Category Archives: 29th Parallel SA 1999

Richards Bay (finish line)

Mfuli (A) to Richard's Bay (B)

Mfuli (A) to Richard's Bay (B)

Final minutes – I kept my eyes peeled for a glimpse of the Indian Ocean as I progressed down this road, but was not to be blessed with even a glimmer of it on the approach to Richards Bay. It was to remain obstinately hidden to the very last. I finished the ride on the beachfront a few minutes after 8.00am when, at last, I made my way over a ridge of sand and was presented with the spectacle of the warm Indian Ocean. What a pleasure!

A hug and a smile and the journey was over.

General statistics:

Total distance – 1833.76km

Total cycling time – 74hr 17min 57sec

Average Speed – 24.68 kph

Longest Day – 7hr 50min 53sec

Shortest Day – 3hr 14min 49sec

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Mfuli Game Lodge to Richards Bay (56.28 km)

Day 15 - Mfuli Game Lodge to Richards Bay

Day 15 - Mfuli Game Lodge to Richards Bay

Day 15 – The weather was kind to us on this, the last day of the trip. It was cool to start, warming fairly quickly when the sun came up, with no wind to speak of.

It was a comfortable ride to Empangeni as most of it was gradually downhill and the road was fairly quiet, but as I approached Empangeni the traffic picked up. I reached Empangeni at about 7.00 on a Monday morning and I guess that motorists are not at their best at this time.

The road from Empangeni to Richards Bay was busier still, and was rather narrow, making riding more than a little nerve wracking. I was nearly run over by a pedestrian who saw a gap in the traffic and decided to dash across the road, but was obviously not on the look-out for a cyclist.

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20km from Babanango to Mfuli Game Lodge (115.58 km)

Day 14 - 20km from Babanango to Mfuli Game Lodge

Day 14 - 20km from Babanango to Mfuli Game Lodge

Day 14 – The weather was really miserable when we awoke at 5am, by far the most miserable of the trip. We left Eagle’s View just 45 minutes later, with the wind already fairly strong and the dark clouds overhead threatening in the early morning light. Our intention was to drive directly to the spot where I had stopped cycling the day before. Right. We overshot our marker completely and had to backtrack. Just how do two people miss a signboard for which they are both looking, when they have a very good idea of where it is?

It started to rain as we offloaded the bike at 6.30am and the wind was bitterly cold.

The ups and downs to Babanango and then on until we had covered half the distance to Melmoth seemed endless. One uphill in particular, called Haveman’s Hoogte, just went on and on. I was in the lowest possible gear and it was still an absolute grind. Four heavily laden timber trucks, each with a heavily laden trailer were stopped on this hill – the truck in front appeared to have broken down – and this provided a slight distraction as I weaved past them. Near the top of Haveman’s Hoogte, while standing up to bring maximum weight to bear on the pedals and so slightly off balance, I rode onto a very slippery patch of oil soaked tar. You’ve seen what happens when a Formula One racing car hits a patch of oil at 240kph? Well, this was nothing like that. At 12 or 15kph the wheels slid, my feet shot off the pedals in anticipation of a fall, the bike went one way, my blood pressure went another and before you could shout “Oily patch!” the oily patch was behind me. And I still wasn’t at the top of the hill.

The potholes along this stretch, most noticeably between Babanango and Melmoth, as well as the corrugations in the tar caused by the heavy trucks, made riding thoroughly uncomfortable at times. It was not possible to hug the left curb, as I had done for most of the ride, and I was forced to duel with the cars and trucks for the more ridable surface towards the middle of the road. In truth a bicycle versus a ten-ton truck does not make for a fair duel.

Melmoth is situated in an area of hills that are ideal for the growing of trees, particularly wattle, and in 1926 a factory was established here for the production of tanning extract from locally grown wattle bark. I can’t vouch for the suitability of the soil, but I can certainly vouch for the presence of the hills. Past Melmoth, and on I rode.

It was really a moment to savour when we saw the first Richards Bay road sign (the port was 64km away) and I briefly entertained the idea of pushing on to the end. Just 10km further on, however, Avril had discovered the Mfuli Game Ranch and we decided to stop there for the night. It was nicely positioned, with just a few hours of cycling left to take us to the Indian Ocean.

We spent a very pleasant evening on the wooden deck of the reception area with a couple of beers as the sun went down, and could have been a million miles from civilisation. Inside the bar there was a scramble to watch the Formula One Grand Prix being broadcast on TV, but it seemed weirdly divorced from cycling through the hills of the Babanango district. We stayed outside and basked in the notion that the trip was almost done.

