OUR TOP

BY MARIËLLE RENSSEN

INCLUDES BONUS CD WITH GPS TRACKS, MAPS & TOURISM CONTACTS
Cederberg | Biedouw Valley Gannaga | Ouberg | Tankwa Karoo NP Swartberg | Die Hel | Meiringspoort Baviaanskloof Mountain Zebra NP | Camdeboo NP Lesotho-Drakensberg iSimangaliso St Lucia | Sodwana | Hluhluwe-iMfolozi NP Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Northern Namibia Southern Namibia

FEATURING DETAILED MAPS ACCOMMODATION TOP SITES 10 GREAT ROUTES TOURIST RESOURCES FAUNA CHECKLIST FLORA CHECKLIST PACKING LIST GPS POINTS

Contents I Best 4x4
➲ Introduction
01I Cederberg & Biedouw Valley Route Map p8 & Road Atlas section p154

4 6 16 28 42 52 64 84 100 114 136 150 157

➲ Route Map p18 & Road Atlas section p154 ➲

02I Gannaga & Ouberg Passes, Tankwa Karoo NP

03I The Swartberg, Die Hel & Meiringspoort Passes Route Map p30 & Road Atlas section p155

➲ Route Map p44 & Road Atlas section p155 ➲ Route Map p54 & Road Atlas section p155 ➲ Route Map p66 & Road Atlas section p156 ➲ Route Map p86 & Road Atlas section p156
08I Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park 07I iSimangaliso Wetland Park & Hluhluwe-iMfolozi NP 06I Lesotho – Drakensberg 05I Karoo – Camdeboo NP & Mountain Zebra NP

04I Baviaanskloof

➲ Route Map p102 & Road Atlas section p154 ➲ Route Map p116 & Road Atlas section p150 ➲ Route Map p138 & Road Atlas section p150 ➲ Road Atlas section ➲ Packing List & Tourist Resources
10I Southern Namibia 09I Northern Namibia

A Quintet of Mountain

03I The Swartberg, Die Hel & Meiringspoort Passes

swartberg pass

What’s so special about this route? ■ My heart lies in the

Swartberg Pass. The cliffs are massive; ancient crumpling and compressing of the rock strata stare you in the face; and the energy is pulsating. The scale of Die Hel’s rock walls, the vertical drops, the folded switchbacks, the sheer thrill of it all make it a must-do.
the gamkas river valley, known as die hel

28 l

more information : Plan Your Trip info: at end of chapter, page 41, Tourist Resources: pages 158–160

Prince Alfred’s Pass, Swartberg Pass, Die Hel/Gamkaskloof, Prince Albert, Meiringspoort, Montagu Pass

Gateways

549nd trip k start ing/e m n
Kyns ding na

Rou

maps : This route’s map: pages 30–31, also in Road Atlas Section: page 155

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03I The Swartberg, Die Hel & Meiringspoort Passes

trip summary

30

GeTTinG TheRe (Knysna): ■ From Johannesburg: N1 south to Beaufort West; N12 to George; N2 to Knysna ■ From Durban and Port elizabeth: N2 south to Knysna

Features: Prince Alfred’s & Swartberg Passes, Die Hel/Gamkaskloof, Prince Albert, Meiringspoort, Montagu Pass Trip duration: 2–3 days Time of year: early August (spring) Round trip: starting/ending Knysna, 549km Fuel consumption: 8.6 litres/100km over very difficult terrain Road conditions: ■ The pass at Gamkaskloof is a precipitous singlefile track, rutted and stony; only 4x4 terrain. ■ Use the advantage of height along the pass to check whether there is an oncoming vehicle, as you will need to search for a spot to pull over as best you can to allow it to pass. ■ 4x4s will have no problem with the other passes – they can deteriorate considerably after rain.

