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December 2014 Club News

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An African Motorcycle Trip

By Bob Rees

Riding through a game reserve at sunset.
What a fantastic trip, travelling through seven African countries covering 7500km on a 2013 BMW 1200GS. There were only four bikes, all being ridden two-up, us (Bob and Chris), Raelene and Garry, a couple from Geelong, Paul and Allana, and a Mexican dad, Issac and his daughter Ariela. They are all great fun and great people. Darryl, who owns the company is also riding and he is the tour leader, then another guy, Julian, driving the back up vehicle with the luggage and food and drinks, and also towing the trailer with a spare bike. The bikes are like new with a lockable top box.

Clean motorbikes at start of trip.
The first day after a detailed briefing on the trip, and an explanation of the bike, the adventure started. We rode around Pretoria, saw a couple of the sights, before having lunch in a local tavern in a shanty town with dancing etc, great fun. Chris, Raelene and Issac danced with the locals.

Elephants in the Chobe National Park, Botswana.
Then later in the afternoon we were riding in a game reserve alongside giraffe and zebras etc, fantastic, next morning as we were leaving our luxurious accommodation we stopped the bike next to a rhino and little one, what an experience.

Hippos in the Chobe National Park, Botswana.
Stayed in cabins and tents next to the Limpopo River the following evening with hippos close by after riding through the border into Botswana.

Then to the Makgadigadi Salt Pans where we watched the sun go down over the water while enjoying a beer, we stayed in a fabulous lodge there too.

Garry, Raelene, Chris & Bob.
Next day we headed north, next to the Hwange National Park. Love riding the BMW 1200GS, very smooth, the roads have been really good, there was a stretch of pot holes, but it was best to ride around them, we were riding along spotting elephants as we went.

Sunset and elephants.
We stayed in an even more exotic hotel on the Chobe River, accommodation has been excellent. The river cruise on the Chobe River was unbelievable with heaps of animals in a fantastic location, hippos yawning close by, lots of elephants, buffalo, crocs, birds etc, 3 hour trip. Ended up watching the sun going down with a drink close at hand.

African hut accommodation.
All the safaris we went on were organised beforehand and included in the cost of the trip.

          Falls.In the morning another safari this time in a 4WD, and more animals, up at 5:15 for that, then later cross the border into Zimbabwe, and Victoria Falls.

The border crossing is very busy and took a while for us to cross, but we managed to beat busloads of Jehovahs Witnesses that were on their way to a convention in Harare.

When we arrived at our hotel, which again was first class, it was time for a swim in the pool before heading to a recommended restaurant where there was African dancers and music to keep us entertained.

The following morning we all, the 8 of us, took a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls and the gorges, superb.

Then Chris and I walked along the pathway at the edge of the Falls, we walked around them the same time as the President of Lethoso. All the Southern African Presidents were in Victoria Falls for a SADC conference, so there’s heaps of police and military around.

Patting lions - stick to put in mouth if they get
After that the 8 of us went walking with the lions, they’re not in cages or enclosures but in the bush, that was an experience and a half, the lions were 15 months old, we sat, patted and walked with them. When they’re 18 months they are released into a pride in a game reserve, their cubs have no contact with people and are released back into the wild, so it’s a conservation program.

That evening we all went to the original Victoria Falls Hotel where we had drinks and a meal, the hotel was built at the turn of the last century and is in perfect condition, fabulous place, the last time I was there was 44 years ago!

Next day we rode for 450kms south through rural Zimbabwe and Bulawayo to ”Big Cave Camp” in the Matobo National Park, a world heritage area. Google it, the place is unbelievable and we’re here for 2 nights.
The first night we had a great meal, then sat around the fire until around 9 pm then we went for a night drive looking for leopards, saw some other wildlife, but no leopards.

