The evening of the Michaelhouse Matric Ball brought unusually warm, clear weather for Balgowan, where the mist inevitably descends after a hot summer day. Wanting to make an interesting entrance, without upstaging any of the matric boys and their partners arriving in limos, on horseback or on a tractor, we set off on the bike, which actually looks good beneath a tux and evening gear!
Early the next morning we loaded appropriate tools and goodies in the tail-pack, packed the panniers and saddled up the bike. The winding R103 took us past Nottingham Road before setting course through Mooi River where all the cars were either at the Wimpy or on the freeway. Clear roads and deep blue skies lightly airbrushed with wispy white cirrus clouds. What a day!
The old steel bridge in Estcourt brought back memories of my childhood. This was the route we traveled with our parents to Durban on our annual holiday pilgrimage. The old houses and station buildings in Estcourt are always so attractive. Less so the litter in the ‘downtown’ area! Just past Estcourt we turned onto the road to Weenen. This junction is easy to miss. The sign-post on the Estcourt side has disappeared and is probably part of a roof somewhere, or in a dodgy scrap-metal dealer’s yard!
About here the uniform green patchwork vegetation of the mistbelt grassland, planted pastures and cultivated lands is replaced by the exciting textures and colours of the thornveld that is real Africa. An added bonus is the road through the Weenen Game Reserve where giraffe, rhino and other game roam free.
Zingela lodge is about 32km from the tar on road that varies from rutted track to gravel road to badly eroded boulder-strewn track with some sizeable steps and berms. Short stretches of soft sand are thrown in just to keep you alert! We hit a few wobblies here as the sections are too short to pick up speed. Some stretches are a challenge, particularly with a passenger. Fortunately we stayed upright: Dropping the bike with the missus can only end badly. The route soon drops into the HOT Tugela valley and takes you through game ranch territory. Moving slowly we passed herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala and Blesbuck. A kudu lurched graciously off into the dense bush as we rounded one sharp corner.
The lodge is a treat. The hospitality is warm, friendly and attentive. We arrived, dripping sweat, at about two in the afternoon. As we were not expecting lunch, we were preparing to head to our chalet until supper. This was not to be. We were guided to the bar and re-hydrated with litres of ice-cold water and coke. Plates of delicious food appeared as if late arrivals are always expected.
Natural features have been incorporated into the design of all chalets. Some have trees, while in another a huge vertical rock makes a unique headboard. The bath protrudes from the bathroom allowing a secluded, but ‘outside’ bathing experience beneath the stars. The shower and loo are en-suite in a stone and reed enclosure beneath the canopy of a shady Acacia tree.
As night falls, insects provide the rhythm to the nightjar’s melody with the peaceful wash of the river in the background. With open curtains one can lie in bed and be immersed in this magic place. Each brief waking moment brings changes in scenery: stars shift position and clouds, which streaked across the sky like misty fingers, fade like ghosts. Finally the last star climbs above the great hill beyond the Tugela River. A pink and purple canopy heralds the start of a new day. As the calls of the Night-Jars fade, the quiet space is filled by the next avian orchestra making music in perfect concert with the morning. Each clear call harmoniously punctuates the others as if guided by some invisible conductor. The pleasant cool dawn lingers for a moment, resisting its inevitable demise at the hands of the fierce African sun. This time of peace and beauty with its slow, melodious pace is precious. A brief respite before the great fiery orb dispatches its heat and harsh light over the hills, driving life to a more frenzied pace.
The constant rush of the river over the rocks brings calm to this valley. For a short while it is ours. We bathe in the beauty of the sights, sounds and perfumes which envelop us. This place keeps the stresses of life at bay. The palms of God’s reviving hands take the form of these Acacia-lined hills crowned by the deep blue African sky while the tranquil river escapes between his fingers on its quest for the ocean.
The return trip, via Weenen has a very steep, eroded, rocky downhill section approaching the Bloukrans River. Hairpin bends and deep ruts make for tricky riding in some places. One stretch is solid rock with a number of steps. Interesting! The concrete drift over the river is no challenge under low water, but at higher levels one would have to take care. Across the river the road passes through a typical African setting. The gravel road is good, but again livestock have the right of way. School children and local folk were generous with their smiles and waves.
Zingela is a fantastic venue. It is a peaceful place, demanding quiet and considerate riding in the game areas. The route had an awesome mix of tar, dirt, speed, slow technical parts and a huge variety of scenery. Even riders who have not been to the off-road riding schools will manage. We will go back!Escaping the Spuds,