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10 Dec, 2015

Rockin' and rollin' in the daisies

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50 Shades riders Jean Reynolds and Marie-Anne Meijers riding through a hundred shades of flowers.
Day one under the Quiver tree: Andre, Jean, Marie-Anne, Tony, Pat and Keith the Irishman
Marie-Anne admiring the beauty of the Namaqualand.
Jean and Marie-Anne enjoying their Namaqualand experience on a bicycle.

Another bucket list dream come true. A visit to see the flowers in Namaqualand! And better still, to do it on a bicycle.

It all happened rather quickly. Spaces had come available on a tour and I said “I'm in”, and then Jean Reynolds said she was coming too.

And so it came to be that early on a Thursday morning towards the end of August, we tied our bikes on top of the trailer and headed to the Northern Cape. The news was already out that the flowers were exceptional this year.

Our destination was Oranjerus near Upington where we met Chris and Lizzie from Escape Cycle Tours. We arrived there in the late afternoon and met everyone on the deck overlooking the Orange River while the sun was setting. There were two more in our group, Keith the Irishman who just landed and Andre the Belgian patissier from Jo'burg.

Day one started with hoots of laughter. Our Irishman had obviously not set his watch correctly and overslept. When Lizzie went to find him he came to the door still half-asleep, naked and clutching his family jewels with his hand. Lizzie took a while to get over that one.

Eventually, we all got on our bikes and headed out. Lizzie, still in shock, took the first ride, while Chris followed in the mini bus with the bike trailer. We rode towards Keimoes through the vineyards. It was on gravel travel, first it was gentle undulating countryside and a good warm up. Later riding though the hills, it got a bit more challenging.

The scenery is very austere but beautiful and rugged. We saw a pair of Verreaux Eagles and their nest. We were lucky with the weather; it was overcast so not too hot.

It even rained a few drops to which Keith the Irishman commented that Lizzie had said he need not bring rain gear as it doesn't rain here. I think the drops evaporated before they had a chance to wet anything, so rain gear was defiantly not needed.

After about 40 kilometres we loaded the bikes, climbed into the van and headed to Augrabies Falls for a picnic lunch and a visit to the famous 65-metre waterfall. They say that at the bottom of the churning cauldron of the Falls is a fortune of diamonds washed down by the river, but we didn't go swimming to investigate.

After lunch, we cycled through forests of small Kokerbome (Quiver trees) to our overnight destination, Klein Pella, a guest house on a beautiful date farm. They fed us lovely fresh farm food which was welcome after our ride and we complimented it with some lovely local wines.

Chris briefed us on the second day’s ride. We were going to ride through the date plantations and vineyards of the farm down to the Orange River. There we would stop for coffee and biscuits. Then we would ride out of the valley again.

During this time, he would assess our skills, to see if we could or if we wanted to, ride the next section to Pella via the flood plain of the river. That set of some alarm bells. Chris and Lizzie are very knowledgeable about the area and frequently stopped to give us interesting facts regarding the date farm, which has over 1 700 palms, and the natural surroundings.

We were then all declared 'able' for the next part of the ride and then given the decision to choose as the vehicle would not be able to follow us but would meet us via circuitous route at Pella. We were all game.

What a beautiful trail we went on. Tough and rugged, through very deep soft sand, over rocks, bouncing over loose shingle, it was awesome.

The solitude and majesty of the area is incomparable. And it was very very hot, no shade anywhere. Exhausted we arrived at the other side, and then needed to climb out of the valley. I think here we all lost our sense of humour. It was straight up and out, seven kilometres of it, and most of us “hiked our bikes” a bit.

Once at the top, we all took a deep breath of hot air and regained our sense of adventure, especially as it was all downhill to the little oasis of Pella with its Old Cathedral.

After the hard work of the second day, the next day was a bit of recovery. After a hearty breakfast, we all climbed aboard and drove to Sprinkbok for coffee and carrot cake at a very interesting museum/book shop/coffee shop/hotel.

There we did a 22 kilometre circular route with many stops admiring the variety of the blooms and the gemsbok and springbok meandering through. The ride was not too taxing, a couple of hills but one was so absorbed by the flowers that they were hardly noticed.

After a lovely picnic lunch organized by Lizzie and lots of close up photographs taken of the flowers, we headed to our next overnight destination, Kamieskroon.

Day four was indescribable. We cycled to the Namqualand National Park (Skilpad Flower Reserve). We couldn't leave too early as the temperature needs to be around 16' C and sunny before the flowers start opening. They say this 1 000 hectare reserve is renowned as one of the best places to see the flowers in Namaqualand and wow were they right!

It is a wonderful way to see and smell the flowers on a bicycle; one feels such a part of nature. It definitely was not a fast ride, for me anyway. I had to stop every few metres to absorb the beauty. It was an orange wonderland. We had lunch just outside the reserve in an old farmhouse, and then did the long uphill trek back to Kamieskroon.

We had been warned that the following day was really hard work and it certainly was. We departed early and cycled up the Kamiesberg Mountain Pass! There again we saw many flowers and so much variety. We rode through farms, which included opening and closing many gates. We stopped for tea and scones and a little 'saki saki' to vinyl records along the way. I kept getting left behind as there was so much to photograph! We picnicked next to a little stream among the yellow flowers in the middle of nowhere.

We continued on the circular route via Arkoep through a beautiful valley. When we had to climb out of the valley, I got a tow from Chris. We climbed nearly 1 000 metres that day. We then had a choice of racking the bikes or riding the old disused Cape to Springbok road. We all chose to ride. It was a very tough day, 60 kilometres of it, but again with the beauty of the mountains, valleys and flowers, we all loved it. And we all went to bed totally exhausted that night.

And then sadly we headed back but not without stopping for some local wine and mampoer tastings the Bazelel winery near Upington. We got back to Oranjerus and took our trusted bikes that had given no trouble, for a last ride to Kanoneiland and surrounding areas.

The last night we had dinner together as new friends, laughing about our adventures, still in awe of the beautiful landscapes and flowers we had seen. We still don't know the age of the dour Irishman, we won't tell who got towed up which hills, but we will never forget the adventure we had together. Thank you Chris and dizzy Lizzy for a wonderful experience and looking after us all so well.

If anyone wants to do this trip of a life time, contact Chris or Lizzie at info@escapecycletours.com, it really is a dream come true and another tick on the bucket list.

Marie-Anne Meijers

Marie-Anne Meijers

50 Shades Contributor |

Marie-Anne Meijers is one of the original 50 Shades of ... Mud riders and is also a keen photographer.