Jan 21 – Feb 11, 2020
January 29 – Wednesday – Prince Albert
We had a slight dilemma this morning: Dan and my bike had smaller tanks than the 1250s, and we needed fuel. There was the option to leave Gondwana via the north gate, but there was no promise of fuel in that direction. Instead, David and Hana made the decision to back track the way we came and hit a “sure thing” fuel stop back at the main road. And it turned out to be a good choice, as Dan’s bike was on fumes when we pulled into the gas station.
Leaving Gondwana – thank you!
The weather turned cool and damp as we neared the coast. Light rain sprinkled across the windscreen and a strong wind pushed the clouds around in the sky above. The first of many ostrich farms appeared, the birds running madly away from the motorcycles to the relative safety of the far side of the field. Ostriches are weird birds.
We rode through Mossel Bay, which was very industrial with large cranes ready to load cargo onto even larger container ships sitting off shore. We slipped around the side of the city, avoiding most of the traffic and slow roads. I was all too happy to start heading north, away from the coast and towards the mountains!
It was a nice morning on the road: the sun came out, the sky was blue, and the roads were fast. Leaving Gondwana at 10:30 meant that it wasn’t long before we stopped for a break. It was the “Boerqi Bistro“, and eclectic cafe, gallery, farm store… you name it, they had it. And I love their address on the internet: “R328 between Mosselbay and Oudsthoorn, Mosselbay, South Africa.” I really did feel like we were in the middle of nowhere, and I once again wondered how Hana and David went about finding their tour stops.
Our guides, Hana and David
Inside the farm store
“I’ll take two boxes, please!”
His and Hers bathroom stalls
Cozy seating area – and we had the place to ourselves
Yummy snacks and shakes
After a nice break (and tasty food) we got back on the road. There were mountains in front of us (again!) and this time the clouds were threatening to envelop them.
There are mountains in those clouds!
We crossed over Robinson Pass, an easy but delightful paved mountain road. Lots of photos – yay!
Almost into the clouds!
Coming down the other side
Leaving the clouds behind us
This region is known for its Merino wool
Today held a special side trip: the Cango Caves. This series of caves has a long history, from the early Stone Age to the most recent activity being when it was rediscovered in 1780. This is interesting, because they also estimate that the caves were in use as little as 250 years ago. That means that the last person using it was there only ten years before it was “discovered”. Personally, I think that someone’s math is off.
We parked the bikes and shed our gear, having prepared for this ahead of time to be able to walk around in comfort for the tour of the caves. The infrastructure of the park buildings was really nice, renovated in 1998 but aging quite well. We passed through the gates and waited for our guide to share the secrets of the caves.
There was an “adventure tour” that one could take that would require fitting through this slot (we would not be on that tour today)
Reconstruction of a primitive encampment
Unlike the Skocjan Caves we had visited in Slovenia, this system of caverns had the option to be lit up for full appreciation of the geology inside.
Cavern with basic safety lights
Our group was more than just us motorcyclists and our guide did a good job of herding us through to the various informational stages. She spoke clearly and a bit slowly, which was great for the non-native speakers in the group, but a little frustrating for those who didn’t need the hand-holding.
From 1964 to 1994, concerts were actually held in the main hall (Van Zyl’s Hall, in the first picture). Steps had long ago been constructed to access the “floor” of the cavern, not to mention the extensive work done to create a floor that was flat enough to safely support a crowd. There was even a stage at one end to support the band. The concerts ended when it became apparent that the sounds the reverberated through the caverns was damaging to the formations. I fully support this move but man, it must have been an amazing experience!
Van Zyl’s Hall, location of earlier concerts
From Van Zyl’s Hall, we moved further into the cave system to see more elaborate geological formations. Our guide explained about the people who used to live here and how they used the caves. Then she explained how the formations had come into being, and what their (long-term) future could be.
Zoomed in on future stalactites
It had been an interesting diversion off the motorcycles, and nice to see inside of a mountain instead of just riding over them. But riding over them is honestly more fun, and there were more mountain passes to experience before we finished the day!
