was mechanically in great shape - what a beast!
The ride from there was a soaking blur of tar as we headed to East London, although a welcome relief from the bump and grind we were soon bored and only the rain and a few errant Transkei expats in rusty buckets gnarling their way to civilization kept us from dozing off – today little ride took over 9 hours!!! That included the 200km to Bushman’s River that we did in an hour and 40 minutes – some indication of the treachery of the 130km we had done from Xora to Kei Ferry without any stops save for fuel in the over traded, over populated race tracks they call fuel station forecourts!
We made it to East London and spoilt ourselves at the Mugg n Bean … breakfast and lunch rolled into one at 2:30. The shoppers stared at us; dusty, wet, mud-encrusted as we were I guess it was quite a site. The women looked at the younger hogs with yearning eyes and their husbands stared at the bikes, our dirty kit, brown wide eyed faces filled with the joys of our 9 days of orgasmic delight … I could see their desire to cast aside the shaky PnP trolley, skop off the pantoffels, discard the oh so small “Miami” T-shirt and oversized jean short wif a thin brown belt, sell that red double cab wot are never been off asphalt and apply to join us in 2011
I know I will be back, and I know the 4 bikers on our trip will be back will, I have an inkling that we will be looking for new crew for the Landy cos they will be back too … but on bikes, so that that they too can experience the harshness, the beauty and the triumphs that riding these beasts bring. Not saying that driving the trok was a breeze, Grant handled her like a Brazilian beach babe, caressed her on every curve, every muddy crevice, up and down, in and out - and needless to say he fell in love. Who wouldn’t, that trok is a piece of British (now Indian I think) mechanical genius it went where the bikes could and couldn’t go.
As I write this closing to another chapter in our riding exploits I am moved by all the magic moments, the trials and challenges that we overcame as a team – the camaraderie that built between us … we started as 4 young pigs and 3 old boars and have become 7 hogs bound by an experience of a lifetime … but most off all I thank the Big Guy / Girl up there for keeping an eye over us – nothing stolen, very little broken, some things lost, some things fell off, other things disappeared (rusks) and other things appeared ….
Roll on 2011
Brilliant report, Ross. What a trip! Makes me want to leave the office this minute and saddle up ...
Can proudly state that "I've been there done that" October 2010.
On the way down it was slippery and wet and I had a "swim" in the last water crossing.
Was an awesome experience but doubt whether I will do it again (with my bike anyway)
I read the first paragraph then scrolled down to see if there were any pictures... I had to smile when I saw the comment from Charles.
We are spoilt with watching television and not reading books anymore. But then again, we all know that a pictures says more than a thousand words....
Despite that. nice report, would like to do that trip myself.
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