Joined: Jun 2007
Location: Southern Africa
Off at Last
After the inevitable last-minute hustle and bustle of getting bikes ready, locating suitable camping spots and wrapping up our responsibilities, we hit the road from Pretoria via the plots on the eastern side and watch the city skyline fade away in our rear-view mirrors.
The first stop is at Harry’s Pancakes in Cullinan. It’s a long weekend and the place is packed.
Cullinan is famous for its Premier Diamond Mine where the largest diamond ever was found (3106 carats). Today you will find its two largest pieces - known as the Star and Lesser Star of Africa- in the Tower of London. The town itself is a living museum and signboards of all types clamour for attention.
Out of Cullinan on the way to Marble Hall we pass lush farmlands sporting the sort of irrigation technology that the subsistence farmers north of the border cannot even dream of.
Take a good look at these bumper harvests- you won’t see the likes of this in Botswana nor in Namibia.
Local entrepreneurs selling some of the veggies produced on those farmlands along the way to Marble Hall. The town got its name after the discovery of marble there in 1920.
We pass through the townships of the old Bantustans (KwaNdebele, Lebowa) with their colourful shops,
Clapped-out vehicles on and off the road (they look quite similar),
And the occasional river. Prime agricultural land.
We ride past Gompies Dam near Zebediela. The sluices are manually operated, no automation here.
Looking across the water towards our destination behind the Strydpoortberge, it’s time to start thinking about accommodation for the night.
The first attempt to find a suitable camping spot turns out to be a false start, as it heads back to the Rust de Winter resort.
So we end up in the capital of what is today Limpopo province, which bisects the erstwhile homeland of Lebowa (Sekhukuneland). Yeah, name changes are a national pastime here.
This is the municipal camping ground and game reserve on the edge of Polokwane (Pietersburg) where the first of many unpacking and packing exercises start. Although the campsite is a bit run down, the game reserve is surprisingly large, covering more than 3000 hectares. It boasts several of the larger antelopes, including sable antelope, hartebeest, eland and tsessebe. Bikes are not welcome.
It’s pretty chilly as we cook our first supper outside and spend a windblown night in our sleeping bags, while music blares from a neighbour’s bakkie (truck).
After a windy breakfast we repack and set off for the border. The first landmark is the Tropic of Capricorn, near Vivo, from where baobabs start to appear along the road. Time for a team photo while everyone is still spic and span.
It is the end of winter and the land is bone dry, so a lot of fine sand is blowing across the road, blurring the horizon.
From Vivo, we head north to the Pontdrift border post (northernmost border between SA and Botswana) via Alldays.
This is typical bushveld country, popular as a hunting destination.
But it proves surprisingly difficult to buy game meat here, despite the trophies adorning the local butchery, like this gemsbok (oryx) with a wayward horn.
I surprise a kudu just before the border as it walks across the road by cutting my engine and rolling up to it. It panics when it notices the bikes and desperately tries to squeeze through the game fence on the opposite side. Against my expectation, it does not jump, but first thrusts its horns between the wires and then squeezes the rest of its large body through the narrow opening. We are so fascinated that nobody pulls out a camera!
Baobabs line the road as we approach Pontdrift and rocky outcrops replace the flat bushveld further south.
The Limpopo river (border between South Africa and Botswana) is bone dry (surprising, considering the strong flow upstream at Martin’s Drift). It’s just as well, since there is no bridge at this border post and we travel on gravel.
So we enter the Tuli Block region, nestled between Botswana’s borders with South Africa and Zimbabwe. This strange shaped territory was originally ceded to enable Cecil Rhodes’ British South African Company to build the Cape to Cairo railway line. When it became clear that the multitude of rivers and rocky outcrops made it unsuitable for a railway line, it was sold off to private farmers . The border with Zimbabwe follows the semi-circular "cutout", which was established as a no-go area to prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
We crest a rise and the “Block” opens out before us:
It feels like we have landed on a different planet.
Since this is Botswana, we have to go through the Foot & Mouth Disease control process, dipping toes and tyres into a disinfectant bath as we cross controlled areas.
We meet up with our first elephants, who fortunately take little interest in us. They clearly hang around the large clearing in this area and have trod out their own footpaths, littered with droppings.
Turning northwest to Bobonong we have to cross the Matloutse river bed at Solomon’s Wall, a basalt barricade along the edge of the Mashatu reserve.
Lots of sand but no water in the river bed yet.
The “wall” ran across the river once upon a time, only to be worn and washed away by the water. The first diamonds in Botswana were found in the containment area upstream, about fifty years ago.
We see lots of kudus down the river bed while taking a closer look at the roots of the trees on the “wall” growing through the cracks.
We try to find a lodge or campsite en route, but there aren’t any.
Just before turnoff to Bobonong we pass a large ostrich farm. It's the kind of livestock that can survive in these conditions.
We decide to take a look at the Thune River Dam project. Even the local workers are decked out in Chinese overalls.
The valley and riverbed are bone dry- it’s hard to imagine where the water will come from.
The dam wall is in the process of being cast and will probably be completed by the end of the year.
The turnoff to Bobonong marks our exit from the Tuli as well as the start of a good tar road. We manage to restock our water supplies at the town’s carwash and turn west on to the Selebi Phikwe road. It is not worth dodging donkeys in the dark and so we start scanning the sides for the road for a suitable camping spot.
Less than 10 minutes out we pass a GSM tower and reach it via the service road: apart from the multitude of thorns, it’s a perfect spot and we strike camp. We pile some twigs and branches together and soon have a blazing fire going.
After cobbling a grille together with Errol’s Leatherman, we celebrate our first night abroad with the bottle of cabernet I have carefully packed between my clothes.