The Huguenot Tunnel runs for 3.9km through the DuToitskloof Mountains that separate Paarl and Worcester, providing a route that is safer, faster (between 15 and 26 minutes) and shorter (by 11 km) than the old Du Toitskloof Pass travelling over the mountain.
Geological surveys and design started in 1973, and excavation followed in 1984, tunneling from both ends using drilling and blasting. The two drilling heads met with an error of only 3 mm over its entire 3.9 km length. The tunnel was finally opened on 18 March 1988.
Currently the tunnel carries one lane of traffic in each direction. Plans are underway to open a second unfinished tunnel, the "northern bore", to carry eastbound traffic. This will allow for two lanes of traffic in each direction, with each tunnel carrying traffic in one direction only.
The tunnel is maintained by Tolcon, a subsidiary of Murrayand Roberts construction company. (Source: google.co.za)
My attempt at capturing the ride through the tunnel, the longest curved structure in South Africa
As bikers, we love passes and would have normally gone over Dutoitskloof Pass on the alternative route, but decided that riding through the tunnel on a bike made an interesting change.
The entire route through the Boland, was lined with fields of flowers
Forty kilometers on we bypassed Worcester, left the N1 for the N15, rode past Robertson, through Ashton (all these are in the Cape wine heartland) and headed in a southerly direction to Swellendam. This picturesque town nestled in between the Langeberg Mountain, with the famous Marloth Nature Reserve only three kilometers outside the town.
Our friends, Bertus and Baka manage the park, but as the accommodation was fully booked that night, we stayed in the municipal chalets in a quiet part of the town. They met us there for a braai and catch-up on family and biking news. (Bertus rides an antique motor bike. Seriously: it's 32 years old, and thought to be the oldest of its kind in the Cape. Baka doesn't ride with him) We were so busy chatting that I forgot to take photos! However, their three teenage sons, who are bike-mad, took dozens of photos of our motorbike. Their father had just bought them each a Blackberry, so they had fun clicking away at the front, side, underneath and even the forks of the bike!
The Swellendam Municipal Chalets with a view of the magnificent Langeberge surrounding the town.
On Monday morning, Bertus arrived at the chalet with a flask of coffee and a plate of bran muffins. With space being at a premium on a motorbike, we don't travel with coffee, tea or breakfast food, so this biker, colleague (he's worked in Grant's team for years, most recently here in Kenya ) and dear, considerate friend, supplied it that day.
By 9am we'd loaded our bike and within minutes were on the road again. Although we were far from the "normal" flower routes, we were still treated by the most beautiful shows along this road. I was fascinated by the field upon field of aloes in between the normal fynbos and succulents. I didn't have to ask Grant to stop; he stopped time and time again for me to take photos and for us to enjoy the utter stillness and beauty around us.
Aloe ferox Mill.
The Aloe ferox Mill. commonly known as the bitter aloe, has an erect, unbranched stem of up to 3m high, with persistent dried leaves and candelabra-like inflorescences (a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch or a complicated arrangement of branches) with up to eight symmetrical racemes of bright red or orange flowers. It grows on rocky hillsides, on the margins of the Karoo, Little Karoo and grasslands, where winters may be severe to mild. It is widespread through most of the Eastern Cape and extends into the southeastern Free State, southern Lesotho and the Western Cape to the Swellendam area. The bitter aloe is frequently harvested for use in the medicinal and cosmetics industries. (Source: google.co.za)
While I was photographing the aloes, two birds landed on one on the opposite side of the road. I immediately zoomed in on what I thought must be a sunbird, but when I downloaded the rather out-of-focus image, I saw it was a seed-eating bird. I managed to identify it as a Streaky-headed Seedeater. I only came to this conclusion because my bird book says these birds are "frequently associated with aloes in drier areas".
Soon we were heading through the pastoral towns of Heidelberg and Riversdal where we turned onto the N2, Garden Route. At Mossel Bay we'd hoped to meet our son, John who's master of a tug about 60kms offshore. Sadly it wasn't his day to be in port, so we spoke to him on the Ship-to-shore telephone and said we'd see him when he returns to his home and family in the Drakensberg.
We did, however, look up an old school friend, who with her husband, owns an upmarket guesthouse fronting the beach.
With all the excitement of meeting up with Ronell again, I forgot to take photos. This one is courtesy of their website. (Isn't this a stunning setting?)
While Ronell and I talked nineteen-to-the-dozen (we had more than four decades to catch up on), Grant and Quinton went downstairs to the garage. Grant said afterwards, Quinton's garage was like his at home in Marquard. Scrupulously clean and tidy with everything on its place. Quinton is chairman of the Christian Motorcycle Association in the Western Cape. Not only was his beautiful bike parked in the garage, Quinton also stores about a dozen other motorbikes for fellow club members. You can imagine how the two men, who'd only just met, revelled in this accumalation of magnificent machinery!
Ronell, me and Grant. We were all at school together. Ronell and I were in the same class and Grant was two years ahead of us. (Photo: Quinton Dreyer)
All too soon we were saying our goodbyes, but promising that next time, Grant and I were in the area, we'd stay over with them.
Next post is the final one of our Bike trip to the flowers.