KNYSNA

KNYSNA CBD

31

03I The Swartberg, Die Hel & Meiringspoort Passes
playing a trick on us – remnants of the humorous tradition of the Knysna Forest Marathon perhaps? (Granted, recent DNA testing on dung has indicated there are five forest elephants secretly wandering about in the area.) We emerged at Buffelshoek, the road hugging the edge of the mountain as fynbos fell away into the Keurboom River valley and signposts carried pretty names like Valley of Ferns. We travelled past ordered, serried rows of stems and trunks, the horizon marked by the serrated outline of fir plantations while the opposite skyline was defined by banks of misty mountains, dipping and swooping in uneven layers. The valley dropped dramatically, marked by wooded interlocking spurs, and bright aloes made an appearance. So did baboons. As we crossed Buffelshoek state forest, we looked over the enchanted landscape of Outeniqua Trout Lodge, where a chain of dams reflected the sky and the Keurboom River divided and spread, leaving a trace of white pebbled banks. Ahead stretched a row of mountains from the Outeniqua range, looking like green fuzzy fingers. our disgust, the surrounding rocks were defaced with graffiti, proud individuals claiming they’ve been here, got the T-shirt… Clearly nature’s perfection is not allowed to pass unscathed. A white-paint-brushed sky above our heads, we headed along the Prince Alfred’s Pass on a winding road that cut into the edge of the mountain, giving us eagle-eyrie views into the valley. Purple Ericas looking like heather and day-glo pink Vygie bushes on the mountain slopes bravely withstood a wild cold wind that buffeted the 4x4s and whipped up dust storms ahead. Around us, bald rocky tops emerged from the fuzzy green knuckles. Suddenly we encountered neatly striated slopes cultivated with fruit trees and contendedly grazing woolly sheep. The valley had opened up to flat open farmland.

Our 4x4 travel kit
■ Garmin GPS (Nuevi 610 or Quest) ■ Two-way radios for inter-vehicle communication ■ 1 Waeco 30-litre fridge; 1 Waeco 40-litre fridge-freezer ■ 2 Colman hard-shell cool boxes (for use during the day) ■ Torch (Maglite or similar) ■ First-aid kit ■ Fire extinguisher ■ Tyre pump and gauge ■ Puncture repair kit ■ Tow rope or strap ■ Jumper cables ■ Mini toolbox (pliers, screwdrivers, spanners, spare fuses, etc.)

✿ Right onto R62. Left onto R339

Day 1

Knysna to Prince Albert (321km)
Prince Alfred’s Pass August was still young, spring was almost ready to burst forth from a long, cold, wet winter. It was a crisp 7ºC as we set off from Knysna at 8am in our pair of Freelanders. Our destination: the mighty Swartberg mountains and the much anticipated tortuous pass into Die Hel. Keith ahead, Hirsh in hot pursuit, the two set the holiday mood as they tested the two-way radios with banter rippling fast as quicksilver. Far too witty for so early in the morning, I thought to myself…

to Uniondale Heading now into the Kammanassieberge, the dramatic rocky landscape of sawn-off cracked faces and shattered rock pinnacles continued, with vegetation clawing

…we didn’t stop to further investigate the swan’s what’s-it, Die Hel was calling…
As the Landies progressed, the Outeniqua mountains rose higher and higher around us. We looked onto sheared rock faces with jagged edges, flanked by cracked rock pillars and boulders balancing precariously on narrow pedestals. In this shattered environment, mainly hardy succulents survive with tiny specimens peeking from the crevices and aloes standing sentinel, sometimes on tall scruffy pedestals, at other times darkly silhouetted high on the distant skyline. Next the wellwatered rocky slopes produced a string of long, thin waterfalls with a series of narrow gauge bridges crossing mountain streams. Just before the Vlier Bend picnic spot, we stopped at a pretty spreading waterfall that splashed into a milky green pool. Much to on wherever its roots could take hold and succulents and heather-like fynbos growing all over the bouldered slopes. This transformed into scrub-covered rolling hills as we approached Uniondale.

✿ Near Uniondale, right onto N9

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N2 intersection/left onto R339 to Uniondale Turning onto a gravel road, we threaded our way up and up through the thickly wooded Diepwalle state forest with its banks of hardy giant ferns and small-stemmed indigenous trees jostling for the open sky. When we encountered some heaps of elephant dung, we wondered whether someone was

(Willowmore) Cruising through Uniondale, the only feature of note is the attractive old police station with its Victorian detailing – and a signboard advertising the Swanze Gat (‘swan’s bum’ in the old Dutch of the early settlers!) guesthouse. We didn’t stop to further investigate the swan’s what’s-it, Die Hel was calling, so we continued on towards De Rust.

swartberg pass from oudtshoorn side

✿ Left on R339/R341 (De Rust).

About 5km, left again off R339 (shortcut to join R341) By now we knew we were in the Little Karoo as ostriches populated the hardy fynbos scrub, peering inquisitively at us as we drove by. Untidy aloes marched into the distance and the blades of a lone windmill cranked in the perfect silence.

Swartberg Pass

✿ Turn left onto R341 (De Rust).

