Road Trip: Amanzimtoti to Phalaborwa
Over the last few years, the need for Training Trips has increased substantially, and this trip to Phalaborwa was no different.
The invitation came from the folks of Road HOGS, to host a Group Riding Safety & Road Captain Course to their members, riders from other clubs and surrounding towns. This time I decided to take my lovely wife with, as she has never seen this part of our country, and don’t often join me on these trips. With the route planned, accommodation booked, transport arranged, and any bad weather cursed South; we are set to ride North.
Our Valued Sponsors:
Phalaborwa Accommodation: Bushveld Terrace Hotel – more about this amazing place a little later
2017 Honda Africa Twin DCT: Honda Wing Umhlanga – more about this machine as we go along
The total distance from Amanzim-texas (Amanzimtoti) to Phalaborwa, was about 1000km give or take a K; and so with a fully loaded and equipped Africa Twin, we left Toti the Wednesday afternoon around 12:30, aiming to arrive at our stop-over in Piet Retief before dark.
We decided to head North on the N2, and then take the R66 West at Gingindlovu, past Eshowe and refueling at Melmoth. That piece of rural road from the freeway to Eshowe is not the best or safest road; trucks, pedestrians, and animals roaming along and across the road at any given point and turn. The heat at a mild 37deg did not help either, but hey – stay alert they said, it’ll be fun they said! Oh, it wasn’t so bad, just not a road I’ll ride again on our return trip, that’s for sure!
From there, things smoothed out a little, not so warm and busy, onto and around Vryheid, and a refreshing stop at the Wimpy just outside of town. Then a quick slip through a little town called Paulpietersburg; we didn’t waste any time here, whacked it in 3rd and we were out of there. So onwards we pushed to Piet Retief, or rather Mkhondo. Yeah, this was a bit confusing; at first, the signboards would indicate “Piet Retief 40km”, then we lost Oom Piet, and we started seeing signboards of Mkhondo. I mean what the hell?! At least when we rode into town, the “Welcome to Piet Retief” sign was still up. Eish! Riding through town from the South senses on high alert, taxis, and people everywhere, and a traffic cop who decided to pull over a truck in the middle of an intersection. Welcome, they said – it’ll be fun they said!
At least, our stop-over at Bali Biasa Guesthouse for the night, having done just over 440km in the saddle, was received well. Time for a good “park-off”, put the “horse in the stable”, take a hot bath, and then a short walk to the nearest dining spot to spend some face-to-face time with my lovely wife.
About Piet Retief
Piet Retief is a town situated in a timber growing region in Mpumalanga province, South Africa. The town was founded by the Voortrekkers in 1883 and named it after the Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief, who was killed by the Zulus under their King Dingane’s orders after he tried to settle on their land.
The next morning it was time for a quick and early breakfast, eager to hit the road, and more saddle time on our well-behaving horse called Africa Twin.
Taking the N2 out of Piet Retief, the air was fresh and wholesome, turning onto the R33 and through Amsterdam, although we were tempted to pop in at the famous Badplaas, but decided to edge along to our next stop in Barberton for a refuel and breather. Here a local farmer showed interest in the new Honda Africa Twin and was pleasantly surprised at the DCT technology once I explained it to him. He did mention another brand, the word speed, and then found him pulled over just outside of town toward Nelspruit where he had to explain the option of speed to a local traffic cop. Next time, slow down Oom! No, we didn’t wave, but I did smile a little though.
We pushed along to Nelspruit and were blown away by how this town was transforming into a city. Development and buildings popping up as far as the eye can see, shaking off the idea of a quick coffee stop along the main road through, and pushed onwards to White River.
I’ve heard from friends who often travelled this route that the road between White River and Hazyview (R538) was one to avoid, so I pulled the horse left on the R537 West to Sabie. Ja I know, I could’ve taken the R40 up to Hazyview, but I wanted to ride the twisties to Sabie and Graskop and visit God’s Window.
