This tour has been designed to offer riders an exciting, off-the-beaten-track adventure through South African Cape region, without breaking the bank. Mountains, coast and desert come at no extra cost and the scenery and riding are spectacular. It also has a super trail ride, a wildlife/safari element and great eating.
Accommodation is at the budget end of the market, with some venues that we would describe as ‘basic’. However, the rooms and facilities are always clean and the locations carefully chosen. If you are looking for five-star hotels, please choose another tour. If, however, sitting around a camp fire, with a sky full of stars appeals, then this is for you.
There will be a maximum of seven bikes available on this tour. The machines used will be Suzuki DL650 V-Stroms which are gutsy, economical, comfortable for passengers and capable on dirt roads with the right tyres. As an upgrade we also offer the BMW F800GS, a top-spec dual-purpose machine. There is also the BMW F700GS, ideal for smaller physiques. For further information on BIKES and the terms and conditions of hire, please go HERE.
As a participant in this tour you’ll fly to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape and be met by Blazing Trails staff. We will transfer to our base in Addo (around 40 minutes by road) where we will give you a briefing on the trip ahead and we will enjoy a traditional barbecue. The following day we will hit the wonderful road.
When riding there will be a lead rider and on-bike luggage will be provided. Tour participants will navigate using a ‘marker’ (also known as a ‘buddy’) system, whereby the rider behind the leader drops off and waits to guide those coming behind.
If there are two or more of you wishing to ride this route but our dates do not suit, then please contact us and we will endeavour to arrange something that fits your needs.
The riding on this tour is a mix of tarmac, graded dirt roads and some fantastic and remote trails. As far as is possible the tour has been designed to avoid major routes.
Day 1: Fly
Fly overnight from the UK to JHB and on to Port Elizabeth Airport.
Day 2: Arrive & Transfer to Addo
Arrive at PE, where you will be met and transported (40 mins) to your overnight accommodation, where the Blazing Trails staff will brief you on the adventure ahead and introduce you to ‘your’ bike. Come early evening, we will gather for a ‘braai’ – a classic South African meal, cooked over an open fire
Day 3: Addo to Port Alfred
A super day of riding begins with a ride over Secret Pass, a steep climb through a private reserve brimming with game. The dirt track is a little challenging, but more than worth the effort. A regulation graded dirt road then takes us to Fort Beaufort from where we ace the twisites along the edge of the Great Fish River Reserve. We end the day on the Sunshine Coast.
DAY 4: Port Alfred to Prince Alfred’s Pass
The journey to our next over-nighter will be mainly on the old Route 62 through the Langkloof, a beautiful, quiet, swooping road through farms and pastureland. The main event begins when we leave the 62 and head over the deliriously beautiful Prince Alfred’s Pass. The day ends on the mountain’s downside in a fun and characterful stop, with beer and great food.
DAY 5: Prince Alfred’s Pass to Mossel Bay
There’s plenty more epic Cape riding as we head back to the coast, for lunch at the fashionable beauty spot of Knysna. And again when we pick up the Seven Passes route, for a mix of tar and gravel to George and then on to Mossel Bay, where we will enjoy an evening meal overlooking the ocean.
Day 6: In Mossel Bay
There is plenty to do in and around this small coastal town. Popular options include cage diving with great white sharks (conditions permitting) and coastal walks. Less adventurous types might like to visit the interesting museum, or hang out in the numerous bars and restaurants instead.
Day 7: Mossel Bay to Point Agulhas
Following a mix of highway and lesser rural roads, both tarred and gravel, we will head for the southern tip of Africa. There should be the opportunity to view local wildlife as we go, with blue cranes and sacred ibis among the avifauna; springbok and blessbok representing the four-legged beasties. We will cross the Breede River on the famous hand-pulled ferry at Malgas, before a visit to Agulhas Lighthouse and the point where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet.
Day 8: Agulhas to Oudtshoorn
After a hearty breakfast we’ll be off heading for the mountains and the spectacular Tradouw Pass, which carries us over the mountain ridge that seperates the Klein Karoo Desert from the coastal Cape. From Barrydale we will follow a riding classic – Route 62. This road is a combination of straight scrub-desert cruise and pass-climbing nadgery, as it carries us swiftly through the open spaces, past ostrich farms and timeless colonial villages. We will overnight in the town of Oudtshoorn, among the ostriches and desert landscapes.
DAY 9: Oudtshoorn to Addo
We turn west, towards the coast and pass of the day, the Outeniqua, a tarred snake heading down to the coast. Next, we ride the whole of the Garden Route (some 400km, sticking mainly to the old road, not the main highway). We will take in beautiful coastal views before turning inland, back to our funky backpackers among the lemon groves of Addo.