Walking with rhinos.
Following morning we went searching for rhino on foot, came across 5 of them, we were only about 10 metres away from them, great to see rhinos in their natural environment with no fences etc, mind you we had three rangers with AK47s with us, their main aim is to shoot poachers, its legal for them to kill them. In the afternoon sat around the pool, hard life eh?
Ranger danger - armed with AK47's.

Zimbabwe is a bit different to Botswana, which was a fabulous country. We had police checkpoints every 40kms, although we did OK, not having to pay any dodgy fines etc. There are a lot of farms and buildings which have gone to ruin, no local currency only US dollars. This is only the first week, and we’ve done and seen some amazing things.

The 8 of us get on really well, the couple from Geelong are hilarious. Paul is a doctor and Allana is a barrister. The Mexicans are just as good company, Issac had a Mexican food company and has just sold it and retired, his daughter, Ariela, is a great socialiser and is a friend to everyone, from border officials to small children instantly. After finishing this trip she’s heading to Nepal for 9 months.

Darryl and Julian are good company too and excellent at their jobs as tour leader and back-up man. The bikes are brilliant, although sometimes the roads are a bit bumpy and we’ve ridden on some sandy tracks, but the bikes are ideal.

Great accommodation, Big Cave Camp.
We left Big Cave Camp after spending the afternoon around the pool before taking a few beers up on the hill opposite to watch the sun go down and another huge meal, we then sat out on the verandah watching shooting stars and listening to the African night sounds.

Next morning after our briefing where Darryl puts a map on the side of the van and outlines what’s happening during the day we headed towards Harare, the capital.

It was all police roadblocks and detours with roadworks. We were pulled over a couple of times where we had to show our Temporary Bike Importation Papers and license, but the police were all very friendly. The temperature has been getting hotter, around 35C. We were now heading through NE Zimbabwe.

We stayed in a place called Chengeta Safari Lodge which is just before Harare, the road in was supposed to be very sandy and the girls hopped in the back-up van, but it turned out to be fine.

Lion praticising roaring.
Anyway we had a fabulous night at the Lodge, great food, sat around a fire watching the monkeys and warthog. When we went to bed we were listening to the lions roaring not far away in the reserve, actually they sounded like they were outside, they reckon you can hear them roar from 5kms away.

Next morning monkeys were running across the roof trying to pinch anything they can if you left the door of the room open. We went through more roadworks, but managed to bypass Harare just riding through the outskirts which was very interesting, then more police roadblocks where they wanted to see documents. We went past a semi trailer that had run off the road on a bend and overturned, it had a load of oranges which about 300 locals were helping unload, the driver was OK.

Then we all got fined at $20 at another roadblock for overtaking trucks when we shouldn’t have, interesting?

We kept riding north past several fires at the side of the road, temperature showing 44C on the bike as we rode past. Then there was a bigger fire with the flames going right across the road.

Riding through a bushfire in Zimbabawe.
We moved to the right, but we were still riding through flames, then everything went completely black, the smoke was so thick, moved back to the (hopefully) left and braked as we couldn’t see, then thought someone might run into the back of us so accelerated again, finally we were out of it and we all came through unscathed, quite an experience.

Apparently it was the locals who lit it as they were trying to get rid of a pride of lions who had settled into the district.

Lake Kariba, borders Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Then we had 70kms of smooth twisty road with no traffic, and great scenery. Finally we arrived at Lake Kariba, and after sorting our rooms all headed straight to the pool. The lake is 270kms long, and on the other side is Zambia where we head in two days time. The place is like the Mediterranean except the water is full of crocs and hippos.

Dancing in Zambia.
Today we’re just relaxing, going on a sunset sail on a catamaran later. Following day we ride across the Lake Kariba dam into Zambia, took a while to get through the border, lots of paperwork and a reasonable amount of cash.

Riding past zebras, Kariba.
Soon we were riding on a beautiful windy road, but through a very poor area, don’t think much has changed in hundreds of years. Later we were on a busier road and the roadworks were never ending, usually there was a dirt road next to the new road which could sometimes be a bit challenging, easy or corrugated with potholes, but always dusty. Makes life interesting, that night we were staying just out of Lusaka, the capital.

