Minwater 4x4 TrailEnquire Now
24km from Oudtshoorn
30km, 6-8hrs, Grade 2-5
+27 82 481 3625 www.minwater.co.za
Configuration: Two loops and two out and back trails.
Terrain: Rocky, rough mountainous terrain, dry riverbeds, steep descents and ascents as well as rocky ridges.
This is a self-drive route; though no guiding needed, a guide is available upon request. You can drive here year-round, but some of the grade 5 sections should be avoided when wet. Several bush camps and camping sites are available. There are three trails at Minwater plus two optional sections. Hiking and birdwatching are also very popular at Minwater.
Minwater is a private nature reserve situated in the foothills of the Gamka Mountains, an isolated range in the Klein Karoo, between the Swartberg and Outeniqua Mountains. It is a rough, mountainous region that includes high hills and a big plateau adjacent to the Gamka Mountain Nature Reserve.
From the high ground, the breathtaking views of the Eastern Klein Karoo and surrounding mountain ranges will wash your soul as the crisp pure Karoo air fills your lungs. A large part of Minwater is situated in the succulent Karoo biome. More than 550 plant species, more than 150 bird species and numerous mammals and interesting reptiles can be observed while driving along the 4x4 tracks.
Minwater’s 4x4 trails cater for all levels of experience. There are three main trails: Rooiberg, Steenbokrant and Sandberg - plus the two additional grade 4-5 sections of the Kloof Trail and Die Gat. The routes follow existing roads, some of which are hundreds of years old, traversing stark, mountainous terrain across rocky ridges, steep ascents and deep ravines.
The Rooiberg Trail (grade 2) is 7km long and should take you about 2 hours to complete. The trail takes you to the highest peak of the Rooiberg Mountain range and back. The view from the top is wonderful and on a clear day you can spot Towerkop, 100km to west. The trail is fairly steep in places, but the surface is reasonably good when dry.
The Steenbokrant Trail (grade 3) of just 4.5km is a circle route, criss-crossing several dry watercourses. A steep ascent and some rocky ridges will ask for careful line picking, experience, low range and good ground clearance. The full distance of the Sandberg Trail is 17km. The ascent and descent of Sandberg Mountain follow two different routes; both are rather steep and rough in places, though low range is not essential.
The serious fun starts with the optional section at the westernmost end of the Sandberg Trail where it descends into a deep ravine, the "Appelfontein Kloof". This grade 4 section is only 500m long, but the trail drops about a 100m as it hugs the precipitous mountainside. Last, but certainly not the least, is the Kloof Trail located in a dry, rocky riverbed. It is only 1km long, but it takes a vehicle about an hour to complete. Rocky ledges and ‘The Wall’ present very challenging obstacles, even to experienced drivers. Only experienced drivers with 4x4’s with low range, diff lock and good ground clearance may attempt Die Gat and The Kloof.
Accommodation facilities include three bush camps with running water and plenty of shade. There are hot showers and pit toilets. Next to the Moeras River another camping site on a lush lawn is accessible to caravans. One of the lapas is partially roofed and there is an old mill house, which provides shelter during unpleasant weather conditions. Nature lovers should not miss hiking along the numerous trails, accompanied by the host, even if just for part of the way.
From the centre of Oudtshoorn, follow the road to Calitzdorp for 7km and turn left on the Volmoed road. Turn right onto the Paardebont road after 11km and right into Minwater after 6km.
The name ‘Karoo’ is synonymous with vast semi-arid landscapes, small rural towns, large farms, and few people, and here it is no different, except for that small word ’Klein’ (meaning little). There’s really nothing small about it, and only its modest title differentiates it from its big brother to the north, the Great Karoo.
The reason the Klein Karoo is dry is because it lies in the rain shadow between two long ridges of the Cape Fold mountains - these are made up of the Swartberg and Little Swartberg ranges in the north and the Outeniqua and Langeberg in the south.
The 125 000ha Swartberg Nature Reserve, which includes the lost valley of Gamkaskloof, embraces most of the Swartberg range from De Rust in the east, past Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp, and on towards Ladismith. It achieved World Heritage Site status in 2004. A section of the popular tourist ‘Route 62’ passes through the Klein Karoo from east to west, and is sometimes referred to as the ‘mountain route’ because the visitor is never out of sight of the impressive ridges.