Left at Hoekplaas Driving now on gravel, a rim of mountains completely encircled us to every horizon. Isolated clumps of thorny cactus were upstaged by glowing ember-red Bitter aloes (Aloe ferox) emerging from their base of fleshy spiky leaves; yet other aloes presented a narrow clean pedestal and pretty rose-tinged succulent leaves. For a while we followed the course of the Olifants

River with silvery-grey Agaves (a plant from which tequila is made) and low succulent vegetation to either side of the road. On our left, horizontal sedimentary rock bands tilted skyward and ahead of us, the Swartberg peaks were still dusted with the last of the winter snow. It was intensely gratifying to realise that we were the only two vehicles on the road. Then we were in an amphitheatre created by rings of the Kammanassie foothills ever rising to the giant Swartberg and covered in a mantle of low roundtopped green bushes. One green-moulded hill had been scarred by an angry gash of exposed rock where the face sheared eons ago. It now smouldered in shades of burgundy, mustard and cream and vegetated slopes rose to meet its base, like a mini-escarpment.

Plantlife
■ Bitter aloe (Aloe ferox – below) ■ Pig’s ears (Cotyledon orbiculata) ■ Doringvy (pink vygie)
(Eberlanzia ferox)

■ Gum-leaved conebush (Leucadendron eucalyptifolium) ■ Golden Mimetes/Golden Pagoda (Mimetes chrysanthus) ■ Pink/white everlasting (Phaenocoma prolifera) ■ Resin bush/Geelmagriet (Euryops abrotanifolius) ■ Sand olive (Dodonaea angustifolia) ■ Wild olive (Olea europaea) ■ Spekboom (Portulacaria afra)

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03I The Swartberg, Die Hel & Meiringspoort Passes
Driving ‘at’ the mountains, we came upon beautiful Doornkloof, set in a wide valley among the rolling hills and flanked by a mirror-like dam and emerald fields. This was true sheep and wheat territory as all around red rock pinnacles and eroded boulders thrust out of the Karoo hills.

✿ Left onto N12 (Oudtshoorn).

folded rock strata, swartberg

Turn right at Oudemuragie. Passing briefly through De Rust we were struck by its characterful coffee shops, prettily painted country-style stores and guesthouses. Looking like they were particularly browse-worthy, we decided to return for lunch the next day – Die Hel still called. We were heading into the Swartberg foothills across a surprisingly built-up broad valley – very rural and pretty with its young wheatfields in varying shades of green, a sea of ostrich necks in the tall grass and snow glittering in the sun on the high mountain peaks. I loved the abandoned old gabled houses filled to the eaves with straw bales – an imaginative storage facility! At other times we were hemmed in by walls of striated rock strata, often covered in a red or green stubble from the lichens, and which had been bent, twisted or folded so many millions of years ago when the earth’s crust buckled. After a series of gum plantations, our Freelanders left civilisation behind and suddenly we were in the midst of soaring scrub-covered hills. Past the enormous Raubenheimer dam, we hit tar road again and the mountain walls encroached closer and closer to the road.

In the Know … Mountain Geology
The geological structure of both the Swartberg and Meiringspoort passes falls into the Cape Supergroup. This in turn consists of three lesser groupings that are a feature of the Swartberg range: the Witteberg, Bokkeveld and Table Mountain groups. The geology dates back to the Palaeozoic era, spanning a time 360 to 510 million years ago. The soaring cliffs of both passes are mainly hard quartzitic Table Mountain sandstones with some visible bands of Bokkeveld shales (both are fine-grained, layered sedimentary rock). The dramatic folding of the sedimentary bands was caused by powerful forces beneath the earth’s crust which applied pressure along the east–west plane, crumpling layers until they ruptured so that giant sections of rock slid over the top of one another, creating massive fractures. For this reason, the Cape Fold Belt is also referred to as the Cape Thrust Belt.

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✿ Right onto R328 (Cango Caves)

