South Africa

South Africa Part I from the 6th– 19th of May 2024:

To enter South Africa and therefore our second last country until our destination did not take long. Like always, we played the national anthem using our speaker, before we started cycling. The immigration officials were extremely happy about this gesture and one man said that he is sorry he could not sing, since he was not allowed to remove his hat while he was at work.

Until the first town, we had to cycle a bit more than 20 km and we had two options. One road was without asphalt and the other one was tarred at some point, but was not in a good condition. We decided to try option two and only found the road to be tarred in the beginning and at the end. The road led us through huge pine- and eucalyptus forests, which were reforested as a monoculture. From time to time we saw huge farms and agricultural fields with corn and other things.

In the early afternoon, we reached Piet Retief. For us it felt like we were back in Europe. South Africa is the most developed economic area in Africa and has one of the best infrastructures worldwide. There were several shopping malls, traffic lights and many fast food restaurants and we saw many people with the same skin tone as ourselves. South Africa has the largest number of people of European descent in Africa with around 9%. The choice in the Super Spar was overwhelming in the beginning. Here, we could buy almost everything we were used to from home. It did not feel as African as most countries we have cycled to so far.

After a cold night, we needed a while until we could motivate ourselves to get our of our warm sleeping bags. The second day in South Africa continued in a similar way as the previous day finished. Somehow it was sad to see that most of the nature was destroyed due to the intense monoculture agriculture. We hardly saw birds or other wild animals.

In Paulpietersburg, we found a supermarket which sold chips after a longer search. Otherwise, we only found restaurants selling a lot of meat with not small side dishes. While we ate our fried potatoes, dozens of kilos of meat were sold and pig heads were delivered. South Africans love their meat.

The distances between cities are larger again and we have to get used to check beforehand how far the next supermarket is. At a farm, we wanted to ask the owners, if we could pitch our tent on their meadow. The family came out of the house and saw us, but continued their conversation without giving us the tiniest attention. Adi asked after a while if it was their land. They said yes and allowed us to pitch our tent. This was the whole conversation, since the family drove away. Probably they live at another house. In all of Africa we never had such a weird interaction and we were a bit shocked. At least the (black) security guard was friendly and helpful like we were used to.

Unfortunately, Fabian did not have a good night, since he had to throw up several times and his stomach was somehow unhappy as well. In the morning, he already felt better. The appetite was still small, but we could continue cycling.

The landscape got flatter, even though we were still higher than 1200 meter above sea level. The forests disappeared and corn fields and dry meadows surrounded us as far as our eyes could see.

During a break we started a conversation with a women. It was not the first time that we felt the tension between white and black from her stories. What she said was for some part clearly racist. We tried not to judge and to just continue to behave like we always did in previous African countries.

During a longer break in front of a shopping mal, we talked with some men. As soon as we started approaching them, the exchange was as we were used to. We have the feeling that people are more open and communicative as soon as they know that we are not South Africans.

We couldn’t pack up the tent right away in the morning after a foggy and thus damp night. So we dried it by the side of the road. Passing people were quite surprised when they saw two tourists in the bush with a tent.

Fabian was feeling much better again, and so we made good progress in mostly flat terrain. After about two hours, we reached a main traffic artery with many heavy trucks. Unfortunately, the emergency lane was blocked due to road construction, and it was already very tight at times when trucks passed us on one side and another truck with a trailer approached us from the opposite side.

Nevertheless, we reached Ladysmith, the fourth major city since our entry into South Africa, before noon. During lunch, we spoke with the security guard and asked him where we could safely store our bicycles for a day. At first, he said it was possible on the shopping center premises, but this later turned out to be too inconvenient. Shortly thereafter, we found a hotel where we could deposit the bicycles in a room. Our destination was the Tugela Falls, about 100 km away. We decided to hitchhike for this trip.

So we bought provisions, wrote the next town on the way on a sign, and stood by the side of the road. After just a few minutes, a man told us we had to stand in another place because no one would pick us up here. About 1 km further, other men and women stood with signs in their hands, and so we knew we were in the right place. Shortly thereafter, a pickup truck stopped and took us and three women on the loading area for about an hour. After four more rides, we had already arrived at the beautiful campsite, directly below the mountain range. For the last kilometers, even a camping employee took us, as there were almost no cars until the end of the road.

After a quiet night, we set off motivated towards the Tugela Falls. The five-tiered waterfall reaches a height of 948 meters, making it the second-highest waterfall on Earth after Angel Falls in Venezuela. Additionally, it is the tallest multi-tiered waterfall on Earth. The mountains around the campsite, including waterfalls, are part of the Royal Natal National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Drakensberg Mountains are the highest mountain range in southern Africa, reaching a maximum of 3,482 meters.

The hiking trail gradually ascended, leading us more or less parallel to the lower-lying stream closer to the striking mountain range. After a while, we walked through thick, jungle-like forest where we saw and heard many baboons. After about two hours, we reached the stream bed, where the valley split. One side led to the waterfalls through a narrow and water-filled gorge. The other option was an officially closed ladder that led back to the stream bed via a bush path higher up. Of course, we took this path and about an hour later reached a point from which we could see the upper part of the falls. Due to low water levels, we could only see the water of the falls using our binoculars. This is the reason why it is almost impossible to see the water on the pictures. On the way back, we cooled off in one of the pools and enjoyed the fantastic surroundings. Not many tourists were on this trail. We received useful tips from Paul and Anne and got into a conversation. As luck would have it, their son Connor is currently studying in Lucerne. The friendly South African couple took us back to the campsite and invited us for a beer. Due to the entertaining conversations, we almost forgot the time because our goal for the day was to return to our bicycles.