Getting to and from the region, the traveller has a choice of interesting options through or over the mountains.
In the north, the amazing natural gateways of Meiringspoort and Seweweekspoort wind beneath the plunging cliffs, while the high altitude route is via the Swartberg Pass. In the south the Outeniqua and Robertson passes are no less sublime.
Big, bold scenery aside, the Klein Karoo has lots of smaller natural wonders that make it interesting, one of these being its wealth of plant species - the region is part of the succulent Karoo biome.
Plant lovers will be happy to know the region takes a healthy third place in the succulent diversity rankings in South Africa. Many of these unusual plants are tiny and finding them requires the donning of hiking boots and a sun hat and stepping out into the veld. Other outdoor pursuits are plentiful with hiking trails, mountain bike routes and bird watching being popular.
The Klein Karoo also has a wealth of tourist attractions, many of which are centred around the region’s biggest town, Oudtshoorn. The fascinating Cango Caves, for example, attract around 250 000 visitors a year.
However, every town along the route has something unique on offer.
As part of the longest wine route in the world, each town has either wine estates or a wine co-operative. Running parallel with this viticulture, but not as well known, is the R62 Brandy Route. This should bring a gleam to the eyes of many a South African, as Brandy is amongst the nation’s favoured spirits. Producers include Mons Ruber near De Rust, Kango Wine Cellar and Grundheim in Oudtshoorn, and Boplaas in Calitzdorp.
As a destination the Klein Karoo is generous in its offerings which, like all good things in life, should be enjoyed slowly.
Look out for
The Cango caves are situated at the end of the R328, about 40km north of Oudtshoorn. Of the 5.3km of caves, 1.2km is open to the public and the Standard Tour is an easy walk through the first six largest and most spectacular halls to the ‘African Drum Room’. The Adventure Tour lasts 90 minutes and takes one deeper into the caves, but is strictly for lean, fit people who are definitely not claustrophobic because adventurers have to squeeze through narrow fissures. There’s an interpretive centre offering a short film, a museum, gift shop, bureau de change, bar and coffee shop, and a photographic Fantasy Theatre; plus a restaurant specialising in ostrich dishes. Open 363 days a year, but closed on Christmas Day.
Wine, Port, and Brandy tasting - each town has at least one cellar where visitors can sample some of their produce, from Mons Ruber in De Rust, through to Kango Wine Cellar and Gundheim in Oudtshoorn, Boplaas, De Krans, and Calitzdorp cellars in Calitzdorp and Ladismith Wine Cellar in Ladismith.
Swartberg pass - This sinuous road, which climbs and dips between Prince Albert in the north to Matjiesrivier valley near the Cango Caves is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular mountain roads in the world.
Gamkaskloof, or Die Hel, as it is more commonly known – this lost valley, which was only connected to the outside world in the 1960’s, was once home to a remote group of people for over a century. At the time, they were described as ‘the most isolated community within a community of their own kind in the world’. The valley is now a nature reserve and offers overnight accommodation in some of the restored houses from that amazing era, as well as camping. Getting there is half the experience. It takes more than two hours along the narrow gravel road from the top of the Swartberg Pass to cover the 50km to the end of the valley.
Meiringspoort - is the eastern gateway into the region and once in the poort the serpentine road winds around sheer cliffs of orange rock and across the mostly serene waters of the Grootrivier (Great River), which it crosses 25 times. It falls within the Swartberg Nature Reserve and there are numerous well-maintained picnic sites along the way, some with braai facilities, and it’s easy to spend half a day exploring from one end to the next. Make a point of stopping at Waterfall Drift picnic site and taking the short stairway to view the waterfall with its 60m drop culminating in a deep pool.
Seweweekspoort - This spectacular gateway through the Swartberg Mountains is situated 24km west of Calitzdorp and winds below the imposing 2 325m Seweweekspoort peak - the highest in the Swartberg. In many ways it’s similar to Meiringspoort, except here the road is gravel and the atmosphere is more primitive. Visitors can also picnic in the poort itself, and one spot that’s perfect to break out the sandwiches is at the thatched umbrella below the cliffs.