South Africa: From the Michaelhouse Ball to Zingela Two-up on a KLE 500
From the Ball to Zingela Two-up on a KLE 500
The Cargo pannier bags arrived from the UK almost a year ago and were still unused. The KLE had not seen much dirt recently. A previous, unused, reservation at Zingela Lodge on the Tugela River was waiting to be taken up and we were itching to hit the road. The mid-term break provided the opportunity to break-out. As we were expected at the Michaelhouse Matric Ball we could not be away for the whole week-end, but, as luck would have it, Zingela could accommodate us on the night after the ball.
The evening of the Ball brought unusually warm, clear weather for Balgowan, where the mist inevitably descends after a hot summer day. Wanting to make an interesting entrance, without upstaging any of the matric boys and their partners arriving in limos, on horseback or on a tractor, we set off on the KLE. It actually looks good beneath a tux and evening gear!
Early the next morning we loaded appropriate tools and goodies in the tail-pack, packed the panniers and saddled up the bike. A short shake-down run proved that the bags were too far forward. Laura could get only her heels on the foot-pegs. Moving the rear strap to beneath the tail pack did the trick and after securing the bags with stretchies, we set off. Again the weather played ball and delivered an awesome morning. Deep blue skies lightly airbrushed with wispy white cirrus clouds.
First stop on the R103 in Nottingham Road for fuel before setting course through Mooi River for Estcourt.. The Wimpy at Mooi River was already doing a brisk trade as we passed, grateful that all the cars were either at the Wimpy or on the freeway. Clear skies and good, empty roads. What a day!
The old steel bridge in Estcourt, brought back memories of my youth. This was the route we traveled to Durban from Johannesburg on our annual holiday pilgrimage. Probably passing through the town at the same time in the morning, having left Jo’burg in the dark. Good to see it recently painted and well maintained. The old houses and station buildings in Estcourt are always so attractive. Less so the litter in the ‘downtown’ area !
Just through Estcourt we left the R103, turning right onto the road to Weenen. This junction is easy to miss. The sign post on the Estcourt side has disappeared and, if not lying in the veld, is probably part of a roof somewhere, or in a dodgy scrap-metal dealer’s yard!
About here the uniform green patchwork vegetation of the mistbelt grassland, planted pastures and cultivated pastures are rather suddenly replaced by the exciting textures and colours of the thornveld that is real Africa. An added bonus on this road is the section through the Weenen Game Reserve where you are quite likely to see giraffe, Rhino and other game, so best take care here.
A brief leg stretch at the office of Weenen Reserve became a welcome cup of tea in with friends staying in camp. Bikes are not permitted in the reserve, but the receptionist was happy to keep an eye on the KLE while we enjoyed our brief visit. Perhaps he felt duty-bound to help as he had just charged us R30 each to spend an hour in the park!
Both roads to Zingela are accessed from the R74, one just outside Colenso and the other near Weenen town. We decided to try both, heading into the lodge from the Colenso side and exiting via Weenen. This is where the fun started and the KLE could be put through its dirt track paces. The lodge is about 32km from the tar on road that varies from rutted track to gravel road to badly eroded boulder-strewn track with some sizeable steps and berms. Short stretches of soft sand are thrown in just to keep you alert! Definitely the terrain of 4WD cages and DS bikes! Some wonderfully technical sections to challenge those of us who don’t get out too often, and particularly with a passenger! Once off the good gravel you are seldom out of first of second gear. As we are not highly skilled at standing while riding on rough sections, we decided to do the whole route sitting. This worked fine.
The route passes mielie fields and farmland with many unfenced goats and cows before dropping into the HOT Tugela valley (35o C in the shade) where you pass through game ranch territory. Moving slowly we passed herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala and blesbuck. A kudu lurched off into the dense bush as we rounded one sharp corner.
The lodge is a treat. The hospitality is warm and friendly and attentive. We arrived, dripping sweat, at about two in the afternoon. The bike was parked in the shade of an Acacia tree. Jackets and helmets perched on seat and mirrors to dry. As we were not expecting lunch, we were preparing to head to our lodge until supper. This was not to be. Were guided to the bar and re-hydrated with litres of ice-cold water and coke. Plates of delicious food appeared as if late arrivals are always expected.
The ride was great and the accommodation was a wonderful surprise. Thatch cottages overlooking the river with incomplete stone walls allow the cooling breeze to bring relief from the heat of the valley. The entrances and terraces of the cottage have no doors. At night the staff draw curtains to enclose the bedroom.
