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The Lesotho Roundabout: April 2021

Two years ago on the Easter long weekend Derek Meise, Dylan Meise, Thom Peeters and Danie Nienaber undertook a “dry’ run to investigate the potential of a decent ride around Lesotho, which would be worthy of a new challenge in VOG. It was anything but dry, as rainy weather followed us around from day one. Nevertheless it was a great outing which resulted in the casting in metal of the Lesotho Sandstone Challenge!

See the details of the trip on the VOG website here:

The first challengers from Gauteng set off also on the Easter weekend - April 2021 – and travelled in an anti-clockwise route around Lesotho with stop-overs as follows:

Fri 2 April – Lord Fraser Hotel (Wepener)
Sat 3 April – Resthaven Guesthouse (Matatiele)
Sun 4 April – Amphitheatre Backpackers (Bergville)
Mon 5 April – Travel back to Gauteng

The 8 VOG members from Gauteng travelling in the group were:

Andre Badenhorst (VO124)
Dawid & Liana Fourie (VO384)
Derek & Michelle Meise (VO32)
Ming & David Church (VO295)
Thom Peeters (VF486)

A great trip all-in-all, with over 2000km accomplished in general for all bikes. The selection of photographs of amazing scenery and challenge points are courtesy of all attendees!!

Full route travelled as follows and included 3 provinces - Free State, Eastern Cape and KZN:

The check-in started in the picturesque tourist village of Clarens - with Dave & Lana Fourie and their magnificent Indian motorcycle featuring below:

A standard ride from Clarens to Fouriesburg will take you all of 28min - according to Google maps. A brisk ride will get you there quicker........ Just enough time to work up a little thirst and visit the Windmill Pub & Grill in Robertson Street. Here we posed for individual pics to enter for the challenge.

The 200-odd km journey from Fouriesburg to Wepener was a nightmare experience - with the Free State roads currently a Pothole Paradise. The rule of the afternoon was to spread out and send Derek up front to "test the water" - or rather to find a pathway between the "donga's".

Anyway - we got to the Cherry Capital of Ficksburg and the group took a breather in front of the Town Hall.

The NG Church in Ladybrand is 138 years old this year and it was quite a humbling experience to pose in front of it's ancient portal.

The Lord Fraser Guesthouse in Wepener was our overnight stop and is really the only place to sleep over in this town. The beautifully restored residence boasts amongst many noteworthy features - high ceilinged spacious rooms, long woody corridors and an English-style garden.

This magnificent old building was originally the summer residence of the well-known Lord Ian Fraser of Lonsdale, who was a pilot in the Second World War. His plane was shot down in combat and he was blinded as a result of his injuries. He got married to the nurse who cared for him while he was recuperating from his injuries and they used to visit South Africa during the summer months.

With his death in 1974, Lord Fraser had wished his home to become the Ian Fraser Memorial College. After the closing down of Fraser’s Head Office in Wepener in 1988, the buildings were donated to the municipality to be converted into a museum. This never materialized and the property was sold to Willem and Wilma Swanepoel in 1993 and they have turned it into the present Lord Fraser Guest House.

The following morning, we headed off downtown to find the beautiful NG Church at the very end guessed - Church Street! Here, Andre B gathered the clan together to pose for a group photo.

The following stop is probably more well known for the "Eye of Zastron" - a geological feature cleverly marketed by the town elders and the resulting annual festival called the "Gatfees". For more info, check out the following link.......

We posed in front of the Dutch Reformed Church Hall in Reichenberg Street - a structure that more than likely started life as a noble sandstone building and later in life succumbed to being clad with the "Pienk Padstal" colour it now boasts.

Having left Zastron and heading for Lady Grey via Sterkspruit, we just had to stop at a picture-worthy crossing of the Orange River.

Bridge No. 422, also called the Majaphuthi Bridge, was constructed in 1934 and is located on the R726 between Zastron and Sterkspruit. It is a magnificent steel structure, crossing the Orange River and represents the border crossing between the Orange Free State and the Eastern Cape.

