Most people who join a Renedian tour are visiting countries and cultures unfamiliar to them. This was not the situation for brothers Dave and Bill Nicolle on their 2023 Waterfalls and Wildlife tour. Born and raised in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, they immigrated to Ontario, Canada in 1975 and 1981 respectively and carried memories from a very different time in history. Their enjoyment of motorcycle riding originated in Rhodesia where they rode dirt bikes on farms. Now they love long-distance touring in North America on their Gold Wings.

A typical Namibian scene

Family history

Bill and his BMW

As one of the first families in Cecil Rhodes’ Pioneer Column, their grandfather, Percy, was ceded a block of land which formed the original farm in Rhodesia. The family grew it into a large operation, cropping about 20,000 acres a year of corn, soybeans, and wheat. At one point, they supplied the wheat that went into approximately one-third of every loaf of bread in the country. Although most of his siblings farmed, their father, Owen, born in 1917, one of ten children, was a metallurgist who worked for large gold and nickel mines. Dave recalls, “We’ve always had a close interaction with agriculture through my cousins, right until they lost their farms in the early 2000s. We used to go see them every time we were over, or they would come and visit us and we would visit area farms in Ontario.”

Bill worked for their cousin Clive in 1980-81 when the family operation employed nearly 400 people. “You couldn’t have very much mechanization because you had to have foreign currency to buy it. That meant you built a village for 400 people and their families to live in. Every farm had a village with a clinic, school, and store.”

Even though Dave had already emigrated, Bill considered staying in Rhodesia, then heeded his father’s prescient words. His father told him, “You might do very well in farming with the family, but one day it might end. It is much easier when you’re a young buck with one suitcase to head off to the ‘first world,’ and give something else a try. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back.” It was sage advice Bill was glad he followed.

In the early 2000s, when Mugabe started his land grab, the Nicolles lost everything— all their farms, equipment, and houses. Bill said, “All those farm
operations and the villages, with their clinics, schools, and stores, collapsed. Our parents stayed there after the change while their four children left, but most of the family moved to Australia. Others moved to Cape Town.”

African traveler experience

Bill & Dave on the Chobe River in Botswana

It wasn’t surprising for Dave and Bill to field questions from fellow Renedian riders about the culture and history of the countries they were traveling through, even though they didn’t travel close to their actual birthplace. Dave said, “We traveled with an exceptional group of people for whom this was something different.

“Our sense of familiarity with the culture and its ways contrasted with their experiences. There were certain soft drinks and foods that we were familiar with that others had never seen. Gas stops were another example. “You don’t pump your own gas there,” said Dave. “The guys pump the gas and are very proud to do that. Our group’s arrival always produced line-ups which tested the patience of some people, especially if they struggled with the heat. We would remind them that this was the Namib Desert, not North America, and advise them to relax. These people appreciate our business.”

“Renedian guides Rob House and Mike Higgs were fantastic at monitoring how much water intake we had, making sure we didn’t get dehydrated. We would stop every couple of hours and Mike would pull up with the van, well stocked with cold water, bananas, apples, and energy bars.”

Even though they had first learned to drive on the left, it took getting used to when they revisited. Bill, who worked for Honda in Canada most of his career, had returned to Cape Town a few times and borrowed a Honda motorcycle from the national distributor. He said, “I’d ridden in more urban areas in South Africa, up the East Coast and back through the interior part of the Western Cape province. But the biggest challenge was learning to ride on the left-hand side.” He found that not having to navigate on the Renedian tour gave him the opportunity to look around more.

Benefits of professional group travel

Our group returning from the meteorite in Nambia

“If we had shown up there by ourselves thinking we know Africa from way back, it would have been a very different trip,” said Dave. “A big part of that goes back to guides Rob and Mike,” said Bill. Dave continued, “They knew what they were doing. That’s the difference between trying to do something like that yourself versus doing a tour with a group that knows and understands what’s going on.

“We wouldn’t have known the right places to go to. I would have been concerned about getting enough gas or knowing where the next gas stop was. Rob and Mike had done the ride previously in the autumn of 2022, so it was relatively fresh for them and they had ironed out potential glitches. And we didn’t have to navigate anywhere. That was an absolute pleasure for us to be able to follow somebody who knew where they were going. I would do the same thing again in a heartbeat. It’s not worth the risk or aggravation to do it ourselves.”

A cheetah park in Namibia

“Border crossings were another potentially patience-testing experience,” Dave said, “We thought we might know what to expect but things like $300 import duties, or regulations can change quickly and we would never attempt it by ourselves. Both Rob and Mike were well versed with successful border-crossing protocol. We adopted a saying, ‘TIA (this is Africa).’ You can’t always use your North American standards for anything, including what would pass a vehicle inspection in Canada or the United States.

Trip highlights

Our group (less Mike) at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Vic Falls was easily Bill’s highlight. Shortly before his recent trip with Renedian, he’d advised a friend to not even think about going there. “After our Waterfalls to Wildlife trip, I told him he had to put it back on his list. You don’t need to go for a week. You don’t need to drive there. When you’re in South Africa book a direct flight to Victoria Falls, stay two or three nights and then return to South Africa. I didn’t appreciate going there as a teenager on school trips, but Victoria Falls is one incredible site and to walk it like Rob did with us was even more impressive. We arrived one afternoon and then had the whole next day to explore, even taking the helicopter ride over the Falls. To see that constant flow of water together with the height was the absolute highlight for me.”

Mike, Dave, and Rob with Dave’s Honda Africa Twin

Dave said riding a motorcycle in Africa topped his list of highlights. “The biggest challenges were the number of pedestrians and animals on the road—not necessarily wildlife, but goats and cattle. There are school kids walking and guys pushing wheelbarrows. You’d be riding in the middle of nowhere and suddenly, there was a guy herding goats on the side of the road. Or there would be a giraffe or elephant right next to you. One time a herd of wild horses ran next to us. Because the sides of the road are relatively well-trampled, guys herd their cattle there. They will let them out during the day and just let them graze. It’s hard to explain that to somebody.

“To ride in Africa without fences, and to have the smell, the heat, and the freedom, and then see all these interesting challenges, like a herd of goats appear, was phenomenal to me. They weren’t a problem, just challenges. Rob, at the front, would spot a potential hazard first, put on his four-way flashers, and we’d all slow down. I love riding motorcycles here (in North America), but to be able to ride in Africa, which I hadn’t done since 1975, was a highlight for me.”

“Overall, the ‘feeling’ of going back into Zimbabwe after twenty-three years was, upon reflection, a little strange,” said Bill. “Although there was so much that was familiar—the people, food, language, sayings, weather, and riding a motorcycle—I really felt like a ‘visitor’ as Canada has been my home for forty-three years. Doing the tour with other Canadian and American ‘visitors’ and also with my brother Dave and good friend Cor (from Florida), both raised in Rhodesia, probably contributed to that feeling.

“Everywhere we went, whether it was in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, or South Africa, the local folks were very, very pleasant and welcoming. We had no bad experiences whatsoever.”

Both brothers highly recommend taking a Renedian tour in southern Africa!

Photo credits: Dave and Bill Nicolle