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Junction N11 & R602 to 20km from Babanango (134.03 km)

Day 13 - Junction N11 & R602 to 20km from Babanango

Day 13 - Junction N11 & R602 to 20km from Babanango

Day 13 – A thunder shower in the early part of last evening left the air cool and fresh, but except for the occasional puddle on the road, there was very little evidence of the rain as we made our way back to where we had stopped cycling the day before. I offloaded the bike and set off along the R602 towards Dundee. This is a pleasant stretch of road, taking us past the site of the Battle of Elandslaagte, which was one of the early battles of the Anglo-Boer War, taking place in 1899. The traffic was fairly light and although the road was narrow, it was a very pleasant ride.

I reached Dundee in well under two hours and we were well into the coalfields of KwaZulu Natal. Dundee was the site of the Battle of Talana during the Anglo-Boer War and this is commemorated by a unique museum located on the battlefield and embracing many of the forts and gun emplacements that were used during the battle.

Exiting Dundee, I turned on to the R68. This change made it seem like the “last leg” of the journey as the R68 will take us well on our way to the coast and is therefore something of a psychological boost.

But there is no end to the rolling hills! Up and down, up and down. I guess we are losing altitude, but my legs would disagree most strongly. This is the section of roadway popularly known as the Battlefields Route and it led us past the Rorke’s Drift turnoff, and later past the Isandhlwana turn off. These hills were the scene of several great battles during the Anglo-Zulu war, witness to great bravery on both sides, and also to the deaths of numerous soldiers on both sides.

Cycling along the strip of tarred road in the pleasant autumn sunshine, the red jackets and gunfire, the blood curdling yelling and the beating of spears on shields seemed light years away. The hills of KZN, it is said, are well fertilised with the blood of its people. So sad.

We were well into rural KwaZulu Natal where the villages that we passed through have names like Nqutu and Silushana, and the local folk are extremely friendly. There is much waving, whistling and shouted greetings. I guess a lone cyclist on this road is something of a novelty.

“Hey, where have you come from?” This from a chap on the side of the road, who sported a magnificent set of teeth that would have done any toothpaste advert proud.

“Port Nolloth.”


“The west coast.”



“No, man! That’s too far!”

I eventually stopped the day’s ride just 20km short of Babanango and hitched the bike onto the back of the car. We drove into Babanango to find that the advertised B&B we had planned to stay at was closed, apparently as the lady of the house had taken herself off to have a baby. Babanango, which means “father, there it is”, a kind of “Eureka!” reference to a nearby hill, is a small village and there are not a lot of accommodation options. We back-tracked a short way, then followed the signboards to the Eagle’s View Lodge which we recalled seeing advertised on the way past. This superbly sited lodge is a long way off the R68 on a rather poor dirt road, but offers incredible views over a valley ringed by hills, which has “heritage site” status. We quickly settled down for a pleasant one night stay.

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Harrismith to Junction N11 & R602 (108.9 km)

Day 12 - Harrismith to Junction N11 & R602

Day 12 - Harrismith to Junction N11 & R602

Day 12 – Forget Freddy Krueger and Elm Street – the real nightmare is cycling on the N3 outside Harrismith in the early morning mist. I only started cycling at 6.15am, once it was properly light, but the wisdom of this decision was negated to some extent by the thickness of the mist. The limited visibility encouraged many of the heavy trucks to move over onto the shoulder of the road. Just where I was riding. Concealed by the mist until they were almost at my back wheel.

For the very first time it was actually cold when we got up. It warmed up later, but never really got hot during the course of the ride. What a relief! What a pleasure to escape eight days of sweltering heat, to feel the need to don long sleeves!

On leaving Harrismith the N3 leads through an impressive sandstone massif, that looms over the road on both sides. After 20 kilometres we passed the village of Swinburne, and another 10 kilometres or so brought us to the settlement of Van Reenen. Van Reenen stands at the summit of the Van Reenen Pass, and at 1680 metres above sea level may be the highest point on our route.

Thankfully the mist had cleared by the time we reached Van Reenen Pass which gave motorists more time to see me and allowed me to enjoy the spectacular views. At the top of the pass we crossed into KwaZulu Natal, the last of the provinces to be traversed before reaching the Indian Ocean. Downhill it may be, but this Pass is not easy riding because of the traffic. Heavy trucks travelling very slowly – I had to pass some of them on the left because the fast moving traffic in the right lane allowed no space for a bicycle. Somewhat hair-raising. Fourteen kilometres of steep downhill. I reached 74kph at one point, the highest speed reached on the trip, but generally a lot of braking and much slower speeds were required.