Day 10: in Addo
We have the whole day in which to explore the National Park. Elephant, kudu, warthog, eland, jackal and zebra-sightings are near-certainties. Observations of Cape buffalo, spotted hyena, back rhino and lion are also possible. The Addo flightless dung beetle occurs nowhere else!
Day 11: Addo to Port Elizabeth, to home…
You are leaving today, so will be transported to the airport for the flight home. Goodbye and keep your chin up as you face the expectation of a cold country, with crowded roads, expensive booze and steaks the size of tupenny bits.
In ten wordsGreat dirt/tarmac riding in a superb setting. Top value.
Riding LevelMost of the riding is fairly easy going, with some great twisty passes. There are a lot of graded dirt roads and one short tougher trail. Tarmac: 60%; dirt 40%.
Pillion RatingOn the whole, this tour is good for pillions. Mainly smooth dirt and tarmac roads, but the ride is a bit of a challenge in places.
Accommodation & MealsThis is a budget tour. All breakfasts and a couple of evening meals are included. If you're after fun, rather than four-star, this is for you. The food is cheap and good everywhere.
WHAT THE TOUR PRICE INCLUDES
- International Flights (optional)
- Bike Hire
- All Internal Transfers
- Nine Nights Accommodation
- Meals: 9 breakfasts; 2 dinners
- Other Meals
- Tolls, Entry Fees and Excursions
- Damage Excess on bikes
You will need a passport and appropriate travel insurance. Currently UK citizens (and those from most countries) will be granted a tourist visa upon arrival. It is, however, your responsibility to check that you can legally enter the country. Most ‘western’ driving licences are also valid, but please also check your status before travelling.
You should be able to get by on around £600 spending money if you don’t do a lot of shopping/drinking and depending on tour-length. Cash and travellers’ cheques can be changed at the airport and in the larger towns. Cash points are widespread and most vendors accept credit/debit cards. Cash is best for fuel stations as it speeds up what can otherwise be a lengthy process. Depending on the tour, what bike you choose and how you ride it, expect to part with £150-£200 for fuel.
South African currency called rand. Today for £1 you will get 20 rands.
At the time of year we will be visiting, South Africa should be nice and sunny, but not too hot, even at the coast. Obviously, though, we can’t guarantee this and you should be prepared for the possibility of a couple of wet days. If it does rain in the mountains it can be a bit chilly, but not really cold. The maximum temperature is likely to be around 30ºC on the coast; the minimum 8ºC (at night in the mountains, if it has been overcast during the day).
We advise riders to consider their kit in terms of layers, so you can adjust to be comfortable during the course of a varied day. Clothing as you would wear on a tour of Europe is perfectly suitable, whether leathers, or textiles. Some kind of waterproofing is a very good idea. Good gear can also prevent a minor spill causing a trip-ruining injury, so we require that you ride with no exposed skin (except your face).
While on some tours your main luggage will be carried in a support vehicle, you may wish to bring a small rucksack, or tail-pack (no tank bags) in which to carry articles you need on the road. Your main bag must be ‘soft’ and not a suitcase.
You need not be any more fit on this tour than if you were riding in Europe. However, if you have any existing medical condition that may affect you during the tour, please consult your doctor and Blazing Trails before booking.
While we insist those joining us have a full motorcycle licence, and recommend a minimum of a year’s riding experience, time in the saddle and miles ridden are of more relevance to an adventures like these. There are some fairly long days in the saddle, up to a maximum of around 450km (280 miles) in a day. We do, though, try to design the tours so you get an easier day, or down day, after a long ride.
Health & Hygiene
South Africa is a very clean and hygienic country (we’d say more so than the UK), with clean ablutions in abundance, and safe tap-water, so the chances of getting even a ‘holiday tummy’ are low. South Africa has an extremely low incidence of Malaria – unheard of on our routes (bar NSA), but we still recommend that you ask your physician for advice on inoculations. If you have any pre-existing medical condition, it is essential that you consult both Blazing Trails and your physician before booking.
Eating & Drinking
South African restaurant food will be familiar to those coming from the West. Food is of a high standard and is very good value (especially meat and seafood dishes), being around half the equivalent cost of the UK. One of the world’s great wine producers, South Africa is a great place to sample the grape, which is also great value for money. Decent beers (mainly lagers) are available everywhere.
On our tours breakfasts are always inclusive. The meals will only be inclusive where there is little or no choice, or where we have arranged something special (barbeques etc). For the number of meals included in the trip, see ‘What The Tour Price Includes’ in the tour overview. We have arranged our tours like this, so participants can choose the whats, wheres and explore for themselves. Not everybody wants to eat in a group every night, eat the same thing, or at the same time. We will, however, be happy to advise on eateries and participants can always eat with staff if they choose to do so…
As with eating, we do not want to prescribe what non-riding activities you choose to participate in. In many places there are several options, so we will be happy to advise, put you in touch with the right people and let you decide.