Our mountain realm was most evident to us now as, back on gravel again, we passed through road cuttings hewn out of walls of solid rock. As we approached the Swartberg Pass, one of Thomas Bain’s masterpieces built from 1883–86, a tumult of humps and bumps under a jade-green shroud rose all around and forests of aloes bristled on the foothills. We continuously climbed around hairpin curves with names like ‘Skelmdraai Bend’ and were treated with stupendous views down into the massive broad valley of interlocking spurs, looking as if they were covered in green felt, while the stressed and fractured rock of vertically heaved strata hung above us. As we rose higher, the road slithered and curved steeply downward behind us like a white scar etched into the mountain slope. Low, neatly packed, retaining stone walls edging the most precipitous sections of the

road into die hel/gamkaskloof

Die Hel / Gamkaskloof
Pass Clearly signposted: ‘Gamkaskloof, “Die Hel” / “The Hell”, 50km = 2 hours’, we were duly warned. It hardly needs stating here that the Gamkaskloof Pass is navigable by 4x4s only. It was 12h45 as the two Freelanders negotiated the pitted, stony mountaintop, which had recently experienced a fire, leaving a rocky lunar landscape of charred skeletal stems and stripped protea heads – which in fact had a certain sculptural beauty. Feeling cautious after encountering a sign saying: ‘Dangerous road for 48km!’

a Pass into Hell
The Gamkaskloof Pass is named after the Gamkas River, which in turn was named by the Khoi people; gamkas means ‘lion’, implying that before hunters wielded their shotguns, lion were probably quite prolific here and used to slake their thirst at the river. This eastern approach via the Swartberg Pass into the valley that was later named Die Hel took foreman Kosie van Zyl over two years (March 1960 to August 1962) and R30,000 to build with the help of a bulldozer and a handful of labourers. Before this, the kloof was virtually inaccessible with only donkeys able to handle the single steep track, and it’s also likely to have been devilishly hot in summer. In 1940 Piet Botha, a stock inspector who was summoned to visit the valley, reported back that his journey had been ‘just like Hell’. The name stuck. Certainly, in those early days, only the hardiest of Afrikaner farmers had the courage to settle here and by 1991, the last farming family had left the valley. Today, only a handful of permanent inhabitants, mainly involved in tourism, live there.

✿ Left turn off top of Swartberg

burnt proteas at top of swartberg pass

…our vehicles bounced slowly along a singlefile road that clung to the mountain edge with a precipitous drop-off disappearing below us…
route looked like the Great Wall of China curving into the distance. At the succinctly named ‘Die Top’, the cold blasting wind pinned my door closed, preventing me from getting out to check the height (1563m from sea level). We had climbed 900m in around 12 kilometres – which explained why cars negotiating the curves below us resembled Tonka toys. A malachite sunbird flashed its gorgeous jewel colours among mop-haired aloes that stood to attention like armless toy soldiers. our vehicles bounced slowly along a narrow, generally single-file road that clung to the mountain edge with a precipitous drop-off disappearing below us on the opposite edge. Loosely packed stone slopes supporting the roadside were hardly reassuring! The road climbed to 1450m before easing downward. The early spring fynbos was holding its own – restios, grey and salmon-pink proteas, spiky yellow-leaved Golden Mimetes, and white and tiny pink everlastings distracted us when the views spiralling away got too

35

03I The Swartberg, Die Hel & Meiringspoort Passes

views back over the swartberg pass

much for us. There was also a profusion of buttercup-yellow daisy bushes (Resin bush or Geelmagriet) on the slopes. And the wildlife certainly wasn’t deterred by heights – baboons raised quizzical eyebrows at us and a trio of woolly rhebok with long narrow ears and vertical spiky horns stood poised on the roadside before flashing the underside of their fluffy white tails and melting into

eons hence, in the distance is a series of giant interlocking spurs and straight ahead an entire face of the mountain has slid earthward and is now marked with massive channels gouged out by the stone slides. We encountered a gigantic boulder on the roadside painted with the words ‘Oom Koos se Klip’. Had it caused his demise, we wondered? The tight switchbacks continued

…the spidery white ribbon of road turns on itself endlessly with the elasticity of a circus contortionist…
the fynbos. We also identified a little female klipspringer in her brown-speckled coat, perching elegantly on a rock on the tips of her hooves. The stupendous scale of the mountainscapes as we descended defies description. Over here, a series of grassed plateaus clearly have been shifted onto their side, over there, sheer escarpment-like breaks indicate where the mountain subsided relentlessly as we held our collective breath in case we’d meet on oncoming vehicle. At times we could see the spidery white ribbon of road turning on itself endlessly with the elasticity of a circus contortionist below us. It’s definitely worthwhile to keep your eyes peeled for any other 4x4s as you need to desperately search for the slightest widening of the road where you can pull off to the side and wait for the vehicles to pass.