The road drops 580 metres from Windy Corner at the top of the pass to the bottom, and follows the route originally blazed by herds of wildebeest, zebra and other game animals migrating between the midlands of KwaZulu Natal and the highveld. The original road was built in 1856 and the present N3 follows much the same route down the escarpment.

Shortly after reaching the foot of the Van Reenen Pass we turned off the N3 and onto the quieter R103 which took us to Ladysmith, which we had planned as an overnight stop. We felt that it was too early to stop when we reached Ladysmith and after a brief consultation we decided to go a little further.

Avril made some phone calls and located a suitable place for us to stop for the night. I eventually stopped riding at the junction of the N11 and the R602, which, although not as far as I had hoped to get, was convenient to the B&B that Avril had located.

We loaded up the bike and drove up the N11 to the B&B, which was a farm situated on the banks of the Sundays River.

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Bethlehem to Harrismith (92.90 km)

Day 11 - Bethlehem to Harrismith

Day 11 - Bethlehem to Harrismith

Day 11 – The N5 out of Bethlehem moved on through the wonderland of the rolling eastern Free State countryside. Dawn brought another magnificent sunrise, with crisp, bright air, with a layer of mist rising sleepily from the dams and streams in the valleys. It was a much cooler day. Cool enough to wear a long-sleeved top for the first time. The wind came up quite strongly from the south-east, so that it blew from the side rather than head-on which made the riding easier and allowed a slightly better pace.

This part of the country is clearly very fertile and the farms lying in the valleys are a joy to behold. Pink and white cosmos are to be seen everywhere and the Maluti Mountains (or are they the Drakensberg?) to the south present a wonderful sight.

This stretch of the N5 is very pleasant, with a nice wide shoulder, so that the traffic, although very heavy, was not as much of a threat as it had been on the approach to Bethlehem. There are plenty of ups and downs and there are climbing lanes laid out many of the uphills. I cannot recall the use of climbing lanes before and I think that this is the first time that we have seen them since the tour began, so all in all the route is a pleasant one.

About 45 kilometres from Bethlehem we passed the turnoff to the town of Kestell, but there were no other towns along the road before we reached Harrismith.

Ten kilometres outside Harrismith, while I was enjoying quite a long downhill stretch, I passed, climbing up the gradient, the first sports cyclist that I had seen since leaving Port Nolloth! I gave him a cheery wave and shouted a greeting, which he returned with less enthusiasm and the breathlessness born of the long uphill. He may have been puzzled by the friendliness of someone he had never seen before, but I felt like shouting “Snap!”. Fourteen hundred kilometres is a long way to cycle without seeing another of a like breed.

A few kilometres further on I met his partner – stuck at the side of the road with a punctured tube. I stopped to see if I could be of any assistance. To his dismay he had discovered that his carefully packed spare tube was without a valve. I told him that his partner, long out of sight, was blissfully unaware of his plight and was pushing ahead to the top of the hill. I gave him the spare tube from my saddlebag and wished him well before I pushed on. What goes around, comes around, I thought. Maybe one of these days I will be stuck and a stranger will stop and offer assistance. Besides, being in a position to play the benefactor made me feel good.

The early sighting of the Platberg outside of Harrismith brought back pleasant memories of the occasion, more years ago than I care to remember, when I ran the 16km Harrismith Mountain Race. The course of this famous cross country event comprises a tough 600 metre climb to the top of the Platberg, a run along the crest and a descent along an ancient bridle path that zigzags its way to the foot of the mountain. Very challenging. And made more so on the day I ran it by a dust storm that had all the runners covered with a thick layer of sand by the time we finished. Dirty brown figures with bright white eyes.

Bethlehem to Harrismith proved to be a rather easy ride and it would have been nice to press on beyond Harrismith. However, we needed to be assured of a place to stay – shuttling the bike by car is a bit of a bind and for this reason we decided to stop. We found a caravan park convenient to the N3, but across the most atrocious one-way bridge over the Wilge River, with potholes just waiting to savage a cyclist’s wheels. Pot-holes on a bridge?

The park itself lies on the banks of the Wilge River, in a very pleasant setting, and seems to be home to several permanent caravanners. One of the more interesting groups who arrived shortly after us were two middle aged women in a Land Rover, complete with two roof-top tents. They were extremely well equipped and made themselves comfortable with a practised ease in no time at all.