While South Africa has had some pretty bad press in recent years for violent crime, very little of this nature happens in the tourist areas through which we will be travelling. And, as ever, the media tends to sensationalize the bad and ignore the good. Being guided through the ‘right’ areas in a group greatly mitigates the chances of encountering unpleasantness. Petty crime – pick-pocketing and theft – happens, as it does in virtually all tourist destinations with a wide gulf between rich and poor. A few simple precautions, like keeping your wallet/docs in an inside pocket and leaving nothing unattended on the bike, should mean a trouble-free tour.
Unlike our Asian tours, we feel South Africa has developed enough emergency services and an efficient private health-care system (along with European standards of driving) to mean that we don’t need to travel with a fully-qualified medic. Travel insurance, including medical cover, is compulsory on this trip.
are Flights included?
Yes, (if you are booking from the UK) all flights, international and domestic, are included in the price of your tour, unless you specify otherwise, by clicking on ‘Exclude Fight’ during the booking process.
How do I book?
The tours can be booked online, by email, or over the phone on: +44 (0) 7494 050404. To secure a place you will be asked to put down a deposit of £700 and payment can be made by card, cheque, or bank transfer.
CAN I BOOK FROM OUTSIDE THE UK?
Yes. If you are booking from outside the UK, please contact us and we can help you plan you trip.
CAN I TAKE A DIFFERENT FLIGHT?
You can, but we may have to add a surcharge if you are not on the group flight. Please contact us for details.
Where do I get a visa?
For many nationalities, a tourist visa is issued free of charge at your port of entry. It is, however, your responsibility to check current regulatuons.
What other paperwork do I need?
You will need a valid certificate of travel insurance.
WHERE DO the bikes come from?
We own and manage our own fleet of bikes.
WHat happens if i damage the bike?
If you damage the bike, you will be charged for the damage up to the amount of your excess. On all our bikes, the excess is £1000, so in the event of a mishap you will not be charged more than this amount. If the damage is less than this amount, then you will only be charged for that damage.
If you have damaged the bike near to this total, we may ask you to place a further deposit before continuing.
DO I NEED INSURANCE?
Yes, you need travel insurance to cover you for the period of the tour. This insurance must cover you to ride the bike you have booked. Blazing Trails has an agreement with Endsleigh Insurance who provide reasonably priced policies with the requisite cover.
Where should I change money?
We would advise that you change some money on arrival at the airport. ATMs are widespread and an efficient way to get hold of cash. Credit and debit cards are accepted nearly everywhere.
why did the mexican push his wife off the cliff?
How much spending money will I need?
About 300-£400 should cover food, drink, petrol and sundries.
Will I have to share a room?
Yes, unless you pay a supplement. Even then, single rooms may not be available at some stops as the hotels we use are popular, or in some cases small, and we have to book our accommodation some time in advance.
What standard is the accommodation?
It varies widely (and tour-to-tour), but is always clean and the best we can find in the area for a reasonable price in a suitable setting. We are always in clean, comfortable hotels and guesthouses.
Will we have electricity?
Yes, but you may need a travel plug adaptor.
How much riding experience do I need?
We would recommend only booking a tour with us if you have a licence to ride your tour bike (compulsory) and have at least a year’s recent riding experience. The main criterion, however, is confidence.
Is riding in south africa dangerous?
Riding anywhere carries with it a degree of risk, as does riding in South Africa. However, with light traffic and good roads, we would suggest that riding in South Africa is no more dangerous than a tour in Europe. For more information on the riding side of things see ‘Riding’ in the ‘About South Africa’ section of this site. If any rider joining us rides in a manner we suspect will endanger themselves, or others, or indeed displays antisocial behaviour, they will receive one warning. If they continue to display a threat to the safety or enjoyment of others on the tour, they will be excluded from the remainder (with no refund given, see terms and conditions).
How fast will we be riding?
We will be riding ‘progressively’, at or around the speed limit and according to conditions. Most South African roads outside built-up areas have a 75mph speed limit – fast enough on the twisties. There are fixed cameras and mobile speed traps in towns…
Do I have to book my own flights?
No, we do that for you and forward the ticket by email.
Can I use the bike in the evenings?
No, you can’t ride independently of the tour group, sorry.
How fit do I need to be?
No fitter than you would have to be to tour Europe.
Can I take a pillion?
How much luggage can I bring?
You are limited by most airlines, so check with the carrier. However, we suggest you pack as lightly and in as compact a form as possible. Bring only soft luggage to be carried on a support truck.
How much luggage should I bring?