Leaving the Cango Caves behind
The mountain range that the Cango Cave is part of
After slinking along between two mountain ranges, our road suddenly swept around a bend, the pavement disappeared, and it gained elevation at a rapid rate. We had reached the beginning of Swartberg Pass!
Video of the start of the pass
Snaking its way along the mountain side
This pass was built between 1881 and 1888 using convict labor. The dry-stone retaining walls, supporting some of its hairpin bends, are still in place and are over 130 years old.
Take a second and appreciate the scale and geology of these mountains
At the top of the pass we pulled over to take in the view and grab a few pictures. I was so happy that we had such great weather. It really let us fully appreciate the scenery, while not having to focus too much on the road surface. While we were at the pass, a few very muddy adventure bikes made their way passed us, followed by their own support vehicle. There were a couple of bikes on the trailer – it looks like someone had a bit too much fun! We waved as they went by us.
Here’s a fun bit of history of the pass:
“The pass was opened for light traffic from March 1886 and after September of that year the pass was opened to carts and wagon traffic on Fridays. A regular post-coach service was introduced linking Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn over the pass. With much fanfare involving a 21-gun salute and the clinking of champagne glasses, the Swartberg Pass was opened by Colonel F Schermbrucker on 10 January 1888. The Colonel’s words at the opening that, “ten-thousand travellers will in future feast their eyes on this beautiful picture” has echoed over the more than 125-years since this most beautiful of mountain passes was opened.”
Dan for scale!
Great view of the valley below
Cresting the pass and coming down the other side – that’s the other group’s support truck
“Hello from the other side”
Not quite paved, but very smooth dirt
Someday I’ll remember to raise my sun visor for photos like this
Video from the stop
The other side of the pass was much more interesting than the one we had just come up. While coming up we were given expansive vistas and gently winding corners. Now we were facing steeply descending hair pin corners that dropped us into a deep gorge. It was beautiful to look at, and even more fun to ride.
Video going down the other side
I’m glad that the surface was good, because the corners tightened up as we descended
Down into the valley – down, down, down, we go
If I was a serious geologist, I’d never leave South Africa
Swartberg Pass was only 20 kilometers, but they were 20 fantastic kilometers. And we still weren’t to the bottom!
Difficult lighting, but more amazing geology
Video of the water crossing
The end of the pass. The road straightened out and took us directly to the town of Prince Albert. We had another wonderful Guest House expecting us and I was looking forward a relaxing evening.
Jonathan moved this tortoise from the middle of the road
One to beam up, Scotty!
“The village of Prince Albert was founded in the early 1800’s and in 1849 a post office was opened, followed by a school in 1852. One of eighteen gabled houses in the village, the ‘De Bergkant Lodge‘ was built by Carel Lotz as a wedding present for his daughter in 1858.” Our guest house had some history, to say the least! But unlike the Mountain View Hotel in Lady Grey, our lodgings tonight were spacious, well maintained and comfortable.
We were each offered a glass of sherry upon our arrival
I want a tree like this in my yard!
The pool and breakfast area
Reception area in the Manor House
When Dan and I brought our gear up to our room we were met with a most unusual and unexpected surprise: a Basel Läckerli! This is a specialty known only in Basel; to see it here, over 9,000 kilometers from home, was crazy. Of course, this led to a conversation with our hostess later that evening, with the obvious-yet-surprising news that she is originally from Basel. And the world gets smaller…
The irony of having a large tub, yet signs everywhere to conserve water
His and Hers shower heads!
We re-grouped and made the short walk to the village center – and to dinner. We arrived at the Gallery Cafe, which looked nothing like a restaurant from the outside, and was only reachable by climbing a set of well-worn wooden steps. It was worth the climb though, as the service was good and the food we were served was excellent.
Sunset during the walk to dinner
The Gallery – the Cafe was next door
Another Kudu meal was consumed and desserts were had by everyone. With all of this great food, I’m going to have a hard time fitting into my motorcycle gear!
Link to Day 5