Entering the peaceful town of Sabie, we only refueled and pushed on to Graskop where we would rest and refresh.
Sabie is a forestry town situated on the banks of the Sabie River in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The name Sabie is derived from the Tsonga-Shangaan word “Ulusaba” which means fearful.
Although we wanted to stop in Sabie, our butts and stomachs gave the “thumbs-up”, and kept at it until we dismounted in Graskop. Here we rested limb, joint, muscle, and mind at the popular Pancake Place for a bite to eat, and to take in the local vibe of shops and tourists.
Pulling into Graskop, little goodie shops on both sides of the street, and we decided to make like a tourist and pull over for a bite to eat. The Pancake Place, a popular spot, did just fine. From the stoep, we could see tourists strolling around, taking photos, talking to the locals, and buying local handcrafted goodies. Good for you mate!
Okay, okay, before we overstay our welcome, off we go to again. Braaap!
Graskop is a small town in Mpumalanga province, South Africa. It was set up in the 1880s as a gold mining camp but it now serves as a tourist destination and the timber industry. The name is Afrikaans for the grassy peak.
What I love about these small towns is how quick the exit can be. You just enter, and before you know it, you’re through and out. We’ll stop and explore more next time when I bring a tour group up in September/October; off-season for sure.
Just outside of Graskop you hit a right on the R534 to God’s Window. This I didn’t want to miss! Just make sure you carry some cash with you, there is a small entrance fee to park and walk around to the different viewpoints. This will be our first time here, thus took our time to take in as much of the jaw-dropping view as possible. No big bang or man created this, it was GOD-breathed and inspiring!
Sheer cliffs plunge over 700 metres to the Lowveld, an unbroken rampart of cliffs – opens a panorama into the Lowveld region and escarpment forests, the Eden-like aesthetic appearance of which prompted the name. On a clear day, it is possible to see the Kruger National Park towards the Lebombo Mountains on the border with Mozambique.
Moving along we had to roll on and skip Bourke’s Luck Potholes (yes, next time), and The Three Rondavels (next time I said), then down Abel Erasmus Pass, through the JG Strydom Tunnel. Doing this in any other mode of transport will be a killer – down a pass, stuck behind a truck or taxi will most certainly make me pitch a tent and camp. So happy to be on the Africa Twin, able to pass quickly when required.
Just through the tunnel, we pulled over for a refuel and then cutting left before Hoedspruit on the R530. Now, this piece of road is as straight as a chain sitting on a sprocket; the Africa Twin equipped with Cruise Control gave me some time to look around until we eventually arrived at the R40.
With the end in sight, pulling the horse left towards Phalaborwa and keeping an eye out for local traffic authority known for their undercover parking and “gorilla attack” techniques.
I heard there were real baboons in these parts, some who drive cars too, so we took it easy all the way into town.
The name “Ba-Phalaborwa”, given to the area by the Sotho tribes who moved here from the south, means better than the south. The Sotho mined and smelted copper and iron ore here as far back as 400 AD. Masorini, near Phalaborwa gate, is a reconstructed Ba-Phalaborwa hill village, with huts, grain storage areas, and an iron smelting site.
It was a straight ride into town, all the way to the Kruger National Park gate, turning left a few hundred meters short, and into our place of hibernation for the next 3 days – enter the Bushveld Terrace Hotel.
Just over 540km done for the day, through 3 passes and the most spectacular scenery, a well-deserved shower, meal, and rest was all we could think of at the time.
I’ve had my share of hotels, lodges, guesthouses, and B & Bs during my travels over the years, none so bad that I wouldn’t try them again, but when Dave and Debbie Turner offered us the opportunity to experience their part of heaven on earth, we simply had to accept.
The Bushveld Terrace Hotel is host to real family luxury, a 4-star destination merged with its surroundings, in the heart of the South African bushveld – Bliss in the Bush!
