Edel Weiss Lite : A Three-Day Adventure in South Africa
As I climb out of my comfortable bed in the dark before dawn, the adrenaline coursing through my veins has any triple shot at Starbucks beat. Scratching around with a 20-watt side lamp, I want to make sure nothing is left out of my camera bag. As I am stepping out into the cool, morning air, daylight is tearing the black curtain behind the distant mountains revealing a mouth-watering display of color. Lights are on in the row of small cabins in front of me. I hear voices floating across the African landscape as excited as I to start this day. We will look for the “Big Five” (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and mountain leopard).
It all started in the usual fashion, Roy Oliemuler at BMW phoned asking if I would like to attend the press launch of the new F800GS in South Africa. He threw in a three-day sampler Edelweiss tour to help us get acclimatized. Affirmative sent – it was time to pack my bag and head for the airport for my first visit to this vast continent. All I had to do was deal with 36 hours in the same set of clothes while we flew halfway around the world to start.
Waking to a Cape Town sunrise on the first morning, the excitement of an adventure ride in a new country and strong coffee quickly washed away any jet lag or fatigue. Chatting with my motorcycle peers, it was clear I wasn’t the only one pumped and ready to ride, and breakfast over we headed out to the Cape Town BMW dealer to pick up our bikes for the tour. With this being a special last minute affair requested by BMW, Edelweiss sent one of their top tour guides, Markus Hellrigl, to lead us. With no regular three-day tours in place, we would rely on his intimate knowledge of South Africa to lead us on the best riding we could find in the time available. We weren’t disappointed.
We soon had our steeds beneath us as we headed south toward the Cape of Good Hope. Riding on the left-hand side of the road presented its own challenge; one of our crew made a couple of moves that had me wincing in pain at the anticipated meeting of bike and car. Thankfully the Gods of motorcycling were showing favor this day while we adjusted to this strange sensation. Riding around the shining Atlantic Ocean, the whole experience was extremely thought provoking. English colonial style buildings (much as you find in Australia) dotted the side of the road, while incredible white, unspoiled beaches framed the ocean to our right. The sky was a deep blue with light clouds tearing across in the strong breeze, and the summer temperatures were around the high ‘70s. It’s not a long ride, but definitely a stimulating one, as we passed towns with Welsh names like Llandudno, before entering the very African sounding Hout Bay and arriving at Chapman’s Peak. Here the road cuts into the rocks 450 feet above the ocean, affording some of the most spectacular views of the ride from its elevated position.
The road continues to wind around the coast as we passed through the Dutch sounding Noordhoek along the M65. The route gave non-stop views of the ocean and many surfers, before passing through the English sounding beach area of Scarborough. This brought us to the entrance to the Nature Reserve, which is a toll road, and our ride to the Cape proper. By now the wind was picking up and on arriving at the Cape it was blowing a gale. The one advantage of this was there were no baboons around. Prewarned by Marcus and others with us who had made this trip before, we were fully prepared to lock our gear and not leave any keys or helmets lying around. Apparently, the baboons will grab anything that isn’t nailed down and their levels of mischief are borderline criminal. Be warned!
Breaking away from the group and sitting out on a piece of rock in the sun, it was a time of quiet reflection. This is not the most southern point of Africa, Cape Agulhas is. But this point is where you start to travel more eastward than south if you are on board a ship, so it is a physiologically important part of any journey around Africa. It was still beautiful to me, and it was a moving moment to think there was nothing between South America and I, other than this magnificent ocean.
Leaving this point, we took a short ride to Cape Point and lost our BMWs for a trip on the funicular to the lighthouse at the top of the hill. The wind was blowing so hard I could barely stand. But learning the bulbs put out three flashes of 10 million candlepower each, and this intense light shines over 40 miles out into the ocean made the climb worthwhile. With time ticking it was a short visit, but what a life changing opportunity to stand at the edge of a continent and marvel at such an incredible view.
Winding back to Cape Town through Simon’s Town, we made our way for signal hill for a panoramic look at the city below. Accessed by the Kloof Neck Road, the clouds had rolled in and it was humid at the top as we looked out to Table Mountain, Lion Mountain and the city beneath us. Arriving at this time, we missed the noonday gun, a very loud, centuries old tradition that still happens every day. Used by local people to tell the time, with day and night divided into four parts, it was a tradition that was started for the shipping industry way back in the early 1800s. With our ears still in one piece we made our way back to the city, and sliding easily through the afternoon traffic, we jumped off our bikes en route to our next adventure.
