Gamkaskloof, or Die Hel, is one of those must-visit places in South Africa’s bouquet of tourism destinations. The mysterious valley is diffi cult to describe, and no picture can accurately capture its tranquil charm. Its hidden treasures are in the stories, myths and legends about the people who once lived there, and gave this serene valley its rather peculiar name.
Leisure Wheels 4×4 Safaris have a fabulous trip planned from 29 April to 2 May – to Rooiberg and Die Hel. Come and join us on this adventurous weekend in the Klein Karoo, with its warm hospitality and magnificent beauty.
DAY ONE of the trip will kick off at 4pm in Oudtshoorn, the heart of the Klein Karoo, where the group will meet. From there the convoy will depart to Rooirivier farm, not too far from Graaff Reinet, in the red hills at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains. The bush camp will be ready on arrival for our stay-over for the next two nights, where the bush chef will whip up some splendid Karoo cuisine on the open campfi re.
DAY TWO will start at a leisurely pace with a warm breakfast to prepare everyone for the day ahead. Tour leader Kalbas Nell will make sure that all the vehicles are ready for the treacherous road, and run through a few pointers on what to keep in mind when navigati ng trail obstacles. The Rooiloop Route on the farm is not for the faint hearted. Perhaps the best descripti on of the route was by late Leisure Wheels editor Johann van Loggerenberg: “It seemed innocuous at fi rst, gently winding its way up a slight incline for a distance of 5km during which the vehicles climbed 100m. Then came the crunch – an incredibly steep part that would take the crews from 660m above sea level to the summit at 820m, over a distance of only half a kilometre!” The steep descents, twist and turns off er spectacular views of the Klein Karoo, with its red hills and majesti c mountains. The route will lead us back to base, where the campfi re will be lit and a welcome cup of coff ee and another fabulous dinner will be waiti ng for us.
DAY THREE will require an early start. Luckily, the smell of fresh coff ee from the open fi re will get everyone going. Aft er a cuppa and a rusk, we embark from Rooirivier to De Rust, and then take the Meiringspoort Pass into the Swartberg Nature Reserve, via a spectacular gorge through the heart of the Swartberg Mountains. Our journey through the Karoo will lead us to the picturesque town of Prince Albert, a place rich in character and historical interest. The old-world atmosphere of the town in the northern foothills of the Swartberg has a 19th century architectural heritage, with numerous well-preserved buildings in Cape Dutch, Victoria and Karoo styles. If ti me allows, the group can stroll through the streets with the interesting shops and businesses, before we enjoy an early lunch at the Swartberg Hotel – a splendid affair in itself. The next part of the journey is the scenic road that will lead to the highlight of our trip: a sleep-over in Die Hel. To get there we travel up the Swartberg Pass, the “Grandfather of Passes”, as writer Lawrence Green described it. The pass is one of the best examples of the fine engineering skills of Sir Thomas Bain, who built many of the country’s old passes that are sti ll in use today. For the first 12km the pass climbs up to 1000m above sea level. Just before we reach the summit of 1585m, we take the turn-off to Die Hel. The spectacular road involves a 57km descent into the heart of the Swartberg mountains, which takes two hours of careful driving.
The views and abundance of mountain fynbos and other rare plants on the winding road into the Gamkas valley are astounding. The rock formati ons as well as the ruins of old buildings along the way have their own stories to tell. The secluded valley can be reached only by this steep descent. This is truly waboom, fynbos and protea country. At the end of the day we are rewarded with our last kuier and dinner around the campfire under the magnificent Karoo stars. Aft er breakfast next morning, we will enjoy the hidden secrets of Gamkaskloof. A highlight is a visit to Tannie Annatjie’s shop, which is stacked with preserves and dried fruit from the valley itself. Tannie Annatjie grew up in Die Hel and is the only remaining resident who still lives and farms here. The group will enjoy a leisurely walk among the streams and historic houses, aft er which Nature Conservation officials will tell us about the interesting fauna and flora in the valley.
Our time together will come to an end here. We will backtrack to the Swartberg Pass, and take the southern route back to Oudtshoorn, and then home.