Welcome to The Big Africa Cycle website. My name is Peter Gostelow and in August 2009 I left England to cycle to Cape Town. Almost 3 years later, having cycled more than 34,000km through 30 countries, I finally finished.
This was my second major solo bicycle adventure. Between 2005-2008 I cycled from Japan-England, a journey of 50,000km.
The blog posts in this website tell some of the stories from my time on the road. I returned to Africa in May 2013 and am living in Mwanza, Tanzania, working as a teacher trainer. If you’re headed out here for a holiday, or are travelling through by bicycle or backpack, please get in touch.
Although the cycling aspect of this journey is over, I will provide content in the months ahead, with blog posts and updates to some of the other pages on the site. If you’re a regular reader, or even if you’ve just stumbled upon the site now, please consider receiving future updates to the website by entering your e-mail address here.
Six weeks in Southern Africa: Part 1
July 8th, 2014 (5 comments)
In December 2013 I flew with my bike to Johannesburg. I had 6 weeks of leave and decided it was a good time to explore Lesotho, Swaziland, and see some more of South Africa.
Ethiopia had been the original plan. I hadn’t cycled there before and it was high on my list of countries to visit on the continent, but flights to Addis Ababa, despite being closer to me in northern Tanzania, were significantly more expensive than the return fare offered by Fastjet, (East Africa’s new budget airline) from Dar-es-Salaam to Johannesburg.
Aside from that, the weather promised to be significantly warmer in Southern Africa than when I cycled through the northern and western Cape in June 2012. I also realised that the British pound, then worth around 11 Rand, would now get me over 17 Rand. Bad luck for South Africans going on holiday to the UK….
And so here is Part 1 of a much-delayed photo-blog of that tour – about 2250km altogether. All pictures here were taken with either my Nikon D90 or smartphone (Samsung S4).
Tour route, anti-clockwise in direction
Johannesburg was the starting and finishing point for the tour. Leaving the city by bicycle wasn’t as bad as I had expected, although it quickly became apparent that very few people cycle here. In terms of road safety South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries I have cycled through.
The first few days south from Johannesburg take me through the Free State – a fairly flat monotonous expanse of agricultural land. The road is well-paved, but it’s a shame the hard shoulder isn’t.
My first night on the road is spent at the municipal camp-site in the small town of Heilbron – 135km south from Johannesburg. For £1.50 I have the place to myself, a hot shower and a lovely view. This tent has been with me throughout Africa. It’s still strong, but that rain-sheet is not nearly as water-proof as it once was!
“I own a Guest House down the road. You’re welcome to a free bed for the night”. There aren’t many countries in the World where a random stranger would greet you on the roadside and make such an offer. South Africa is one of them. In the small town of Reitz I happily took up the offer and slept very comfortably in this room pictured above.
The landscape starts to provide a taste of what’s to come as I approach Lesotho (mountains in background). My bike was fully-loaded for this tour, but the panniers were half-full. Rear panniers alone would have sufficed, but I like to balance out the load and leave space for throwing in food. This was morning of day 4 out of Johannesburg.
A short distance from where the picture above was taken. Quiet roads, blue skies – happy days.
Ficksburg is known for its Cherry Festival, but I’m 1 month too late and the municipal camp-site is more or less empty. I pitch the tent and pack it away the next morning without paying. The border with Lesotho is less than 1km away. Altitude is 1750m here and the temperature perfect.
The map of Lesotho clearly shows it to be the Kingdom of Mountains. It’s hard to choose a route, but from the capital, Maseru, in the west I decide to cut straight across the country. Paper maps will always accompany me on my tours, despite having a GPS and a smartphone with google maps.
A day of cycling should always start with coffee. Proper coffee. Before leaving Johannesburg I buy a cheap Espresso maker, which sits well on my Primus stove and fits perfectly into mug and cooking pot, as pictured below.
The landscape in Lesotho is never dull. Mountains loom on the horizon as I head east from Maseru.
Fortunately the road is paved to begin with and traffic very light. Lesotho has some of the steepest climbs in Africa so it’s a good thing my bike isn’t too heavily loaded. This picture, like many others of me on the bike, is taken with camera on mini-tripod and set to self-timer mode, leaving me to free-wheel downhill, turn, then pedal back towards the camera while counting to 20, at which point I hopefully pass the spot upon which the camera was focused. The process would be much simpler with a cycling partner!
Most passes in Lesotho are between 2000-3000m in altitude. The summer months here are the best time to tour (day time temps 20-25C) unless cold weather cycling is your thing.
Sweat-breaking climbs were frequently rewarded with stunning vistas from the top. This is just before descending to Setibing, where I would camp on my first night out of Maseru.
The tarred road ends in the small town of Tsabo Tseka, giving the landscape a wilder feel as I continue east through stunning mountain scenery. Lesotho ranks as one of the most scenic countries I have cycled in Africa.
The road is more or less free of vehicles and surprisingly well-surfaced. The terrain is never flat and I’m happy to cover 70-80km on most days.
Up in the mountains the weather could change quickly. It added to the wildness and made for some great changes of light in the sky.
I was rarely alone on the roads of Lesotho. The sight of a foreign cyclist slowly inching his way up 10%+ gradients provided plenty of excitement for roaming shepherd boys to leave their cattle and race to the road. Wrapped in weathered blankets it was never long before calls of ‘give me sweet’ and/or ‘give me money’ were heard. The demands were never aggressive and I usually had little energy to do more than just ignore or reply with a simple ‘yes’ to everything that was said, which usually created great confusion.
Under darkening skies and strong winds a village church makes a good place to rest during one night.
Safe and dry. Once permission was sought from a village elder I slept comfortably knowing I wouldn’t wake up in a puddle of water the next morning. Village churches and schools make for good overnight camp spots in Africa.
Lesotho’s one and only national beer, Masuti, comes in sensibly-sized 660ml bottles.
There is little motorised traffic on the high roads in Lesotho.
The Sani Pass divides Lesotho from South Africa and marks one of the highest points in Southern Africa. The skies are kind to me on Christmas day morning as I receive my exit stamp from immigration and prepare for a steep but stunning descent back into South Africa.