With Sterkspruit behind us and about 3km in from the R58, the immaculate town of Lady Grey has shied away from the hustle and bustle of main road traffic. Like what happens often when one encounters a settlement of this character, the comment invariably comes up about this being a great place to retire!

We first took the opportunity to settle in to a hearty breakfast at the Blue Pepper Restaurant:

Having satisfied the empty stomachs, we found the next point of the challenge - the Lady Grey NG Church:

The next 130km between Lady Grey, through Barkly East and then on to Elliot has to be one of the greatest roads and scenery in all of God's creation! Good tarmac, straights and twisties, luscious green all around and the comfort of the foothills of Lesotho - all ingredients of a perfectly soul-satisfyingly experience.

In Barkly East, we stopped and posed once again in front of another grand old sandstone church:

The Barkly Pass which followed is a major 10 km long tarred beauty on the R58 between Elliot and Barkly East in the high mountains of the Eastern Cape at an altitude of 2018m at the summit. The pass displays an altitude variance of 572m which converts into an average gradient of 1:17 - considered to be moderately steep. This pass is subject to winter snow closures.

Check this YouTube video.

At the bottom of the pass at the R58/ R56 T-Junction, lies the town of Elliot. We searched for and found the treasure that is the Elliot NG Church, with it's "Mini-Me" replica.

Now properly in the East Cape (Transkei), the roads started to flatten out, but still the ever-present Lesotho mountains provided that comforting gaze over our journey.

The town of Maclear was founded in 1876 as a military camp, called Nqanqaru Drift and developed rapidly, reaching municipal status in 1916.

We posed here in front of the sandstone building dedicated to the memory of the two great world wars.

With the sun setting on a long day in the saddle, our Saturday adventure ended up at the Royal Courtyard in Matatiele, where we logged another point of the challenge:

It was fitting that on Easter Sunday, we headed off in the morning mist to the town of Kokstad, which boats the most magnificent St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral. A friendly priest saw us loitering on the street side of the church and invited us into the sanctuary to witness the pre-service covid cleansing ritual, an offer we couldn't pass up.

We headed on from Kokstad and enjoyed a breakfast break in Underberg. But after dodging plenty potholes that day and on the hill leading down towards the Midmar Dam near Howick - David Church's bike hit a huge hole full-on and only a miracle prevented him from from taking a tumble after both wheel rims had buckled and tyres punctured. Sadly. that was the end of the challenge for the Church's and they had to have the bike trailered back home to Johannesburg.

We headed on through Howick through the Midlands Meander, stopping at Piggly Wiggly for a welcome afternoon milkshake, before heading into the sunset and stopping at Fort Durnford in Estcourt.

With the Sunday sun already long headed to the West, we reached the Winterton Museum and grabbed a quick photograph for the challenge in the fading light.

We reached the Amphitheatre Backpackers well after sunset, which was a bit of challenge on a dodgy road surface. If I had not had my night glasses with, it would literally have been a case of the "blind leading the blind". With specs, it had become "in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is King!" Finding the turnoff to the backpackers was only possible with the aid of my trusty Garmin!!

After an interesting evening at the stop-over, it was only really the next morning where we had photo opportunities and could see the lovely place that it was!

Early Monday morning - Thom, Dawid, Liana, Michelle and I left the multicultural overnight stop and headed up Oliviershoek Pass towards the Phat Chef Roadside Diner, which boasts a magnificent view over the valley below. Here we posed for the next photo required for the challenge.

The 100km stretch between Oliviershoek Pass to Clarens took us past the Sterkfontein Dam and through the Golden Gate Park - yet another top class ride. The insanely low speed limit inside the park forces one to enjoy more of the scenery than the road ahead!!

Arriving back in Clarens, the journey was complete. The Indian had clocked 1350km - the exact theoretical distance around Lesotho, which was worthy of a congratulatory kiss between hubby & wife!

Published by Derek Meise (VO032)

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