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The road was heading into a massive valley that on one side looked as if uptilted layer after uptilted layer of the terraced escarpment had been shoehorned into the abyss. Tall aloes reminded me of enquiring meerkats, standing bolt upright as they surveyed the landscape. Finally the road bottomed out into the broad valley but the abundant rains had nurtured the vegetation into thick, tangled forest growth that encroached tightly onto the road to either side. The route became a blur of greenery – spiny acacias and trees draped in a muslin-type moss too fine to be Old Man’s Beard – white pebbled riverbeds and the ubiquitous rutted and potholed roads. Specimens of Aloe ferox glowed in shades of burnt orange to fiery red. At 2:30pm, one and a half hours later, we drove into the Gamkaskloof campsite where Cape Nature Conservation has its base. We chatted to the staff, looked at the photographic display on the history of the valley (see panel on page 33) and settled at a bench in the shade of the trees to eat the lunch we’d packed early that morning.

The thing to do, of course, would have been to have stayed in one of the simple converted houses that once belonged to the original hardy farmer-settlers. Decorated today according to indigenous traditions, some sport bright colours with bold graphic patterns while others have stepped façades or window and door surrounds painted in relief. Problem is, this was a long weekend and accommodation was nowhere to be had. When we explained this to some of the hardened 4x4 enthusiasts we bumped into,

rolled like a circular bale of hay, another twisted on itself in a row of pleats. At times the red rock was threaded through with distinct white veins of quartz. The route was dotted with road signs like Blikstasie (Tronk) and Malva Draai. As we neared Prince Albert, our vehicles were tightly hemmed in by giant russet walls that soared skyward, and when we stopped to gaze at them in awe, there was a pulsating energy all around that was quite palpable. Tiny pig’s ear aloes, succulents and hardy fynbos clawed to

series of vertical quartzite spines like rows of bookends rising 700m high. Side on, their worn faces were covered with lichens and it was as if they’d been roller-brushed in pastel greens, sherbert yellows and ochres.

…the normal clichés of feeling like a tiny insignificant blot on the landscape crowded in…
we were met with looks of utter disbelief. To tackle a pass of this nature just for lunch?! Pure madness, evidently. As we slowly wound our way out of the valley again, we met plenty of 4x4s trundling in and families settling in for the evening on the stoeps of their little painted houses. Next time, we promised ourselves. The light had softened and shadows were lengthening on the massive walls around us. Their scale reduced Keith’s Land Rover, driving ahead, to the size of a tiny ladybird scuttling along below. It struck me that this spaghetti-thin strand of road weaving skyward was our only lifeline, and the normal clichés of feeling like a tiny insignificant blot on the landscape crowded in. cracks and crevices and birds twittered above the rushing water of a stream. As we drove towards the dramatic rock portal that marks the entrance to the pass from the Prince Albert side, the rock cliffs became a

breakfast on the ‘sloot’, dennehof guesthouse

✿ Left onto R407 (Prince Albert)

✿ Left onto Swartberg

Pass As if Die Hel weren’t enough of a visual treat, the remaining section of the Swartberg Pass was pretty spectacular. The exposed sedimentary bands are folded and compressed into impossible shapes – here a zigzagging chevron, there

vertical rock spines in the swartberg

We emerged from the pass (some 22km in total) and the shattered rock landscape morphed into the rolling grassy Oukloof hills, each of which rose to a pinnacle just like a collection of Lesotho hats. In Prince Albert our elegant stop for the night was Dennehof guesthouse, a gabled Karoo-style homestead with a verandah-ed stoep running its full length. We loved its whimsical décor – quirky ceramic art, tasselled lampshades and door handles, zebra-skin seats and gauze fairies hanging from the curtains once they were drawn. This little country town has no shortage of eating places to try, and we ended up in the Karoo Kombuis with its platteland home cooking, oldtime crooner music and lintel of women’s shoes. Breakfast was had beneath shady trees on a wooden platform that spanned a sloot (water channel). In the distance, against a jade mountain backdrop, sprinklers sprayed plumes of water across the wheatfields while a sheepdog attended to its duty of herding woolly angora goats. A great start to a new day.

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03I The Swartberg, Die Hel & Meiringspoort Passes
Day 2
Meiringspoort

Prince Albert to Beyond the Moon (170km)

✿ From Prince Albert, R407 to

Klaarstroom We headed into the Prince Albert valley where rolling green hills with exposed rocky peaks powered skyward. This soon opened up to a flatter Karoo landscape of shrub-covered koppies decorated with spiny ridges piercing their green cover. Banks of mountains defined the horizon all around us, encroaching closer and closer till they surrounded us in a greatly undulating territory of wheat, vines, sheep and ostriches.