The hotel offers you a vast choice of Luxury Rooms, Family Rooms, Classic Rooms, each one thoughtfully decorated and equipped to make your stay perfect. Each room offers a Twin or King-size sleeping arrangement, equipped with a selection of tasteful furniture, TV, small fridge, tea and coffee, air-conditioning, and a spacious bathroom that includes a bath, and a huge shower big enough to sit on your bike while taking a shower.
Nestled in the heart of the magical Limpopo Province, is a luxury Bushveld escape guaranteed to soothe the soul, feed the imagination and stimulate the senses.
Bordering the Kruger National Park and a mere stone’s throw from its Phalaborwa Gate, Bushveld Terrace Hotel encompasses the solitude and mystical beauty of the land of extremes that is the Limpopo province. Designed to capture the openness and beauty of the surrounding Mopani-veld, our hotel is a haven of cool tranquillity welcoming our guests after long, hot days out in the bush. Finished with all those little extra luxuries, we at Bushveld Terrace Hotel endeavour to make your getaway with us an experience to remember.
Each of our 26 rooms, consisting of Family Suites, Luxury and Classic Rooms, have been individually decorated with custom-designed Orangewood Furniture, recycled wood was taken from aged citrus trees synonymous with the fruit-growing Limpopo region. Each room can be made up as a Twin or King, depending on your needs, and are equipped with 32” Flat screen TV’s (with 19 selected DSTV Channels), a bar fridge and a full tea and coffee station. All rooms have air-conditioning and spacious en-suite bathrooms with a shower and a bath.
The Hotel is a family destination offering 8 Family Suites, four upstairs with elevated views of the surrounding Bushveld or four ground level suites, designed with busy families in mind – including more space, king-size beds, custom-designed pull-out Day beds for children under 16 years of age, a private deck and larger bathrooms. The Day Bed, situated in the Living area, when not being used as a bed can be converted into a comfortable couch along with a table.
However, if a more private retreat is on the cards, our 16 Luxury Rooms offer solitude and exclusivity. With either view overlooking the pool and garden or the Bushveld, these rooms offer a choice of either Twin or King-size beds, modern and spacious bathrooms with shower and bath and patio. Two of our Luxury Rooms are situated conveniently close to the Lounge and Reception areas with specially designed wheel-chair access with larger doorways and handrails in the bathrooms.
The Marula Suite is our honeymoon suite and accordingly designed as a haven of comfort and opulence looking out over the Bushveld. With its antique king size four poster bed, spacious living area and a large bathroom boasting a double bath and double shower, this suite is the perfect hideaway for married couples.
We’ve been given a Family Suite, a more spacious option, offering a king-size bed, larger bathroom, a pull-out bed that can be converted into a couch or bed, and a patio overlooking the Kruger – just high enough so nothing could jump up to greet or eat us.
Talking about eating, after checking in, taking a hot shower, and into fresh civvies, my wife and I headed over to the Bushveld Terrace Restaurant to chillax with good food and wine.
What do you know? Our waiter, a local lad, and young biker Attie, served us with a smile … the whole weekend. In the end, I wondered if we had something in common, apart from speaking Afrikaans? Bikes of course! What a cool dude, super friendly, and he rides a Honda! Ons sien jou dalk weer in September of Oktober mater!
At the restaurant, you could enjoy the sports bar, indoors restaurant, outdoors on the patio or a nice setting under the tree. We picked the tree setting of course.
The Bushveld Terrace Restaurant not only caters to visitors at the Hotel, but local visitors to the Kruger National Park, town folk, and anyone looking for peace and quiet, and top quality service with a smile.
With body and soul replenished, we went back to our room to watch the Kruger go to sleep from our patio. Coffee in hand, I couldn’t help but wonder why folks would travel abroad if they haven’t been to a place like this. Here you have a peaceful place to stay, surrounded by nature and its wildlife, great food, endless excursion opportunities, all this on your doorstep or from the saddle of a motorcycle. This is life!
I’m an early riser, no matter how tired I was the day before. Fresh coffee aroma in my nose, I stepped out onto the patio, this time, to watch the bushveld wake up. Sunrise is my favourite time of the day, any day, and this I wanted to see. A thousand photographs will never do it justice, the sounds, the smell, and feeling the cool air on your face and skin cannot be matched.
