Monday, 31 October 2011

Day 363 South Africa 31/10/2011, Nelspruit – Barberton caravan park, Barberton. 27.58miles/44.27km, 3hr12minutes, Av 8.6mph.

It was a little sad to be moving on this morning especially having to say goodbye to the kids. We have had a very enjoyable time at Nelspruit Backpackers and have to say a big thank you to Paul, Natalie, Josh, Leah and Luke.

Pedalling away from the backpackers, we immediately started to climb into what turned out to be pretty thick fog. After several days of really hot weather, overcast skies and misty/foggy mornings have become the normal. Nice for cycling in that it is cooler, although the humidity has remained high, not so great when it comes to being seen by traffic. Fortunately the vast majority of the roads that we have been riding on have had a generous hard shoulder, even if it seems quite common to drive in it.

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After 13km of climbing we reached a steep descent that wound its way down the mountainside via some very sharp bends. The descent was fun, if somewhat cold as we are still dressed for the warm weather. Stopping for a break at the bottom, we found a frankly enormous grasshopper on the side of the road. Super-sized bugs have been a feature of travelling through Africa. Fortunately this time we didn't wake up to it in our tent!


After the sharp descent it was back to the normal pattern of long gentle climbing interspersed with some short descents. Despite being a short day it was nice to get to the town of Barberton and the caravan park where we planned to stay. Having pitched the tent in the almost empty site, until the December holidays we are firmly in low season, we showered and wandered into town. After the busy modern city of Nelspruit, Barberton falls more into the sleepy category. Wondering what there is to see, we found ourselves in the tourist information office, where we met the very helpful Astrid. She was so taken by our journey to her town, that it looks like we will get some coverage in the local paper. It's not every day that you get to say you are famous in Barberton!

Having picked up a couple of maps we wandered round the town, stopped for lunch, bought some shopping and then headed back to the camp, where we both promptly fell asleep! If dinner didn't need cooking I probably would have slept through. As it turned out, eating dinner was pretty much the last act of our day. Having spent all of our time staying in hostels since we arrived, the camp-site was a haven of peace and quiet and we were back to being in bed by 8pm. We will be exploring Barberton further tomorrow and then heading to Swaziland the day after.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Day 360 – 362 South Africa 28/10/2011- 30/10/2011, Nelspruit Backpackers, Nelspruit. Shopping, swimming and more shopping.

Our stay in Nelspruit, has been made all the better by the hospitality of Paul and his family. We have been happily entertained by the children and have hopefully kept them entertained in return. The swimming pool has been a welcome diversion during the hot and humid days and cooler nights have kept camping bearable.

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While there doesn't appear to be much to actually see in the city, we have made a few trips to the various malls, resisting the temptations to buy anything while we were there. I have also been to watch the Currie cup final (South African rugby competition) at the local pub with Paul, while Debs went to a dance show with Natalie.

It has been a very nice few days but we will be leaving Nelspruit tomorrow and heading for Barberton, our last stop before Swaziland. We are not expecting too much change in the scenery, which is fine by us, but hopefully we will experience a culturally different country.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Day 359 South Africa 27/10/2011, Hazyview – Nelspruit Backpackers, Nelspruit. 36.56miles/60km, 4hr14minutes, Av 8.6mph.

After a very stormy night we woke to a cooler misty morning. Aside from the visibility issue it looked like a good day to be cycling. Nigel was up and about before us and said his goodbyes while we were getting breakfast. We may well meet him on the road in Swaziland. Everything was set for a early getaway, until we went to load Debs' bike and discovered a flat rear tyre. I quickly repaired the tiny puncture and we set off into the mist, not terribly unhappy to be leaving Big 5 backpackers behind. It may have been the cheapest place we have stayed, but it was also the least cheerful.

