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Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)

Gamkaskloof (aka Die Hel) promises a sensory feast of proteas, regional ports and donkey trails

Swartberg Nature Reserve lies between the Great Karoo and Klein Karoo, forming a narrow but long stretch of 121 000ha. The reserve was declared a World Heritage Site in 2004 and is bordered by Gamkapoort Nature Reserve immediately to the north (8 000ha) and Towerkop Nature Reserve immediately to the west (51 000ha). These two reserves are not open to the public but are managed in conjunction with Swartberg. The entire conservation area – a massive 180 000ha – is critical to the management of mountain catchments and water yields in the region. The nearest towns to the Swartberg Pass are Oudtshoorn (40km), De Rust (55km) and Prince Albert (5km).

The remote and isolated Gamkaskloof Valley (Die Hel) has a rich ecological, archaeological and cultural history and is a must to visit! Declared a Cultural Historical Site within a World Heritage Site, it deserves special care to ensure it is preserved for future generations. It offers accommodation in 11 restored historical cottages, fully equipped with braai facilities. Of these, Stappies Cordier is fully equipped for
people with disabilities. Gamkaskloof is only accessible from the Swartberg Pass via the Otto du Plessis road. There are no shops or fuel stations along the way so visitors should bring sufficient food for their stay.

This reserve conserves a diversity of vegetation from renosterveld to mountain fynbos and spekboom veld. It also supports a variety of wildlife, including antelope, baboons, dassies and leopard. Plants begin to flower on the lower levels of the mountain in spring and those fit enough to brave the higher peaks of the Swartberg Mountain could be lucky enough to spot the rare protea venusta. For fans of the beautiful protea, autumn is the best time to spot them in full bloom.

To find out more, download the Swartberg Nature Reserve brochure and map.

Download: The Klein Karoo Birdlist

How to get there

From Cape Town, take the N1 to Worcester, and then take the turn-off to the R60. Follow that road as it changes to the R62 at Montagu, and keep following it until you reach Calitzdorp. There are two options from here. The first has more gravel:

1) In Calitzdorp, from the petrol station on the main road, take the second street on your left to a gravel road that will  take  you to Living Waters and Calitzdorp dam. This gravel road takes you to Kruisrivier and Groenefontein side junction. At the junction there will be Cango Caves signage, then take the left turning to the north (Matjiesrivier) and to the Swartberg Pass.

2) Alternatively, follow the R62 to all the way to Oudtshoorn. Turn left off the R62 on to Baron van Reede. Follow the road west towards the Cango caves. Just before the Cango Caves, turn left again on to the Swartberg Pass road. The pass is well signposted. Follow the tar road, which then turns into a gravel road.

General information

GPS: 33 35 01.69 S 22 11 45.74 E

Office hours: 07:30–16:00

Please report to reception on arrival. Check-in times for overnight guests, strictly 14h00 to 16h00.  Note that the Covid-19 related checkin takes at least 15 minutes per guest group. Late arrivals will not be accepted.

Tel: 087 087 3002 (Oudtshoorn office)
Tel: 087 087 3943 (Gamkaskloof/The Hell office)
Accommodation and permit bookings Tel: 087 087 8250

Permits for day hikes only are also available from the Oudtshoorn Tourism office at 80 Voortrekker Road, Oudtshoorn. Office hours: 08:30 – 17:00 (Monday to Friday) and 09:30 – 12:30 (Saturdays and public holidays)
Tel: +27 (0)44 279 2532.

Accommodation

Self-catering

  • Andries Marais House

    The Andries Marais House sleeps up to five people in four bedrooms (three rooms with one single bed each, and one room with one double bed). Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Willem Marais

    The Willem Marais Cottage sleeps two people in one room with two single beds, providing a comfortable, small accommodation option for couples. Outdoor braai facilities are provided.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Stappies Cordier

    The wheelchair-friendly Stappies Cordier House sleeps two people in one room with a double bed, providing a comfortable, small accommodation option for couples. Outdoor braai facilities are provided.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: Yes
    Pets welcome: No

  • Marais Cordier

    The Marais Cordier Cottage sleeps up to six people in three rooms (one with a double bed and two with two single beds). Outdoor braai facilities are provided.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Bush Shelter

    The Bush Shelter is a rustic accommodation featuring dormitory-style sleeping quarters and basic amenities, that can house up to 12 people. Reconnect with nature without roughing it.

