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Swartberg Nature Reserve, Klein Karoo, Western Cape

Swartberg Nature Reserve Map
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The Swartberg Nature Reserve, set in stunning mountain scenery and flora, encompasses a huge area of over 121 000 hectares, of which only certain areas are open to the public.

Both these areas are accessed from the gravel Swartberg Pass, just north of Oudtshoorn, en-route to Prince Albert. The pass must be one of the most awesome routes to drive in South Africa, and is worth the effort for the panoramic mountain views and beautiful fynbos.  This area was clearly used by the San for many centuries, as evidenced by the numerous rock paintings and artefacts found in caves all over the reserve.

More than 130 bird species have been recorded here, notably black, fish and martial eagle, Cape sugarbird and pied kingfisher. Mammals likely to be seen include klipspringer, grey rhebuck, kudu, baboon and dassie, and on the flatter areas at Gamkapoort, springbok. Leopard and caracal also occur in the area, but are seldom seen.

Swartberg MountainsThe Swartberg Reserve, a proclaimed World Heritage Site, is best known for its hiking, and the Swartberg Hiking Route trailhead starts at De Tol, off the Swartberg Pass.

The reserve’s vegetation is remarkably diverse, featuring renosterveld, mountain fynbos, Karoo-veld, spekboom veld, and numerous geophyte species. Some species will be in bloom virtually throughout the year. Most plants flower in spring, but early autumn is the time that many protea species flower, attracting large numbers of sugarbirds and sunbirds. During mid-summer (December – February) many of the interesting plants on the higher Swartberg peaks are in flower, including the rare Protea venusta.

Gamkaskloof, (Die Hel), also in the reserve, was first inhabited by farmers in 1830, and was only accessible by foot until 1963 when a road was finally built into the valley. The remote and isolated Gamkaskloof valley is about 90km from Oudtshoorn and 60km from Prince Albert and is only accessible via the Otto du Plessis Road, which turns off to the left from the Swartberg Pass. The road is only 52km long but the drive along this gravel road will take two and a half to three hours.

Day trip to The Hel Gamkaskloof

But what an amazing trip! The scenery, flowers, animals, birds …. this trip is best done in a 4×4 or any vehicle with higher clearance, and is definitely something to be done at least once in a lifetime. See our Day Trip.

Once at the bottom, you can have a cup of tea or light snack, or better still, spend the weekend in the restored cottages and find out about the history of the settlement. There are nine restored cottages, a bush camp and 10 campsites. Attractions and activities include picnicking, angling in the Gamka River, sightseeing and relaxing in this natural paradise, as well as two hiking trails.

The nearest towns to the reserves are Oudtshoorn (± 40 km), De Rust (± 5 km) and Prince Albert (± 5 km).

This is an area of climatic extremes, with very cold winters, often with snow on the mountains and temperatures well below zero, while summers can be uncomfortably hot with temperatures reaching 40°C and more! Rain occurs throughout the year, peaking in early winter and spring, and with thundershowers in the summer months.

More info on the town of Oudtshoorn More info on the Klein Karoo area


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