You have to be here to experience the complete package, not just a sample pack!
After a hearty buffet breakfast at the Bushveld Terrace Restaurant, my wife and I decided to laze around the hotel for a while just exploring. We couldn’t get enough of the place, inside and out. The hallways lined with interesting furnishings, framed and block-mounted art of the bush and its inhabitants. Carin hinted to take one of the paintings home on the bike but convinced her that it’ll create a drag and we might get stuck in the tunnel.
Just behind the reception area is a visitor’s lounge, decorated and furnished with a fitting classic feel to the room. My wife and I often relaxed here with a coffee and magazine in hand, or just sitting in a thoughtless state of mind. We had to because the next day was going to be a demanding day of training the folks who brought us here in the first place.
The weather outside was hot, and most definitely warm enough for a jump in the cool pool, but not before we spotted two birds trying to jack a vehicle in the parking area. What do they feed these animals? First baboons on the road, and now this!
We also met up with Debbie Turner, our host, who has been preparing for a dinner event in the conference area; sharing her passion and how they came about owning this magnificent facility. We couldn’t thank her enough for the opportunity to be part of their piece of heaven on earth.
As luck would have it, no one was using the pool, so my wife and I had the place to ourselves. It was almost time for lunch, feeling like a piece of dry tree bark, I finished my dip and strolled over to the restaurant, to once again be served by Attie the biker dude. After lunch we booked ourselves on a 3-hour night drive into the Kruger National Park; a place I’ve last been to when I was about waist high.
Stanley was our guide, sharing the Landi with a family from Austria, giving us a very insightful introduction to the Mpumalanga side of the KNP, which animals and types of flora we could see during our drive. We were truly amazed at his knowledge and patience when answering the questions from the “fluent” tourist family.
We saw a number of buck and antelope, a hyena female chilling on the road, some elephant playing in the water, and a beautiful sunset over the dam. We even saw members of a certain political party, returning from a local jol, heading for the nearby koppie for the night. A bunch of ugly-ass baboons, only a mother can love!
Along the way, a fine drizzle started coming down, and Stanley slowly made his way back to the hotel, stopping every now and then when wildlife was spotted, sharing his vast knowledge and experience with two bikers, and three Austrians. Tourists!
Safely back at the hotel, take a bath, and hit the sack. Good dreams of this place, an amazing trip on a great bike, my lovely companion, fauna, flora, and those ugly-ass baboons! Zzzzzz
Training day! Yip, relax on hold, time to earn my keep. Theory sessions first, then on to practical, taking the members of Road Hogs, and others, through the Motorcycle Safety, Group Riding, and finishing off with Road Captain training.
My wife and I were well-received, and again Carin wanted to bring something (someone) home with her. Put it down… put her down, that’s someone else’s little girl. Eish!
Back at the hotel, at the end of a very productive day, hitting the shower and off to have our final dinner at candlelight with the Bushveld Terrace Hotel & Restaurant as our host, and Attie as our waiter.
How does one settle back into your routine after a trip and stay like this? You don’t!
Well, the time has come for us to leave this wonderful place, drag our butts and bike down the road and back to our stop-over in Piet Retief. Yip, it’ll be plain silly to run it all the way back to Toti in one go.
Our stay at the Bushveld Terrace Hotel has been everything we didn’t expect. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were dealt with a first-class experience we’ll never forget, and most certainly want to visit again in the near future.
Just after breakfast, we met up with Dave Turner, who took us on a tour through the facility, showing us the Honeymoon Suite, and the Luxury Rooms. Dave also shared some of the history of the Hotel and Restaurant, where he and Debbie came from in a business sense, and briefly discussing accommodation options for the tour I’m planning up here in September or October this year.
