Neale Bayly is one of the most laudable motorcyclists we know. He’s not only a talented rider, an accomplished journalist and a TV personality, he’s also an admirable philanthropist who donates much of his time and efforts into helping needy and disadvantaged people. His philanthropic endeavors began in South America and were highlighted in Neale Bayly Rides: Peru in 2013.
Bayly’s latest mission has taken him to South Africa as he expands the reach of his foundation, Wellspring International Outreach. Below is his story about his reconnaissance trip to South Africa and the village of White River. Bayly is gearing up for new rides in 2015, first back to Peru this spring, then a return to Africa in the fall. If you’d like to join Neale on one of his epic rides, contact him at NealeBayly.com.
It was out along the Swaziland border, north of Ngoneni, that I found it. Riding for the last hours on challenging but fun dirt roads, I found the spectacular scenery at every rise, and in every direction was a tapestry of rich, pastel colors and soft, inviting textures. Two weeks in the saddle had my bones settled into ride mode, and I could have ridden these roads forever.
With my mind free from all thoughts of regular life, family, and home, I was finally and completely in Africa. Moments later, the group ahead pulled over to take pictures, when someone noticed an impossibly steep hill that would afford the most majestic 360-degree view of our surroundings. Fueled by the adrenaline of the perfect day, without hesitation I took off to make the climb. Knowing there were no second chances, I trusted my tires, my bike, and myself, and made the climb. Reaching the top, I killed the engine and was left with only the sound of the wind and my beating heart, as I gazed out at the uninterrupted, panoramic view back across South Africa. Alone with my thoughts, my mind ran over the many miles and experiences that had led to here since we left Cape Town to cross South Africa.
Leaving my home in Charlotte, two weeks earlier, I had started with the usual joy of a 3:30am wake up call after staying up too late packing. With a layover in Washington to meet up with our team photographer, Ray McKenzie, it felt good to have an easy-going travel companion for the long flight ahead. Thirty-six hours later we were meeting our riding buddies who would share the ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg with us. A journey that would add a special visit to an elderly lady in the township of White River I was interested in adopting for my foundation, Wellspring International Outreach.
Led by the jovial Johan Keyser, a South African who now lives Stateside building incredible café and custom motorcycles, we picked up our BMW GSs and rode out under the watchful eye of Table Mountain bound for the Cape of Good Hope, past shanty towns and many local people beside the road, which had us all on high alert.
By Muizenberg Beach it’s apparent we are going to have rain today, and we check our gear as we watch surfers catching good-sized waves before rolling on. Simon’s Town became Ark Rock, and a quick stop to look for penguins yielded just one who took a quick glance at a group of weird-looking humans in adventure riding gear and dived into the ocean.
By the time we got to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Preserve, the rains were on, but it didn’t deter us from an enjoyable hike to Cape Point Lighthouse. Gazing out as the wind roared and the massive waves beat the rocky beach, I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for weary sailors to finally see the lighthouse after many weeks at sea.
A quick ride back down in the old funicular saw our group enjoying lunch with a panoramic view through the glass front when my buddy, Anthony Carrino, rolled in, soaked to the skin and grinning from ear to ear. If you watch HGTV, you will know Carrino from his popular Cousins Undercover show. Joining our eclectic crew, he sat down and we got back to the jokes and crazy storytelling that would be the default for the rest of the adventure. With pictures taken at all the correct signs to document we had been to the end of Africa, we battled heavy wind and rain back through Hout Bay on the return to our hotel. It was an entertaining evening hanging soaking wet clothes over the heaters in an attempt to start the new day with dry gear.
The best part of our ride was traveling with Johan, as leaving Bellville he informed us of the delights we would encounter along the way and at our scheduled lunch stop at the Orchard Farmstall & Restaurant. Warming up by an open fire, sipping Appletiser and munching on homemade apple pie, we were all highly animated about the great riding and the diversity of our surroundings. It’s only day two, and at this rate we are clearly going to run out of expletives before we are even halfway through.