Zambian accommodation, fantastic inside too.
The place was another amazing set up - run by an English girl - her partner, the manager of the place, had headed off on safari for a month, leaving her in charge. Fantastic individual chalets, built of stones with thatched roofs.

The one downside being that the Seventh Day Adventist Church retreat was right next door, and they preached and sang and exhorted and prayed out loud over a loudspeaker that boomed across to our area until late at night, and started up again around 5.30 am the next morning! Some rather unholy mutterings were heard over the breakfast table in the morning.

On the plus side the bar was brilliant, as most of them had been, and beer was very cheap, just over a dollar. Dinner that evening was outside under the stars. Apparently Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor stayed here on their “Long Way Down” ride.

Next day was a long one, 560kms, especially with more roadworks (100ks or more). The countryside was different to Zimbabwe and the little kids were great wherever we stopped.

We arrived at our hotel in Chipata at 5.30 pm, a long day especially as we had an earlier start than normal.
Normal was up at 6 am, breakfast at 7 am and on the road by 8 am.

We had another good night, including organizing Malawi black market currency which was hilarious. We were up early ready to fill the bike up and head towards Malawi, but first we negotiated the Chipata rush hour traffic which was easy, interesting and not really rushing.

It wasn’t long before we were once again at a border obtaining visas, import permits, insurance etc. Patience and good humour is the key, we were given one form 3 times to fill out, but all the officials were good and also helpful.

Then we were riding along Malawi roads, which was great, none of the roadworks of previous days and pretty smooth, lots of children everywhere, all waving and laughing. I think motorbikes are a novelty.
The roads are full of people walking and cycling, although the countryside looks poor, there is agriculture, though no industry. More police roadblocks, but no hassles, just a cheery wave and ride straight through.

More variety of traffic than usually seen in Oz.
Lots of interesting villages and small towns - Africa as you imagine it, whenever we stop we try to give the kids food or water and talk or play with them. Plenty of goats, dogs, donkeys on the road too, got to keep your eyes peeled.

Sometimes the country is flat, sometimes hilly with nice sweeping bends. Eventually we arrive at our accommodation at Senga, Lake Malawi - wow. We all have luxurious round African huts right on the beach, big huts too with patio out the front, fabulous. We reckon this trip should be called “Luxurious Motorcycle Adventure Tours”.

Our normal procedure now at the end of a days riding is to jump in the pool, or in this case the lake, a beer, before showering and then getting ready for more food and drink. You can’t swim in the lake in the late afternoon, evening or early morning because of the hippos, but the crocs don’t seem to be a worry! This place is fabulous, and the temperature is 30C.

Fishermen sorting out their nets, Lake Malawi.
Dinner under the stars watching the lights from the dhows out fishing. Lake Malawi is 580kms long and 75kms wide. The other countries that are along it are Tanzania and Mozambique. It’s like a big natural inland sea.

Push bike taxis.
Next day we walked around the village nearest us, which also borders the beach, for around 3 hours, it was fascinating. Kids were with us wherever we went, learnt a lot, had a coke in a cafe on the beach. Chris bought some material, and we will have a look at some of the local crafts again later today, all the money goes to the improvement of the community, no corruption.

Now its time for another swim and a wander down the beach before a sundowner and dinner under the stars again. Tomorrow we ride further through Malawi towards Mozambique.

Glorious morning, woke up to the sound of fishing boats returning from their night on Lake Malawi. Looked out the door and at the same time the sun was coming up, the boats looked fantastic on the red water.

Stopping for a break near baob trees, Malawi
After breakfast we headed south, no tourists around this part of the world, even where we stayed the only others at the place were members of an African Agricultural Conference. Riding along, the roads have plenty of people walking and cycling, they all stop and have a look at us, the younger ones waving. Plenty of missionaries and primary schools, although secondary school you have to pay so most of the kids miss out.