Keep it minimal. One set of riding kit for the tour and a few sets of clothes for the evening. There are usually laundry facilities at two-night stops – check your chosen itinerary. Leave some space for shopping you do in SA.
Isn’t south africa A Dangerous crime hell?
While South Africa has had some pretty bad press in recent years for violent crime, very little of this nature happens in the tourist areas through which we will be travelling. And, as ever, the media tends to sensationalise the bad and ignore the good. Being guided through the ‘right’ areas in a group greatly mitigates the chances of encountering unpleasantness. Petty crime – pick-pocketing and theft – happens, as it does in virtually all tourist destinations with a wide gulf between rich and poor. A few simple precautions, like keeping your wallet/docs in an inside pocket and leaving nothing unattended on the bike, should mean a trouble-free tour. You will be briefed on sensible measures prior to setting off.
Do I need a towel?
If you’re wet, yes. They are provided throughout the tour.
Is food included in the price?
Only some meals (check your tour for details). We prefer that where there are choices you make your own on what and where we eat. You will find South African food of a very high standard and good value.
Is it safe to enter a cage full of cheetahs?
It seems not, as we can no longer offer this experience…
Are laundry facilities available on-tour?
They are, but not every night. Check the itinerary of your tour – you will be able to get clothes cleaned at two-night stops, so consider this when packing.
Do I need waterproofs?
Yes. If your riding kit isn’t waterproof, then bring some light waterproofs.
I want to see a lion, will I, will I, go on, please?
Maybe, maybe not, but if you take part in a safari at Kruger, St Lucia, or Addo Elephant Reserve you will certainly see some interesting wildlife and landscapes.
Will there be a mozzie problem?
Not really. There may be a few around, but you won’t be plagued. Bring some repellent. South Africa is pretty much malaria-free, but for advice on anti-malarials, please consult your doctor (take the itinerary with you).
what’s the difference between a gnu and a wildebeest?
You can’t paddle a wildebeest.
Do I need to bring a sleeping bag?
IS IT SAFE TO swim in the sea?
Depends on whether there are any great whites around. We would advise you to ask locally – and then go and get a beer instead.
What medication should I bring & what inoculations are required?
Consult your GP/travel clinic for immunisation and malaria advice. Bring enough of any prescribed medication you take regularly. A basic first aid kit is useful (plasters, antiseptic cream, bite/sting relief, plus insect repellent).
Should I bring a seat pad?
Gel or air pads add comfort on long days in the saddle, but are not necessary.
I HEAR THAT ELEPHANTS ARE THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN NEPAL – IS THIS TRUE?
Yes, but you’re going to South Africa.
ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA
Riding in South Africa
If you’re looking for a bike tourer’s paradise, then look no further. The riding in South Africa is blissfully diverse and always interesting, with generous speed limits – on most major roads 120kph (75mph), lesser routes 100kph (60mph) and in towns 60kph (35mph). Vehicles drive on the left and the general standard of driving is high… and polite.
Roads differ greatly, and although the general standard of surfaces is high and routes are smooth, there are areas with lots of potholes. Some minor roads are graded dirt, but these are generally well maintained and smooth. We have scoured the country for what we believe are the best combinations of riding, natural beauty and interest. The riding quality comes high on the agenda and what riding it is – mainly twisty, grippy and sublimely scenic.
The Rand is South Africa’s currency and you will find everything cheap. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are commonplace.
There are currently 20 Rands to the UK Pound.
South Africa has nine provinces, which vary considerably in size. The smallest is tiny and crowded Gauteng, a highly urbanised region, and the largest is the vast, arid and empty Northern Cape, which takes up almost a third of South Africa’s total land area.
On dry land, going from west to east, South Africa shares long borders with Namibia and Botswana, touches Zimbabwe, has a longitudinal strip of border with Mozambique to the east, and lastly curves in around Swaziland before rejoining Mozambique’s southern border.
In the interior, nestled in the curve of the bean-shaped Free State, is the small mountainous country of Lesotho, completely surrounded by South African territory.
South Africa has three capitals: Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Pretoria. The Western Cape city of Cape Town, where the country’s Parliament is found, is the legislative capital. In the Free State, Bloemfontein is the judicial capital, and home to the Supreme Court of Appeal. In Gauteng province, Pretoria, where the Union Buildings and a large proportion of the civil service are found, is the administrative capital, and the ultimate capital of the country.
The largest and most important city is Johannesburg, the economic heart of the country. Other important centres include Durban and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
Climate and Topography
Although the country is classified as semi-arid, it has considerable variation in climate as well as topography. The great inland Karoo plateau, where rocky hills and mountains rise from sparsely-populated scrubland, is very dry, and gets more so in the north-west, towards the Kalahari desert. Extremely hot in summer, it can be icy in winter.
