This was also the last opportunity to get group and dirt road riding shots, although time was going to be a bit of an issue as we had to cover well over 400 kilometres. I had to hustle to make the morning shots work, literally running down the dirt road near the Rohr Farm Guest House, looking for good shot locations. I had to settle with what I had as the group, anxious to get on the road, started coming up the road faster than I anticipated! I got a few shots, and then a few of Anthony and Johann by a beautiful purple Jacaranda Tree.
I was not able to get road shots as I was driving the support vehicle, so any shots would have to be coordinated. The group hit the road and the weather was absolutely perfect for riding, not too hot, sunny, with just a little breeze. The route, highway R33 north took us through the rolling hills that are along the western edge of the Swaziland Border. Neale started to fall back from the main group and it was apparent that the rear tire on his BMW R1200GS was going flat. All of the tire repair kits had been used already, so we loaded the bike onto the support truck trailer with Neale posing, showing how sad he was about the flat tire! Neale spent the rest of the morning riding in the truck with me, which made the drive so much easier! At one of our fuel stops Don offered up the BMW F700GS to Neale for the off road portion of the days ride, which worked out perfectly for everyone in terms of riding and photography. I continued as the driver of the support truck, as Don worked the road photos.
We reached secondary road D481 (mostly dirt with some really rough areas) leading north past the small village of Ngoneni, and we were stopped at a road block which was in place to control vehicle traffic along the road due to construction. We chatted with the gate guards and Neale put on an impromptu slide show with the BMW F700GS, coming to a stop while standing, bike sideways right up to the gate. The guards were laughing and entertained, eventually we all continued north, with a quick stop for some pictures as Neale, Anthony and Cris played in the dirt for the cameras! They all took a brief rest on a small bridge over the Mtsoli River north of Ngoneni, a wonderful and peaceful stop, which made for great photo opportunities!
Not more than a couple of kilometers north we stopped near a small hill that had a great view of the valley. Don suggested that it would make a great shot if someone could make it up the near vertical hill! Neale, inspired by many things that day, took up the challenge as I rushed to get my camera out! I ran as fast as I could to a vantage point and started to shoot just as Neale started up the hill. As the motor on the F700GS wailed I thought hill was waaaay too steep for him to make it. The bike continued to labour as Neale moved all his weight over the front of the BMW to prevent it from flipping over backward! He stayed on the throttle and eventually made it to the top, raising his hands in victory, I was amazed that he made it! Don ran up the hill with his camera to take some shots of Neale at the top, some amazing pictures made the victory over the hill that much sweeter!
Suddenly I saw Anthony heading towards the hill on his BMW R1200GS, a much heavier bike, with street tires, not the best combination for going up such a steep incline! Anthony ripped halfway up the hill before gravity, traction and the electronics (the traction control was still on leaving him with no power) on the bike conspired to stop the rest of the hill climb. It was amazing that he did not cartwheel the BMW down the hill, and eventually he managed to get the motorcycle back down the hill safely, no easy feat considering the near vertical grade! Neale made it slowly back down as well and I let out a sigh of relief that no one cartwheeled their BMWs into oblivion and more importantly no one got hurt! Props to both Neale and Anthony…that hill was intense!
The rest of the D481 was rough but the scenery stunningly beautiful, and as we reached the paved highway junction, I made note of the area and road as I would be back to ride this route on my next trip to South Africa!
The group stopped several times to take pictures from scenic overlooks and vistas, all of us relishing the incredible beauty of the South African countryside near the Swaziland border. At one of the stops a young boy saw the group and the motorcycles and ran over waving frantically, it was so cool to see that a simple thing as a motorcycle could have such a profound effect on children. Perhaps it was the adventure, or the thrill or just someone different, regardless of the reasons, the ability of this simple two wheeled machine to break down barriers continues to impress me!
The poverty of the area was not lost upon me, contrasting sharply with the wonderful countryside. The villages and shops crafted out of tin, wood and the reddish brown soil all visual reminders of how fortunate my life was in comparison. In one of the villages I saw boutiques for manicures, haircuts and beauty products which made me smile, everyone wants to look their best despite their financial situation!
We finally reached the Kruger International Airport where we met the BMW motorcycle rental agents, who inspected the bikes and loaded them onto a large trailer. The group changed out of their motorcycle gear, sad to see the bikes go, but happy with the incredible memories that can only come on a two wheeled adventure! We also had the agents repair one of the shocks on the support truck, it had sheared off during our off road journey today, and the truck was also experiencing brake issues! I was a little skeptical when they said the brakes would be good enough for the rest of our trip, especially considering the grinding sound they were making. Johann picked up a second rental vehicle and the group loaded into the support truck and rental car to head to our hotel for the night, the Maroela Chalets along the southern edge of Kruger National Park!
We arrived after dark, and were met by our host Hennie who assigned us our chalets, Neale, Anthony, Don and I sharing a large African style suite with a small pool outside it! We were then treated to an incredible South African Brie BBQ, stuffing ourselves while we relived an incredible day of riding and adventure. Cliff Butlin from MI-GR8T tours our guide for tomorrows safari was also present at the BBQ, and he was full of stories about the big 5…it left us all with a feeling of excitement for tomorrow’s adventures! Although the motorcycles were gone, Johann and Cliff insisted that we were in for an incredible experience in Kruger National Park in the morning…of that I have no doubt!!!