Touring South Africa: Let the wheels do the walking

The wine route: A Segway tour around the Spier estate.

The wine route: A Segway tour around the Spier estate.

Though it’s an unseasonably cool, blustery day for February in the Western Cape, nothing can dampen my spirit. I have mastered riding the Segway futuristic transporter – on rutted farm roads.

In Holland, it’s no novelty to see preschoolers bouncing about on their bicycles. Then there’s the odd adult foreigner in town whose sense of balance is such that accidents result.
Sometimes even caused by a local cyclist’s passenger. In one case, that was me.

Thereafter, my confidence never fully returned to that happy equilibrium on a bicycle or anything else requiring a balancing act.

This is why off-roading so uber-confidently now on my battery-charged, two-wheeler Segway around the Spier wine estate is such a thrill.

But I’m also being lulled into a false sense of confidence because Segways are, in fact, a self-balancing mechanism. Anyone who can stand on its platform and who has a little knee flexibility can ride them. You lean forward to go forwards and backward to go backwards.

Soaring over the bumps of the hilly farm tracks
Essential pre-tour training takes between five to 15 minutes, depending on how fast you learn. A mini-obstacle course is thrown in at the end to test you. Riding is so simple that 10-year-olds have ridden them, and the oldest rider was 96. Weight is more of an issue because the Segway struggles to run with anyone over 120kg.

But traversing the tracks of the biodynamic farm means you do need to take your guide’s instructions seriously. “Take corners widely to turn” means just that. Move the handlebar gently in the direction you want to go or run the risk of unbalancing your Segway. Falling off with this 54kg baby following you can be a crushing experience.

One of a group and a guest of Touring South Africa, who run regular Segway tours at Spier, we’re soaring through the dips and over the bumps of the sometimes hilly farm tracks.

Breezing past pine trees and proteas, the large-tyred machine makes a low, comforting whirring sound. Battery life is seven hours.

Spier has long been known as an innovator of sustainable and green farming practices and we’re here to learn more about such things as a natural wastewater treatment plant and recycled water.

Sample the merlot and cabernet sauvignon
Like Masaru Emoto, Spier believes water has consciousness and reacts – positively or negatively – to how it’s spoken to. Hence the “love” and “peace” signs pasted at the plant to inspire the purest water.

Spier’s dam, used for flushing the estate’s toilets, has saved it 40% on fresh water.

If you eat an omelette at any of Spier’s restaurants, the eggs will have come from its free-range fowls. Many coops yield about 1 000 eggs a day.

As is the way on farms that use natural farming methods, chicken manure is used as a fertilizer.

As a rule, organically grown grapes have far more nutrients and juice than those fed commercial fertilizer. We’re hopping on and off our Segways in the vineyard to sample the merlot and cabernet sauvignon. While we’re at it, the safety feature kicks in. Jump off the Segway and the machine slowly stops, but in the opposite direction to yours.

Segway riding isn’t an extreme sport and high speed isn’t associated with it, but that won’t necessarily stop your urge to go faster.

Halfway through the tour, our guide, Arnold, “unlocks” our machines. Now we’re supercharged on adrenalin and in turbo mode doing Segway’s maximum speed of 20km an hour.

Pounding the city’s sidewalks after off-roading may feel a little tame. Fortunately, enjoying the Segways’s adventurous element can be found countrywide, such as in the extra thrills and spills of gliding across water, mud and dust in a forest ride with Tstsikamma Segway Tours.

Hills, bumps, rutted tracks and a water crossing will be your experience when off-roading in the tranquil Tsitsikamma forest reserve at the Garden Route’s Stormsriver village. Astounding scenery along the 4x4 trail and an educational tour of forest life keep you going until you reach the Big Tree, a 1 000-year-old yellowwood.

If you like bananas, Mac Banana, a quirky farm “food emporium” near Port Edward in KwaZulu-Natal, offers an overdose. You’ll Segway through banana plantations and vegetable fields surrounded by water.

When you ride the Segway at Sun City, it is multi-terrain and you ride parallel to the Pilanesberg National Park fence. Opt for a morning tour and your chances of running past a rhino or an elephant improve significantly. At worst, you could have a giraffe, zebra or impala stopping you in your tracks.

If the fright factor of extreme sports scares you, this addictive joyride will have you coming back for more. And you’ll certainly want to take your Segway home with you.

Tour info:

Spier Vineyard Tours, R450 a person,  021 809 1157,

Tsitsikamma Segway Tours, between R350 and R500 a person, 042?2811?868 /081?320?3977,

Mac Banana Segway, 0861?025?327/072?318?9434,

Segway Sun City, R365 a person, 014?557?4052

Touring South Africa, 021?851?6644,

The wine route: A Segway tour around the Spier estate

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