After a rapid 5km descent, we began a long climb through a succession of townships. Despite the cold damp weather, we were soon sweating heavily which seemed amazing considering the temperature. Riding through the townships had the added bonus of a constant stream of people who almost universally waved and greeted us warmly.

As the mist began to lift, we were treated to some beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. Considering the hilly road we were getting along really well, until we hit one particularly steep hill. Fortunately it was only 1km long but it came out of nowhere and was a real struggle to get to the top. From there on in, it was a pretty straight ride to the town of White River. We had originally planned on staying in a lodge before the town, but couldn't find the link road/track that we needed to take to get there.

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Slightly disappointed that we couldn't find the road, we stopped for a spot of lunch at a mall just outside White River. While getting ready to leave, a guy appeared pushing a Cotic cycle (one of my favourite British steel bike frame manufacturers) and showed an interest in our bikes. He introduced himself as Matt and said that he worked for a small bike shop that is the only distributor for Cotic cycles in South Africa. Matt and his friend Grant? (sorry if you read this and I got it wrong) were very impressed that we were cycling through South Africa and wished us well on our journey.

Realising that we were only 19km away from Nelspruit, we decided that we may as well carry on and stay there. After a steep climb through White River, the road levelled out and we were soon racing towards Nelspruit. Heading up a gentle climb we spotted Nigel up ahead and quickly caught up with him!


Despite his leaving earlier than us, he had taken a longer route to White River. We hadn't expected to meet him this early, so we decided to wait for him (Debs was too speedy!) and ride into the city together. Riding into Nelspruit was traffic-heavy but pretty straightforward and we soon arrived at Nelspruit Backpackers. Despite having some very nice dorm rooms, we decided to camp. Zip troubles aside, it is about time that we put the tent to some use again.


Nelspruit backpackers is a vast improvement over Big 5. The owner Paul and his wife Natalie are lovely as are their three children, Josh, Leah and Luke, who Debs has been happily entertaining with card games. Plus the hostel is really close to a shopping mall, which makes a change from having to cycle to the shops.

Having got settled in we headed to the shops, bought some beer and wine and returned the hostel. Using the well-equipped kitchen we had a nice dinner and a few beers until we considered it cool enough to go to the tent. There is no real shade in the garden, so we are relying on cool nights to get any sleep. Torrential rain, thunder and lightning took care of the temperature for us and thankfully we remained leak free.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Day 358 South Africa 26/10/2011, Big 5 Backpackers, Hazyview. Still here and recovering from illness, hopefully.

Debs woke still feeling unwell this morning, plus it was raining. It looked like a good enough set of reasons to stay where we were.

While Debs rested, I rode back to the town to get some supplies. The security guys in the supermarket must have remembered me, as they gave me a wave and said they would look after my bike. A quick rush round the shops later and I was heading back to the hostel.

By the time I got back, Debs was looking a little better than she did this morning. My stomach also seems to have settled, so we should be good to go tomorrow.

For the rest of the day Debs has been researching and planning our route, while I have been blogging and talking bicycles with Nigel. With any luck the cooler overcast weather will remain tomorrow and we will have a good ride to White River.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Day 357 South Africa 25/10/2011, Sheri's Lodge, Graskop – Big 5 backpackers, Hazyview. 27.81miles/44.49km, 2hr46minutes, Av 10mph.

With the prospect of a short and more importantly downhill day ahead of us we set off for a return to the town of Hazyview. Having stopped in the town on our way north, we had decided to take a different route back. As we were once again travelling along the scenic panorama route we were expecting another day of beautiful scenery. For the main part we weren't disappointed, but it wasn't quite as spectacular as some of the other roads we had taken. We understand that the trees have been planted to be farmed, but large areas of deforestation doesn't make for the prettiest of environments.

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Fortunately despite some notable ups, the route was largely downhill, a good thing as we are both still nursing upset stomachs. It has been a while now and we just don't seem to be able to shake them, it is making the cycling tougher than perhaps it should be. It may be time to take a course of antibiotics and hope that it clears up the problem.