In contrast, the eastern coastline is lush and well watered, a stranger to frost. The southern coast, part of which is known as the Garden Route, is rather less tropical but also green, as is the Cape of Good Hope – the latter especially so in winter.
This south-western corner of the country has a Mediterranean climate, with wet winters and hot, dry summers. Its most famous climatic characteristic is its wind, which blows intermittently virtually all year round, either from the south-east or the north-west.
The eastern section of the Karoo does not extend as far north as the western part, giving way to the flat landscape of the Free State, which though still semi-arid receives somewhat more rain.
North of the Vaal River, the Highveld is better watered, and saved by its altitude (Johannesburg lies at 1740m; its average annual rainfall is 760mm) from subtropical extremes of heat. Winters are cold, though snow is rare.
Further north and to the east, especially where a drop in altitude beyond the escarpment gives the Lowveld its name, temperatures rise: the Tropic of Capricorn slices through the extreme north. This is also where one finds the typical South African ‘Bushveld,’ famed for its wildlife.
Those looking for an opportunity to ski in winter head for the high Drakensberg mountains that form South Africa’s eastern escarpment, but the coldest place in the country is Sutherland in the barren Roggeveld Mountains, with midwinter temperatures as low as -15ºC.
The deep interior provides the hottest temperatures: in 1948 the mercury hit 51.7ºC in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington.
Oceans and Rivers
By far South Africa’s biggest neighbour is the ocean – or two oceans, which meet at the southwestern corner. Its territory includes Marion and Prince Edward Islands, nearly 2000km from Cape Town in the Atlantic Ocean.
The cold Benguela current sweeps up from the Antarctic along the Atlantic coast, laden with plankton and providing rich fishing grounds. The east coast has the north-to-south Mozambique/Agulhas current to thank for its warm waters. These two currents have a major effect on the country’s climate, the ready evaporation of the eastern seas providing generous rainfall while the Benguela current retains its moisture to cause desert conditions in the west.
Several small rivers run into the sea along the coastline, but none are navigable and none provide useful natural harbours. The coastline itself, being fairly smooth, provides only one good natural harbour, at Saldanha Bay north of Cape Town. A lack of fresh water prevented major development here. Nevertheless, busy harbours exist at Richards Bay and Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, East London and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, and Mossel Bay and Cape Town in the Western Cape. An additional commercial port, the Port of Ngqura, is being developed off the coast from Port Elizabeth.
There are only two major rivers in South Africa: the Limpopo, a stretch of which is shared with Zimbabwe, and the Orange (with its tributary, the Vaal) which runs with a variable flow across the central landscape from east to west, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at the Namibian border.
In so dry a country, dams and irrigation are extremely important: the largest dam is the Gariep on the Orange River.
Best known South African beasts are the mammals, and the best known of these are the famous Big Five: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo. There will be opportunities to see these animals on all our South African tours.
South Africa’s bushveld and savannah regions are still home to large numbers of the mammals universally associated with Africa. The Kruger National Park alone has well over 10,000 elephants and 20,000 buffalo – in 1920 there were an estimated 120 elephants left in the whole of South Africa!
The white rhino has also been brought back from the brink of extinction and now flourishes both in the Kruger National Park and the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal. Attention now is on protecting the black rhino. Both these parks are home to all of the Big Five.
Aside from occupying the top rung of the predation ladder, the lion also tops the glamour stakes. Sadly, it does have one formidable enemy in humankind, which has expelled it from most of the country so that it now remains almost exclusively in conservation areas. The beautiful leopard survives in a larger area, including much of the southern Cape and far north of the country, although numbers are small in some places.
The cheetah population is comparatively small and confined mostly to the far north (including the Kruger National Park), the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape, and reserves in KwaZulu-Natal and North West province.
Lesser Known Wildlife
Other quintessentially African large animals are the hippo, giraffe, kudu, wildebeest (the famous gnu) and zebra, all frequently seen in South Africa’s conservation areas.
Heightened awareness, however, has created an increased appreciation of lesser known animals. A sighting of the rare tsessebe (a relative of the wildebeest) may cause as much excitement as the sight of a pride of lion. And while one can hardly miss a nearby elephant, spotting the shy little forest-dwelling suni (Livingstone’s antelope) is cause for self-congratulation.
Other Mammal Species
With well over 200 species, a short survey of South Africa’s indigenous mammals is a contradiction in terms. A few examples will help to indicate the range.
In terms of appeal, primates rate highly. In South Africa they include the nocturnal bushbabies, vervet and samango monkeys, and chacma baboons, which – encouraged by irresponsible feeding and under pressure through loss of habitat – have become unpopular as raiders of homes on the Cape Peninsula.
