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Road Trip! Taking the long route to Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape

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There is a straight-forward way to get from Johannesburg to the iconic natural wonder which is Hole-In-The-Wall in the Wild Coast; a route that follows the N3 to Howick, proceeds to Mthatha along the R612 before culminating in Coffee Bay.  

That, however, was not the route my friends and I took when we set out on our annual Ubuntu Adventure / Pride of Africa Ride. Instead, driving my sponsored Christmas wheels from Isuzu SA and riding sponsored bikes from Honda SA we travelled the long way round;  first to Ladybrand (near Maseru), then to East London before finally heading for Coffee Bay. With some of our party travelling in the comfy 7-seater mu-X and the others on Honda’s iconic Africa Twin 1000cc adventure motorcycles our trip was peppered with loads of humour, challenging weather conditions and numerous rest stops.

Day 1: Farewell Jozi!

Taking command of the impressive Isuzu mu-X, I had fairly heavy-duty expectations of Isuzu’s first-ever SUV.  The vehicle would have to prove itself on several fronts, namely fuel efficiency over our 2600km trip.  It would also be required to effortlessly transverse roads of varying degrees of maintenance ranging from the smooth surfaces of national highways to hair-raising strips of tar dominated by pot-holes, each the size of an average two-bedroom apartment; lug my brand new (sponsored) 230kg Honda NC750X motorcycle; have enough space to comfortably seat 3 adults; securely tow luggage for 4 women and a man, (whose ‘tog bag’ could never really count as luggage) as well as the mandatory ‘above-average’ size, cooler-box.   

My familiarity with the interior properties and storage capabilities of the mu-X was not in question thanks to the partnership between Isuzu South Africa and the Gals Garage Driving Experiences; so it was easy to tick off its ability to cater for our luggage, but had to fold the 3rd-row of seats down in order to do so.  

I had never towed anything as heavy as a motorcycle before hence my concerns relating to the weight of the bike, fuel efficacy, and vehicle performance were a the fore of my mind. Fortunately, these were quickly muted. For a start, the weight of the bike (a.k.a “Blue Wildebeest”) might as well have been a feather thanks to the mu-X’s 3-tonne towing capability and the Isuzu’s trusted 3.0-litre, 130kW, turbodiesel engine.  

I had driven from Johannesburg to East London countless times before and was surprised that the fuel consumption on this trip averaged what it usually was, with only a need to replenish the 65-litre fuel tank twice.

Stopping every 2-hours to stretch our legs and replenish ourselves and the machines, our rest stops included Bethlehem for a hearty breakfast in Bethlehem, Ladybrand for a comical photoshoot, and Queenstown for ice-cream before overnighting at our family home in East London.

Day 2: eMdansane (East London) to Coffee Bay

After breakfast and a lengthy farewell ceremony which included prayers travelling mercies, we  made our way to Drifters Raceway Theme Park, an outdoor adventure and amusement park in Cambridge Hall.  Our intention had been to have fun testing our quad-biking skills along the narrow, twisty inclines of the track; but what was meant to be an hour’s stop over culminated in lunch on the wooden deck over-looking the plush greenery of the Park’s surroundings.  

Bongi Nkosi Contributor – Wheels24 and Bike Talk SA

Hunger pangs subdued, we began the 4-hour journey to Coffee Bay, which proved to be more eventful than anyone could have anticipated.  At this point I had unleashed the Blue Wildebeest from the shackles of the trailer and handed the mu-X key’s to one of our party.  

Commanding my bike, I did my best to keep up with my more experienced friends on their Africa Twin motorcycles and the only reason we rode on par was because the road conditions compelled them to stay at my pace. The three of us dodged, bobbed and negotiated our way around potholes, speeding motorists, crazy bus drivers, oblivious pedestrians and unperturbed livestock leisurely sauntering across the roads. At one point I caught a glimpse of the mu-X dancing its way through the same obstacles and imagined that its entire braking system – ABS with EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) and EBA (Emergency Brake Assist) – had been rudely awakened to active duty.  

Bringing my focus back to my immediate need for self-preservation, I quickly re-acquainted myself with the Honda’s traction control settings and responsive front and rear brakes.  Perched 1.35 metres above the tar and moving at 120km/hr whenever conditions permitted, the ever-changing nature of the road provided me with an opportunity to practise everything Morag Campbell had taught me during our biking lessons.  At times, the fact that the world sharply fell away beyond the metal incentivised me to slow down and re-position myself within the lane, and at other times, the twists, long curves and hair-pin bends reminded me to distribute my weight appropriately.  

I can best describe the road directly to Coffee Bay as uncompromisingly hostile for drivers and as an extreme sport for bikers. It was along this stretch of road that the agility of the mu-X and Honda bikes were severely tested.  Screaming gusts of wind howled around mu-X, and threatened to tear us off the bikes seats, whilst on ground level, all bikers and the mu-X driver discovered pothole avoidance skills of MBA-level! As daylight kissed us farewell, the Bi-LED projector headlights of the mu-X came to our aid, to illuminate the bits of tar between the potholes.  

6-hours after leaving East London, battered, tired and without a trace of humour, we arrived at Eagle’s Nest Backpackers Lodge. We each claimed the first bed we saw and awoke the following morning to witness the sun  shimmering over the Indian ocean. The Lodge’s wooden patio provided a worthy setting for our scrumptious breakfast.  Our bottoms befittingly numb and perhaps because the weather was a little sour not one of us gave the motorcycles a sideward glance as we set off for a spot of sight-seeing, fresh air and local ‘jewellery shopping’ from the hard-negotiating mamas at the beach.

Day 3 & 4: Hole-in-the-Wall, Eagle’s Nest Accommodation

Still smarting from the ride, neither the Isuzu mu-X nor the motorcycles received any attention from any of us until the late afternoon when we made our way to Hole-in-the-Wall, a mere 10km drive away. Unfortunately we arrived as the tide was coming in and only had enough time to pop a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the milestones of 2019.  The walk from the parking area to the actual sight is magnificent and dogs are permitted, however it is marred by local boys insistent on being guides.  

Day 5: Jozi Bound

We arose in the hopes of making up time along the hazardous road we had to use to get back onto the N2.  This time though, taxi drivers presented more threat to life than the enormous potholes and we had to pull over twice to give way to fast moving traffic which seemed to glide over the gaping potholes.

Re-fuelling in Mthatha allowed for a collective drop in heart-rates, before embarking on the 5-hour ride and drive towards Howick Falls in Kwa-Zulu Natal.  Rest stops included scenic views, garages and food stalls at which we bought the freshest breads, fruit juices, and creative ornaments almost as proof of our having been there.  The actual Falls were impressive albeit affected by the drought and I could hardly believe I had never been there in spite of my countless drives to Durban.  

If I could have conjured up a helicopter to transport me back home from that point I would have been the happiest little novice biker on the planet, but in lieu of a magic wand I opted to fasten the Honda onto the trailer and snooze in the comfort of the passenger’s seat back to the City of Gold. With fellow adventurer Songo Didiza confidently at the wheel, my last thoughts before drifting of into lala-land was that the more experienced bikers were barely aware of the mu-X’s existence and we next caught up to them in Harrismith. 

Our epic, annual Ubuntu Adventure end over coffee in the lounge right where it had begun a few days earlier.  It had been long and challenging but most rewarding. The Isuzu mu-X proved that it is the best long-haul partner to travel providing superior safety, unparalleled comfort, adequate space, and value-for-fuel-money. Similarly, my Honda NC750XD upheld it’s premium position as being one of the best motorcycles for learner bikers thanks to its features and rider-ease.

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