✿ Right on N12 (Klaarstroom,

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meiringspoort

Oudtshoorn) As we entered Meiringspoort (which is a tarred road), the edge of the Swartberg peaks ahead looked as if they’d been outlined in a solid white band of paint which, through our binoculars, turned out to be snow. The fractured red rock around us rose higher and higher till shattered stony cliffs heaved above the road. The slopes and cracked ledges were covered in little Karoo bushes and we could make out mountain proteas, wild olives and shiny-leaved Spekboom. The road then followed a river and we were reminded of the visual nature of the Afrikaans language (and tickled pink) by the signs for a series of fords that obviously served as watering points for the early settlers’ ox-wagons in days of old. Names like Wasgatdrif, Wadrif, Uitspandrif, Witperdedrif and Perskeboomdrif… At Watervalkloof on the Grootrivier, visitors can stop at the Cape Nature Conservation information centre and parking area on the left to walk to a nearby waterfall. Two specimens of a black eagle are on display at the centre, together with samples of local flora. We decided rather to drive to a designated picnic site a little further on the right, with restrooms and stone and concrete benches scattered under trees. Set

in a very scenic spot along the Grootrivier called Skelmkloof and hemmed in by rocky mountains, we had it all to ourselves and were entertained by a flurry of birds – familiar chat, Cape bulbul, Cape weaver, the perky Cape wagtail and both the male and female Cape rock thrush. Look out for their orangey chest, which both sexes have, but where the female has a speckled brown head, the male’s is a distinctive blue-grey.

Montagu Pass
for 8km; turn left onto gravel road to Dysselsdorp Recent rain in these parts had turned the road to mud and ruts and wet river crossings as we drove toward the Kammanassie hills. At a water drift across the Olifants River, an old headstone was lettered Die Ou Tol Brug, Constructed 1937. Behind us, the pockmarked and scarred Swartberge looked as if they had been slashed with a knife. Some time after Dysselsdorp, having climbed 660m over rolling hills clothed in all shades of green, we crossed the Kammanassie River, its swollen waters streaming swiftly over the bridge. The giant Kammanassie dam wall loomed into sight and we found ourselves being observed by a klompie of inquisitive ostriches, their fuzzy back-combed heads highlighted by a weak beam of sunlight struggling to pierce through the heavy-hanging cloud. The birds were definitely enjoying the cool air; we spotted a black-headed heron in flight, pied starlings flashed their white undertails in flight, male southern masked weavers, Cape black crows and utterly entrancing red bishops with their scarlet flamboyance. Ever present, keeping vigil on the telephone wires, were black fiscal shrikes, clearly identifiable by the white V on their backs.

✿ Leave De Rust, west on N12

Spotted

■ Black (Verreaux’s) eagle ■ Rock kestrel ■ Cape rock thrush ♂♀ ■ Familiar chat ■ Cape rockjumper ■ Yellow weaver ■ Malachite sunbird ■ Ground woodpecker

meiringspoort picnic spot

familiar chat

Although Meiringspoort’s towering rocky cliffs were pretty dramatic, after the Swartberg they felt a little tamer, with less twisting and crumpling and folding of the rock strata. We meandered our way out of the pass, wondering briefly who had ‘spooked’ whom at Spookdrif, and decided it was time for lunch in the pretty village of De Rust, tucked into a tiny green valley with soft rolling hills as a boundary. Along the roadside, flowering rose-pink bushes turned out to be sand-olives, carrying masses of little two- or three-sided lantern-like

cape wagtail

…who had ‘spooked’ whom at Spookdrif?…
blooms. In De Rust quaint craft shops with Victorian architectural detailing and trompe l’oeil façades were interspersed with beds of sunshine-yellow and orange spring daisies. At Village Trading Post, a charming back garden with chairs and tables set amidst two mosaic fountains won us over, and we ate our lunch surrounded by Victorian hats, cabbage roses and chiffon dresses. Then it was time to head through the Kammanassie mountains and Montagu Pass for our last stop, a magical farm in the foothills of the Outeniqua mountains aptly named Beyond the Moon. The Kammanassie mountain slopes were dotted with single Bitter aloes, a profusion of Pig’s ears, tiny-leaved Spekboom and whitespiked Sweet-thorn acacias. Long-stemmed yellow button daisies called Ganskos (Cenia turbinata) and little yellow mesems with fat, fingerlike leaves provided the colour. Suddenly we encountered a stretch of open, rolling country, then we were back to slopes thickly covered in creamy yellow-flowering black wattle. In exposed sections there was evidence of sedimentary rock layers, at times compressed into concertina-like bands.

