Baviaanskloof is one of the classics, one of the “must does” of 4X4ing in South Africa.
Despite having travelled extensively in the region over the years and despite many good intentions we have never got to this very accessible and do-able 4X4 route. And what a pity it's taken us so long…
Located in the Eastern Cape, Baviaanskloof is a narrow valley running roughly east/west between the Baviaanskloof and Kouga mountain ranges, some 95km to the west of Port Elizabeth. While it's possible to drive the kloof in either direction, we did it from east to west because we were traveling from the Garden Route back to KwaZulu Natal. Some 192 000ha of Baviaans is a formal conservation area and World Heritage Site but a Mega Reserve is in the process of being created, which will increase this to almost 500 000ha.
As you head along the Gamtoos valley, through the hamlets of Hankey and Patensie, you pass vast citrus orchards, quaint coffee shops and some really spectacular geological formations that my geologist friend would call ‘fubarite’. The paved road gives way to dirt that narrows as you travel up the valley and get closer to Baviaans.
“Do you have a 4x4?” asked the lady at the entrance gate as she took our R80-00 day pass fee. Indeed we did, a Pajero SWB. And a trailer. And 2 mountain bikes…
While generally the going is pretty easy, if a little rough in places, low range is desirable, if not essential, for some of the descents. It also helps to make driving slowly, easier. it's worth noting that the further west one goes along the kloof the easier the driving becomes, and, as you exit the park you’re on good quality, unpaved roads. Holgat Pass deserves a mention. It's steep, narrow, bumpy and long. It's not wildly technical and the parks people have laid two concrete strips down over the worst parts. Slowly and low range are the tricks here and if you do meet an oncoming vehicle, try to find a passing place well ahead so no one needs to do any reversing.
We squeezed over to the left on Holgat to allow a vehicle past on the narrow track, and took a moment to chat about road conditions. It seems that they had damaged their suspension on one of the sections, and were now battling with the steering. Take it slowly and pick your line carefully through the rough spots and you should be fine.
There's lots to see - stunningly beautiful views and vistas, interesting plant life and not bad wildlife if you take the trouble to look. We had excellent sightings of kudu, bushbuck, mountain reedbuck, baboons (of course), vervet monkeys and several large leopard tortoises.
We didn’t have camping gear with us so we chose to push on to a “farm stay” outside the reserve rather than opting for one of the lovely looking camp sites in the kloof. We were greeted at Damsedrif by Runé and Hestelle who showed us to our lodgings - a converted, 130 year old barn where Angora goats were once sheared. Our unit was called Boklied in honour of the goats and the unit next door, where ostriches were raised, is called Volstruisie. Nice…. While self catering is the order of the day and outside is a lovely braai area, we went with the catered option, with Hestelle bringing us dinner and breakfast from the homestead a kilometre or so away. Plaaskos is what she said it would be and plasskos it was - venison pie and farm vegetables (delicious), and malva pudding for dessert. Breakfast was equally worthy of the title, plaaskos - a kind of baked egg and bacon dish (yum), cereals, home made bread (still warm from the oven) and jams…
We'd booked 2 nights at Damsedrif in order to do some mountain biking in the area, imagining all manner of tracks, paths and roads to explore. Well, not so much…. There’s pretty much just the one road through the kloof and, while Runé and Hestelle said that we’d be more than welcome to ride their farm roads, we were a little concerned about the number of thorny shrubs about and really didn't want to spend the day fixing punctures. In the end, we took to the main Baviaanskloof road and headed west, stopping off at the Campbell Monument erected in memory of the people that died in the 1916 floods (Floods? Difficult to believe looking at the drought stricken land) and later popped into Babes Se Winkel for some sweets, chosen from one of those old fashioned, curved glass fronted display counters. We didn’t get to meet Babes, but her winkel was great!
A few more kilometers took us into a very narrow part of the kloof, water twinkling next to the road in the riverine forests. We stopped for a short break, taking in the beautiful scenery, the late afternoon light picking out the shapes of the mountains and in the silence I was sure I heard someone opening a bottle of wine back at Damsedrif! We peddled hard and as the sun set we sat on the stoep of our little cottage sipping some pinotage, enjoying the moment.
In many ways this trip was a bit of a recce. A few of us have it in our minds to ride the entire length of Baviaanskloof on our mountain bikes. There are going to be a few biggies to cope with (like Holgat Pass) but I do believe that we can do it. Watch this space…
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