    Electricity: Solar and gas
    Bathroom: Two, with flush toilers, showers (gas geyser) and warm water
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding: 12 single beds with mattresses
    Linen and towels: No, please bring your own
    Fireplace: Indoor and Outdoor braais, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Freek & Martha

    This traditional cottage sleeps up to four people in two bedrooms (one with a double bed and one with two single beds). This cottage is attached to Piet & Bellie and boasts a traditional stepped gable. Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Piet & Bellie

    Fully equipped for self-catering, this restored semi-detached traditional cottage sleeps three people in two bedrooms (one with two single beds and the other with one single bed). Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Sankie Marais

    The Sankie Marais Cottage sleeps up to eight people in four bedrooms (two with two single beds, one with a double bed and one with a three-quarter bed). The cottage is the perfect choice for informal get-togethers with family and friends. Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Splash pool available.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Snyman House

    Situated on the banks of the Gamka River, Snyman House sleeps up to six people in three bedrooms (one with a three-quarter bed, two with two single beds), and a sleeper couch in the lounge (sleeps two). Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Splash pool available.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Lenie Marais

    This traditional cottage, with decorative gable and pebbled windows and doors, sleeps up to five people in three bedrooms (one with two single beds, one with a double bed and one with a single bed). Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office.  Splash pool available.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Schoolmaster's House

    The Schoolmaster’s House accommodates up to three people. Built in 1938, the cottage offers full self-catering facilities and has two bedrooms, one with two single beds and one with one single bed. Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Splash pool available.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

  • Koot Kordier House

    The cottage comprises two bedrooms (one with a double bed and one with two single beds), and two single beds in the lounge area. The bathroom is a few metres from the house. Braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office.  Splash pool available.

    Electricity: Solar and Gas
    Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser)
    Kitchen: Gas hob, solar electrical fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery
    Bedding, linen and towels: Yes
    Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid
    Disabled access: No
    Pets welcome: No

Camping

  • Campsite

    Please note that the campsite is currently closed because of recent fire damage

Activities

  • Donkey Trail

    *Please note that the Donkey Trail is closed until further notice. We apologise for the inconvenience. 

    The Swartberg Four-Day Hike is a strenuous but rewarding trail with beautiful views. Alternatively, slack-packers will enjoy the exciting donkey trail, which allows hikers to soak up their surroundings while donkeys carry their luggage.

    Trail distance: 25km
    Estimated time: 4 days

    This unique experience combines biodiversity, history and heritage in an exciting four-day trail. Donkeys carry your luggage, leaving you free to explore the beautiful surroundings.

    The trail passes by ancient rock art sites, distinctive pioneer architecture and amazing plants. Hikers will indulge in regional cuisine and the famous ports of the region. All meals, trail snacks, bedding and towels, guides, donkeys, porters, CapeNature reserve fees and return transfers over the Swartberg Pass are included in the cost.

    To find out more visit www.donkeytrail.com or email info@donkeytrail.com.

    • Wear comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat.
    • Take a warm jacket/raincoat in winter.
    • Hikers should bring light slipslops for the evenings (no one may go barefoot at the rest camp), insect repellent, lip ice, binoculars, camera, personal medication, walking stick, day packs, cash for alcoholic beverages and curios, three layers of clothing for hiking days (t-shirt, fleece and waterproof), long pants.
    • No firearms or narcotics allowed.
    • Wine and beer is served at Living Waters and Wyenek. A variety of beverages are on offer during the last night at Gamkaskloof.
  • Picnicking

    Picnicking is permitted at Meiringspoort and Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) with scenic views on offer.

  • Mountain biking

    Permission is needed for mountain biking in the Swartberg Nature Reserve. It is prohibited during certain times of the year. 

    For the brave:  Take on the Swartberg Pass and then head down to Die Hel (Gamkaskloof), 57km from the turn-off at the top of the pass. Tackle the uphill back the next day.

  • Hiking and Walking

    A variety of walking and hiking trails are available in this reserve, including the Ou Tol, Platberg and De Hoek trails. The best time for hiking is April–May and September–October each year, because of the milder weather.

     

    Please note that the Ou Tol hut is closed until further notice.

    Hiking trails

    There are a variety of hiking trails to choose from, varying in intensity. Regardless of how long the trail is, read the trail preparation points carefully.

    Help us protect nature

    No pets/no firearms/no picking of flowers or collecting of seeds/no fires except in designated areas/no quad bikes.