More police roadblocks, we were stopped every now and again, but only once had to show our papers. We thought as we travelled further into Malawi the locals weren’t as friendly, not so many smiles and waves apart from the kids. Same with the police, they weren’t the same as the ones we met earlier. But all part of the experience, and we’re not concerned, just a little more wary

The countryside is bush with some areas cleared for crops, very poor. Then we see the mountains, and we start climbing. The temperature has been around 30-32C for what seems like ages, but as we climb it starts to cool slightly. Fantastic road, sharp u-bends as we climb, I love it. The temperature drops to 26C. Beautiful, tall trees everywhere, reminds us of SE Europe.

The hotel we’re staying in has fabulous views over the valley. We arrive at lunchtime, as it was only a short ride of 270kms. Darryl has the bright idea of walking up a nearby mountain to have a look at a waterfall. Chris is keen of course, so I follow along with the others. It was a fair old walk, but we made it and yes it was a waterfall and it did look pretty good.

Now we’re back its time for a shower and a beer. Next day we’re back on the bikes and riding down a beautiful windy mountain road before we hit another 25kms of roadworks, not as bad as some of the other ones we’ve encountered though.

This morning heaps of waving, although we’re being stopped by the police quite often. One wants my bike, another is blowing us kisses, definitely different to Australia.

We ride through mountainous ranges before we get to a major city called Ballantyne which was very interesting, we all negotiated it OK. Then we came to the border of Mozambique, what you’d call a real African border crossing, trucks, people and mayhem.

Finally we are through, riding through mountainous Mozambique on an overcast but warm day until we hit the flat lands. The roads are pretty good, but you don’t want to hit one of the large potholes and there are plenty of them. It looks like an even poorer country than Malawi, with less people, but they seem friendly enough. Plenty more roadblocks but we ride straight through.

Frelimo supporter, Mozambique.
We end up in a real cowboy town for the night, our original accommodation has been cancelled. We arrive about 4 pm, and the only thing to do is have a drink. It was 36C yesterday, but a pleasant 26C today.

We meet the chief of police - I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him, but I wouldn’t be able to throw him anyway as he’s too big. He wants my T-shirt, I tell him no. We went to the ATM and filled up with petrol, both places have armed guards with AK47s, the place is like the wild west Chris reckons.

Weird meal, but we all have a good laugh and early to bed for an early start as we have nearly 600kms and a border crossing. Had a chat to the guard on the gate before finally hopping into bed.

Up early this morning to go to the ATM before a 600km days ride, saw a couple of guys walking with AK47s slung over their shoulders even at 6 am. We spent most of the day riding east through Mozambique, interesting countryside, different again to what we’d been riding through.

Paul, Allana, Garry and Raelene near bridge over the
          Zambesi River, Mozambique.
Sunday, elections are coming up shortly and there’s banners, processions and gatherings in a lot of the villages. Didn’t get stopped at any roadblocks and no roadworks to speak of. Went through a couple of major towns and crossed the Zambesi.

The countryside is very poor, no agriculture, just cows, goats and donkeys. No power, no electricity and pump water by hand. Only saw one school, they really have a hard life. The larger towns are all high fences and barbed wire with lots of security guards. But most people were waving and smiling at us. Great country to look at, bit like the wild west with high mountains.

Then another border crossing and into Zimbabwe again. Tricky working out the different currencies as you don’t want to be left with a bundle of useless money in the next country, but we’ve been doing well so far.

The original route we we to take was along the coast of Mozambique, but because of the fighting down there we skirted across the northern part. The border was easy this time. Maybe we’re getting used to them.

Before long we’re riding through the Eastern Highlands, fantastic scenery, bit like Scotland, temperature dropped like a stone. But the road is brilliant, bend after bend and no traffic with stunning scenery. The BMW 1200GS likes the corners ha ha.