We walked back to the only road leading out of the valley. After about fifteen minutes, a pickup truck arrived and picked up all the staff from the campsite and the surrounding lodges, and we were allowed to ride along. During the ride, one young man expressed concerns about whether we would really make it back to our luggage the same day. He thought it was too dangerous for us to hitchhike at night and invited us to stay at his house for the night. We wanted to at least try to hitchhike until it got dark. A woman who was also in the pickup truck helped us find another ride to the next town. She too was concerned about our safety, and slowly these concerns began to seep into our minds. Fortunately, shortly thereafter, John stopped and gave us a long ride. Interestingly, John was from Nigeria and was very surprised to meet travelers “like us.” He even helped us find a vehicle for the last stretch and quickly found one with a policeman. He told us from his perspective about the level of violence and crime in this region and throughout South Africa. The country has one of the highest homicide rates of the World. Each year, 70 times more people are being killed per 100’000 inhabitants than in Switzerland. Tired and hungry, we reached our bicycles and found accommodation nearby.

After a restless night with mosquitos in our room, we continued cycling southwards. At a farm shop, we took a break, enjoyed some banana bread and bought some dried meat. After a long ascent and a short descent, we reached the city Escourt.

John gave us a contact there from a bus company. Our goal was to deposit the bicycles again and reach a mountain valley with hitchhiking. At the end, we could leave the bicycles and most of our luggage in a workshop. The friendly owner asked his son to bring us to a fuel station, from where we would try to find a car in the right direction. At the end, the young man with Indian descent drove us much further. From there, we found a bus quickly and like that we were already quite far. In the last larger town before reaching the mountains, we bought supplies for 2-3 days and ate delicious Shawarma and chips in a restaurant.

Afterwards, we found another bus, which brought us to the last house of the last village. On the way there, we saw many people on their way back from church or from their visit at a friends place. Especially the women were dresses in vivid colors and some wore a face cream made of dirt and water. We realized that from this point, there were no more cars going up to the campground, which we defined as our destination. Therefore, we had to bargain with the only taxi driver about the price for the 13 km long, hilly road. After around 30 minutes, we agreed on a price and approached slowly the impressive mountains, while listening to the beats of south African songs. The driver Mzo and his friend had a good humor and worked both as guides and porters in the national park. After about an hour, we reached the campground in the dark and thanked the guys for the bumpy ride.

After a restful, long night, we were surprised in the morning by the fog and clouds in the surrounding mountains. Apparently, a weather front moved overnight from the coast into the mountains.

Until noon, we enjoyed the tranquility at the campsite and exchanged ideas with other guests about hikes in the national park. Afterward, we set off towards Centenery Hut, a mountain hut located about 11 km and 800 meters in altitude away. The hut was in very poor condition and we had to bring everything except the tent.

The hike started flat, leading through a grassy landscape until suddenly a river was in the way. A cable was strung across the river, symbolizing that we really had to go through the water. There was no spot where we could hop over the water, so we had to take off our shoes and even our pants to cross the knee-deep river. After that, the trail led us through tall grass. Sometimes we couldn’t even see the path anymore because it was so overgrown. We took a break before a smaller stream crossing and enjoyed the rocky and rugged landscape. We continued following the water until the path led us steeply uphill after about two hours. Unfortunately, due to the fog, we couldn’t see the very high peaks. After the steep ascent, we reached the hut at about 2300 m.

Although the hut had been recently renovated, it had neither a table, chairs, nor a toilet. It had four beds, but they were not in good condition, and there were no mattresses either. We decided to spread out our sleeping pads on the floor and sleep there. Our cell phone flashlights allowed us to see a bit because there wasn’t even a lamp available.

The wake-up call was at 5:45 AM, as we had a long day ahead of us. First, we had to hike about 900 meters uphill before reaching the border between South Africa and Lesotho. Suddenly, the fog above us cleared and we saw an imposing rock formation. Therefore, the last 200 meters to the border were quite technical and we needed to use our hands occasionally to overcome the steep sections. Additionally, navigation was not always straightforward.

After the steep section, we reached a kind of plateau, which was on the Lesotho side. The landscape there was desert-like and more hilly than rocky and steep. Soon, we saw the first horses and cows, which enjoyed the tranquility in this unique landscape all alone. After a flat section, a final ascent led us to the summit of Mafadi. At 3450 meters high, this summit is the highest mountain in all of South Africa. In the lee, we took a break and enjoyed the view of the sea of ​​fog and the steep cliffs below us.

To explore more of this area, we decided to take a different route down to the campsite. So, we walked almost two hours parallel to the border and thus the rocky formation, to Leslie’s Pass, where there was a break in the impassable rock wall. During a short break, a young shepherd suddenly approached us. He was wrapped in several cloths and wore rubber boots. He asked if we had cigarettes. Otherwise, he didn’t understand much English, but we were still allowed to take a photo.

Over 3 km, we lost about 1000 meters in altitude and slipped several times on the loose ground. Nevertheless, we managed to get through this steep section and reached a spot where hikers pitch their tents. From there, it was several more hours along a stream and through thick bushes. Several times, we lost the trail until we found it again after a short search. We felt like we were in a mini-forest because the trail was extremely overgrown. After over 10 hours, 31 km, 1500 meters up, and 2400 meters down, we reached the campsite tired but happy.

We woke up with a medium muscle ache and asked at the reception of the campground, if there was a vehicle driving out of the mountain valley in the following few hours. The nice lady told us that there was a woman on the way from the next large town and she is going to pick her up from the last village. So, we could ride with her until that village. While we were waiting, we observed leaves falling from the trees, since winter is on its way in South Africa. In the mountains we often wore long pants and a jacket, since the temperatures were sometimes close to the freezing point.