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Winberg to Bethlehem (139.08KM)

Day 10 - Winberg to Bethlehem

Day 10 - Winberg to Bethlehem

Day 10 – Today’s route took us into the hills of the eastern Free State. We had moved away from the long, gradual uphills, downhills and the long level stretches of the last week into a region that presented shorter and sharper ups and downs.

It wasn’t quite as hot today, although the east wind was stronger towards the end of the cycling day. With a little bit of luck we may be over the period of intense heat now that we are well into the eastern half of the country.

I made an early start and the sunrise over the Maluti Mountains in the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho to the south-east was incredible. The brilliant fire of the sun, the slowly lightening mountains and the deep, dark shadows of the valleys. At home we see the morning sun emerging from the sea; how wonderful to see it rising over the mountains.

We were travelling along a national road again, after several days on main and secondary roads and the traffic on the N5 was considerable. It is not a bad road, but there is no shoulder and the innumerable trucks moving at high speed do little to engender a feeling of comfortable security. To cycle along the edge of a busy road, with the trucks almost brushing your elbows as they flash past is an unsettling experience. A wobble from you, the cyclist, or a momentary lapse of concentration from the driver could find you both occupying the same patch of tar at the same time. The truck driver may not notice, but the cyclist certainly would.

My legs were tired from the start, not having fully recovered from the previous six days and shortly after leaving Winberg my knees showed signs of soreness for the first time. Well, not actually for the first time. They were sore yesterday as well, but I put that down to the dirt road and the amount of standing that it necessitated. All in all day number seven was a very long day. I was tired, the wind was relentless and I seemed to be very low on energy. It was often much easier to change to a lower gear rather than push harder on the pedals.

About 68 kilometres after leaving Winberg we passed through the farming centre of Senekal, standing on the banks of the Klipspruit River. The road climbed gradually out of the valley that sheltered the town and through an area of flat-topped hills that have come to epitomise the eastern Free State. Another 20 kilometres and the N5 brought us to the village of Paul Roux, and then through a landscape of farmlands and koppies until we reached Bethlehem.

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Soutpan to Winberg (107.11 km)

Day 9 - Soutpan to Winberg

Day 9 - Soutpan to Winberg

Day 9 – We left Kimberly for the final time, with more than a little regret at leaving our B&B, just a few minutes after 4.00am. We would not be returning, having reached the end of our three day stay, so we have a fully packed car once again. We travelled the 150 kilometres to Soutpan fairly briskly and arrived at our selected intersection in time to start cycling as the night was giving way to the dawn.

I set off on the mountain bike and after just a few minutes I turned onto the tarred road designated as the R700 for a few hundred metres before turning back onto the dirt for the ride to Brandfort. This road proved better than the road to Soutpan although my body grew increasingly uncomfortable with a vague ache that resulted from the continual jarring.

We met the tarred road about 5km before the little town of Brandfort and it was a pleasure to be back on the road bike, on a tarred road. The road was fairly flat to start, with gradual ups and downs, passing through some really good farming land – cattle, sheep, miellies, sorghum, sunflowers – most of it growing without the benefit of irrigation. With an average rainfall of 550mm each year, these crops flourish in the highveld climate, contrasting sharply with the arid terrain that we had traversed only a day or two before.

The road became very rolling towards Winberg, and ran adjacent to the main road, the N1 from Bloemfontein for some time. I climbed Bell’s Pass just outside Winberg, the crest of which must be 1600 metres or more above sea level. This was probably the highest point reached on the trip thus far and the climb was quite challenging. The road dropped down from the top of the pass to the town of Winberg, which is 1400 metres above sea level, providing a very pleasant end to the day’s ride.

We relaxed around a braai in the evening, the fire for which was made with miellie cobs rather than wood. This, we were told, is the local method. Using miellie cobs as fuel turned out to be rather tricky, as the coals are short lived and I had to re-make the fire in mid-stream in order to get our food cooked. One’s never too old to learn, I guess, even about making a fire.

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Kimberley to Soutpan (146.02 km)

Day 8 - Kimberly to Soutpan

Day 8 - Kimberly to Soutpan

Day 8 – Is there ever any change to this weather pattern? Cool when I started at 5.30am, with the sun rising into a cloudless sky and bringing with it an oppressive heat from which there is simply no shelter. There was little wind to speak of today, which seemed to make the heat even more intolerable. But then, I mused to myself, I seem to complain when the wind blows and to complain even more when it doesn’t. Just what do I want? Well, how about a cool, overcast day with a westerly wind? Just one?