Dassies (hyraxes, residents of rocky habitats) and meerkats (suricates, familiar from their alert upright stance) have tremendous charm, although the dassie can be an agricultural problem. The secretive nocturnal aardvark (which eats ants and is the only member of the order Tubulidentata) and the aardwolf (which eats termites and is related to the hyaena) are two more appealing creatures, and both are found over virtually the whole country.
One mammal whose charm is recently acquired is the wild dog or Cape hunting dog, one of Africa’s most endangered mammals. Once erroneously reviled as indiscriminate killers but now appreciated both for their ecological value and their remarkably caring family behaviour, wild dog packs require vast territories. They are found in small numbers in the Kruger National Park and environs, northern KwaZulu-Natal (including the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park), the Kalahari, and the Madikwe reserve in North West province.
More common canine carnivores are the hyaena, jackal and bat-eared fox. Feline carnivores – besides the big cats mentioned above – include the caracal with its characteristic tufted ears, the African wild cat and the rare black-footed cat. Other flesh eaters include the civet, genet and several kinds of mongoose.
The plant eaters are well represented by various antelope, from the little duiker to the large kudu and superbly handsome sable antelope, which is found only in the most northerly regions.
Marine Mammals and Fish
Of the eight whale species found in South African waters, the most frequently seen by humans is the southern right whale. This imposing creature comes into coastal bays to calve, allowing for superb land-based viewing.
The southern right whale represents one of conservation’s success stories. Once considered the “right” whale to hunt, its population became so depleted that it was designated a protected species.
South Africa’s seas are rich in fish species. Perhaps the most famous of these being the great white shark, but this is only one of more than 2000 species, comprising 16 per cent of the world’s total. Various line fish, rock lobster and abalone are of particular interest to gourmets, while pelagic fish (sardines and pilchards) and hake have large-scale commercial value.
The crocodile still rules some stretches of river and estuary, lakes and pools, exacting an occasional toll in human life. Other aquatic reptiles of note are the sea-roaming loggerhead and leatherback turtles, the focus of a major community conservation effort at their nesting grounds on the northern KwaZulu-Natal shoreline.
South Africa’s land reptiles include rare tortoises and the fascinating chameleon. There are well over 100 species of snake. While about half of them, including the python, are non-venomous, others – such as the puff adder, green and black mamba, boomslang and rinkhals – are decidedly so.
The country’s comparative dryness accounts for its fairly low amphibian count – 84 species. To make up for that, however, South Africa boasts over 77,000 species of invertebrates.
Birders from around the world visit South Africa to experience the country’s great variety, including migrants, and endemics (those birds found only in South Africa).
Of the 850 or so species that have been recorded in South Africa, about 725 are resident or annual visitors, and about 50 of these are endemic or near-endemic.
Apart from the resident birds, South Africa hosts a number of intra-African migrants such as cuckoos and kingfishers, as well as birds from the Arctic, Europe, Central Asia, China and Antarctica during the year.
South Africa’s birdlife ranges from the ostrich – farmed in the Oudtshoorn district of the Western Cape, but seen in the wild mostly in the north of the country – through such striking species as the hornbills to the ubiquitous LBJs (“Little Brown Jobs”).
Among the most spectacular birds of South Africa are the cranes, most easily spotted in wetlands. The beautiful blue crane is South Africa’s national bird, while the crowned crane is probably the flashiest of the three with its unmistakable prominent crest.
Among its larger bird species, South Africa also has several eagles and vultures. Among its most colourful are kingfishers, bee-eaters, sunbirds, the exquisite lilac-breasted roller, and the Knysna and purple-crested louries.
Some 50 million South Africans live in a country of 1,219,090 square kilometres (twice the size of Texas). Racially, the South African population is 79 per cent black, nine per cent white, nine per cent ‘coloured’ and three per cent Asian.
By far the major part of the population classified itself as African or black, but it is not culturally or linguistically homogeneous. Major ethnic groups include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho (South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndebele, all of which speak ‘Bantu’ languages.
Private medical facilities are of a high, ‘first-world’ standard in Major towns, but lacking in more rural areas. The areas through which we are travelling are well served and so we will not be carrying a medic as we do on some Asian routes.
You must have appropriate travel insurance to undertake any tour.
Most of South Africa is free from malaria, but there are some incidences in the Kruger National Park area. Please consult your physician, or travel clinic, about malaria and other medical risks.
Tap water is safe to drink and food hygiene comparable with Europe.
South Africa has a high incidence of AIDS, but this can be avoided by not shagging people.
Politics & History
South Africa’s human, or hominid, history is among the oldest in the world – dating back some 3 million years. All a bit much to deal with here, though if your tour includes Mossel Bay, you can visit Pinnacle Caves, where modern behaviour is said to have started 170,000 years ago.