cape rock thrush (female)

cape rock thrush (male)

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03I The Swartberg, Die Hel & Meiringspoort Passes
Turn right onto N9, then left to enter Montagu Pass We had now entered the Montagu Pass stretch, yet around the little settlement of Herold it was intensely green and pastoral with peacefully grazing horses, pretty coral and pink watsonias, and farmed hops trailing along tall trellises. Everything was engulfed in mist. The vehicles climbed up an often narrow road to the railway bridge at the crest of the pass, some 750m above sea level, where a sign announced a Pass-to-pass Trail (Montagu to Outeniqua). Just before the bridge stands a headstone for Amanda’s grave (whoever she may be). Beyond, it felt as if you were looking down from the rooftop of the world. The mountains were so thickly carpeted with fynbos, it was like a meeting of fat, fuzzy green fingers. Sometimes thick tracts of forest interspersed the fynbos and now and then we caught glimpses of the Outeniqua Pass winding away below. Along Boshoff se Draai, low stone walls lining the road edge were the only barrier to the vertical drops into the valley below. Look out for yellowwoods before the road meets the

Indigenous Trees
■ Stinkwood (Ocotea bullata): big, oval, crinkly leaves; distinguishable by two (or more) tiny raised bubbles at the leaf base. ■ White Stinkwood (Celtis africana): white to grey marbled bark; leaves have three strong branching veins, the top half is serrated and ends in a pointed tip. ■ Common Turkey-berry (Canthium inerme): also known as bokdrol for its dark brown fruits! Has small leaves on thin pick-axelike branchlets which grow at right angles to the stem. ■ Forest elder (Nuxia floribunda): leaves are tooth-edged with pointed tip and a purplish central vein; fallen trunks quickly regenerate new leaves and branches. ■ White elder or witels (Platylophus trifoliatus): grows near water, three-leaf grouping on stem; trunk is wonderfully convoluted with warts and knobbly protrusions. ■ Black ironwood (Olea laurifolia): small dense leaflets; look for wet, black leeching on the trunk. ■ Common Saffron (Cassine papillosa): biggish leaves, edges are serrated with little spines; bark is yellow-orange underneath. ■ Assegai (Curtisia dentata): saw-tooth serrations along leaf edges, grey-green underneath; dark-brown bark is deeply fissured. ■ Mountain hard pear (Olinia emarginata): prolific small, glossy, elliptical, dark green leaves; pale brown-yellow flaky bark. Dense clusters of dark red, round, glossy berries noticable in March–June. ■ Real yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius): distinguishable from the Outeniqua (common) yellowwood by shorter, less fine, dense, long narrow leaflets; also seeds are redbrown instead of fleshy and yellow.

die ou tol brug, olifants river

Beyond the Moon

✿ After 4km, turn left onto N9

We carried on through George, following the signs for Knysna.

✿ Left towards Saasveld on old

George–Knysna road for 16km As you leave George’s shopping strip along Knysna Street, look out for signs to the Nelson Mandela Campus at Glenwood Avenue where you turn left onto the Saasveld road. This section of the road has been tarred since Knysna’s infamous floods, but it still winds through thick indigenous forest where tall leafy trees with thin stems

…As we exited the pass, we looked back to see a Road Closed sign blocking entry to the pass…
bridge over the Keur, and next up is the Old Toll House, a rock, stone and zinc-roofed structure looking sad and rundown despite its National Monument plaque. Nearby, a river tumbled from the mountain’s heights in a cappucino froth of foam. The road degenerated into water rivulets and road slides where tranches of earth had simply slipped vertically downward. While pregnant clouds draped themselves over the velvetgreen interlocking mountain slopes, river water the colour of Guinness and milky coffee rushed alongside the road and under bridges, making progress difficult and slow. As we exited the pass, we looked back to see a Road Closed sign blocking entry to the pass. . . We took the left-hand fork, staying on gravel for 4km, for a more scenic route into George. compete for the light, encroaching above the road and forming a dense canopy together with creepers and hanging moss. This is followed by clumps of black wattle and gum trees with, in-between, rolling pastoral hills. We crossed an old stone bridge and later a long railway-style bridge with water foaming underneath. After 16 km, turn left onto the Hoekwil/Karatara road. The turn for Beyond the Moon is on the left between the Big Tree and the tiny settlement of Woodville. The farm, in fact, is situated along the banks of the Woodville River.