Two hours later, the car was approaching and we left the campsite. On the way, the vice manager of the campsite made some phone calls to check when the next bus leaves in the direction of Escourt, where our bicycles were waiting for us. Directly after we reached the village, a bus driving to this town without changing the vehicle arrived. Therefore, we travelled efficiently for African standards and reached our destination in less than two hours. During the drive, passengers pay for the ride through handing the respective fee to the person sitting in front of them. This person gives the money to the next person until the driver receives the money. The change moves the same way back tot he customer. This system works perfectly and nobody looses time before or after the ride.

In Escourt, we packed our bags and said thanks to J, who made sure that our equipment was safe during our absence. Afterwards, we cycled up a hill and down again. Below, we realized that we missed our turn, since there was no sign. Since we were too lazy to cycle uphill again, we decided to take the highway instead. There was no sign saying that bicycles are not allowed and there was a wide shoulder. Like that, we did not save ourselves any kilometers, but a few climbs. The highway was probably one of the safest roads available, except the section where there was a bushfire and we could not see anything. Additionally, there was a truck which had broken down exactly at this spot. Using one of the next exits, we left the highway and entered the main road again.

The night directly next to the road on one side and the train tracks on the other side was with 5°C one of the coldest since the start of the trip. There was not much traffic and only about three trains during the night, so we anyway had our freedom. After 5 km, we reached the small village of Nottingham Road. There, we surprisingly found a top-notch Café, which usually can be found in a larger city. The Café was busy and many locals asked us, where we are heading. We enjoyed the exchange and the interest of the South Africans.

After we bought groceries for the day at Spar, we started a semi-spontaneous shortcut, which will bring us close to the border with Lesotho. Originally, we wanted to take a longer way using a main road, but then decided to try a calmer and shorter gravel road.

Surprisingly, the first 30 km were even tarred. The landscape was getting more impressive, wilder, hillier after every turn. At a farm, we filled our water bottle and had a conversation with the manager of the potato production. The farm produces mostly potatoes which can be used to grow more potatoes. Each day for four months a year, they produce around 40 tons of potatoes.

The quality of the gravel road was not as good as expected and we were shaken thoroughly on a regular basis. A long descent followed and before the next long ascent started, we found a stunning spot for our tent on a meadow with a panoramic view.

We continued with a longer ascent and a stunning view as we reached the pass. After a bumpy descent, we reached the only village on the 100 km gravel road. For another 30 km, the road followed the border of the Maloti-Drakensberg National Park. Besides a deer, we didn’t see any wildlife. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the sight of the tall mountains and the wild streams flowing from the mountain valleys. Once, we even encountered about a 5-year-old boy on a horse, without a saddle or helmet.

Around midday, we reached the junction where a road leads to Lesotho. However, because we urgently needed rest days, we continued straight to Himeville. There, we found a small snack bar where we devoured a delicious burger. A few minutes later, we arrived in Underberg. Since Maputo, we had been in contact with Cynthia and Jelle, who live here and operate a profile on the Warmshowers platform. We were warmly welcomed into their beautifully situated house, and the cyclist’s room was immediately shown to us. The couple enjoys interacting with travelers and used to travel by bicycle themselves. Even today, the older couple still travels with a tent and on off-road trails, but now with a car.

During the two rest days overlooking the Drakensberg Mountains, which form the border with Lesotho, we were treated to culinary delights. Additionally, we enjoyed engaging conversations about South Africa, traveling and our upcoming route. After mentioning that we had not yet experienced a traditional barbecue, called a “Braai,” the grill was fired up, and we savored South African beef and Boerewors (farmer’s sausage with coriander). Furthermore, we sampled various beers from South Africa and were treated to tasting red wine.

On the first day, we ventured with Jelle into the Maloti-Drakensberg National Park and strolled along a stream to appreciate the mountains and the tranquility. We even briefly jumped into the cold water, hoping to regenerate our thighs plagued by hiking soreness.

After saying goodbye to Jelle and Cynthia, we headed towards Lesotho. Initially, we didn’t gain much altitude as the road kept descending. However, after a few kilometers, the road became steeper and we steadily gained altitude. Soon, we reached the South African border post. Just before that, the quality asphalt road ended and a rough gravel road followed.

We had a pleasant conversation with the border official, got our exit stamps and filled our water bottles. Additionally, we reduced the tire pressure to increase traction.

Although it was only a little over 7 kilometers, there were more than 800 meters of elevation gain to the border and the Sani Pass. Soon, we had to push the bikes for the first time as large rocks littered the road. We took short breaks frequently to catch our breath, take a sip from our water bottles and enjoy the phenomenal views into the valley. There were brief sections where we could ride, but the steep sections required pushing. Especially the last 300 meters of elevation were very steep and the switchbacks made cycling impossible.

After a little over three hours, we reached the pass summit at 2876 meters above sea level. The Sani Pass is one of the steepest mountain passes in the world and definitely a highlight of our journey. With the pass summit, we crossed the border between Lesotho and South Africa.

–>Continue with Lesotho

South Africa Part II from the 28th of May – 22th of June 2024:

The South African border post was much larger than the one in Lesotho. The obviously bored officials asked us many questions and did not believe us that our destination is Cape Town. It was probably better that they did not know about our complete route.

Directly after the border everything was fenced off next to the road. This was different in Lesotho and we prefer this freedom. The first part of the gravel road was great, until it changed and got bumpier. After 20 km, we reached a junction where a tarred road waited for us.

From there, the next town was still 50 km away. Back in South Africa, we have to get used to the big distances between towns again. At a rest stop, we ate our portion of Chakalaka out of the can, before we cycled the rest of the distance to Rouxville. In this small town, we bought provisions and found a bit afterwards a spot for the night between a side road and a barbwire.

