My husband and I went away last week with our friends, on what can only be described as a fast-paced epic adventure. The plan was to visit 3 countries in 3 days, and we did it. We travelled from South Africa to Lesotho, Lesotho through South Africa to Lesotho, and then from Lesotho back to South Africa. We went on our BMW GS1200 Adventure motorbikes, child-free, obviously.
This is our account of the planning and first day of our trip.
My husband and his friend are avid ‘bikers’. Think more ‘respectful adventurers’ rather than ‘leathers and goatees’!
They both ride BMW GS 1200 Adventure bikes and have invested in all the safety kit. Their personal set of rules and ‘code of conduct’ includes:
- Don’t ride at night, in the dark;
- NEVER drink alcohol and ride;
- Don’t ride over holiday weekends when there is a lot of traffic on the roads.
FOMO is real!
Unfortunately due to my lack of babysitters, I have never been able to go with my husband. Last year we went on a family tour to Zimbabwe via Botswana; the men rode on their bikes and the women and kids went in the car (Fortuner) towing the trailer. It was great fun, but we have been waiting for the opportunity to go away with our husbands. On the bikes. No kids!
The opportunity finally came up when my parents decided to come visit (from Zimbabwe) and when I tentatively broached the subject they assured me they were coming to see the kids, not us and so my husband and I were free to disappear if we wanted to! Win, Win!
My husband was so excited that he went out and bought me the full safety biking kit – jacket, trousers and boots. He already had a spare helmet and gloves for me, I was so spoilt by all that. Who knows when I will get to use it again but I was/am very grateful.
The day finally arrived and we left home at 06.00 am, just as it was getting light (refer back to rule no.1)! I waved goodbye to my mom and kids and swallowed the lump in my throat, but didn’t look back as we roared off! My husband and I needed this adventure, this time alone together. It’s our first holiday away without our kids since before the eldest was born so around 6 years now.
Let’s Go Adventuring
We rode from Welkom, where we lived, to Kroonstad, to meet with our friends before setting off. I was very nervous and tense. By the time we got to their house, I knew I was going to have to mentally force my body to relax or I was going to hurt myself. For those of you who don’t know, I had both hips replaced in 2015 so riding on a motorbike for three days less than two years later is a BIG deal for both me and my family.
After we set off from their house in Kroonstad, we only rode about 20 minutes down the road and the guys pulled over! Whenever they go riding they stop at the most picturesque places and take photos to send me. I get so jealous and have kicked off on more than one occasion – you can read about my previous bratty ranting here. So they had planned to stop at one of their usual places and make coffee on the side of the road just for me. It was so sweet!
We had coffee and rusks on the side of the road under the trees and I loved it!
Goals & Route
From there we continued on with our journey. The aim was to get to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland by nightfall.
This is the route we took:
Kroonstad, Heilbron, Villiers, Standerton, Ermelo, Warburton, Oshoek (Border), Ngwenya, Mbabane, Lobamba, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
Total distance: 573.67km
Between Villiers and Standerton we had to go on a dirt road for about 60 km. The road was very sandy and was obviously being used as a cut-through by a haulage company so there were a lot of big trucks on the road. We had to take it slow and at one point decided to stop and have a rest.
At this point, we were crisscrossing between the Free State and Mpumalanga borders.
If you’re looking to buy a guide book for travelling South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, I highly recommend South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland Travel Guide by Lonely Planet.
Once we got into Mpumalanga closer to Ermelo and from then on to the Swaziland border the landscaped changed quite dramatically from the typical Free State scenery of huge open farmlands to that of a forestry commission, rolling green hills defined by the different stages of forests.
I was pleasantly surprised by the border at Oshoek/Ngwenya. With my previous African border experiences including the infamous Beitbridge to say I was a bit sceptic was an understatement. I don’t think it even took 20 minutes both sides and most of that was down to getting off the bike, taking off the gloves and helmet, then 2 minutes later putting it all back on, getting back on the bike, riding 100 meters over the border and doing it all again.
Swaziland itself reminded me very much of Zimbabwe. There are enterprising shops and stalls every few hundred meters, but obviously the quality of the roads was far better and there were NO unnecessary roadblocks of police harassing travellers for no reason.
All this while we had been following our trust GPS directions, guiding us on the best route. And then …. it decided to take us through what can only be described as a high-density rural settlement, on the side of a mountain. There was a ‘road’, but that road had a deep trench zig-zagging along it no doubt caused by excessive rain at some point, and it was so narrow there would only be room for 1 car at a time, and who knows how that would have panned out if we’d actually come across one, thank goodness we didn’t. We were all very bewildered at the apparent road to the wildlife sanctuary, it did not seem to fit at all. As the ones with the GPS my husband and I were in front, and our friends were behind – no doubt equally bewildered! lol
This portion of the trip included a few curse words from me, a steel-like grip, an unexpected stream crossing and being chased by extremely angry dogs! All part of the adventure, and no doubt a story to relate to the grandkids one day!
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
We finally arrived at Mlilwane and were very excited to check into our accommodation. Not only because we had very numb bums, but because this is where we slept – Beehive Village huts!
The Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is a definite ‘must-do’ if you are ever in that area. What impressed me so much was the fact that the animals were so well cared for and unafraid of cars and people. Whilst many conservationists will say this is a bad thing, at no point did I see mistreatment of the animals. For all the animals to be unafraid of humans when in a captive environment, to which most of the animals were born into, only tells me that the animals are cared for. We saw Zebra, Impala, Warthog, Nyala, and others.
There was a sign on the way out which I didn’t get to take a picture of but it was a quote by Mahatma Gandhi:
The Greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
Swaziland is a great nation.
Getting back to our day, we all had a quick shower in the en-suite bathrooms, changed and then headed to the dining area for a dinner. On the way there we saw a herd of Impala walking through the camp and settling on the central open ground in the middle of the camp for the evening, where they sleep all night, undisturbed.
The guys indulged in a local beer first, a Sibebe. Trying something local is a tradition we always uphold – try the local brew first. Needless to say that after the day we’d had I gulped down my first glass of wine. Dinner was good. The food was amazing! Lots of laughs and drinks with good friends.
We retired quite early knowing that the following day would be a long hard push: Swaziland, back to South Africa, then into Lesotho, all in one day.
Here’s a recommended travel guide, the Southern Africa Travel Guide Book, Lonely Planet.
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