✿ Left at Mandalay road sign

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At the Mandalay road sign, look out for the Beyond the Moon entrance on the left. This place is pure utopia. Cradled by the

Outeniqua mountains and tightly bound by indigenous forest, it has as its focal point a giant lily vlei that lures bushbuck and wild pig to drink at its edge. Accommodation is in various self-catering cottages with names like Francolin, Kestrel and Kingfisher; then there is the River Sanctuary beside a mountain stream and Froggy Cottage overlooking the vlei – whose occupants croak so loudly at night you need ear plugs (they do subside at some stage in the evening!). Hand-carved wooden fittings (created by farm-owner and animation artist Roger) give the cottages character and walks into the forest will have you marvelling at the abundance of indigenous tree species (many carry identification plates). (See also tree panel.) Our most magical moment was briefly trailing the fireflies into the forest after dark. We could already spot the tiny pinprick flashes, brief and intermittent, at the forest edge and as we penetrated

Day 3

Beyond the Moon to Knysna (58km)
The remainder of the old George–Knysna road is still mostly gravel with short strips of tar and runs through the blink-as-you-pass settlements of Karatara and Barrington. We cruised through gently rolling hills and wooded kloofs with pretty dams and grazing Jersey cows onto an open grassland plateau. Then the plantations closed in again, with firs and gums ranging from peak to valley. The S-bends of the winding 5km Homtini Pass run through dense forest, allowing glimpses onto the climber-draped tree canopy below, and as we crossed the bridge over the Homtini River, the waters rippling over white pebbles and boulders looked like Coca Cola on crushed ice. Shortly after is the turnoff to the left for the historic goldmining complex of Millwood. Approximately 8km after passing Millwood, we turned

➲ Plan yOur TrIP! ■ Web resources:
Swartberg/Die Hel www. Hel: capenature.co.za/reserves. htm?reserve=Swartberg+Nature+ Reserve#reserve_tabs Annetjie Joubert’s accommodation: www.diehel.com Prince Albert: www.patourism.co.za Meiringspoort: www.patourism. co.za/meiringspoort.htm Beyond the Moon farm: www.beyondthemoon.co.za/ accommodation.asp ■ extra tourist resources & contacts: see pages 158–160

Our exPerIence ■ Best move on the trip:
Staying at the enchanted farm Beyond the Moon at the edge of Knysna’s indigenous forest to introduce us gently back to the reality of having to go back to earn a living again. ■ Worst move: Planning our trip over a long weekend so the limited accommodation in Die Hel was fully booked. ■ Our advice to you: Definitely arrange to stay a night in the scenic Gamkaskloof valley to make the tough two-hour journey down over 50km worth the effort! Try out a brightly painted traditional house or contact Annetjie Joubert (see contact details).

the thickets, the fluorescent sparks were suddenly all around us, in front, to the side, under our feet. On-off, on-off, never in the same spot; ephemeral, evasive, but ever there in the incredible stillness. It was easy to imagine how stories of fairies grew out of images such as this – in my mind’s eye I could see tiny gossamer-winged beings flitting through the darkness bearing their tiny phosphorescent lanterns. Sleep came sweetly that night.

left onto the Phantom Pass road which winds through the pine and fir plantations once belonging to Knysna’s ship-building Thesen family. Finally you have views onto the Charlesford farm belonging to another old Knysna family, the Duthies. The last stretch had the Knysna River on the left and Phantom Forest to the right, with a return to dense indigenous forest closing in overhead, before we emerged to meet the N2 into Knysna.

M MaPS & GuIDeS ■ Visitor’s Guide,
Garden Route ISBN 9781868097913 ■ Road Map, Garden Route ISBN 9781868098613

…Sigh…end of yet another great trip…

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EACH ROUTE DRIVEN & VERIFIED

DETAILED ROUTE MAPS GPS POINTS ROUTE DRIVEN
This book is for all you travellers out there who:
J J Didn’t know your 4x4 was meant to be driven on dirt Believe that only travel agents are capable of putting together stunning nature tours Get withdrawal symptoms when deprived of a hot shower, flushing loo and soft mattress Thought all 4x4 trips were meant only for Rambos Are unable to endure a handful of days without your cellphone, DSTV and local radio DJ Don’t ‘do’ camping Revel in the occasional spike of adrenaline by sorting out vehicle hiccups instead of dialling for AA-Assist Once believed that Paris, London or New York was the ultimate travel destination Or... if you’re an armchair traveller, you simply want to experience through our eyes the amazing places we travelled to!

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