Marcus had lined up a sunset cruise on an old sailboat. This made for a wonderful evening chatting about our exciting day in the saddle as we watched the sky erupt with color behind Cape Town as the sun disappeared. Docking at the old port area, we took off around the dock to an excellent restaurant where we ate everything from crocodile to springbok, wildebeest and ostrich.
Leaving the “Mother City” behind us, we made our way east toward the wine-growing region of Stellenbosch the following morning. Riding fast on the freeway, we passed miles and miles of Shantytowns that you smell before you see them. The disparity still existing between the white South Africans and many of the black South African population induced some thought provoking topics inside the helmet. Bringing back the incredible statistic of Nelson Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment made me thoroughly commit to enjoy every moment of this tour and to be more appreciative of the wonderful life living in the United States affords me. This juxtaposition of thoughts and feelings was so much a part of South Africa to me. Riding through a peaceful tree-lined stretch of countryside watching a naked baby playing in the dirt outside a poor mud brick dwelling as a bright red Ferrari came in the opposite direction. Chatting with a pair of old Afrikaans ladies at lunch as they enlightened me on the country they have collectively lived in for a century and half. South Africa never lets you rest on your laurels of an experience you can relate to before it slams you with the next unique event.
Making our way to the Aquila Game Reserve, the sensory overload was making its way to redline as we intermittently got blasted with golf ball sized raindrops and breathtaking vistas. Stopping for a quick coffee break at the Taal Monument, we took a walk around this strange looking granite landmark. Built by Afrikaans architect Jan van Wijk to celebrate the recognizing of Afrikaans as an official language his statement reads. “Afrikaans is the language that connects Western Europe and Africa… It forms a bridge between the large, shining West and the magical Africa… And what great things may come from their union – that is maybe what lies ahead for Afrikaans to discover. But what we must never forget, is that this change of country and landscape sharpened, kneaded and knitted this newly-becoming language… And so Afrikaans became able to speak out from this new land… Our task lies in the use that we make and will make of this gleaming vehicle…”
Back in the saddle, we soon picked our way up Bain’s Kloof Pass in the rain that appeared to be going sideways now and wound through the Hex River Mountains opening into the Great Karoo. Finding occasional small towns that resembled those found in the Australian Outback, we lost the rain for a time and found a great chicken curry for lunch with a pot of English tea. What was that I was saying about diversity?
Arriving at the Aquila Game Reserve in time for an afternoon game drive, no one was unhappy to jump off the bikes and head out into the 45,000-hectare game reserve looking for wild animals. For some who have been in the big parks it was a tad pedestrian, many of these animals have their diet supplemented. But for this English boy raised with alls sorts of dangerous, wild animals ranging from squirrels to badgers, it was beyond a treat. Ending prematurely as the next deluge of rain threatened to peel the skin off our backs through our rain ponchos, we headed back to the lodge to our fabulous rustic African accommodations.
Finding our incredible guide, 22-year-old Susan, eagerly awaiting us at our appointed 6.a.m meeting time, we took off into the most beautiful African sunrise to see what we could find on our last day. Shooting lions, rhinos, hippos as well as elephants, giraffes and springboks with my 300 mm lens was beyond compare. Stopping to admire Khoi San Bushman rock art just added to the intensity of the morning drive. As we watched the lions stalk one of the other tour vehicles, it felt good not to be on a motorcycle. We marveled at the giraffes, got lucky enough to see a baby hippo, and felt happy as Susan quickly found reverse when we came across the buffalo. It was a morning that will live in all of us forever, and one that saw us leaping on our bikes to do some more riding with even more enthusiasms, if that was possible.
Heading back to Cape Town, we meandered through small towns, and wound our way through the ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors and differing landscapes. Passing through Maotroosberg, Montagu, Worcester, Villiesdorp, Frankschhoek and Stellenbosch, the mixture of cultures that gave these places their names just added to the geographical diversity. It wasn’t a long day in the saddle, but the riding was as beautiful and spectacular as the preceding two days. Arriving back at the BMW dealership, we agreed it was the appetizer to the meal of South Africa we hope to indulge in some day. With Edelweiss offering two fourteen day tours per summer in South Africa, it is certainly not an unobtainable dream.
Make sure to drop by BMW Motorcycles of Tampa for your test ride. 8509 Gunn Highway, Odessa, FL 33556 • 813-926-9937
by Neale Bayly