In the beginning of our journey, we figured out in the evenings where the sunrise would be and pitch our tent in the corresponding shade. Now, in the South African winter, we pitch our tent, so the sun would reach us as early as possible.

Until the next small town, we had to cycle wearing jackets and gloves, until the air temperature was warm enough. Before we reached Aliwal North, we crossed the Orange River for the second time. This river is the second longest in southern Africa, origins in Lesotho and enters the ocean at the border between Namibia and South Africa.

Due to the elections in the whole country, it was a holiday and many shops were closed. However, we still managed to buy food and saw a few people in front of the buildings where people can cast their vote. After people have cast their vote, they get a colored mark on their thumb, so they can not vote several times.

Between us and the next town, there were another 60 km. This stretch we cycled rather quickly, since the terrain was flat and the road surface was smooth. Burgersdorp seemed deserted and we hardly managed to get a few burgers and some groceries in a small shop. Mostly, beggars ask us in front of supermarkets for money or some bread. Many times, we are approached in Afrikaans, since most white South Africans speak only this language and English. English is the universal language, but isiZulu is the most spoken language in the country. South Africa has the most official languages in the world after Bolivia and India. In the year of 2023, the South African sign language was introduced as the twelfth official language.

Since a long time we experienced wind. In the beginning, the wind came from the right direction for us and we made good progress. After we turned at a junction and entered another road, the wind suddenly changed direction and got stronger. So, we had to earn the burger and chips, since the next town with protection from the wind was a total of 65 km away. On the way, we suddenly saw a man pushing his car by himself, then jumping inside the car and starting the engine. An entertaining spectacle in the middle of nowhere.

Locals told us that cold weather or the winter was approaching and this would explain the wind. Therefore, we had to expect colder day temperatures and the first rain since a while during the next days.

After a long break, we continued in the direction of Middelburg. Until this town, there were around 90 km and on the way there was nothing except deserted train stations and junctions which lead nowhere. For us, such distances between villages or towns are unusual and we are used to a completely different level of population density. South Africa is about 3.5 times larger than Germany and counts “only” 62 million people.

The temperatures really dropped and during the three-hour ride to Middelburg we wore a wind jacket all the way. While we bought lunch, Susan and her son Will approached us. Our hosts, whom we met through Warmshowers, were buying groceries at the same time in Spar. The cycle enthusiast Willie picked us up a bit later and showed us the beautiful house with its surroundings.

Willie did countless cycling trips in the region himself and travelled through East Africa and the Middle East using his motorbike.  The family knew exactly what we needed and spoiled us completely. For lunch they served us coffee and hot dogs. For dinner Will made a huge fire and prepared Potjekos. This traditional south African stew needs to be cooked for several hours over the fire. While the meal was cooking, the three men did a short pub crawl and we met a few local men. Brandy with coke is a popular drink in this region and so we had to try it. After the tour, we were glad to eat something, since we were not used to drink a lot of alcohol anymore. For dessert, we were able to taste Melktert, another South African specialty. Together with Will and his friend, we stood around the fire and drank a few brandies with coke. Not even the starting rain made us stop and we learnt a lot about the region and the life as a farmer.

After an intense night of digestion, Susan even brought us coffee and biscuits to our bed in the morning. Unbelievable what effort the friendly family undertook to make us feel at home and facilitate our regeneration.

Thanks to the delicious meals and the interesting conversations, we could relax and got valuable recommendations for the coming route.

For dinner, another large fire was started and a lot of meat was grilled. In South Africa, a meal without meat is not a real meal. Therefore, we enjoyed a barbecue (braai) and could refuel with lots of calories for the next intense days in the saddle.

After dinner, we visited a bar with live music, in which we did not go the night before. We planned to only visited for a little while, but ended up staying much longer.  People in the bar were drinking a lot, since many students from all over the country were present, which study agriculture in the nearby college. They were all wearing shorts, a camouflage jacket and a cap. Willie and Will proudly told a few friends about our project and like that we talked to a few young people of the crowd. We even got a spontaneous invitation to a winery close to Cape Town.

It was hard to leave the comfortable bed in the morning to get out to the cold weather. The coffee with biscuits in bed gave us the motivation to get ready for the next stretch. After a proper breakfast, we said goodbye to Susan and Will. Willie accompanied us for a few kilometers, before we said farewell and thanked him as well for the awesome hospitality. We really hope that he can realize his dream project. Willie wants to cycle from Middelburg in South Africa to Middelburg in the Netherlands and this with almost 70 years.

After crossing a pass, suddenly the wind supported us in moving forward. We hardly had to exert any force and zoomed over the asphalt at almost 50 km/h on relatively flat terrain. During the descents, we were almost going too fast and had to concentrate on where we were steering.

Despite starting rather late, we reached the next town, called Graaff-Reinet, after over 100 km in the early afternoon. After a dose of sugar, we wanted to find a place for the night not far from the city. However, just a few kilometers after leaving the town, a car stopped, and the friendly woman suggested that we sleep at her home instead of the tent next to the main road. She called her husband Tony and informed him of our arrival. The catch was that their house was still over 50 km away. Nevertheless, we decided to accept the challenge since the tailwind was still present.

Two hours later, we reached Aberdeen in the dark. Tony welcomed us warmly and showed us to our room. The somewhat nervous former professional cyclist served us coffee, turned on the boiler, and told us about his time as a worker in a gold mine. Extraction of mineral resources (chrome, platinum, manganese, vanadium, gold, diamonds, coal, iron ore and other metals) are still responsible for 40-50% of the export revenues.

After a wet and stormy night, we were glad to have slept inside. Tony prepared a south African breakfast for cyclists for us, including eggs, sausage and toast. After a prayer for the save continuation of our trip and the visit or his pharmacy, we entered the dead straight road to Willowmore.

