With a high-powered bike at his command and the open road ahead, Mark Samuel explores the R44 from Cape Town to Gansbaai
We all have one of those roads close to home. One where sweeping twists and turns, breathtaking scenery and a general air of freedom liberate you from anything that’s been dragging you down. Once your tyres hit that tar, little else matters.
Capetonians are blessed with quite a few candidates in the most-inspiring-road stakes, but the R44 (the coastal route in the direction of Hermanus, also known as Clarence Drive beyond Gordon’s Bay) is definitely up there on the podium. And that’s where I found myself one fine Friday, gripping the throttle tightly in my right hand. A subtle twist from my wrist and all the peripheral vision through my helmet visor quickly turned to a blur.
Few vehicles are better suited to the road trip than the motorcycle. And I’m not talking about just any motorcycle. Picture a glistening 1.82l Indian Chief Classic cruiser and the guttural 1.74l Victory Hammer S – with an exhaust note that could drown out a stadium full of blaring vuvuzelas – and you’ll get the idea.
I had my elder brother along as my riding companion, and I could see he’d already bonded with the big Victory, which meant I wasn’t going to get much time in the saddle with that beauty. But that was okay – this weekend was, after all, a 40th-birthday surprise for him. Brothers, the open road and a luxury lodge as our destination… Could it get any better?
Heading east from Gordon’s Bay, the drive has you hugging the mountainside in places, the sea still intimately close on your other side. Make the journey during the latter half of the year and you’re likely to have frolicking whales as travel companions, just offshore behind the breakers. Lookout points dot the roadside, and we pulled over often to soak up the indelible vistas of towering mountains that promptly meet the cold unyielding ocean.
As the sun beat a retreat towards the horizon in our rear-view mirrors, Kogel Bay, Rooiels, Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay passed us by to the comforting purr – and occasional growl – of our engines. Next up came Kleinmond and a push inland past the Arabella hotel and golf estate to the R43, which took us down through to SA’s whale-watching capital Hermanus, then to the little village of Stanford and finally to Gansbaai – well, to its outskirts and Grootbos Private Nature Reserve.
Set in a pristine fynbos landscape, this luxury spot – like cheese to wine – was the ideal pairing for our state-of-the-art motorcycles. I was less certain whether their unshaven, somewhat windblown riders made the grade.
Grootbos comprises three exclusive, yet welcoming venues: Garden Lodge, Forest Lodge and the stunning Villa a R60 – 70 000 a night, everything-you-could-dream-of experience for up to 12 people). Booking into the slightly less extravagant (but only in comparison) Forest Lodge, our boys’ weekend took a turn for the even better. We’re talking indulgent service and total pampering, and just the most sumptuous cuisine imaginable – not to mention a selection of guided activities as long as my arm. A rough biker weekend this adventure was never going to be!
A stay at Grootbos can mean sleeping in, then relaxing all day on your private deck and cooling off under your secluded outdoor shower, or chilling out next to one of the lodges’ pools. Or if, like us, you can’t keep still for too long, I would recommend that you tackle the many excursions and adventures on offer.
Really, you could easily keep yourself busy for a week. From world-class wine tours and sophisticated spa treatments, to a number of back-to-nature guided experiences (at Grootbos and around Gansbaai), there is so much to do.
With misty and blustery conditions greeting us on Saturday morning, and rain squalls rolling in off the ocean, we wrapped ourselves up in our waterproof ponchos and then bumped, bashed and bounced up the dirt track into the hills behind the lodge. I’m used to spotting wildlife from an open-top Land Rover, but fynbos-spotting is something new. However, doubt not. If you’re fortunate enough to secure Jo de Villiers as your fynbos safari guide at Grootbos, you’re in for an insightful and entertaining treat, and you’ll come away with a more intimate understanding of these unique plants than you ever imagined possible. I also came away with a bee sting on my eyebrow – but even that couldn’t curb the enjoyment factor.
Later in the afternoon and after yet another delicious meal, a visit to Klipgat Cave (puffy eyebrow and all), right on the edge of the ocean, was next on our programme. Again, De Villiers was our guide and here she shared her in-depth knowledge of the many archaeological findings that show that early humans inhabited the cave tens of thousands of years ago. Besides its obvious historical significance, Klipgat also provides us with a glimpse of the Earth’s geological past. It’s fascinating to just stand and imagine what the landscape must have looked like back in the Stone Age, with the cave perched high and dry and the ocean’s edge many kilometres away from its current position.