Arriving in Hazyview quite early, we rode into town and stopped at a tourist centre to look for a better map of South Africa. The maps weren't suitable but we did find somewhere to have brunch. With our stomachs fuller and having imbibed my body weight in free refill cokes, we set off for 'Big 5' backpackers.

Having stayed in 'Bushpackers' last time we thought we would try somewhere different. While heading up the hill towards the hostel, uphill is a given, we encountered another cyclist coming the other way. He quickly introduced himself as Nigel and said that he was also staying at 'Big 5'. In the meantime we were also approached by a parks guy who had met some cyclists about a year ago and wanted to offer us somewhere to stay. We thanked him for his kind offer, but thought that it would be nice to stay in the same place as Nigel and find out what his plans are. Saying goodbye to both of them, we continued up the hill and shorty arrived at the hostel.

Big 5 is the cheapest place we have stayed for a while so we have taken a double room with shared bathroom, which is bizarrely less expensive than camping. It seems pretty basic, but the staff are friendly enough and we only plan to be here for one night before moving on. There is also a very nice view over the hills from our room.

While getting sorted, Nigel came back and we found out that he had just come from Johannesburg where his trip had begun. He has six months to explore Southern/Eastern Africa. He is potentially on a similar route to us, so we may meet along the way as we head south. He is likely to be moving much quicker than us though.

Dinner was followed by an early night. Debs started to feel a lot worse last night, so we will have to play our plans for tomorrow by ear. There is no point in moving on if she is going to feel rubbish all day. We certainly haven't cleared the mountains yet.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Day 354 - 356 South Africa 22/10/2011 – 24/10/2011, Sheri's Lodge, Graskop. Choppers, rugby, waterfalls and an ice cold swim!

The main reason to come and stay at Sheri's Lodge was to take a tour on his three-wheeled choppers. What we didn't know was that the whole tour wasn't actually up and running yet. Fortunately, despite the trikes not having number plates yet, Sheri was happy to take us and two fellow guests on a shortened tour. Riding the choppers is easy, they have 150cc automatic engines so it is simply a case of twist and go.

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Having had a quick practise on the driveway, we were issued with helmets and embossed 'live to ride, ride to live' leather jackets and we then hit the highway. Drawing a certain amount of attention along the way, we headed up to 'Wonder view' where we stopped to have a look at, yes you guessed it, the view! It was pretty spectacular although it was quite hazy and the sun wasn't in the ideal position for photographs.

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On the return route we made a stop at an area of very clear pools, where Sheri hopes to take guests for a swim and BBQ when he is properly up and running. The trikes are a lot of fun and we would heartily recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

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Having taken some cool photos back at the lodge, we thanked Sheri and then went to get some shopping. It had been suggested that we could try again with Sheri's car in the afternoon, but we couldn't find him later on and by then Debs was sadly feeling unwell. She seems to have caught what I had a few days ago. It is all a bit mysterious, but hopefully she will be fighting fit by the morning.

Sunday was rugby world cup final day and after a cooked breakfast I was happily settled in front of the television with a beer in hand. It wasn't a classic final, but in the end the result went the right way.

Slightly annoyingly we probably could have borrowed the car in the afternoon, but I had had too many beers. Originally Sheri had told us that he was going to Johannesburg on Sunday, so we had not even considered the possibility of driving. There was only one thing for it, and that was to go to the pub. Beer pretty much dictated the rest of my day. I watched a football match with some locals and a traffic police officer called Famous.


We then joined Sheri and his son for a beer and some food back at the pub. By the time we returned to the room I had drank considerably more than was good for me. Debs meanwhile had been very restrained as she was still nursing an upset stomach.

Instead of leaving Graskop the next morning, we decided to head off on our bikes and see a couple of local waterfalls and then go for a swim at the pools. This had the added bonus that I didn't have to cycle too far with a raging hangover. The waterfalls may not be at their best, the rainy season is only just beginning, but they are still quite nice. We rode first to Lisbon falls and then headed to Berlin falls.