Fast-forward to 1652 and the arrival of a Dutch settlement, a provisioning post for the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope. The first European to have set foot in South Africa may have been Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, but Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck, in setting up the provisioning port that was to become Cape Town, began the process of colonization – a process that led to countless wars and political woes that resonate to this day.
Ten years after the founding of the colony, there were 250 ‘whites’ living in Cape Town and by the early 1700s, the numbers had swelled to the point that independent farmers (Boers) started pushing out to the north and east, becoming ‘Trekboers’ in the process. Although a relatively peaceful expansion at first, mutual trading with the indigenous peoples soon turned to conflict over issues such as cattle-theft and the ownership of natural resources.
The Trekboers gained ground steadily as the local Khoisan tribespeople succumbed to superior technology and foreign diseases borne by the Boers and their slaves.
In 1765, the British took over the administration of The Cape from the Dutch, due to political shifts in Europe. It was returned to the Dutch in 1802, but was again under British control following their defeat of Napoleon (to whom the Dutch had allied themselves) in 1806.
As the settlement at The Cape began to grow in the 18th Century, the process of expansion continued and new lands were sought out to the east, mainly along the coastline, which brought the settlers into conflict with the nomadic Xhosa herders and triggered the Cape Frontier Wars. In 1820 around 5000 British settlers had been introduced to the eastern frontier in order to provide a buffer against the Xhosa people. The Xhosa fought fiercely, but by 1860 their defiance was all but over.
Meanwhile (following the British ban on slavery in 1834) around 12,000 disgruntled Afrikaners looking for independence began a further emigration to the north and east in what became known as ‘The Great Trek’. Many looked to settle on the fertile plains of what is now Kwa-Zulu Natal, where they came into conflict with the Zulus. The Zulus had grown increasingly strong in the early 1800s as King Shaka expanded his martial control of the area. When the first Trekkers arrived in Zulu territory and attempted to bargain for land, they were killed by Shaka’s successor, Dingane.
Undeterred, the Boers fought to remain in Natal and achieved a notable victory over the Zulu at The Battle of Blood River. Boers began to settle in Natal to the point that the British, worried about the influence they might exert back in the Cape, annexed Natal, where they had already established a small colony at what was to become Durban.
Around the same time, those Boers who had pushed into the central north of South Africa declared themselves independent, forming the Republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (or Transval). Only a fraction of South Africa now remained in Native hands, the largest group being the Zulus, who still held on to northern Natal.
Also held by black, Bantu-speaking people was what is now Lesotho, annexed by Britain on the request of King Moshoeshoe. Known at the time as Basotholand, this nation, now perhaps the best motorcycling country on our planet, is entirely land-locked by South Africa and has never been a part of it.
Even the mighty Zulu Nation was eventually to be defeated, but not without making its mark on the British consciousness. The British authorities in Natal put ever more pressure on the Zulus, led by King Cetshwayo, until conflict became inevitable. The Zulu wars began with the British forces suffering an humiliating defeat at Isandhlwana in 1879. Some British honour was restored shortly afterwards at Rorke’s Drift (which we visit on the Northern South Africa Tour) and the Zulu power-base was destroyed within a year. Zululand was incorporated into Natal in 1897.
Britain next set its sights on control of the Boer-held Transval, annexing it in 1877, only to be ousted by rebellion. Granted limited independence in 1881, full autonomy was bestowed in 1884, with staunch pro-Afrikaner Paul Kruger as its President. The Transval was of no great political interest to the British Empire until, two years after independence, large gold reserves were identified. With the finds came prospectors – mainly British – who Kruger saw as politically dangerous, as if they qualified to vote, they could threaten Boer independence. Thus, a number of regulations were set up to prevent these ‘uitlanders’ (‘foreigners’) from voting.
Using this discrimination as a reason, or an excuse, October 1899 saw half-a-million Imperial troops take on 65,000 Boers, with many black soldiers bolstering the ranks on both sides. The British were to suffer many humiliating blows at the hands of the hard-fighting Boers. Eventually, however, the sheer scale of British resources, and their brutal, scorched earth tactics overcame the Afrikaners. In order to prevent the Boer guerilla army having any shelter, their families and supporters were imprisoned in concentration camps. Some 26,000 women and children, plus 14,000 blacks and ‘coloureds,’ perished in the primitive conditions.
The Boer War ended in 1902.
The Imperial Phase
If the black population of South Africa saw the British victory over the severely racist Afrikaners as a reason for hope, they were to be sorely disappointed. The treaties by which the war had ended gave a measure of autonomy to each of the four colonies that comprised the country – and the ex-Boer states would appoint their blacks with no democratic franchise. By 1910 a central government, under the Union of South Africa banner, was formed. The South African Party (SAP) held power, under the leadership of staunch Boer General Louis Botha.