The day drew to a close with spark-ling wine and snacks served on a private patio overlooking a sheltered bay, where a whale and her calf lolled about in the rolling swell.
Few places in the world are better for spotting whales and other marine life (such as great white sharks, African penguins and Cape fur seals) than this fine stretch of Southern Cape coastline. A 6:30 am Sunday-morning start soon had us aboard the Whale Whisperer and motoring on through hefty ocean swells for a dose of boat-based whale watching in the calmer waters past Dyer Island, around Danger Point.
After a few fleeting encounters from a distance, we chanced upon a subadult southern right female by the name of Edna (well known to the Dyer Island Cruises crew), who rolled, peeped, dived and waved her tail and pectorals at us for the better part of 30 minutes. What a truly remarkable experience.
At times, as I crouched in the bow of the boat, it seemed as if only Edna and I existed, with her almost within reach, only a few metres away. I did get the feeling, though, that we were actually more her morning’s entertainment than the other way round, as she stayed with the boat, all the time watching us with her huge, round, sensitive eyes.
Darting back towards port, past Dyer Island and the numerous Gansbaai-based shark-cage-diving boats, we stopped for a few minutes to witness a massive great white gliding past thrilled snorkellers in a cage. It’s on my agenda for next time.
This specific stretch of coastline may not have the dramatic natural beauty or tourist infrastructure of Hermanus – with its spectacular mountain backdrop and its bustling shops and restaurants – on the other edge of Walker Bay, but it more than makes up for that in flora, fauna, ocean vistas and, of course, the many charms of Grootbos.
With luggage strapped tightly to our pillions, the trip back along the coast to Cape Town was just as captivating as before – like reruns of Friends, this route will never get old for me.
Indian Chief Classic
This epic cruiser promises comfort and hours of blissful riding. It’s big, but surprisingly easy to handle, and has oodles of power when you want it. If you are looking for a bike that’s beautifully engineered, yet with vintage appeal, this is the one.
Key features ABS, electronic speedometer, cruise control
From R325 000
Victory Hammer S
A striking design, twin tailpipes, a mammoth rear tyre and supreme power (along with its outlandish exhaust note) are what set this exquisite piece of machinery apart from the others. This motorcycle will turn heads wherever you go, but it is also the epitome of satisfaction to ride.
Key features Six-speed overdrive transmission, carbon-fibre belt drive, 250 mm rear tyre
From R225 000
Mad Mac’s Motorcycles
If you want to test-drive one of these bikes (and, hopefully, purchase one of your own), head through to Mad Mac’s Motorcycles in Somerset West. The team are highly knowledgeable, proud of their brands and devoted to customer service.
021 852 4851, www.madmacs.co.za
GOOD TO KNOW
Where to stay
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is a luxury destination with few to rival it in the area. And, with three lodges to choose from, mouth-watering cuisine in the restaurants, crystal-clear swimming pools and a variety of activities to keep you busy, you’ve absolutely no reason to look any further afield for a five-star eco-experience.
028 384 8008, www.grootbos.com
Gansbaai is a bit of an adventure capital – whether it be shark-cage diving, quad biking, boat-based whale watching, horse riding or scenic flights you are after. The friendly Grootbos staff will help you plan the activities during your stay.
We went whale watching with Dyer Island Cruises.
028 384 0406, www.whalewatchsa.com
From Cape Town, although you can take the N2 a little further inland, the R44 coastal road and then the R43 through to Hermanus and Gansbaai is a far more enjoyable route.
Turn off the N2 just after Somerset West towards Gordon’s Bay, swing a left, and carry on along the coast. Soon, humbling views will fill your windscreen (or motorbike helmet). Stick on the R44 until you reach the R43, turn right, and continue along that road. Grootbos is about two hours out from Cape Town (longer if you stop to enjoy the view along the way).
Photography Juliette Bisset/HMimages.co.za, S Samuel
(This article was first published in the summer 2014/2015 issue of AA traveller magazine)