Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Easter Swaziland day 6: Badplaas to Joburg

Badplaas - Carolina - Bethal - Nigel - Home
About 330 km

Too soon it was the last day of the tour. We left rather late; stopped at the Bethal Wimpy for the usual tea and toasted sarmies, and it was way after lunchtime when we continued on the N17.

The N17 between Bethal and Nigel is easily the most boring road I've ridden. It just continues - no fuel stations, no turn-offs, no pit-stop next to the road for a quick coffee. Just N17.

We timed the tour to go back on the day after Easter Monday so that we could miss most of the traffic. But there still was a fair amount of traffic.

The TW is not fast. It worked really hard to average probably around 120 km on this piece of road. To get it over with because it really it mind-numbingly boring. Maybe if you were on a big bike that could go a bit faster?

It was a relieve to get off it at Nigel.

... and then back to Juburg.

The End.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Easter Swaziland Day 5: Sondzela - Malkerns - Amsterdam - Badplaas

Sondzela - Malkerns - Amsterdam - Badplaas
A bit over 200 km

Loved the ride on the MR18 from Malkerns to Bhunya and then the lesser-used MR19 through a plantation to the lesser-used border post of Sandlane. 

Hardy wanted to see Amsterdam, and I imagined a coffee-shop with blue porcelain mugs and Douwe Egberts coffee with ideal milk and stroopwafels But there was no coffee-shop; in fact there wasn't much of anything else either. Not even a wimpy. So we filled up and then continued on the R33 to the N17.

It was Easter Monday and traffic picked up a bit, but it was generally in the opposite direction of where we were going. By the time we turned off the N17 towards Badplaas I could do with a break. We stretched legs, ate all the chocolates we had, and then continued.

Arrived in Badplaas sometime in the early afternoon. Checked in, set up camp, and was pleasantly surprised by the variety in the local butchery. We sourced some steak and skilpadjies, and then whiled the afternoon away over a glass of wine in the local grill.

The camping fees at Badplaas include rides on the supertube, so we had a race to see how many supertube-rides we could fit in before they closed an hour later. 

Some daylight, a dry tent, coffee and steaks. A beautiful way to spend the last night of the trip.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Easter Swaziland day 4: Hlani to Mlilwane

Hlani - Manzini - Ezulwini - Mlilwane
About 120 km

It was the first time on this trip that we woke up to a (partially) blue sky. We left the tent pitched so that it can dry while we had breakfast at the tourist center. The reserve has a very 'Africa' feel to it - Botswana, Kruger - except maybe for the size of the game fences. Three hippos grazed about 20 meters from where we were having breakfast, on the other side just on the other side of 3 lines of barbed wire.

One of the problems with leaving home with full rain kit on, and riding with it for 3 days, is that the top-box space where the rain-kit usually go, kind of disappears. But we managed to fit everything in - just! It was late-ish when we left, but we only had about 100 km to ride for the day, and the sum was shining (at last!)

We followed the MR3 past Manzini. Manzini is a huge town and looks a bit like inner-Johannesburg with a few Spars and Woolworths added.

 It was Easter Sunday and there was a big gathering just outside Ezulwini - later we learnt that the King and King mother attended service there. Huge traffic congestion, but we found a way past it (and almost ended up back in the same traffic jam due to a slight detour)

The plan was to camp at Mlilwane, but they were fully booked and sent us to the Sondzela backbackers in the reserve. They were fairly busy, but we were the only campers - everyone else preferred to stay inside.

The path to Sondzela. After we checked in, we rode to Malkerns to get something for supper. The Shoprite had a far more Western feel to it, and we found Turkey drumstick and some chakalaka wors to braai with nicknaks for salad.  We paired this with some Sibebe and sunshine.  

Had a great evening mingling with some other tourists (from Canada, Norway, China) around a camp fire.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Easter Swaziland day 3: Malalotja to Hlane

Malalotja - Piggs Peak - Hlane
+- 170 km

It was still raining.
Visibility was low, but through the mist you could see a herd of curious Blesbokkies a few meters from our camp. It was Saturday morning, right in the middle of Easter weekend, and we were the only two people in the whole campsite.