    Permits

    Permits may be purchased for R50 per adult and R30 per child at the reserve office or through CapeNature Central Reservations.

    Trail preparation

    • Wear comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat.
    • Do not hike alone.
    • Carry enough food and water with you.
    • Make sure you know what the weather conditions are before you depart.
    • Take a warm jacket/raincoat in winter.
    • Make sure you have a relevant map of the area.
    • Take a field medical kit with you for emergencies.
    • Obey all signage.
    • Stay in a group and on the trails.

     

    Day Trails in Swartberg

    Ou Tol Circle Route

    Ou Tol Circle Route – a 7.4km day-hike that offers stunning views of the Swartberg.

    Platberg Circle Route

    Platberg – an 8.4km circular route with spectacular views.

    De Hoek Day Trail

    De Hoek Trail – an 8.8km route out-and-back.

    Konings Gat (in Gamkaskloof)

    This is a 1.4km route from the bush camp to the swimming hole in Gamkaskloof.

    Grootkloof Hiking Trail (in Gamkaskloof)

    This is a 6.3km interpretation route in Gamkaskloof that stops at 26 spots of natural and cultural interest.

    Swartberg multi-day hike 

    This is a difficult hike and not for beginners.

    • Best time to hike:  September to October or April to May
    • NB:  A minimum of 3 people up to a maximum of 12 people will be allowed on the route.
    • Keys for the overnight huts to be collected and returned at the Oudtshoorn office before 16h00 – Monday to Friday

     

    Please remember to bring:

    • Warm cloths
    • Sun hat
    • Sun block
    • Bedding
    • Towels
    • Toiletries
    • Food
    • Utensils
    • Water – is available at the huts but none on route
    • Gel for geyser and stove – (available at all Outdoor shops and Game)
    • Matches
    • Toilet paper
    • Plastic bag for the items you want to throw away – you need to take these items back with you and not leave them in the nature reserve

     

    This two-day hiking route can start from De Hoek Holiday Resort to Bothashoek (8.4 km) and back the next day. Or hikers can start hiking next to the Swartberg pass along with the 4×4 route of 12.8 km or the Bothashoek – Ou Tol crest route of 12.0 km.

    Day 1: 8.4 km from De Hoek Private Resort to Bothashoek Hut and back to De Hoek- very difficult

    The trail starts at De Hoek Private Holiday Resort, on the road to Swartberg Pass about 35km outside Oudtshoorn where there is safe parking. (Guests need to make their own arrangements should they wish to overnight at De Hoek: 044-272 8214). Start early as you will be climbing most of the way: from De Hoek (±725m above sea level), up to Bothashoek hut (± 1460 m above sea level).

    Bothashoek hut is a basic 4-roomed (3 bedrooms with beds and mattresses for 12 people and 1 room kitchen area, shower (with a solar geyser for warm water) that automatically switches to Gel Geyser when there is not enough sunshine (bring own gel) and flush toilets. An outside braai is available – need to bring your own charcoal.

    • Keys for Bothashoek overnight hut must be collect beforehand at the office in Oudtshoorn before 16h00 Monday to Friday.

    Day 2: 12.8 km from Bothashoek to Ou Tol Hut – moderate – On Jeep Track or following the 4×4 route the trail winds down to Ou Tol hut, next to the Swartberg pass, 12 km from Ou Tol back to Bothashoek.  This is a difficult hike on the crest of the mountain.

    The trail takes you over to the summit with majestic views of both sides of the Swartberg Mountain, and then back to Bothashoek hut.

    Keys must be returned to Oudtshoorn office – a partition in the glass window was removed with clear notice for returning of keys. Just drop them on your way back.

  • Bird Watching

    With the presence of a combination of birds associated with eastern and western habitats, both Cape and Pririt Batises and Karoo and Olive Thrushes are found in the Swartberg Nature Reserve including Gamkaskloof (Die Hel).   Featuring well over 180 species including the Green-backed Cameroptera, Sombre Greenbul and Southern Tchagra, birding will be experienced with peace, tranquility and sheer beauty.

    DOWNLOAD: The Klein Karoo Birdlist

  • Angling

    Visitors to Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) can enjoy angling at the Gamka River with permits for angling in the Western Cape (freshwater and dams), also available at the reserve office and valid for 1 year. Species include the Yellowfish providing many passionate fishermen with their favorite fly-fishing. There are also Black Bass, Mogga and Eel for those who prefer stationary fishing.