The mountainous route that carried us away from Cape Town is on the smoothest, lightly trafficked asphalt you can imagine, and the views back across the water will leave you with a crick in your neck, they are so stunning. You do have to ride with a little caution as the baboons are occasionally sitting in the middle of the road. Baboons! I think we all had to pinch ourselves at first when we saw these incredibly primitive-looking creatures mingling with cars, buses, and motorcycles. We rode in and out of some heavy rain, but it had passed by the time we made the Stellenbosch wine region, and by mid-afternoon we were checked into the Kleine Zalze Wine Farm with a wine-tasting session scheduled.
While the wine connoisseurs did their thing, Anthony and I, accompanied by Ray and team doctor, Don Sudy, went exploring the local townships. Before long, we found some deserted dirt roads. It didn’t take long before the cameras were out and the fun began, and we spent the rest of the afternoon reconnecting with our inner teenager. Back at the farm, the photo opportunities carried on past the blazing sunset as the night sky filled with stars, and it was well past the witching hour when we crawled into our beds.
Route 44 kept us on the coastal highway to Gordon’s Bay, and after a tea break at Klienmond on the Atlantic Ocean, we made our way to the shark-diving boats located in Van Dyks Bay. Unfortunately we couldn’t dive, but we did hire a Zodiac and boat captain to visit Geyser Rock, about four miles out and home to thousands of seals, and watch from a distance the sharks that feed on them. Bouncing through six-to-ten foot waves was as adrenaline-producing as any ride, and a little challenging to keep our camera gear dry, but the sights, sounds, and smells that greeted us were so stunning, it was totally worth any inconvenience to see thousands of seals swimming, playing or basking on the sun-baked rocks before we moved on to watch as a huge shark circled our boat in the clear water.
Rolling away from the ocean, it was good to be back on the bike and alone in my helmet as I tried to process the beauty of what we had just seen. Mother Nature constantly blows my mind, and we seem to devote so little of our regular lives to experiencing what she has to offer. In this moment, I wondered why. Before I got too lost in this unsolvable thought, Johan had turned onto a piece of nicely graded dirt road. Fifty miles later, covered in dust, adrenaline flowing freely, we re-connected with the tarmac and turned for Cape Agulhas, smiling at the stories I knew I’d be hearing later on at dinner.
As we climbed off our bikes and made our way to the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, it was a humbling experience to look out at these two vast bodies of water connecting at this one rocky outcrop at the end of the African continent. We stopped to take pictures and document our moment before saddling up for a late-afternoon ride into Swellendam accompanied by a slowly sinking sun lighting the smooth, surrounding countryside in rich golden color for our arrival. A posh dinner at a local restaurant located by Johan put the perfect bookend to a day packed with so many experiences it was already becoming difficult to remember them all.
Walking out on our balcony, the new day revealed neatly tended gardens framed by soft, low-slung mountains lit by beams of sunlight breaking through the clouds at the Aan de Oever guesthouse. The sound of the various birdcalls, mingled with the voices of our crew, signaled breakfast, and we assumed the position for a quick 5,000-calorie culinary feast being passed off as breakfast.
Loading up, getting on our gear and riding into the new day, we were moving fluidly together now as an early morning stop saw us visiting the farm where Johan grew up. With his local knowledge, Johan ran us to the nearby Old George Knysna Road, a narrow road leading to the Kaalmans River Bridge, where we stopped for photos. The sight of the reddish river and the strange vegetation thrilled my travel senses, and we mounted up and made for the coastal highway. An eclectic lunch stop at the Jopol Bistro just outside Sedgefield saw us devouring spicy sausage in the tropical garden, and a set of comfortable couches afforded a nap spot for Bob, our senior member on the tour.
One-hundred kilometers later, I came face to face with my fear of heights at the Bloukrans bungee jump, the highest in the world, and lost. Not so our intrepid TV star, Anthony, who dived off head-first and came back to the group like an elementary-school kid who had just raided the cookie jar and eaten the lot. Our ace photographer Ray McKenzie captured the moment Anthony dove off the bridge, over 600 feet above the Bloukrans River.