We stoked the donkey again, had the last of the soetkoekies with coffee, and packed up the wet tent.

The TW didn't like getting rained on all night, the kickstarter was useless, so I warmed up running around the campsite to get the bike going.

There was almost no visibility, so it was very slow going. We were on the M1 for only about 6 kms, but we rode about 20 kms an hour. Not for the first time I was amazed and relieved that the Swaziland drivers seem to be more patient than the Sandton drivers I am used to - all cars were driving very slowly and I saw no one trying to overtake.

Once we turned off onto the SZ30 (to go see the dam wall) we dropped to below cloud-level. It was still raining, but at least we could see where we were going. And the weather forecast DID say that maybe by this afternoon the rain will give us a breather.

We followed the SZ30 until it joined the M1 again just before Piggs Peak.

Hardy filled the bikes up while I tried to get something to braai that evening. Piggs peak is huge with at least 2 big supermarkets. In Shoprite I had a choice between 10 kgs, 5 kgs or 2 kgs of frozen chicken pieces. Even the 2 kgs sounded a bit much for supper and breakfast for 2 people ... the other option was fish fingers, but I wasn't entirely sure if (a) they can be braaied, and (b) how quickly they will defrost, leaving the top box and everything else smelling of fish. (*1)
The other supermarket had the same selection of bulk frozen chicken, but no fish fingers.

So we opted for a pack of nicknaks, 12 chelsey buns (the closest I could get to hot cross buns and the smallest pack they had) and a buddy <some sweet fizzy drink>

From Piggs Peak we followed the MR2. It's a lovely road, beautiful condition, very little traffic. Not much happening on the about 130 km stretch of road to Hlane.  Sometime during the afternoon we stopped to refuel and eat lunch ont eh pavement (nicknaks and chelsey buns). It was the first time since we left Randburg 3 day ago that we could take the raingear off. (*2)

The initial plan was to kind of circumnavigate Swaziland, but by the time we entered the Hlane national park, the thought of setting up camp in daylight became very appealing.

So we stopped at the office. The campsite at Hlane was a lot busier than Malalotja, but they could squeeze us in.

Some daylight time to dry the wet tent out a bit.

Since we didn't get anything to braai in Piggs Peak, we cooked the emergency tuna-and-cheese. But there was an unlimited amount of firewood available, so we made a big campfire anyway.

*1 - For future reference: I turns out you can braai fish fingers. Once home we bought some fishfingers to experiment with. We put some straight on the braai, some on foil on the braai, and some inside a foil packet with tomato sauce and onions. The packet with the tomato sauce and onion worked the best - not only does it taste the best, but its also far easier to manage one foil packet than 16 loose fish fingers.

*2 - One of the problems with leaving home with your full rainkit on and riding with it for 3 days, is that the 'rainkit'-space in the topbox mysteriously disappear.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Easter Swaziland day 2: Boven to Malalotja

Boven / Kaapschehoop / Barberton / Malalotja
About 200 km

It was cloudy in Boven when we packed up, but by the time we reached town to fill up, it was raining again. The first bit of the day was on the N4 until the Kaapschehoop turn-off. I didn't like this one bit. It was the beginning of the Easter weekend traffic and while most cars were patient, there was an idiot or 2 that made riding dangerous.

It was a relieve to get off the N4. Visibility on the Kaapschehoop road was very low, so it was slow going. Luckily the few cars that we encountered on this road were travelling very slowly too. At about 60 km it was still a bit early for breakfast, so we decided to continue to Barberton about 50 km further. We followed the same route to Barberton than we did when we were here 2 weeks ago (Dirt road to the right, just after Kaapschehoop).

It was a lot wetter than 2 weeks earlier! 

We stopped in Barberton for a late breakfast. It was the last time we were going to have internet, so we checked the weather forecast for the next few days ... the whole of today and the whole of tomorrow will still be very wet over the whole of Swaziland. 

We filled up and continued on the R40 (Bulembu) pass towards the Bulembu border post about 50 kms further. 

