Following the 29th parallel – South Africa

March / April 1999

The idea of cycling across South Africa from Port Nolloth to Richards Bay, following the 29th Parallel as closely as possible, was sparked by an article that appeared in the October 1998 edition of the magazine “Getaway”, which described a motorcycle trip aboard three large and powerful BMWs along this route. The fact that the 29th parallel spans the widest part of South Africa and passes through towns that are simply not on the road to anywhere significant, and are therefore seldom otherwise visited, adds a further measure of intrigue to the route.

Springbok, Pofadder, Kakamas, Griekwastad, Kimberly, Soutpan, Babanango. Wonderfully exotic names that conjure up visions of the early settlers, of the prospectors and miners of copper and diamonds, of Mary Moffat and David Livingstone, of Barny Barnarto and Cecil Rhodes. The 29th line of latitude slices through some of the most historic areas of South Africa and to travel along at just 25 kph would afford a rare opportunity to absorb the atmosphere of the country. At over 1800 kilometres in distance, the trip would be both physically and mentally challenging to accomplish by pedal power. And it just sounded like fun.

Port Nolloth on the West Coast to Richards Bay on the East Coast

Port Nolloth on the West Coast to Richards Bay on the East Coast

I decided to cycle alone, and my wife (at the time), Avril, and I planned the trip for a party of two – she would travel by car and I by bicycle. We kept the planning relatively simple with respect to travelling, accommodation and catering, as we intended to play it off-the-cuff to a large extent. The route, on the other hand, was worked out fairly thoughtfully and the stopover points determined with care. I tried to limit the number of times that we would need to convey the bike on the back of the car by planning a town-to-town schedule, although I realized that we would have to be flexible on this.  Clearly accommodation would not always be available precisely where it was needed. This country has a wonderful network of caravan parks and camping sites, but it would not always be possible to cycle directly a suitable spot at the end of a day’s ride. And so it proved.

I planned to take two bikes, a road bike and a mountain bike, although the intention was to ride the road bike as much as possible. The mountain bike would be for insurance in case something happened to the road bike, and would also be brought into play if there were stretches of dirt road or extensive deviations to be covered. Road bikes with their narrow tyres and dropped handlebars do not take kindly to the corrugations and loose gravel of the typical uncapped road in South Africa. As I found out to my cost on the very first day of the cycle.

Day 1: Port Nolloth to Springbok
Day 2: Springbok to Pofadder
Day 3: Pofadder to Kakamas
Day 4: Kakamas to Upington
Day 5: Upington to Groblershoop
Day 6: Groblershoop to Griekwastad
Day 7: Griekwastad to Kimberley
Day 8: Kimberley to Soutpan
Day 9: Soutpan to Winberg
Day 10: Winberg to Bethlehem
Day 11: Bethlehem to Harrismith
Day 12:  Harrismith to Junction N11 & R602
Day 13: Junction N11 & R602 to 20km from Babanango
Day 14: 20km from Babanango to Mfuli Game Lodge
Day 15: Mfuli Game Lodge to Richard’s Bay
Day 15: Richard’s Bay finish line

Total distance from Port Nolloth to Richard’s Bay –  1833.76km

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