Great African Outdoors
by Marita van Rooyen
“Let’s paddle!” shouts Jochen Beckert (tour guide and director of Great African Outdoors) over the noise of the 10 BMW motorbikes idling on the gravel road leading into what for these inexperienced Europeans is the middle of nowhere – the road to the Namib. If you ever wanted to see the great African outdoors in a uniquely off-the-beaten-track way, this is your opportunity to jump in the saddle of a BMW motorbike and explore Africa at 130 kilometres per hour on an unmarked gravel road. By car it might feel as though you are ‘going nowhere slowly’, but by bike it is a totally different kind of adventure, one that can’t be fully understood if you haven’t been travelling on the back of a bike yourself.
Wild open space
This is exactly why a group of nine Norwegians and one Swede decided to trade their usual snowy winter for a 14-day trip through South Africa and Namibia and experience first-hand what they call ‘wild open space’. Kicking day one off in Cape Town, the tour progressed to Stellenbosch and the Winelands, from where the bikers moved on to Clanwilliam on day two. Here, the only female biker in the group had an unfortunate accident while taking a sharp curve and had to sit in the Chevy for the next few days, next to the other bikers’ luggage and spare gear. Day three ended at the border between Namibia and South Africa – the Orange River. Here, the tour spent a very hot night, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius and making the Norwegians (and one Swede) long for the snow-filled peaks of home, even though one very brave Norwegian stated, “I came here for the heat!”
They then proceeded to the second-largest natural gorge in the world – The Fish River Canyon. Day five started off with a 300-kilometre stretch of gravel road between the Canyon and Maltahöhe, which is where the ‘Swedish’ fun started. Arriving at the Maltahöhe Hotel, the Swede needed a bit of action and decided to show the Norwegians how it was done. He drove his bike into the bar and proceeded with a burnout that left the bar filled with clouds of black motorcycle smoke. Having won the attention he was angling for, he proceeded to arm-wrestle every single person in the bar, the owner included.
Skol for faen
From here, the biker party travelled the gravel stretch between Maltahöhe and Sesriem, where they finally had the opportunity to cool down with a glass of ice-cold beer in the swimming pool at Desert Camp, overlooking the Tsaris Mountains. The day ended with a typical Namibian bush-braai, including gemsbok and impala steaks, with porridge and a special braai sauce. The dinner included some of the local beer, with lots of Norwegian drinking songs and a loud Skol for faen! (cheers in Norwegian).
The next morning at sunrise the group gathered for a ‘slow’ trip to Sossusvlei, a desert breakfast and a few educational pit stops. Leaving about 15 minutes later than planned, one Norwegian noted dryly, “We learned two very important things on this trip: ‘Jochen kilometres’, which can stretch 200 kilometres to anything from 100 to 300 kilometres, and ‘African time’ (which needs no explanation). At Sossusvlei, which lies in the central dune fields of the Namib-Naukluft Park, breakfast was served and the group had a chance to explore some of Namibia on foot. When asked what it is about Namibia that makes it special for them, the bikers answered in unison, “The dunes, the colours and contrasts of the landscape, and the wide open spaces”. Adds the Swede, “And don’t forget the turns in the roads – that’s what makes the driving interesting!” Taking the road back to Desert Camp, the slowness of the day quickly disappeared as the string of black-clad bikers decided they had seen every-thing there was to see and started to move quickly past each other.
Back to Cape Town
The next morning, after a full English breakfast and big cups of strong, black coffee, the bikers took a final look at a couple of springbok grazing in the distance and hopped on their bikes, ready to paddle on the next unmarked road to Keetmanshoop. From here, the tour went to the Kalahari, having stopovers at the Kgalagadi National Park, Upington, Augrabies Falls, Calvinia and finally on to Cape Town.
Great African Outdoors, sister company to Absolut Tours and Safaris, have been covering the African continent for 20 years and have executed guided motorbike tours throughout Southern Africa for almost 10 years. The company is based in Cape Town, and recently opened a branch in Windhoek. They currently offer almost 50 guided motorbike tours in Africa. The tour price includes motorcycles, insurance for the bikes, unlimited mileage, maps, accommodation, airport transfers, catering, luggage transport, tour guide and a spare bike.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘08/Jan ‘09 edition of Travel News Namibia.