A beautiful pass with lots of twists and turns. It was very cold and wet, and there were very little traffic on the road. It was a day for staying indoors!

There was very little activity at the border post. I wanted to ride this road since we were there with the Jimny last year November.

We stopped in Piggs Peak (20 km from the border) to fill up, and then continued towards Malalotja (another 30 km)

Although it was a short day (230 kms if you count the detour to almost the Oshoek border) we found we were chasing daylight again. We arrived as the sun set, and by the time we checked in, it was dark. 

There was no one to stoke the donkey, but there was plenty of wood so we stoked the donkey ourselves, had a hot shower, and then made proper coffee. There was no chance of a fire in this weather and anyway we didn't have anything to braai. Luckily there was some leftovers from the previous night's braai, and a whole kg of soetkoekies (from the Barberton breakfast stop) with more coffee.  All was well with the world.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Easter Swaziland Day 1: Joburg to Waterval Boven

Randburg - Bethal - Waterval Boven
about 340 km

The Thursday morning before Easter, at 9/10-ish, it was pouring with rain with no sign of clearing up. The bikes were packed and while we waited for better weather, Hardy put his kit on just to see if it fits over the biker paraphernalia. It did. Then I tried my rain kit over the gear - and it fitted. So we got on the bikes and left Randburg in pouring rain.

We didn't get far. The TW only did about 100km after the last refuel, but there was that incident where it didn't want to start and when about a litre of fuel leaked out of the air filter when Hardy removed it. So, we thought we'd get out of town and then fill up. But about a km from home the TW sputtered and then refused to go any further. Reserve tank, got to closest garage, and filled up. It was closer to 11/12-ish when we finally were on our way. 

The plan was backroads to Waterval Boven.First stop was Delmas after about 80 kms. We filled up with fuel and stocked up with chocolate eggs (it was almost easter weekend, after all) and sour worms to fight the cold.

About 100 kms further in Bethal we couldn't find the Wimpy (despite huge signs next to the road), so we stocked up with braai meat and some wine from the local Spar, and continued in the rain. It was about 60 kms to Carolina, where we knew we'd find a Wimpy. 

It was cold and I imagined if I could press my knees close enough to the tank I'd get a bit of warmth from there.

There was about 3 minutes of relative sunshine on day 1. The Tènèrè even made a shadow for a minute

I don't go to Wimpys ... ever ... except on bike tours. You know what's on the menu (a big pot of tea and ham&cheese toasted sandwiches) and they never complain about the mud on your boots or all the space you take up with the wet rain jacket, biker jacket, helmet and neck brace.

It was still another 70 km or so to Boven, and we knew we were chasing daylight, so we couldn't linger too long over the three cups of tea and toasted sandwich.

We approached Tranquilitas from the same side as 2 weeks earlier on the Eastern Transvaal tour. It was darker and muddier than 2 weeks before.

It was the Thursday just before the Easter weekend started, and the campsite was already relatively full. We were going to camp but when we heard that they still had one of the 'glamping' tents available and could make a plan for us, it was an easy decision.

Hot shower, proper coffee, a huge bundle of firewood, Bethal TBones and some Tangled Tree wine. The weather gods allowed us to braai, and then it started raining again.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The long(er) weekend in March: God's Country

Hardy couldn't get leave for the Monday of the long weekend ... so we made a longer weekend by taking the 3 days after the public holiday. Friends recently relocated to Lydenburg, so we were looking for an excuse to go visit and to explore their playground. 

It was going to be a holiday with the mode of transport being a bike, rather than a 'bike tour'.

Prologue: Tuesday 21 March
We loaded the bikes on the back of the bakkie and drove to Lydenburg. Tuesday afternoon Hodge (our host in Lydenburg) took us to Long Tom and then showed us around some secret forest Jeep track that he found ... parts of it looked and felt a lot like some of the trails we might have ridden on during the Sabie Experience mountain bike event. 

Wednesday 22 March: Sabie - Pilgrims rest - Swadini
From Lydenburg we rode over long Tom pass to Sabie, and then to Pilgrims Rest via the R533. We were slightly too late for breakfast at the Royal Hotel, so although it wasn't quite lunchtime yet, they opened the buffet for us. Glad we were there early before the tourists arrived.