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Riding with no luggage is considerably easier, but it was still very hot. This combined with a hangover and Debs still not feeling 100% meant that we were very glad to get to the swimming area. Acting bravely/foolishly, you choose, I decided to jump straight into the clear water from the rocks. The water was shockingly cold and it was all I could do to swim straight back to the side. Still it cleared my head, at least when the ice melted it did!

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Taking a more sensible route of sliding back into the water, having got over the initial shock, we had an enjoyable swim. By the time we had had a couple of hours sun bathing on the rocks and laying in the waterfalls we were ready to face the journey back to Graskop.

Returning to the lodge it was rest time and that has pretty much taken up the rest of the day. Tomorrow we return to the town of Hazyview, this time along a different route which should be almost entirely downhill. For now though, it is time for a early night.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Day 353 South Africa 21/10/2011, Sabie Backpackers, Sabie – Sheri's Lodge, Graskop. 17.80miles/28.46km, 2hr50minutes, Av 6.2mph.

I may still have been feeling weak, but I woke feeling much better than I did yesterday. It looked like we were good to move on. This may have been slightly influenced by the fact that we didn't really like Sabie Backpackers that much.

Packing our gear, we set off up the road towards Graskop, with the emphasis on the word up! It certainly wasn't going to be a flat day.

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The scenery was once again beautiful and was only enhanced by a stop to see the Mac Mac Falls along the way.

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Fortunately, the altitude and cloud cover kept the temperature and humidity within the boundaries of bearable. It may have been a bit of a struggle, cycling whilst feeling ill is not the easiest of pastimes, but eventually we made it to the town of Graskop.

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Finding Sheri's Lodge was very easy, thanks mainly to the large signposts, and we were soon checked into a dorm room. We had planned on camping, but it seems that despite advertising to suggest that we could, there is no camping available. Instead we have been given a dorm room to ourselves. Clearly this is the bonus of travelling in the low season.

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Having settled in, we met Rod 'Sheri' Sheridan (the mildly eccentric owner) and were immediately offered the keys to his car so that we could go and have a look at the Blyde River Canyon. Obviously this seemed like a pretty good offer and it was, until I tried to drive the car! We had already been warned that it had a few problems, but being a Mercedes you have to wonder how many it could actually have. As it turned out quite a few! Firstly it wouldn't idle, which in an automatic car is a bit of a problem.

Also the ignition had been rigged so that you could just twist it with a screwdriver/flat key. The ignition issue became of great significance when the car stalled outside the 'Three Rondavels' and I couldn't restart it. To make matters worse we didn't have our phone with us either. Borrowing a phone from one of the really helpful park staff, we phoned Rod who suggested that the battery lead had come loose. This proved to be not the case, although it wasn't what you would call securely attached. Apparently because of the security problems with having a hot-wired car, Rod often removes the battery lead to stop it being stolen!

At certain times of your life you have to question whether a generous offer, such as the lending of a car, is actually that generous. After we had attempted a jump start, had the car looked at by several bystanders, who all shook their heads, we called Rod again. This time he said that he would have to come out to us, which obviously would have been better if we weren't 50km away.

While we waited, the gate staff flagged down a couple of tourists and asked them to give us a lift to see the Three Rondavels. Consequently, two slightly bemused elderly Germans ended up with a pair of hitch hikers! In truth they took it in good spirits and happily drove us to the view point, which turned out to be pretty spectacular.

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The Blyde River Canyon is the world's third largest and the only green canyon. Considering the fact that it is the only canyon that is still actively growing, potentially it could end up as the largest. Hopefully not in the time it took us to get the car started!