Trying to shake off the effects of last night’s braai (South African BBQ) with strong coffee, we spent an enjoyable early morning chatting with our host at the Tsitsikamma Village and taking photos of his antique BMW motorcycle. The sun was sending scorching rays early as we found our next adventure at the local wolf sanctuary. Here we learned how these amazing creatures are bought as pets before being turned loose when the owners realize you can’t domesticate them. Thankfully, Melody Fourie and her partner have set up the sanctuary to care for them, and we enjoyed a very personal tour as we learned about the various packs that have evolved.
Back on the road, Africa rolled beneath our wheels as a constantly changing and evolving landscape, occasionally reminding me of other wild and foreign lands I have traveled. By evening, we were back along the Indian Ocean with enough daylight for a long walk to stretch our legs and breathe in the fresh salt air. We had some nice beach cabanas for the night, and we could have been in England with the tea and toast on offer for breakfast the following morning. With our hosts, Jeff and Linda Smith, originally hailing from Rhodesia, this connection was made clear, and it made me smile to be so far from the land of my birth yet feeling as if I were home. My American friends loved it.
Route 102 was narrow and winding, and we made our way to Port Elizabeth after crossing a girder bridge across the Gamtoos River. With thoughts of Peter Gabriel’s haunting song “Biko” playing in my head, we stopped to view the underside of the Van Stadens Bridge, which has become famous for the 88 people who have jumped to their death. Today, on a gloriously sunny day, a conversation with an elderly gentleman and his grandson allowed us the experience of hearing a group of people singing powerful African songs along the river. As the sound of their voices bounced off the canyon walls, I felt chills on my skin even as my forehead became beaded in sweat, the power of the moment lodging somewhere deep in my soul.
The area around Port Elizabeth is vast and industrial, so we ducked out onto R72 and rode to a lunch spot on the Indian Ocean set back from the most magnificent sand dunes around the mouth of the Kowie River. Departing Port Alfred, we rode through lush countryside for an early arrival at our evening’s destination, Kidd’s Beach.
This turned out to be a crazy experience, as we swam in tidal pools along the ocean, took long walks on deserted beaches, and sat down to dinner in the ultimate man cave. Meat, meat, and meat, with sides of beer, wine and spirits, all-served with a light fricassee of second-hand smoke made for some interesting jokes as we all reverted to our inner caveman for the night.
Pre-dawn alarm clocks were rare on this trip, but today was an exception as we readied for a long ride. We swilled coffee and chatted with our fellow guests before picking up the N2 to East London and a ferry crossing over the Groot Kei River. Arriving on a dirt road, we waited for the old-fashioned ferry to make its way across the low, fast-flowing, muddy river and made friends with the local people. Rolling our BMWs onto the floating metal object with the outboard motor attached was a bit of a leap of faith, but our captain got us safely to the other side and even let me steer for a time, much to the horror of the local travelers who were all jammed on with us.
The next adventure saw me picking up a hitchhiker, our truck getting a flat tire, and blasting across many miles of narrow dirt road through undeveloped countryside. The spare tire was missing on the rental truck, so this is how I ended up driving in the most beaten-down old pickup truck I’ve ever been in. But we got back on the road in one piece, more than somewhat late for lunch. Tensions were a little high today, as the truck crew had been stranded for a time waiting for us with the temperatures soaring over 100 degrees, but as we rolled along N2 deeper into the eastern cape alongside stunning hills and mountains, this was all quickly forgotten.
Passing through the town of Mthatha, heavy traffic on Nelson Mandela Drive revealed a lady driving along with a monkey on her shoulder and children covered in white ash begging for money and scrambling between the slow-moving cars. Once back out in the countryside, we soon lost the light and rode into the Mbotyi River Lodge after dark on some fun dirt roads. Thanks, BMW headlight.