We’ve staying at a place called “Troutbeck Resort”, it’s like out of an old movie from the 1930s, Google it and have a look. The log fire in the reception has been alight for 63 years! Think we’ll have the trout tonight. Even got 2 snooker tables (although not in good condition) here as well as a golf course.

Giraffe on
          the road - watch out BMW's.Off to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins today, 450kms away, they sound very interesting. After leaving the “Troutbeck Resort” at 6.30 on a very cold morning, we rode south through the Zimbabwe Eastern Highlands, some of the most stunning scenery you could imagine, the road was again fabulous with bend after bend for an hour or more.

The temperature had started to warm slightly but I still kept the heated hand grips on. We filled up at what once would have been a thriving town, but now looked dilapidated.

Most of the traffic lights and street lights in Zimbabwe don’t work, the busy town is chaotic. Heading south the road is good but there are a lot of animals on the road so you have to be careful. We pass many abandoned farms, very sad as the people are poor. The countryside though still looks stunning. Pass a lot of police roadblocks, but we don’t have a problem.

Eventually we make it to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, they look amazing, we have a 2 hour tour, very interesting.

Another guy on a BMW offroad motorcycle joins us, he’s returning from a trip from South Africa to Tanzania and back fundraising. Tomorrow we cross the border back into South Africa.

Today was a ride full of police roadblocks, we were stopped a few times. Apparently if you’re 20kms over the limit you spend the night in jail plus a hefty fine, as you can imagine we were very careful. The police set radar traps where it’s easy to speed, bit like Australia.

That lasted for 300km, plenty of animals on the road again, but now also lots of big trucks heading to Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and other central African countries which made it interesting. The road was in poor condition, very bumpy, narrow with the edges worn away. Nearly all the roads we have been on have deep drop offs at the edge of the bitumen.

Just after lunch we were at the South African border. This is one of the busiest borders in Southern Africa, but we were through within 1 1/2 hours, very pleased with ourselves.

No need for a TIP (temporary import permit), as we’re in South Africa, for the bike, you need that and insurance in all the countries we’ve been. They take a while to fill in and get stamped and handed in when you leave the country and if it’s not done correctly, you’re in trouble!

We then had a 120kmh ride to tonight’s accommodation, Mashovhela Lodge, another fabulous African Lodge set in a small valley 100kms south of the border. Mind you the road was a bit challenging riding in, it was a standing on the pegs job - rocky, sandy and even a water-crossing to ride though, with the sun in your eyes it was a little difficult to see. By the time we get out tomorrow there’s 10ks of it, good fun though.

I’m writing this watching the monkeys a couple of metres away, have to make sure the door is shut or they’ll be in the room to see what they can scavenge. Time for a drink and dinner. And what a dinner that was, superb and being as we’re back in South Africa, cheap. We also had drums and dancing to entertain us. 

Next day a gentle 386km ride, brilliant roads, smooth, no potholes, and sweeping bend after bend - all day - eat your heart out boys. The first part of the day was riding through plush agricultural land, then past many private game reserves before heavily forested areas. No roadblocks, bliss, and a lot of the roads have 120kmh speed limit.

3 Rondavels, South Africa.
Then the best part of the day, riding through the Drakensburg mountains, fabulous scenery (and roads) we took our time, stopping at all the best lookouts, God’s Window, Potholes 3 Rondavels. And finally to Hazyview where we will spend the night, eating at the best restaurant in South Africa according to Darryl.

Next day we’re up at 5am to go on safari in Kruger Park, the 8 of us fit into the safari vehicle nicely. Great experience: we see plenty of giraffe, elephant, impala, zebra, warthog, buffalo, kudo, hippo, etc. But best of all was a lion that was lying down, get up and roar, as well as 3 cheetahs, our guide said they were the first he had seen in 3 months, how lucky is that?

At a waterhole, close up we were watching a herd of elephants, with plenty of little ones when another herd appeared, we watched them greet each other which was fantastic. It was definitely a highlight of the trip.

