Swartberg Nature Reserve lies between the Great Karoo and Klein Karoo, forming a narrow but long stretch of 121 000ha. The reserve was delcared a World Heritage Site in 1997. It 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 conjuction 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).
Numerous rock paintings and artefacts found in caves all over the reserve, show that the area was frequented by San people for many centuries. European farmers arrived in the 1700s, establishing small settlements and building roads, including three historic routes connecting the Great and Klein Karoo: Toorwaterpoort railway, Meirings poort road, and the untarred Swartberg Pass, built by Thomas Bain, which takes vehicles over the Swartberg mountains and reaches a height of 1585m above sea-level. Gamkaskloof (also known as Die Hel), was first inhabited by farmers in 1830 and accessible only by foot until 1962 when a road was finally built, winding from the Swart berg Pass down into the valley. Gamkaskloof is a Cultural Historical Site.
Climate and geology
Climates are extreme here: very cold winters bring snow to the mountains and temperatures well below zero, while summers can be uncomfortably hot with temperatures reaching 40°C and higher. Rain occurs throughout the year, peaking in early winter and spring, with thundershowers in the summer months. The Swartberg mountains are part of the Cape fold mountain range, with geological formations common to the Table Mountain group and, to a lesser extent, the Bokkeveld and Cango groups. The Swartberg and Meiringspoort passes impressively show the rock formations from these groups.
Vegetation in the Swartberg is remarkably diverse, including renosterveld, mountain fynbos, Karoo-veld, spekboom veld and numerous geophyte species. Some species bloom virtually throughout the year although most plants flower in spring. In early autumn, many protea species flower, attracting large numbers of sugarbirds and sunbirds. During mid-summer (De cember – February) notable plants on the higher Swartberg peaks are in flower, in cluding the rare Protea venusta.
Mammals likely to be seen include klipspringer, grey rhebuck, kudu, baboon and dassie. Springbok occur on the flatter areas of Gamkapoort. Leopard and caracal are also present in the area, but Bat-eared fox Protea venusta seldom seen. More than 130 bird species have been recorded here, notably, black, fish and martial eagle species, Cape sugarbird and the pied kingfisher.
Visitors to Swartberg return frequently to experience its sense of vastness and tranquillity. Swartberg Pass and Meiringspoort have scenic picnic and braai spots, while the Gamka River and Gamkapoort Dam offer plenty of opportunities for canoeing, sailing and fishing (fresh-water angling licences are required). The best times for hiking are April to May and September to October, with options ranging from easy day-hikes to a fairly demanding three-day route which leads hikers past rock formations, incredible views and unspoilt mountain fynbos. This trail has two alternative starting points, with overnight huts at Ou Tol and Bothashoek (both accommodating up to 12 people) which provide panoramic views of a landscape dominated by Cape fold mountains. Spectacular views are also a feature of Swartberg’s 4×4 route, which can be booked as a day or overnight route.
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
- Water – is available at the huts but none on route
- Gel for geyser and stove – (available at all Outdoor shops and Game)
- 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.
8.4 km from De Hoek Private Resort to Bothashoek Hut – 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 firewood.
- Keys for Bothashoek overnight hut must be collected beforehand at the office in Oudtshoorn before 16h00 Monday to Friday
12.8 km from Bothashoek to Ou Tol Hut – moderate – On Jeep Track
Following the 4×4 route the trail winds down to Ou Tol hut, next to the Swartberg pass.
Out Tol hut can sleep 12 people in 3 bedrooms. There is an kitchen, living room, bathroom with 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 toilet and braai area (again guests need to provide wood)
- Keys for Ou Tol overnight hut must be collected beforehand at the office in Oudtshoorn before 16h00 Monday to Friday
12 km from Ou Tol back to Bothashoek – difficult – On Crest of 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.
8.4 km from Bothashoek back to De Hoek – moderate to difficult
You’ll have to do a few more steep ups and downs before trailing downhill back to De Hoek where you left your vehicle
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. Thank you and enjoy the beautiful area.
- R380 per night
- R55.00 once off reservation fee
- Conservation Fee
- R40.00 pp – Adults
- R20.00 – Children
- R30.00 – Group activities