Eventually Rod turned up with mechanics in tow and yes, you guessed it, it started first go! It seems that with no key, you have to make sure that you turn it all the way to off and then when you turn the starter, it sticks a bit so you have to give it an extra twist. With hindsight it seems obvious that I wasn't turning the starter far enough, but in my defence I have never driven a car with the ignition switch broken off!

Feeling slightly embarrassed, we left the Rondavels behind, with three extra passengers. The staff at the gate had been so good to us, that we could hardly refuse them a lift. Sadly a combination of the afternoon wearing on, me still feeling a bit under the weather and a total lack of confidence in the car, meant that we headed straight back to the lodge. Any plans to see more of the canyon would have to wait.

Sheri (Rod) got back to the lodge after us and seemed a little upset that we hadn't got to see anything. I explained that we had had enough for the day and gave him some money for the diesel that he had used to come out and rescue us. In the end we just had to put it down to one of those days. The lone of the car had been a bonus, even if it didn't turn out that way.

Dinner and a few glasses of wine helped to ease the disappointment of the day, as did chatting to a few of our fellow guests. Tomorrow we will be trying our luck with a tour on a couple of Sheri's very cool three-wheeled choppers!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Day 352 South Africa 20/10/2011, Sabie Backpackers, Sabie. Illness in the camp!

Maybe it was the takeaway, or maybe it was just one of those non-specific illnesses, but at 4am I woke feeling dreadful. The rest of the night became a constant run to the toilet, which left me in the morning aching and shivering.

While Debs went about her day, I spent most of it under the duvet feeling sorry for myself. I forced myself to wander into town with Debs this afternoon which probably helped a little. After another rest I got up feeling a little better and a nice dinner has worked wonders.

For her part, Debs has been busy today emailing, planning our route and checking on potential accommodation. She wisely elected to keep out of the way, as I am a notoriously bad patient!

Hopefully I will be fighting fit tomorrow as we have another steep, although this time much shorter, day ahead of us. We at least will have the beautiful scenery to keep us going which should include a stop to look at a waterfall.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Day 351 South Africa 19/10/2011, Bushpackers camp-site, Hazyview – Sabie Backpackers, Sabie. 26.59miles/42.67km, 3hr56minutes, Av 6.7mph.

Thankfully there was no repeat of the snake incident this morning, instead we were joined by a small non-threatening frog! Having guided him gently out of the tent, we breakfasted, packed up and hit the road by 7:30am.

Almost immediately we were into the hills although we weren't the only cyclists to be tackling them. Shortly after setting off we encountered two mountain bikers making their way slowly up the hills. As luck would have it they only got to see us screaming down the hill. Still I think we gave them some food for thought as they looked at us on our heavily laden bikes. Having taken our bikes through the hills to the shops yesterday, we know how much easier it is on an unladen bike!

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The trade off of taking such a hilly route was the amazing scenery. Despite the effort involved there was always something to look at. Banana plantations and dense forestry were interspersed with beautiful valleys and macadamia nut orchards. It was terrain that reminded us, aside form the crop diversity, of our time in Europe and Turkey. It was definitely one of those days that reminds us why we are doing this. The only downside was the high humidity. The skies have been threatening to rain heavily for a few days, which will hopefully, when it comes, clear the air a little.

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With a final push up the hill into the town of Sabie, we stopped at the tourist office to check where the hostels were located. Our plan had been to stay at Billy Bongos, but finding that it was a bit out of town led us to take a look at Sabie Backpackers. It is a bit depressing having to get back on your bike when you need food, having spent hours getting here.

Enquiring as to whether we could camp at Sabie backpackers (our books don't mention camping), we were told yes. Better still, we were then offered dorm beds in what would be a private dorm for the same price. We may like camping, but it was too good an offer to refuse, especially as we could take our bikes into the dorm with us.

The rest of the day was spent shopping, eating a huge takeaway, suffering from the huge aforementioned takeaway, having a snack dinner because of the huge takeaway and having an early night to sleep off our very full stomachs.