     

  • 4x4 trails

    The 25.6 km out and back route starts and ends at the top of the Swartberg pass just past The Top between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert. You will find yourself cutting southeast, more or less straight across the top of the Swartberg mountain range, with views for hundreds of kilometres in almost every direction. The scenery is rugged. In parts the road is painstaking and vehicles, drivers and passengers will be sorely tested.

    • A maximum of four vehicles are allowed on the route and a minimum of two.
      Guests can book the Bothashoek hut (at the 12.8 km mark) as overnight accommodation
      Bookings must be made in advance at the above numbers
      Keys must be collected at the Oudtshoorn office before 16h00 – Monday to Friday
      Emergency contact nr. 082 784 1786/84 + Mountain search and rescue nr. 083 339 1240

    Swartberg’s 4×4 route can  be booked as a day or overnight experience.

    The overnight hut at Bothashoek accommodates up to 12 people and provides panoramic views of a landscape dominated by Cape Fold Mountains.

Map

Conservation

Swartberg Nature Reserve Conservation

The Swartberg Nature Reserve is of particular importance in the management of the region’s mountain catchments.

The Swartberg Nature Reserve, in conjunction with the neighbouring Gamkapoort Nature Reserve and Towerkop Nature Reserve, is of particular importance in the management of the region’s mountain catchments and water yields. This is a region of extreme climates with very hot summers (temperatures can reach over 40°C) and very cold winters (temperatures dip below zero) with snow on the mountains. The Swartberg Mountains are part of the Cape Fold Mountains.

A diverse range of vegetation is conserved in this reserve, from renosterveld, mountain fynbos and spekboom veld to Karoo-veld and geophyte species. The rare Protea venusta grows in the higher mountain peaks. Leopards still live in these mountains, although they are rarely spotted by visitors. You are likely to see klipspringer, grey rhebok, kudu, baboon and dassies, as well as springbok in the flatter areas. Lucky visitors may spot caracal or a bat-eared fox.

Filming

Swartberg Nature Reserve Filming

The Swartberg Nature Reserve is teeming with a rich history and is perhaps best known as Gamkaskloof – a small settlement established there in 1830 by farmers of European origin. Entirely self-sufficient, the community of Gamkaskloof lived in isolation for over a century. The first road into Die Hel, as it is known, was only built in 1962. The village is now a cultural heritage site that forms part of the Swartberg Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site.

Swartberg Nature Reserve lies in the district of Oudtshoorn, between the Great and Little Karoo.

It’s an area of climatic extremes where winters are characterised by vast snow-capped mountains while summer days reach high temperatures. The Swartberg Pass is a wildly popular setting for both photographers and filmmakers.

 

10 Reviews

CAPE NATURE – GAMKASKLOOF (DIE HEL) - vR-Photography, Jan 3, 2019 - Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)

[…] a visit to two of Cape Nature’s incredible reserves, one of which was Gamkaskloof, otherwise known as Die Hel, I got to spend some time in this remote and arid region, and get a […]

Reply

The Modern Postcard | Travel & Lifestyle Blog | Gamkaskloof (Die Hel), Oct 10, 2018 - Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)

[…] a visit to two of Cape Nature's incredible reserves, one of which was Gamkaskloof, otherwise known as Die Hel, I got to spend some time in this remote and arid region, and get a […]

Reply

Navigating South Africa's Road To Hell, World's Remotest Town | AFKInsider, Dec 14, 2017 - Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)

[…] biodiversity conservation into local economic development. Today, Gamkaskloof forms a part of the Swartberg Nature Reserve, but there is still a connection to the people of its past. Annetjie Joubert, born and bred in […]

Reply

Gamkaskloof: Going Off The Grid | Going Somewhere Slowly, Sep 7, 2017 - Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)

[…] accommodation in Gamkaskloof can be found under Cape Nature and also […]

Reply

The 17 Best Multi-Day Trails In The Western Cape - Conquer the Cape, Aug 11, 2017 - Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)

[…] Duration: 4 days Distance: 41 km Cost: R120 per person per night plus entrance fees for the overnight trail Website: https://www.capenature.co.za/reserves/swartberg-nature-reserve/ […]

Reply
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Bookings are processed through our Call Centre during office hours Monday to Friday 07h30 to 16h30 and Saturday 08h00 until 12h00 noon (CAT).

Our friendly tourism booking officers will take you through the booking process and answer all enquiries.