Despite a few antelopes and a jackal, the landscape was very monotonous and the weather was changing all the time. Everywhere, we saw small and large puddles from the rain, since the soil was not able to absorb the rain water.

Since a few days, we entered the so called Karoo, which is a half-desert landscape in the highlands of South Africa and Namibia. With an extension of almost 500’000 km2 is the Karoo almost a third of the South African territory.

During a break to pee, a sporty looking middle-aged man stopped and brought us a banana and an apple. We had a short conversation and before he continued, he asked us, if he could pray for us. It seems like people in South Africa are very religious.

In a restaurant, we could escape the cold wind and eat and drink something warm. The shop sold many regional products and its interior was decorated with lots of passion. At some point, the shop closed and we continued cycling for another hour. At a farm, we asked an older couple if we could pitch the tent on their property. Despite the moment of surprise, we got permission and were allowed to pitch the tent protected from the wind. A bit later, the man brought us something similar to a hot dog, which we appreciated a lot.

After a night of continuous rain, the friendly couple invited us into the house for breakfast. They told us about their family and the 84-year old man showed us his logbook, in which all rain events since 1923 were noted. When we saw that, we realized how special the heavy rain was for the locals. Even in his high age, he still hunts and proudly showed us some photos. Hunting is a national sport and kids are introduced in the most important skills early on.

The rain stopped and we used this opportunity. We packed the completely wet tent and continued our journey. Unfortunately, it started raining shortly afterwards again. We underestimated the amount of water pouring down and arrived in Willowmore with wet clothes. In a cute cafe, we could dry our wet clothes at an open fire and ordered warm drinks and meals.

Despite the intense non-stop rain, we decided to continue. The next town was still a bit more than 60 km away and we hoped to reach it before sunset. When we stopped for a few minutes at an accommodation, we met a group from Cape Town, which told us that some roads were impassable due to the rain. Apparently, this was the heaviest rain in the last 60 years.

Already in the dark, we reached the small town Uniondale and decided to search for a room, since our tent was still wet and many fields were under water. We found an appartement and were glad to finally be out of the rain.

At night, we dried the tent and other gear with the help of two fans, as it was so cold in the accommodation that you could see your breath. We even used the stove burners to dry the wet clothes.

After another night with strong winds and rain, the next morning looked much friendlier. Unfortunately, our planned route via a gravel pass road was closed due to heavy rain and we had to take the only alternative. We had been looking forward to this day for some time because Fabian’s parents have also been in South Africa for a few days. The plan was to meet Peter and Lilo on the coast and travel together to Cape Town for the last two weeks.

However, we were still over 100 km away from them. With sunshine and strong headwinds, we crossed a pass with beautiful views of the surrounding farms and mountains. The environment was much greener compared to the last few days and you could feel the change in climate. For weeks, we had been at over 1000 meters, and now we were just below.

After lunch, we tackled a section of about 30 km where you couldn’t see the next curve because there wasn’t one. However, the rocky mountains and the green valley compensated for the monotonous road. We passed by some ostrich farms. At one point, about 200 of these agile animals suddenly started running parallel to us. They followed us until the end of their fence, a special experience.

After the long stretch, we tackled the Outeniqua Pass, from which you could see the sea. The panorama with mountains, the pass road, the town of Georg and the seemingly endless ocean in the background was an unusual change. We hadn’t seen the sea since Mozambique.

We managed to reach the city just before dark and after several attempts found a place to store our bikes. Because of the closed road, Peter and Lilo came to pick us up from Knysna, almost 80 km away with their rental car. We were looking forward to the reunion and the days to come. On the way, we stopped at a steakhouse to fuel up and had time to exchange our experiences from the past few days. Then we fell into bed tired in the apartment in Knysna.

After a restful night in our own bed, we enjoyed a great breakfast near the accommodation. Then we drove to the Robberg Nature Reserve and hiked around the entire peninsula. “The Point” hiking trail was about 9 km long and led through various wild landscapes. First, we descended some rocky steps down to the sea before we saw the first South African fur seals. The agile animals playfully jumped out of the water and enjoyed the large waves. After a climb, an unpleasant smell reached our noses and shortly after, we heard the seals, who were relaxing about 100 meters below us on a rock.

After reaching the furthest point of the peninsula, the weather changed within half an hour from sunshine with occasional clouds to thick clouds and stormy wind. Rain set in at times, but luckily it wasn’t enough to get wet. After crossing a sandbank and the final climb back to the parking lot, our legs were definitely tired.

Next, we visited “Birds of Eden”. This bird park has the world’s largest free-flight aviary with an area of 23,000 m2. Approximately 3,500 birds of about 220 different species live under the giant wire net. A walkway leads through the diverse landscape, which includes a river landscape, tropical rainforest and native forest. The area is even artificially irrigated by water pipes built into the dome. We saw dozens of bird species during the visit. Some were so colorful that it was hard to believe. After the intense day, we were all hungry and somewhat tired. We found an excellent restaurant in Plettenberg Bay right by the sea, where we enjoyed various seafood dishes and a delicious dessert.

On the second day in Knysna, we visited the district “The Heads,” which is located on and around a steep hill. From the viewpoints, we had a wonderful view of the wild Indian Ocean and the steep cliffs on both sides of the strait. From Knysna Beach, we saw the foaming waves and the partly huge villas above the cliffs.

We visited a microbrewery and tried some glasses of different beers and were shown around the brewery, which is currently under renovation. On Thesen’s Island, we visited a bakery where we treated ourselves to delicious coffee and cake.

Thanks to the warm sun, we were able to wash some clothes and relax in the garden of the accommodation. For dinner, we visited a seafood restaurant where we enjoyed excellent fish caught that day and listened to the singing of the staff from the kitchen.