It's a ghost town - I thought remembered a touristy coffee-shop or 2,  a trading post,  a pharmacy/photographer of sorts - but the town is a bit emptier than what I thought I remembered..

Royal Hotel Pelgrimsrus

From Pilgrims rest Hardy found us a quiet dirt road roughly snaking along the Blyde river to the Blyde River Canyon viewpoints, and from there to Swadini past the Strydom Tunnel. Even though it was only about 200 km for the day, we were tired after the long day (mainly because of all the tourist stops!)

Boabab tree on the way to Swadini

Thursday 23 March: Swadini
Was lovely to wake up and know you're on holiday: nowhere to rush to, not necessary to pack the bikes, and having the quiet resort all to ourselves (except for a school camp of 10-year-olds and maybe some of the parents stalking them from a distance.)

We spent a lot of time in the warm swimming pool, took the bikes to see what the dam look like, explored a little hiking trail to a waterfall and investigated the area where the Australian 'survivor' was shot the previous few weeks.
Found some skilpadjies, Impala wors and Kudu wors at the resort's shop and we braaied up a feast!

Bridge on the way to the waterfall
The Australian 'survivor' set

Waterfall at the end of the hike

Friday 24 March: Swadini - Graskop - Sabie - Mankele
When you stand on the top of the escarpment at the Blyde River viewpoint, looking down into the Canyon, you can see a steep path winding down the mountain on the other side. At the bottom of the path there's a campsite next to the river.

Hardy found a 'regional' road from Swadini-area that would take us towards Mariepskop. We didn't go all the way down to the campsite because it looked a bit technical and we had time constraints and lots of mileage  - but we'll go back for that. And possibly camp there next time.

The plan was to continue on the 'regional' road (forest trail, jeeptrack, mountain bike path) as long as we could, but somewhere missed a turn-off and came down the nose of the mountain on a discontinued road where very often half of the road caved in.

 This was a great regional road. You would love it. It was the BEST regional road....

We came out at Bushbuckridge and then followed the tar road to Graskop via Kowyns pass. Parked at the biker pub and walked across the road to the 'coffee beanery' - but it closed down 20 years ago. So we continued to Sabie where the fuel attendant pretended to remember our fuel-stats from when we filled up there 2 days ago. It started drizzling, so we stopped for a hot pot of tea and then rode on to Mankele in the rain.

Was only around 200 km but took a long time and we were glad to arrive in Mankele. Supper was leftover Kudu/Impala wors, and the leftover skilpadjies that wasn't plastered to the inside of my topbox or our rain gear.

Saturday 25 March: Mankele Kaapsehoop Barberton Waterval Boven 
By the time we got to KaapseHoop it was raining. Found a beautiful dirt road to Barberton. In time for Breakfast, then on towards the Bulembu gate (Swaziland border). Turned off from the tar road just before the border gate, and then followed the road through Songimvelo Nature Reserve through an ancient ghost town and then through a bit of a rural area with lots of traffic and speed limit 30 for thousands of kilometers. We filled up at Badplaas, and finally on to Waterval Boven. A Long day at 350-ish.
Really need to come here again with mountain bikes and friends for climbing / braaiing / riding / running.

The road from Barberton to the Belembu border post. Drove this in November last year with the Jimny and ever since wanted to ride it with the bike.

Adri and Hodge (our Lydenburg-hosts) joined us for the evening's camp.

Sunday 26 March: Waterval Boven - Lydenburg
It was cloudy when we left Boven, and by the time we got to the N4, it was drizzling. After a short while on tar we turned off on a dirt road through farms and then started climbing up to the forests. Lovely riding ... then we got into the muddy bits! 

Wonder what's around the next corner?


This is exactly what it looked like. Visor steaming up from the inside and rain on the outside and no hand free to wipe it clean to see where the road goes ...
Luckily this didn't last long.

It was a holiday by bike, rather than a hardcore 'bike trip' - and we'll have to go back soon.