1- Could you describe this new tour?
This new motorcycle tour of South Africa kicks off close to Durban, along the Indian Ocean coast. We then head towards Mozambique, getting our first glimpse of wildlife pretty much immediately by visiting St Lucia, Hluhluwe and Pongola Game Reserves. We cross the border to Swaziland, a small peculiar kingdom, boasting a wonderful maze of tracks. We reach the north-east of South Africa, where we marvel at the views of Blyde River Canyon and the famous Kruger National Park. We continue our adventure, crossing Swaziland once again, then the Midlands pastures with the imposing Drakensberg in sight. Then, we tackle the legendary Sani Pass, the gateway to the kingdom of Lesotho. Lastly, we make our way back along the South African coast to finish off with a well-deserved dip in the Indian Ocean.
2- Does the tour cross any borders?
Yes, several times. We cover three countries with three contrasting atmospheres. It's a brief jaunt across southern Africa, but it is the perfect introduction for those who love overland trips. We cross over into Swaziland twice, which is a very unique place and very different to South Africa. It has a rural atmosphere, with undulating hills covered in fir tree forests and boulders. At the end of the tour, we tackle Sani Pass, the only pass on the South African border with Lesotho, which is only reachable via the impenetrable Drakensberg. We pass the border checkpoint at almost 3,000 m altitude, a great spot to sit and contemplate just how far you've come since day one in Durban!
3- What makes this tour different from your Cape Province tour?
One of the biggest differences is that you get more chances to spot wildlife up close, not just in the game reserves but also in the large national parks, like Hluhluwe National Park and Kruger National Park, which are among some of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in the world. Also, The Cape is unlike the rest of South Africa as it is strongly influenced by colonisation and the ever-present Dutch heritage. This second tour gives us a real feel for Africa and the opportunity to experience a change of scenery, another climate and a much richer mix of cultures. We are also exposed to the Zulu culture, the cradle of the country’s history. What’s more, crossing borders is an added bonus with this tour as you get to visit several countries on just one trip.
4- It's completely different then! Would you say it's a more authentic experience?
Exactly! We pass fewer breathtakingly picture-perfect landscapes that are more common around Cape Town, but Blyde River Canyon and Sani Pass are just as impressive. This tour is more about atmospheres, authenticity, small villages and coming into contact with locals. It's more a matter of the overall experience than the trip itself. We take the "wild" part of its name seriously; we go on a sunrise safari and enjoy an unforgettable moment spotting the Big Five, which really adds to the motorcycle tour.
5- And what type of roads can we expect?
A good mix, as usual, we always like to find a balance. The advantage of designing our tailor-made tours is that we make sure that each leg is suitable for the Bullet and fits with the Vintage Rides spirit. Around half of the tour is made up of tracks, some of which are similar to those on the Cape tour: long, smooth and simply sublime. Others are more remote and steeper, especially as we cross Swaziland. We’ll often feel like we're the only people in the world. I don't want to reveal all, but there may be times that we stop dead in our tracks and realise that we're not completely alone: a real goosebump moment!
6- The Kruger National Park can appear to be quite touristy. What alternative do you suggest?
We have done a lot of research; we've tested several options to find the best safari experience possible that is in line with our specifications. We aren't allowed to ride through these wild spaces and some of the private lodges are just too costly. However, there are several concessions that adjoin to the park and the animals roam freely between Kruger and these private reserves. They are kind of like extensions to the park, but self-drive safaris are not permitted in them. Only Jeeps can access them and the regulations are not as strict. The guides are real off-road drivers: they venture into the bush to get you as close to the animals as possible without there being a dozen Jeeps waiting behind you.
7- What was your most memorable experience on this tour?
There are so many! The most obvious was spotting the Big Five in Hluhluwe and Kruger. I also enjoyed spending a night at Pongola Game Reserve, an extraordinary, incredible place. Bumping into a gang of kids in Swaziland was fun; they spotted us playing with our drone and asked us if we could go to their village next time because no one ever passes through. Mariepskop is stunning, it's a real gem of a peak that we climb by bike near Kruger. Oh, and the spectacular view from Sani Pass; in fact, I always thought that nothing would be able to top what I saw during my motorcycle tour in the Himalayas, but after visiting Sani Pass, I'm not so sure!
" What you have to understand is that it's not your ordinary motorcycle tour. It's a step into the extraordinary, the wild odyssey. It’s something that not many have had the chance to do. "
8- What riding level do you recommend?
There are no particularly difficult points on the tour; it's accessible to everyone, as well as hardy, somewhat adventurous bikers. Only the last few miles before Sani Pass are more hardcore. In fact, that stretch reminded me of our Mustang expedition. What you have to understand is that it's not your ordinary motorcycle tour. It's a step into the extraordinary, the wild odyssey. It’s something that not many have had the chance to do. There is nothing like this on the market. No one offers this type of tour with the roads that we take, especially not on a Royal Enfield. Covering 1,740 miles in 17 days, it's our longest tour yet (in miles and time) and has been the biggest challenge for me to design; but boy was it worth it!
9- Do you have any anecdotes or hiccups you'd like to share with us?
Yeah, we did have a slight mechanical problem. I had to change the wheel bearings somewhere in the middle of nowhere between Dundee and Nottingham Road. We were on the side of the road and I realised that I didn't have the tools that I needed. Luckily, a car stopped and inside was an Indian couple who lived in Durban and were visiting the region for the weekend. The guy, who was originally from Tamil Nadu, came to help us with a hammer. It took a bit of time, so we chatted and the couple had to take an obligatory selfie with the Bullet, as they were so proud to find the Indian-made bike on South African soil! They really couldn't believe it, and neither could we! In some way or another, we are always close to India!
Sophie Squillace / Vintage Rides
Photo credits: Sophie Squillace - François Combes