The manager of the accommodation informed us about the Saturday market in Sedgefield. After breakfast, we drove straight there to check out the various stalls. The offer ranged from self-sewn clothes to smoothies to statues. We had interesting conversations with various artists and strolled through the crowded market. After a while, we realized that the actual farmers market was next door and we hadn’t visited it yet. Luckily, we had enough time before closing to try various specialties. To finish off, we treated ourselves to a delicious coffee and met a German-speaking lady.

She recommended a nearby beach, which she claimed to be the most beautiful in the world. This wasn’t the first time we heard this superlative description. The beach was beautiful, but we couldn’t agree that it was the most beautiful in the world. Afterward, we drove to Wilderness, where we navigated to a viewpoint. Supposedly (with a lot of imagination), you can recognize the shape of Africa in a river valley surrounded by a hill there. We liked the impressive view into the valley, the panoramic view of the ocean and the mountains behind the gorge.

Close by is Victoria Bay. The waves there attract many surfers, and we watched the advanced men skillfully ride the several meters high waves. After the warming sun disappeared behind the steep hills, we made our way to George. There, we bought a 5 kg bag of maize meal for the family, who had guarded our bicycles during the last few days.

After three days of not cycling and the luxury of calorie-rich and delicious meals, we resumed our journey to the Southern Cape or rather Cape Town. Thanks to rested legs and the company of local cyclists, we made efficient progress. During the ride, we had pleasant conversations with a couple and an older man from the area.

We repeatedly saw settlements with almost identical houses surrounded by high fences and walls. This isolated living is unusual for us and does not help to reduce the segregation of different population groups in South Africa. Most residents of these houses are white, and the black population almost exclusively lives in corrugated iron shacks outside the city centers. Unfortunately, especially in rural towns, we often saw schools with predominantly white or black children. Despite the end of apartheid over 30 years ago, the economic disadvantage of the non-white population is concerning. Unemployment is estimated to be around 40%. Many young people cannot find a job or even pay someone to get them a day job.

By noon, we had to decide whether to ride 100 km to Albertinia or almost 140 km to Riversdale. The reason was that we had to find accommodation for ourselves and Fabian’s parents in one of the two towns. This loss of flexibility is a disadvantage when not sleeping in a tent and is one of the reasons why we love camping in the wilderness so much. Of course, in this case, the positive side outweighs with a warm shower, a comfortable bed, and the company of Fabian’s parents.

Green meadows, occasional climbs, and only one wide main road as the route defined our day. For the most part of the day, we had no view of the sea, but we had a view of the mountain range that separates the highland from the coast. After two hearty climbs, we reached the deserted Riversdale in the late afternoon.

After a hearty breakfast, we cycled for about 1.5 hours to Heidelberg, where we took a short break. A few hours later, we reached Swellendam with its almost 20,000 inhabitants. There, we bought some food in a small supermarket and sat outside to eat. After a while, a friendly lady asked us if we would like some coffee. We gratefully accepted the offer. Shortly after, a tall man leaving the same building greeted us warmly. He was introduced to us as the mayor of Swellendam, and we were allowed to take a photo with him.

So far, we had been hearing stories of robbery from the white population regarding the black majority. However, the local government employee now told us a different perspective. Apparently, many workers from Zimbabwe come to South Africa illegally. White farmers hire them at minimum wage, thus breaking the law. The government is aware but cannot do anything about it as they lack the necessary resources to enforce the law.

13 km past the town, we turned towards the Southern Cape, called Cape Agulhas. The goal of our now 6-year endeavor was now less than 100 km away. After another half an hour and many more hills, we looked for a place to store our bicycles for a day. Peter and Lilo went ahead and asked a farmer. He agreed, and we were allowed to store the bicycles in his garage. Then, we drove in the dark over bumpy and partly flooded gravel roads into the de Hoop Nature Reserve.

On our way to breakfast, we already spotted many wild animals, which got us excited for the rest of the day. Driving through a landscape dotted with bushes, we passed white sand dunes, right by the Indian Ocean. From the approximately 50-meter-high dunes made of the finest sand, we could see wide stretches of the coast. Soon enough, we spotted the first whales in the water. With the help of binoculars, we even caught sight of the flukes of Southern Right Whales.

Thanks to the low tide, we were able to inspect the rocky ground dotted with many shells. We found many fascinating objects that wonderfully showcased the diversity of nature. After two of us dipped our feet or even waded fully into the water, we left the coast again. On the way back, we even saw mountain zebras, right next to our accommodation amidst baboons, bonteboks, and eland antelopes. Eland antelopes weigh between 500-1000 kg and can jump over a 2-meter-high fence from a standstill.

In the evening, we experienced a beautiful sunset and saw dozens of antelopes from the window of our accommodation. During the delicious dinner by the fire, we didn’t have to put on a down jacket for the first time in a while. In many indoor spaces in South African winter, temperatures are very low.

After breakfast, we drove back to our bikes, which we had deposited on a farm, in just over an hour. The farmer told us that he owns a total of 1500 sheep and grows rape, among other things. First we pedaled about two kilometers back to the tarred main road and then continued south. With a strong crosswind, we had to hold the handlebars carefully when passing trucks so that we didn’t leave the road.

For the first time we saw a large wind farm and huge farms with bright yellow rape fields everywhere. We took a break in Bedardsdorp before continuing on a dead straight and much flatter road. The sea breeze was already in our noses 30 km from the coast.

Meanwhile, Lilo and Peter got a call from the car rental company to take their car to the airport in Cape Town (over 250 km away). The car rental company had apparently sold their car. They logically refused and told the car rental company to exchange the car at their current location. A few minutes later the whole thing turned out to be a mistake as it was a different car.