In order to prevent any threat to white supremacy, the SAP introduced laws which reserved all skilled work for whites, black-only poll taxes, pass cards and the 1913 Land Act, which reserved ownership of 90 per cent of the country’s land for the tiny white minority. The African National Congress (ANC), which had come into being in 1912, sent delegations to London to oppose the Boer laws, but to no avail. Early ANC protests ended with participants beaten and imprisoned.
Over the following two decades consecutive governments continued to undermine democratic rights. In 1934, South Africa was granted independence from Britain and continued along its segregationist path.
In 1944 the ANC Youth League was formed, with AM Lembede as its president and Nelson Mandela as secretary. Post-war South Africa was undergoing a transition, with fast-expanding industries requiring workers and while skilled jobs were still reserved for whites, many blacks moved into urban areas, becoming more defiant of the ruling class.
In 1948 the Nationalist Party came to power, entrenching Apartheid as a matter of national policy and political ideology. Throughout the 1950s, more draconian laws were passed, further separating people along racial lines. The Group Areas Act put further restrictions on the ownership of land; the Population Registration Act meant everyone was categorised into a set racial group and status; the Separate Amenities Act banned racial mixing on buses, in queues and just about everywhere else and the 1952 Pass Laws denied black freedom of movement within the country.
Protest began to gather momentum as did the underhand government methods to stifle it. When the ANC released a ‘Freedom Charter’ in 1955 at the Congress of the People in Soweto, reprisal followed. All 156 ANC leaders were arrested and charged with treason. It took a five-year trial for them to be acquitted and during their imprisonment all black representatives were removed from parliament and provincial councils.
The 1960s began bloodily for South Africa and the rights movement. An anti-pass laws protest in Sharpville, organized by the breakaway Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), was broken up by armed police with the killing of 69 unarmed protesters. The Sharpville Massacre was a decisive turning point. The government declared a state of emergency, the ANC and PAC were banned – and the struggle went underground, forming a militant wing, of which Mandela was a member. In 1962 Mandela received a three-year jail sentence for ‘incitement’ and two years later many of the ANC top brass, including Mandela, were sentenced to life for sabotage.
Despite the setback in leadership, dissent continued and escalated throughout the late 60s and early 70s. When, in 1976, police opened fire on youths protesting over being taught in Afrikaans, massive rioting ensued. In 1976, police killed Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko in custody – and so it went on, a not-so-merry-go-round of repression and struggle under an ongoing state of emergency.
The violence was not exclusively between government and black factions, but often between the factions themselves. The Inkatha Party, led by Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, fought many bloody battles with ANC supporters as the tribal-political power struggles intensified. South Africa was nearing ungovernability, sanctions and pressure from abroad, especially the USA with its huge black electorate was making legitimate statehood untenable. Civil war and the huge backlashes that would bring looked possible and something had to give.
In 1989, Prime Minister PW Botha entered into secret talks with Nelson Mandela, but catching wind of what was happening, Nationalist hard-liners pressured for his resignation. But his successor FW de Klerk kept the dialogue alive and by early 1990 De Klerk had not only lifted restrictions on opposition parties, but had released Mandela, who had served 27 years in prison.
Negotiations began on a new political freedom and two years later the white minority endorsed De Klerk’s libralisations by way of referendum. In 1993 plans for a Government of National Unity were set in place and an interim constitution agreed upon. Just a year later Mandela was sworn in as President, with De Klerk and Thabo Mbeki as joint deputies. Apartheid was over, but challenges remained.
June 1999 saw South Africa’s second free election, again won by the ANC and leaving Thabo Mbeki as president. The ANC’s huge majority increased and a new party emerged in second place, the Democratic Party (now the Democratic Alliance) comprised of liberal elements of the Nationalist Party.
Mbeki went on to win the election in 2004, but was ousted three years later by Jacob Zuma. under a cloud of corruption allegations Zuma was recently replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa. The Democratic Alliance is still the official opposition.
South Africa remains strongly divided along racial lines and in most of the country there is scant social mixing between blacks and whites.
The near-unassailable power of the ANC has lead, many believe, to complacency, nepotism and corruption. While this would appear to be true to an extent, it is still something of a miracle that Mandela’s vision of a Rainbow Nation appears relatively stable and that even after his death South Africans of all races largely rub along together peacefully.
There is no getting away from the fact that South Africa has a major crime problem, with horrifyingly high incidences of murder and rape. Lesser crimes are also common, including muggings and other forms of robbery.
Much of this crime is, however, localised in poorer urban areas and taking a few precautionary steps can mitigate risks while travelling. Moving in a group greatly reduces the chances of becoming a victim of crime and we will be avoiding high-risk areas while on tour.
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