The bath protrudes from the bathroom allowing a secluded, but ‘outside’ bathing experience. The shower and loo are en-suite in a stone and reed enclosure beneath the canopy of a shady Acacia tree. Natural features have been incorporated into the design of all cottages. Some have trees, in another a huge vertical rock makes a unique headboard.
Dinner is served in typical African Safari lodge fashion. Staff both host and eat with guests. The food and company were outstanding. Offers of a day on the river were turned down in favour of a quiet morning, before we made for bed after a tiring day.
The front terrace of the cottage was left open and we fell asleep in full view of the stars while the insects provided the rhythm to the nightjar’s melody with the peaceful wash of the river in the background.
After a lazy, relaxing (this was one of the objectives!), well-fed morning, with breakfast equalling the standards of dinner, we hydrated well, packed and donned jackets for the return trip. Luckily the temperature was a little lower than on the inward journey.
The route to Weenen is shorter by about 10km than the Colenso route and, while similar in many respects, has a very steep, eroded, rocky downhill section approaching the Bloukrans Rriver. Hairpin bends make choosing the most comfortable line difficult in some places. First gear and both front and rear brakes are useful on this challenging route. One stretch is solid rock with a number of steps. Interesting! The concrete drift over the river is solid under low water (it was only about 10cm deep today), but at higher levels one would have to take care over rocks on the Zingela side. Once crossing the river one passes through a typical African setting. The gravel road is mostly in a good state, but again livestock have the right of way. School children and local folk were generous with their smiles and waves. The dirt road meets the R74 about 6km from Weenen, our next fuel stop.
After refueling we set off for Muden and Greytown, staying on the R74. Here again, the road is good and the route spectacular. The thornveld, citrus and sugarcane of the valleys gives way to grassland and gum plantations as one climbs to Greytown. This again is awesome riding. No traffic except for school children walking home and numerous goats and some wonderful bends and climbs
Just before the town we turned right onto the R622 to Mooi River and the first “Potholes/Slaggate 10km” sign. The holes we had passed for the previous 10km must have been classed as something else if those ahead were potholes! The really big holes occur after the “Potholes 2km” sign. These are deep and scattered across the width of the road. You don’t want your front wheel to argue with one of these! About 3km short of Rietvlei we had our first bad vibe. I noticed two kids stooping to pick up stones on the side of the road. As we approached they made as if to throw them at us, but dropped them instead. Fun ? Maybe, but different from the warm smiles of the Tugela Valley area.
Soon the familiar sights of Mooiriver came into view, Weston Agricultural College, dairy farms, Bruntville & the Wimpy. We turned left onto the R103 and had to contend with milk trucks, taxis and Midlands Meanderers. Fortunately most of these were quickly dispensed with on the steep hill past Greenfields Farm. Here they are no match a bike and there is space to overtake. Nottingham Road and then home. Another trip safely completed without serious mishap. The route had an awesome mix of tar, dirt, speed, slow technical parts and a huge variety of scenery. Even riders who have not been to the off-road riding schools will manage. We will go back!
Zingela is a fantastic venue at the end of a great ride that offers fun, scenery, variety and challenges. However, it is a peaceful place, so please put the mufflers back in those aftermarket pipes if you plan to head that way. Using the Colenso route in and the Weenen route out seems to be the way to go. Bigger bikes (or more skilled riders, one-up) may find the steep incline from the Bloukrans easy. I think the KLE would have battled with the two of us.
The KLE lived up to its reputations, both good and bad. The bash plate took a pounding on the way to Zingela. As the sump plug was left exposed, it required some panel-beating before we left. Fortunately this was an easy repair. Once removed with an allen-key, the hammer provided by Zingela did the trick. The low ground clearance was definitely a ‘bad’, as was the lower front section of the seat, which brought its own form of numb-bum on the long sections of tar. However, the little twin engine hummed sweetly all the way and she handled like a dream. Perfectly adequate for the two of us who are not speed freak and it fits the bill for the smart occasions too!
The Cargo Adventure panniers also performed well. They arrived with no instructions. Only the two Velcro straps were used, both over the seat, one beneath the tailpack and Laura sitting on the other. The third strap, with plastic clip (supposedly for beneath the seat) was not used.A stretchie pulled the front D-ring of each bag to the rear footpeg. I had glued rubber pads over the D-rings to prevent them (or the hooks of the stretchies) from rubbing against the exhaust or plastic covers. The right hand bag rested on the exhaust heat guard and showed no sign of heat or burn. Dust did penetrate the bags, but not to any great extent. Luckily we did not have the opportunity to test the rain covers.
Last edited by Paul Fleischack; 14 May 2010 at 18:52.