During the last hour to the Southern Cape, we were constantly driving past flooded meadows that were still inundated from last week’s heavy rain. Suddenly, a sign appeared, symbolizing that we only had about 10 km to go to our official destination of our project. We enjoyed the last few kilometers along the coast and despite the strong wind, we reflected on some of the most outstanding moments of the long journey. In L’Agulhas, the southernmost village in Africa, we met Fabian’s parents and drove together to the southernmost point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. It was a special feeling to arrive at this point after about 2.5 years, 38,000 km and 38 countries to toast what we had achieved. Of course we were proud of our achievement, but we won’t really realize it for a few days or even weeks.

Our project goal had been reached, but we still wanted to cycle on to Cape Town. A few more scenic and animal highlights awaited us on the remaining 350 km or so before we definitely planned to pack up the bikes.

So we left Agulhas and headed north again. Due to the extensive flooding, our originally planned road was closed. So we had to drive back a little more than 30 km before we could turn off to the west.

The wind had died down and we made good progress in bright sunshine. There was very little traffic on the road, but it was in good condition. We were glad that we were no longer on the N2 national road, as the volume of traffic was much higher there. The Garden Route runs along this N2 from Port Elizabeth to Mossel Bay. We had heard a lot of positive things about this route, but didn’t find the landscape spectacular at all. Many tourists probably like the top infrastructure for Africa and the possible activities in the surrounding area.

About 15 km before reaching our destination for the day, the gear cable on Fabian’s bike snapped. He already had to replace the other gear cable in George and now he couldn’t change gears again. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a spare cable anymore and he had to choose one gear. So he fixed a gear in the middle of the cassette, so that he could at least ride the remaining climb to some extent. We reached Gaansbai and with a quick Google search found a bike mechanic near our accommodation. The store was already closed, but at least it looked like a lucky strike through the windows.

Fabian took his bike to the mechanic before breakfast and he promptly replaced the broken gear cable. After breakfast with delicious bread, the bike was ready to ride. At the start, the sky was overcast and the area was shrouded in fog. After 20 km of roadworks and a moderate climb, the sun came out and we were able to get rid of our jackets.

In the second half of the day, the landscape changed and the road was located suddenly between a relatively high mountain range and the ocean. Every now and then there were small villages and this exciting landscape was a nice change. This was actually how we had imagined the Garden Route.

Hermanus is famous for boat trips to see whales. The best time is in August, when the whales can even be seen from the coast. This town is full of vacation homes. We have never seen this level of upper-class capital anywhere else in Africa. The gap between rich and poor is particularly wide in South Africa and unfortunately only a few benefit from the great economic performance. South Africa has the second largest economy in Africa after Nigeria. South Africa is the only African country to belong to the G20 economic powers and is counted among the BRICS states.

In Betty’s Bay, we showered in the accommodation we had booked and immediately afterwards visited the African penguins at Stony Point. On this beach we saw dozens of these 60-70 cm tall birds at close range, waddling out of the sea to their nests. It was amusing to watch these excellent swimmers struggling to get ashore. The African penguins are highly endangered by the fishing industry and are the only penguins living in the wild in Africa.

The winding and hilly coastal road during the first 30 kilometers was definitely one of our highlights in South Africa. We had a constant view of the foaming ocean, the Cape of Good Hope was visible in the distance and steep cliffs surrounded us on the land side. Not even recurring construction sites and heavy traffic could spoil this sight for us.

After that, the landscape became flatter as we approached the Cape Town metropolitan area. We encountered multi-lane highways and densely populated neighborhoods. The wind was always present and strong, affecting our progress whether it blew head-on, from the side or at our backs.

Just before reaching the sandy coast, we drove past the enormous township of Khayelitsha. In southern Africa, a township refers to a territorial unit planned and developed apart from the core cities dominated by European immigrants. Khayelitsha currently houses around 1,000,000 people, almost all Black. Ironically, adjacent to the township was a sewage treatment plant, contributing to the area’s distinctive smell. This population segment lives in tin shacks, some without electricity or proper sanitation facilities.

Battling strong crosswinds, we passed False Bay and enjoyed the view of the beautiful coastline. Peter and Lilo overtook us just before Muizenberg, and shortly after, we joined them for a meal at a restaurant. It repeatedly struck us how the majority of guests in most “upscale” restaurants were White, while the staff were Black. This may be entirely normal for South Africans, but it was unfamiliar and weighed on our minds daily.

Instead of cycling to the Cape of Good Hope on our bikes, we decided to take a day off and go on a day trip by car. After all, we had been on our bikes enough in the last few days and weeks.

First we drove along the wild cliffs until we reached the entrance to the national park. The region around the Cape of Good Hope is part of the Table Mountain National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Foreigners have to pay the equivalent of CHF 20 per person. First we drove to our second cape on this trip and took an obligatory picture with the sign. Many tourists think this point is the southernmost of the continent, but it is in fact the most south-western point. We then drove along a typical fynbos landscape to Cape Point, where there is even a funicular for a tiny climb. At the southern end of the Cape Peninsula there is an old lighthouse and a newer lighthouse lower down. From the viewpoint at the end of the funicular, we enjoyed the panoramic view of the sea and the peninsula.

From there we drove to Simons Town, where we indulged in something sweet, a coffee and later craft beers with tacos. Sated and exhausted, we relaxed in the afternoon in our accommodation with a perfect sea view.

The last, albeit short, stage awaited us. The destination was Cape Town. We have probably told several hundred people this city as our destination since the start of the trip, as practically all Africans know Cape Town.