Today, we had yet another superb treat as we rolled off to visit the surrounding waterfalls. We started at Magwa Falls and inched our way to the edge, peering 400 feet down into the canyon, hewn into the plateau by the fracturing forces of tectonic activity. With cameras on high alert, we added pixels and light to our collection and visited more falls before a quick fly-by of the lodge to grab our gear and go. With broad daylight, the dirt portion of the ride back to the highway was the perfect way to get ready for a long day of riding that was going to get tough.
As we climbed into the mountains, the temperatures plummeted and the rains came, and then they came some more. Spending long periods of time in a slow-moving caravan of motorcycles inching along using the tail light of the bike ahead for guidance, I was hoping Johan could see something up front. All our riders are well-seasoned, and we had no complaints as we finally rolled into the Stocklands Farm in the town of Howick. With all of our gear soaked, we were grateful for our own kitchen, and soon the oven was on and the small apartment filled with the pungent odor of wet gear and the sound of laughter as we all told tall tales and hung out late into the night.
Waking to a misty morning in a setting that wouldn’t have been out of place in England, our tea-and-toast-style breakfast continued the confusion as our host, Eve, dug out memories of school mistresses from childhood days. Luckily we behaved and were soon gliding along the super-smooth N3 as we made our way north. Shortly after a morning coffee break, Johan began picking up secondary roads and, with glorious sunshine after the rain, the stunning South African countryside was ablaze with color. Then it was literally ablaze, as Anthony and I stopped to watch a bush fire before the heat got too strong.
Our next adventure saw us pass a policewoman with a digital SLR snapping pictures of license plates. Three times the speed limit produced a $59 ticket in the mail a month later, but it was still worth the fun and games we had while blasting hard and fast along the twisting piece of asphalt splitting the barren countryside. The town of Waakerstroom became Piet Retief, and with a fair portion of the day left to sit and relax we took up residence at the Rohrs Family Farm where our hosts had a special barbecue planned for us.
Rolling off the farm in magical light, it was a tad bittersweet knowing it was our last day of riding, but we had the carrot of a day in Kruger National Park to ease the comedown. It also had some frustrations, as Johan couldn’t find a road he was looking for, and my GS decided it wasn’t going to take any more plugs in the rear tire to fix a tear I got the day before, so it got loaded onto the trailer. Sitting in the truck chatting, watching purple Jacaranda trees sail by, and gazing over the vast South African landscape, I didn’t realize I was soon to be in for one of the best motorcycle rides of my life.
An hour or so had passed when we pulled up at a small border-type guard house and learned we would be traveling along the Swaziland border on the D481, a secondary dirt road, for a time. This prompted one of our riders to ask if I would ride his F700GS, as he was not much of a dirt rider, and this is how I came to have my magical moment on the top of the hill just north of Ngoneni.
The next days flew by in a blur as we dropped off the bikes, staged up at the Maroela Chalets on the southern edge of Kruger National Park, and spent a day looking for and photographing the big five: cape buffalo, black rhinoceros, African elephant, lion and leopard. Our guide, Cliff, had us packed and loaded before sunup, and by dark we had added monkeys, tortoise, all manner of birds, wild dogs, and more to our count. Words can’t do justice to the feelings of seeing all these wild animals but a short distance from our camera lenses. We rode back to our chalets with memory cards full.
We would have some work to do to make Johannesburg, drop our rental vehicles, and start the long flight home, but we had one more activity planned. As the president of Wellspring International Outreach, I have wanted to open up our reach to a small project in South Africa, so Johan had lined us up with Child Welfare SA White River (CWSAWR).
Here we spent the day learning about their work in a poor township, in particular one 84-year-old lady, Ouma, who is caring for six grandchildren in a small wooden shack with a tin roof. Her children had all died of AIDS, leaving her without any fixed income and seven mouths to feed. We were greeted by local African singers and spent a few hours with Ouma as we formulated a plan to raise money to build her a house and put another ride together to come back and visit. It was an emotional day, but one filled with intense energy, friendship and hope.
We said our goodbyes, and with a handshake and a promise to return, turned our eyes for home – even though once you’ve been, you’ll never quite leave Africa.
Log onto www.wellspring-outreach.org to see the results.