Gamkaberg: Over and Above
Words and pics Romi Boom
High spirits are guaranteed whether you indulge in a sky-high picnic, scramble up a forested gorge or simply chill in Tierkloof Eco Lodge. Gamkaberg Nature Reserve’s reputation as one of Africa’s finest is well deserved.
When the spectacle of daybreak unfurls through a gauze net, it is a hold-your-breath-and-remember-the-moment kind of treasure. At five, the full moon whispers in quicksilver tones over the cliffs of Tierkloof gorge. I am snug as a bug beneath a cosy duvet, but the side and front flaps of my safari tent have been open all night. By six I lace up my vellies, raring to explore the lower section of the reserve’s signature hike, the Tierkloof Trail.
From our environmentally friendly base at Tierkloof Eco Lodge, the route to the Overhang and back entails 10km of moderately strenuous walking. A perfect outing to work up an appetite. Initially sweet thorn, spekboom and botterboom dot the succulent Karoo vegetation and the trail is plain sailing.
Once you enter the deep, forested ravine where buttery light bounces off sandstone crags, it becomes moderately strenuous with rock hopping and several crossings of a dry river bed, shaded by wild olive trees. Paintbrush lilies against the rock face are exclamation marks of scarlet joy in the otherwise muted palette. In the demarcated rock-climbing zone, just ogling the sheer drop is the stuff of nightmares, even if you’re not challenged by vertigo.
Gamkaberg means lion mountain, yet it is another big cat, well researched by the Cape Leopard Trust, that prevails in this wilderness. Soon we find ourselves on ‘leopard highway’, the section where the Tierkloof Trail narrows. The cats are elusive as ever, yet we luck upon fresh, distinct tracks in the sand. They’re here!
Late morning proves a good time to pack a cooler box and attempt the winding 4x4 track up the Gamkaberg. Concrete slabs stabilise the ascent of Lawson’s Pass, named after Brett Lawson, an erstwhile reserve manager. Even though heavy showers the previous week, 30mm in 30 minutes, had shut down the Oukraal section of the route, the breathtaking viewpoint atop the rugged plateau is accessible for a lofty picnic. From the wooden deck that appears to float on the edge of the precipice, the heavenly scenery extends all the way to the Swartberg, hazy in the far-off distance. We’re in the caress of clouds. It's impossible to imagine a more sublime spot for lunch.
With the day drawing to a close, some of our group chill in hammocks in the lapa area, others sip sundowners by the plunge pool that is naturally filtered by reeds. In the cliffs nearby, baboons kick up a racket. A little scamp gets a spanking, and with the troop moving in our direction, we quickly roll down the canvas awnings in the kitchen.
I am not done yet with exploring the reserve on foot and set out on the 4km Pied Barbet hike, one of four easy day trails. Number plates assist with Karoo bossie identification. Even non-botanists will enjoy a rewarding stroll among guarrie and euphorbia. Many of the plants have poetry in their names: think plakkiesbos, skilpadbos and klapperbos. Some of the vegetation in the area is delicate and easily damaged, which is why visitors are cautioned not to wander from the pathways.
For its conservation ethos, affordability and comfort, Gamkaberg earned a place in the Top 50 lineup of Africa’s Finest, the most sustainable tourism lodges on the continent. Whether you want to make every minute count, or lose yourself in time, it’s a retreat to remember.
Getting there: Gamkaberg Nature Reserve lies 33km from Oudtshoorn.
Accommodation: The reserve has three eco lodges, each booked for the exclusive use of one party. During off-peak season R650 a night for one or two people, R325 an extra person. During peak season Fossil Ridge R1,300 (sleeps 4), Sweet Thorn R1,950 (sleeps 6), Tierkloof R2,600 (sleeps 8).
Conservation fees: R40 an adult, R20 a child, Wild Card members free.
Contact: CapeNature Central Reservations 021-483-0190, www.capenature.co.za
Source: Wild Magazine