Right at the start, we climbed over 100 meters in altitude before the road to Chapman’s Peak Drive began. This 9 km long coastal road winds its way along 114 bends between the sea and steep cliffs towards Cape Town. Due to the high cost of repairing this section of the road, motorized road users have to pay a small fee.

Despite the extremely strong wind at times, we were able to enjoy the impressive coastal scenery as we approached South Africa’s second largest metropolitan region. After two more climbs, we descended into the center of the city, which has a population of 430,000. Unfortunately, we were denied a view of the imposing Twelve Apostles mountain range due to gathering dark clouds. We reached our accommodation for the next few nights at high speed until we left Africa again. We had therefore covered the entire planned route by bike and were able to devote our full attention to sightseeing in Cape Town. We celebrated the successful and accident free completion of our huge project at the Waterfront together.

During our time in Cape Town, we walked a lot through the various and very different neighborhoods of the city. The Waterfront is very touristy with many souvenir shops, restaurants, and luxurious accommodations. This part of the city felt too inauthentic and sterile to us. The Long Street in the city center, on the other hand, represented the colorful mix of people from all over the world much better.

By chance, we found a restaurant called “Mama Africa” one evening on this street. The interior was beautifully decorated with African themes, there was live music and even the staff wore traditional clothing. The menu included dishes from West Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa. We tried the Mopane worms, which were not particularly tasty to our palates, but in many countries, they are an important source of protein for millions of people. We liked the atmosphere in the restaurant and the variety of dishes offered. Unfortunately, the unrequested addition of a 10% tip and the small print on the menu about the music fee, which we hadn’t noticed, slightly marred the positive experience.

Despite the still-present separation of the four races introduced during apartheid (Black, White, Asian, and Coloured), poverty can now be seen even in the city center. Time and again, you see tents where people live right next to the four-lane main road. Additionally, we were often approached by beggars. Due to the few tourists in the city, there was little going on in the evenings, and the city center was generally rather quiet for a city of this size. For this reason, we stood out more on the streets and were more frequently approached.

Cape Town is neither the only capital of South Africa nor the largest city. There are three capitals: the government is in Pretoria, the parliament in Cape Town, and the highest court of appeal in Bloemfontein.

We still find it difficult to process the end of this gigantic journey, as we have been traveling and moving every day since our arrival at the Southern Cape. However, after a bit of reflection, we realized that we drove about 1,000 km on average in each country we visited during the trip. Additionally, we were curious about the shortest possible route from the North Cape to the South Cape if you travel through West Africa. In Europe, it is about 5,500 km, and in Africa about 13,000 km. This means that without the many detours, connecting the two points would have been possible with even half the distance we traveled.

On the first day in Cape Town, we booked a trip to visit Robben Island, the former imprisonment site of Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, the tour was canceled the day before due to defects with the boat. This gave us more time to explore the hiking trails around the city.

From the 14th floor of our hotel, we had a sensational view of the entire city, including the mountain range. Before planning our day, we took the elevator up to check the weather in the mountains and the city.

Table Mountain, over 1,000 meters high and the highest peak around Cape Town, had long been a fixed item on our itinerary during our visit. We tried to choose the day with the best weather. Unfortunately, this is not easy during the rather wet and windy South African winter. On the selected day, it started raining on our way to the starting point, and we spontaneously decided on Lion’s Head. This mountain also belongs to the Table Mountain massif, but it was not shrouded in thick clouds and is lower than Table Mountain. The final ascent was so challenging that we needed both hands to climb the ladders and steep sections. In the evening, the clouds were blown away by the wind, and from Signal Hill, we enjoyed the beautiful view of Table Mountain and the sea, including the sunset, while having a delicious aperitif.

Our last full day was entirely dedicated to Table Mountain. Luckily, we had gambled on good weather, and we were rewarded! Already in the morning, the view of the distinctive rock face was clear, and we drove to the base of the hiking trail. The path started steeply right from the beginning and before reaching the plateau, it led through numerous switchbacks in a cut through the imposing rock wall. Once at the top, we enjoyed the view in all directions and were pleased with our weather luck.

Table Mountain boasts a great diversity of plants with about 1,400 species, which means more diversity than in all of Great Britain. The younger group chose a different, much more challenging route back down, while Lilo and Peter took the same path down. In the evening, we reminisced about the wonderful day and our time together, enjoying another delicious dinner with local wine.

One day before our flight home, we packed our bikes into boxes provided by a bike shop not far from our hotel. This allowed us to walk directly to the bike shop with the rest of our luggage and then take a taxi with the bike boxes to the airport. Using Uber, we tried to order a large taxi. The first one was much too small and the 180 cm long boxes would never fit into the car. The second driver arrived a few minutes later, but his vehicle was not much bigger. With his African calmness, the man, who had emigrated from the Congo, suggested we give it a try. We managed to fold down all the back seats, and the boxes barely fit in. The problem now was that there were only two seats left for three people. So, we had to share the one front seat and cover the roughly 20 km that way.

At the airport, we met Fabian’s parents again and went to the Qatar Airways counter. The check-in went smoothly, and we were able to drop off the boxes at a separate counter two floors down. After that, we were relieved and could relax and prepare for the long journey home.

Just before midnight, we arrived in Doha and walked into the huge transit hall at 34 degrees Celsius. We said goodbye to Fabian’s parents, as their connecting flight was earlier than ours. We thanked Peter and Lilo for their great support over the past two weeks, the time spent together and their incredible generosity.

We found a quiet spot, set up our air mattresses and slept until shortly after seven. After another flight, we arrived in Zurich with a slight delay. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long for our luggage and bikes, and we walked to the exit. There, we were surprisingly greeted by family and friends with homemade signs and an aperitif. It was a lovely welcome home, and we greatly appreciated and enjoyed the organized reception.

<–Back to Eswatini