If you’re looking for a truly wild, diverse and adventurous motorcycling experience, check out our backyard here at the southern tip of Africa. If you come alive in the majestic landscape of British Columbia, it’s time to get lost among Namibia’s vast horizons. The wildlife is abundant; It’s not hard to find whales and dolphins on the coast, or on land, elephants, rhino, lions, leopards, ostriches, wild dogs and birds, as well as creatures you’ve probably never heard of (kudus, anyone?). A day’s ride here can cover anything from twisting hard-top passes through imposing mountain ranges, to long flat gravel roads through one of the driest deserts in the world and, if you’re up for it, some technical and challenging off-road riding. At night the stars in the deep southern night sky will take your breath away.
In 2015 on the Cape2Kigali ride, fellow Vancouverite Andy Harrington and I had the idea of forming a different kind of motorcycle adventure touring company. Ride Down South would enable other people like him to experience this amazing and surprisingly accessible part of the world. We’re convinced that riding down here will make for stories you’ll tell for the rest of your days. We love the comfortable and reliable, classic Honda XRV750 Africa Twin almost as much as the areas where we ride.
Last summer five Vancouver riders – Jonathan Page, Tammy Anonsen, Patrick van der Valk, Alexa Coderre, and Steve Chin – tackled our 4,800-kilometer Cape2Kalahari route. The group had a range of adventure motorcycling experience. For some the journey was a chance to enjoy the tar and gravel roads in new surroundings; for others it was a 16-day adventure in gaining confidence on gravel and occasional sandy stretches.
The 16-day Kalahari2Cape adventure started out heading north from Cape Town, South Africa, to Namibia. From Namibia’s capital Windhoek, the route continued towards the Angolan border, stopping in at two wildlife reserves – Erindi Private Game Reserve and the world-famous Etosha National Park.
From there we headed west through the Caprivi Strip into Botswana. There we spent three nights on the banks of the Okavango River, which is richly populated with hippos, crocs, tigerfish and a huge variety of birds.
Heading south through the Kalahari Desert, we stopped at Dqae Qare San Lodge. There’s something special about camping under stunning southern night skies in the Kalahari desert that has been home to San Bushmen for at least 50,000 years. After crossing nearly the entire width of Namibia, we entered the Namib Desert and explored the shifting sand dunes at Sossusvlei.
Finally, further south we visited the Fish River Canyon before crossing the Orange River back into South Africa. Our last two days were spent riding south toward Cape Town through the expansive Richtersveld and Namaqualand landscapes.
On our first day we got off the pavement and hit the gravel road. The riding was technical, the scenery breathtaking and almost right away we had company: a group of warthogs were running alongside the bikes, racing us. But a warthog is no match for the 750cc Africa Twin, and soon they were left behind only to come across the first of many giraffes, beautiful and majestic grazing in the trees next to the road.
After a long day of riding, there is nothing better than a cold beer. It’s not often that while enjoying that beer you can sit in front of a waterhole and watch the circle of life play out. Our group was divided between team croc and team warthog, but in the end the warthog narrowly escaped and lived to see another day.
The waterhole at Erindi Private Game Reserve was situated next to our campsite. It’s hard to imagine a better spot to unwind after a few hours on the bike than front-row seats to watch Africa’s wildlife.
This was my first real introduction to adventure motorcycling. It was phenomenal! The experience definitely made me a stronger rider. I will not say it was a trip of a lifetime, because I can see myself going back.
We went out for a game drive and were lucky enough to photograph a great number of animals that are indigenous to Africa. The giraffes were everywhere as were the hyenas and springbok. We even saw a lioness and her cub; It was brilliant. When we returned from the drive, Andrew had prepared a traditional supper, prepared in cast iron pots and slow cooked over a fire. It was amazing. Cold beer in hand, I embraced the day.
The meals and traditions of Africa we discovered made it special and more than simply going to Africa and looking around. I loved the coffee, wine and food. I saw all of the animals that are indigenous to Africa that I wanted to see and none of the ones that I did not, like spiders and snakes! I even caught a tigerfish in Botswana.
A First Encounter with Sand
Our route took us out of Erindi Private Game Reserve via a different road than our way in. We’d seen wildebeests and giraffes on our way there, and just about everything else on our amazing safari drives. What was in store for us on the way out? Our information was that it would be a shorter gravel road back to tarmac that spit us out closer to our next stop, win-win. The only catch? A few kilometers of sand somewhere in the middle. With no serious off-road experience, sand was an unnerving prospect for me, especially because the stakes were much higher with my intrepid girlfriend riding in the pillion seat. But I had begun to get comfortable with gravel on the road into Erindi and by the time we’d arrived I was feeling much more confident in my Africa Twin, maybe too confident.
The ride started out with a few rattling washboard sections that gave way to smooth, hardpack gravel. This was better than the way in, and I started to find a rhythm again. Andrew had told us that, as the lead bike, when he got to the sand he would stop so we could tackle it as a group. As the gravel road continued I relaxed, telling myself ‘we must be close to the highway,’ and ‘maybe we already passed the dreaded sand,’ when I looked up and saw Andrew’s brake light flash on. In what felt like the same moment I saw the wheels hit red sand and felt Tammy frantically squeezing and tapping me, saying, “Jono, slow down!” The first thing to slow down was time.
I felt the bike decelerating as the wheels dug into the deep, soft, red sand. All of a sudden I noticed we were carrying a remarkable amount of momentum as we plowed in and, inexplicably, emergency braking was not top of mind. Overwhelmed by this new, bizarre sensation of the wheels being swallowed by the road surface, I fought the shimmying front wheel to stay upright and balanced, while ahead it felt like that brake light was getting closer and closer. I thought the best course of action would be to switch to the middle track where previous vehicles had carved an inviting path through this mess of sand. Gearing down as I steered away from the lead machine I began to feel like the bike might actually respond to steering inputs through this foreign material. This feeling lasted until I attempted to turn into the wheel track, when it seemed like the sand suddenly reasserted control, shook the bike and threw it down. All of a sudden I was lying next to the Africa Twin as it lay flopped over with Tammy trapped in her seat and the engine running. No one was hurt and the bike was completely unfazed, but that sand woke me up and reminded me this adventure would be very different from a Squamish Starbucks run or Duffey Lake ride. There’s an expression that Africa gets “under your skin and into your blood,” and I can’t wait to go back for another two-wheeled adventure with Andrew and Ride Down South.