Goodbyes said, Africa Twin packed and ready to take the same route back, through JG Strydom up Abel Erasmus Pass, but this time in some mist and a light drizzle just to make the riding a little more interesting. Approaching Graskop again, the rain coming down a little harder, potholes filled with water an amazing thing happened.
A local Oom and Tannie in their white Toyota bakkie started leading us through the gauntlet of water-filled potholes, flashing his indicator to the left or right to warn me of potholes. What a God-sent you guys were. Baie dankie Oom, jy’s ‘n yster!
Exit Graskop, Sabie, Nelspruit, Piet Retief here we come!
Up and out before 8, hitting the road from Piet Retief past Vryheid, but this time shot right to Dundee and Ladysmith. Pony fuelled up and on to the N2, back to Durbs. Now more than anything, did we want to get back to our kids, two and four legged.
Looking back at the whole trip, the route, the places we stopped at, the sites we’ve seen, the people we met, the amazing experience of it all inside 6 days; what else is there to do but to do it again.
Although this type of trip, the load carried, may not have been the ideal thing to do on an Africa Twin, we did it. Not once, did this pony annoy me or made me wish I never got on the bike in the first place. Carin confirmed that she was very comfortable on the back, it never felt like body and butt didn’t agree. With the different and very convenient mode settings, I was able to take on any road or road condition this trip presented. The Honda luggage set (top box and panniers) accommodated everything we needed for this 6-day trip. I simply adjusted the rear suspension a little, and stable was the word. The standard screen offered more than enough protection to a rider of 1.86m tall. Fuel consumption was reasonable, considering the load, my average speed, and the Sports mode setting I often flipped to when hitting a few passes.
All in all, this has been an amazing trip, thanks to our sponsors and hosts, and my lovely wife for sharing this amazing experience.
Look out for the Tour details later this year; we’d love to take you along for the ride. If you are interested in joining the tour from Durban, then go ahead and register your interest on our Events page.
Visit and support our Sponsors:
More about local places of interest we’ve had to skip on our way up, but will certainly visit on the Tour in September or October 2017:
Bourke’s Luck Potholes
This geological feature and day visitors’ attraction, is situated at the confluence of the Treur and Blyde Rivers, on the reserve’s western boundary. The reserve’s nature conservation headquarters is located here, beside the village of Moremela, at the canyon’s southern, or upper reaches.
Sustained kolks in the Treur River’s plunge pools have eroded a number of cylindrical potholes or giant’s kettles, which can be viewed from the crags above. It was named after a local prospector, Tom Bourke, who predicted the presence of gold, though he found none himself. The pedestrian bridges connect the various overlooks of the potholes and the gorge downstream.
The Three Rondavels
The Three Rondavels are three round, grass-covered mountain tops with somewhat pointed peaks. They resemble the traditional round or oval rondavels or African homesteads quite closely, which are made with local materials. Sometimes they are also called the Three Sisters, though this may confuse them with a similar threesome visible from the N1 road in the Northern Cape, very far to the south.
The names of the peaks commemorate a 19th-century chief, Maripi, and three of his wives. The flat-topped peak adjacent to the rondavels is Mapjaneng, “the chief”, who is remembered for opposing invading Swazis in a memorable battle. The three rondavels are named for three of his more troublesome wives – Magabolle, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto. Behind the rondavels, the distant high plateau of Mariepskop may be visible. Besides the dam, the isolated Thabaneng hill is known as the “sundial” or “mountain with a shadow that moves”. It is said that the position of its shadow indicates the time of day.
On a clear day the lookout point provides a spectacular view. From here one looks over the canyon to the Three Rondavels on the other side, which is flanked on various sides by promontories of the northern Drakensberg range. It presents a view that is overwhelmingly beautiful and deserves more than a moment’s respite.
The formation of the attractive sedimentary formations is explained geologically as the slow erosion of underlying soft stone, leaving the exposed the more resistant quartzite and shale rondavels at which we marvel. Whatever their origin, they are undoubtedly breathtaking, and together with God’s Window and Bourkes Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels are a highlight of a trip to the third largest canyon in the world.