Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Biking to the Flowers of Namaqualand, South Africa Part VII

After leaving Darling we stopped for photos along the R315, regional road. You can read about this part of our trip here .When we reached the N7, we crossed straight over and continued east on the R45 through well-known towns of the Boland. (top country) We joined up with the N1 just before Paarl. Just after this we entered the Huguenot Tunnel. As children we loved to drive through tunnels on family trips; my dad would hoot and other cars would hoot back!
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:

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:

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".

Streaky-headed Seedeater
 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.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful time was had by all, Jo. Great that you got to see old friends.
    I am stunned by the array of wildflowers. As far as I know, we have nothing to match it in Canada. Just fabulous!
    I still haven't figured out an easy way to get from western Canada to Africa, but I'm working on it.
    I hope you are well and truly better, and not just feeling better enough that you want to get up and do things.
    Hug the cats for me, especially Shadow.
    Luv, K

  2. I am so impressed with that area of Africa... WOW--is the word which comes to mind.

    Sounds like you had a great time catching up with friends...

    The tunnel looks something like one of our tunnels between West VA and VA.... The tunnel just cuts through the mountain!!!!

    Thanks again for sharing your travels with us... I'm so envious.

  3. Love your new header, Jo! Those chalets and the setting they are in, as well as the setting of your friend's B & B are all spectacular. I've never seen the Aloe Ferox Mill(that's quite a name) and it is simply stunning. I'm so glad you ahd a chance to try to catch up on 40 years with your friend! I'm sure you just made a start ;-)

  4. 2 senior bikers. I am watching Amazing Race, and they have a couple who are senior bikers. Very encouraging to see seniors competing with young kids.

    The Container ship is causing great headache, containers are not swept up on the beach. Would be interesting if people help themselves to the contents.

  5. Beautiful photos. I especially love the water one :)

  6. Hi Jo. Finally I get to catch uo on your trip. I have not been able to do much blogging and have been wondering if you have posted anything, so am so thrilled to find this post and will be reading the rest theis evening. I am so sorry that I missed you when you were down here but due to my divorce it has been hard to make plans and keep up with everything! Maybe next time we can visit for sure! I am so amzed at you two and how fit you must be to be biking all over! I so enjoyed reading this post and for me travelling through that tunnel always means I am heading somewhere lovely for a relaxing holiday or day out!! My son asked if we can drive over the pass next time! Your aloe pictures are gorgeous and I havn't taken any this year so am enjoying yours lots!



  7. JO, what a wonderful trip. The flowers and aloe are gorgeous. I love the chalet near the water, what a beautiful place to live. It is great you wee able to meet up with your school friends too. Great photos, have a wonderful day.

  8. Good Morning, Jo!'s morning here and about 2 or possible 3pm there. What a ride! Thanks for sharing it with us, your readers. I now realize that altho I was there a number of times (probably 20) there is so much that I missed of South Africa! Amazing that the tunnel engineers only missed there mark by such a small margin. Your trip sounds wonderful.

  9. those Swellendam chalets look like the set of zulu!!

  10. What fun to catch up on 4 decades of family news with old school chums! It sounds like Grant and Quinton hit it off well!
    The tunnel, flowers and scenery are all spectacular! Just yesterday Jerry and I were driving through a freeway tunnel (going under another section of freeway) and he hit the horn a few times and it led to some good echoes!


Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your feedback. Jo