It was a fairly easy ride for the first 115 kilometres from Kimberly. We crossed into the Free State just outside of Kimberly, after which the road went through Boshof – a pretty little village whose residents seem to take great pride in their properties – and on to Dealesville. It is said that the Afrikaner Folk Dances originated in Boshof, and their history is commemorated in the local museum. Indeed, there is even a “Volkspele Monument” not too far to the north of the village.

The road was busy from the time I left Kimberly (it is Easter Monday) and became more so as the day wore on, a bit of a bind for a cyclist as there are no shoulders on the road. The terrain is very flat, with only a few gradual rises and falls, and it is surprisingly arid.

I suffered something of a shock shortly after passing through Dealesville. The road to Soutpan presented as a very rough and badly corrugated dirt road. I was still nursing a slim hope that this would be a tarred road, although it must be said that it was not indicated as such on the map. But this road was really bad. There was no way that I could continue on the road bike. For the first time on the trip the road conditions insisted that it was time for the mountain bike.

A farmer stopped to chat to us as we changed over cycles and he seemed to be very interested in our endeavours, but had a little difficulty in grasping the fact that I was cycling from coast to coast, seeming to be more impressed that I intended cycling to Soutpan that day. He warned us, with an embarrassed smile, that the road to Soutpan was in poor condition.

He wasn’t wrong. These were 30 very rough kilometres. It is a very interesting route, however, taking us through many farmlands, and also through an area dotted with salt pans.

Shortly before reaching Soutpan we passed the turnoff to the mineral springs of Florisbad, where, in 1932 Professor Thomas Dreyer discovered the skull of “Florisbad Man” in peat deposits dating back, by recent estimates, some 260 000 years. Can you begin to comprehend 260 000 years ago? It seemed eerie to imagine Florisbad Man, and presumably Florisbad Woman and Florisbad Children, roaming these plains in search of food, water, shelter and safety.

A few kilometres further on I reached Soutpan, which turned out to be a really small settlement that hardly merited the title “village”. But it was the end of the day’s ride, which made it very popular in my book. We stopped at an intersection that made an easy reference point for the re-start the following morning and loaded up the bike for the long drive back to Kimberly.

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Griekwastad to Kimberley (150.43 km)

Day 7 - Griekwastad to Kimberly

Day 7 - Griekwastad to Kimberly

Day 7 – We suffered the first real disaster with respect to our starting time this morning – we had to drive the 150km from Kimberley to Griekwastad, which meant that a very early start was required, and I didn’t set the alarm clock properly. The result was a 5.00am start from Kimberley instead of a 4.00am start, and I didn’t actually start riding until after 6.30am – the church in Griekwastad chimed the half-hour as I was unloading the bike. Was this the bell on the famous Mary Moffat church? I asked myself. And I was the wrong person to ask, because I didn’t know the answer, but I would like to think it was.

The bad timekeeping worked out pretty well in the end, however, with the ride turning out to be very pleasant. Incidentally, we saw a kudu on the road while driving between Campbell and Griekwastad in the early morning light, so maybe all the “leaping kudu” signs along this road are not just to keep the tourists amused.

Once again it was fairly cool when I started, becoming very hot by the time the ride ended. There was no wind to speak of, which was a relief, but there was also no cloud cover to offer protection from the sun. The road was slowly undulating as it crossed a rather unremarkable plain and provided what could be the easiest 150km that I have ever ridden. The first stop was at 50km, just past the little village of Campbell where, in 1831, the London Missionary Society had established a church; we had tea at 90km and a further break at 120km after crossing over the Vaal River at Schmidtsdrif.

This latter stop was for a small celebration and the taking of a photograph as it took place at the halfway point mentioned by TV Bulpin in Discovering South Africa, 5th Edition, on page 264. Allow me to quote. “Halfway between Schmidtsdrif and Kimberley, the tarmac road passes a curious isolated hillock which has been used as a gravel quarry. This hillock, known as Bakenskop (beacon summit) marks the centre of South Africa at its widest point, for it stands half-way between the East Coast at St Lucia and the west coast at Oranjemund.”

And so on to Kimberley. It really is a treat to have a comfortable base to which we can return, especially as I have been sleeping rather badly and just seem to be getting progressively more tired. We are in good spirits, however, in spite of the heat, which is really debilitating. We have been told several times that this heat is completely unseasonable and that it should really be cooler. Which may be a useful piece of meteorological trivia, but is really of small solace. We won’t be here next year when the weather is more typical.

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