Now I’m about to go for a 120km ride on one of the best biking roads in South Africa, its a circuit where all the boy racers come on the weekend. The road was great, had a ball riding solo, came back and Chris was going up in an ultralight, so thought I’d have a go too, great experience flying over this part of South Africa.
Today was another awesome day riding, hard to describe really as they have all been brilliant.

Border crossings can be tiring.
Left Hazyview after another good night and huge meal heading for Swaziland. We took a detour because of roadworks and where we went was great, narrow windy road over a mountain range. Then we arrived at the Swaziland border, not as complicated as the others as it was just a matter of getting the passport stamped, get a gate pass and pay road tax.

People are very friendly, they take SA Rand, but give you change in their own currency. Had lunch in a restaurant overlooking a large dam. The king here gets a new wife each year, he picks her out of 5000 others dancing topless for him, he’s always smiling in the posters.

Went to a Glassworks which was very interesting, and when they sell any of their hand-made glass the money goes to the community, bit like in Malawi. The lodge we’re staying is on the side of a mountain, beautiful we just had a great meal outside with kero lamps on the table. Our lot was a bit noisy, the rest of the residents ate inside, which was most probably a good idea. Tomorrow we’re off to Shakaland.

After breakfast we rode to a candle factory, they make clever candles, as they burn you can see the shape of different animals, bought a few to take home. Apparently the king chose another wife last weekend. We’re on the lookout for any rejects this morning, there should be 4999 of them.

After a lovely morning ride through Swaziland, we end up at the easiest border crossing yet, number 9 on this trip. After the happy soldier with the gun had a laugh about my beard we headed back into South Africa on a very pot-holed road before we another smooth, windy mountain road.

Had lunch by a river and we are now in Zululand, beautiful scenery, rugged mountains and rolling hills. After the cold, but sunny mid 20s days in the Eastern Highlands in Zimbabwe where the weather has been great for riding, today it hit 35C again, be nice if it was a little cooler.

Arrived at our Zulu hut hot and sweaty, but a shower fixed that. Turned out the Zulu village we’re staying in has been used in 3 films, Kwa Zulu was one of them, l think it might have been a TV series a long time ago.

Which is scarier: female with spear or Welsh Zulu?
Anyway we had a tour of the village and a talk about Zulu culture, before having a drink and then watching Zulu dancing and singing. There were also a large group of school kids watching and learning about their culture. They then had a dance competition and myself and a black South African lady were the judges, that was good fun. We had to announce the winners at the end.

After another huge dinner time for bed. Next morning and after an early start we ride 15ks and there’s roadworks, the waiting time is up to 30 minutes and we still have another 600kms to go!

Then we’re away, Darryl plans these trips using the least amount of main roads where possible, so we spent the morning riding the most incredible road, smooth, bend after bend, scenic, sunny and the temperature around the low to mid 20’s. I reckon its the best Sunday morning ride I’ve ever done.

Road to the mountains.
Then we spent the rest of the day just getting to Pretoria. It’s always interesting though as everywhere we’ve been there’s something different to look at.  By the afternoon the temperature had reached the low 30’s.

We finally ended up at Darryl’s place where we dropped the bikes off, after congratulating each other, the bikes were checked over and we were taken to our hotel, same place where we started off, very smart place. They’re coming back to pick us up at 7, for a farewell BBQ dinner. Then they’re dropping us back at the hotel, it’s great service.

Following day Raelene, Garry, Chris and I organised a tour of Soweto, the huge shanty town of Johannesburg. Went to an Apartheid museum and visited Nelson Mandela’s original house in Soweto. Then to a huge BMW motorcycle shop in Pretoria before picking up our gear from the hotel and being chauffered to the airport by Darryl.

Motorcycling girls.
This has been a fabulous trip, been to some great places, seen heaps and met some great people especially those we went away with. The weather has been perfect each day with not a drop of rain.

If you want to ride in Southern Africa SAMA tours have lots of various rides from 5 days to 26 - Google them and have a look.Website:

Where next Chris?

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