Pristine Karoo star trek

By Nick Yell

After a recent adventure motorcycle ride to see the last of the flowers in Bushmanland, my travelling partner, Iain Buchholz, and I decided on a detour to Sutherland – capital of the Karoo of Stars.

RECOMMENDED: Blydevooruitsig Guest House in Sutherland.Iain Buchholz with the steel flowers of the Loeriesfontein Windmill Museum.SLIMY: Iain Buchholz holds up the Adventure in the drift where i fell over, ungracefully.Pieter Kriel and his pillion passenger, Lappies the sheepdog, off to do some herding   Klipwerf Pad.

Upside down in a drift, my helmet head-butting the algae-covered concrete surface, I realise yet again that adventure motorcycling is not for sissies. Having stopped on the other side of the river crossing, Iain was doing well not to laugh after my circus-like antics of moments before.

Forewarned of crossing the ultra-slippery surface unaided, he comes over to help me right the heavy BMW GS1200 Adventure I’ve borrowed from a friend, and the two of us really battle to pick it up as our feet have no purchase in the slime.

The gravel road to Sutherland (R354) is a more challenging ride than it first appears. After the first 10km, the road winds up some slopes with ribbons of innocuous-looking sand drifting over the well-worn car tracks at intervals. But they can be quite treacherous if you’re not on your guard.

Besides these small attention-getting challenges, the route rewards us with views of some of the most expansive landscape the Karoo has to offer – pristine breathing space from horizon to horizon.

Not far out of Sutherland, Iain and I stop opposite about 10 hectares of dazzling yellow and orange Namaqua daisies and soak up what appears to be the last of these magnificent spring blooms this year.

Sitting in the Sutherland Hotel pub later, ice-cold beers in hand, we reflect on the day’s ride and revel in the afterglow of another cathartic day in the saddle on the Karoo back roads. Here I break the news to Iain that there’s only one en-suite room, with a spa-bath, at our overnight guest house (Blydevooruitsig) in Sutherland, and that I’d really appreciate it if I could have it to soothe my stiff shoulder garnered from my fall. He takes it like a man, hardly sulking at all.

Keen to try out my spoils as soon as we get there, I’m a bit overzealous with the foam-bath bottle. Of course, the minute I turn on the jets to soothe my aching shoulder, the foam takes on a life of its own and threatens to engulf not only me, but the entire bathroom. Just as I manage to find the off button through a cloud of bubbles that would make Aero’s advertising agency delirious, my cellphone rings. It’s our host telling me the power’s gone off – is there a problem? Sure enough, the spa-bath motor has shut down – clearly intoxicated by too many bubbles – and tripped the mains.

So much for my relaxing spa-bath.

Our gracious hosts have organised a generous braai pack for us. As Iain and I sit around the braai fire – the sparkling vision of the Milky Way streaming in through the open French doors – we get into a long discussion about the cosmos. I quote him a piece I wrote after my first visit to Sutherland some seven years ago – an attempt to summarise some of the most basic, yet astounding facts:

The sun is more than 100 times bigger than the Earth and is roughly 150 million kilometres away. The Earth spins on its axis at an average speed of about 1 550km/h, while moving around the sun at approximately 106 660km/h, and then the whole solar system moves through the Milky Way galaxy at around 1 120,000km/h. And when you’ve finally come to grips with all this mind-blowingly fast movement, and incomprehensible size and distance, you ask yourself: “Okay, but where is it all going, and why?”

Since my star-gazing initiation seven years ago, I’ve been back to Sutherland no fewer than seven times. The problem is, the more information I gather, the less I seem to know. But perhaps it simply confirms my ongoing astronomical ineptitude.

Travel tips for adventure motorcycle riders: There are many good back routes to Sutherland from Cape Town. My two favourites are the R356 accessed from Hottentotskloof outside Ceres, and the Gannaga Pass route reached via the Tankwa Karoo National Park off the R355 to Calvinia. Although I rode on dual-purpose “slicks”, I’d recommend knobblies in the rainy season. If you’d like more detail on the route, see the November edition of Offroad & Adventure SA.