A Virtual Drive Through the Baviaanskloof
One of South Africa's Natural and Cultural Wonders
Geographically, the Baviaanskloof is the valley running east to west between the Baviaanskloof Mountains to the north and the Kouga Mountains to the south in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province. In conservation terms, it is the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve; a wilderness area with half of the valley and vast tracts of land beside it. Because of its amazing biodiversity, it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status. To others, it is simply an incredible, scenic trip of immense contrasts, ranging from the lush fertility of the Gamtoos River valley, through the rugged poorts (gaps), passes and mountains, to the stark beauty of the plains approaching Willowmore.
The virtual drive will encompass elements of all these but can only scratch the surface of what the area offers. It will hopefully whet your appetite to come and visit one of South Africa’s best-kept secrets. We have included GPS coordinates for the convenience of visitors who wish to print this and take it with them on their trip.
Hankey to Patensie
The journey will be from east to west, originating in Port Elizabeth. From the N2 national road, take the R331 turnoff to Hankey. This is the first turn-off after the end of the freeway. Shortly before reaching the town of Hankey see on the left what is claimed to be the largest sundial in the Southern Hemisphere.
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Turn off the road to the sundial, follow the track past it and come to the grave of Sarah Baartman, the celebrated "Hottentot Venus" born in the neighbourhood and who led a short and tragic life. After passing through the town of Hankey the road enters the lovely and fertile Gamtoos River valley with its neat orchards and farms. This continues past the village of Patensie.
Patensie to the Baviaanskloof Wilderness area
When the road enters the cuttings past Patensie you will see exposed Enon Conglomerate rock formation, which consists of pebbles in a sandy matrix. About 140 million years ago, the Cape Mountains were roughly three times higher than today. A period of high rainfall eroded them, and the Enon Conglomerate resulted. Much of the Gamtoos valley is composed of this. Along these cuttings is a rock formation known as Queen Victoria's Bust. It can only be seen from the west, so you must stop and look back, but be careful of traffic coming around the bends. Stop at the first lay-by after going over the bridge.
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Shortly after the tar ends, [S33 44.710 E24 38.176] the road winds through the looming Groot River Poort with its towering sandstone cliffs. Once through the Poort you enter the rich farming area of Cambria with orchards to the right of the road and succulent thicket to the left. Cambria owes its name to the early settlers of the district, who were reminded of Wales.
Baviaanskloof Wilderness and Reserve Area
After leaving Cambria behind, you arrive at the Baviaanskloof proper, where the road enters the Wilderness Area. Poortjies to Bergplaas At first, in the Wilderness Area, you are surrounded by riverine forest, with yellowwoods, white stinkwoods and Cape figs. Such forest patches will be found in kloofs wherever there is perennial water. From the sign "Poortjies", a short walk and wading along the stream bring you to a picturesque small waterfall and pool in the forest's depths. After good rainfall, the waterfall is even better.
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Have a look at Tortoise Hill on the left of the road. [S33 39.413 E24 30.610] This is an unofficial name given by the authors. Then the first pass of the journey, Combrink's Pass. If you do not like steep drops, watch the mountain to the left! Stop at the sheerest part of the pass, and you will see cycads growing on the opposite side of the valley below you. [S33 39.141 E24 30.325]
Bergplaas to Grasnek
At the top of Combrinck's Pass is Bergplaas.
[Note: in case of emergency in this area, there is one small area of cellphone reception in the vicinity of S33 38.939 E24 30.219]
This and the other plateaux were formed during the period of erosion and are an accumulation of the softer elements of the Table Mountain group, mainly the Goudini formation. This finer and more fertile soil supports grassy fynbos. The presence of grassland also means the presence of a wider variety of grazing animals. On Bergplaas red hartebeest and zebras are frequently to be seen. At the far end of Bergplaas, a short walk off the road to the right will give you a good view of the old cableway used by the bygone farmers to transport produce and livestock across the chasm to and from the Enkeldoorn plateau, thereby saving several hours' drive.
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The road then descends Holgat Pass. Notice the outcrops of Bokkeveld shale which occur here. Part way down is a fine view of the cone-shaped hill Langkop.
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In the valley, succulent thicket predominates. This is the prime country for kudu as well as the elusive Buffalo. The road then climbs over Grasnek Pass, at the top of which is a lookout point which affords a fine vista of the ruggedness of the terrain. Grasnek to Rooikloof Past the ruins of the farm Coleskeplaas is a fine view of Scholtzberg, the highest peak (1625m) in the Baviaanskloof Mountain range.
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This range and the Kouga range on the other side of the valley are composed of hard Peninsula sandstone, the oldest of the Table Mountain group. Alpine fynbos is found in the highest parts of these ranges, a shorter variety than usually seen. The road through the Wilderness Area ends at the aptly named Rooikloof.
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The Wilderness Area itself, however, continues along the Kouga and Baviaanskloof ranges to the left and right, respectively. Rooikloof through Nuwekloof Hereafter, the road goes mainly through farmland but the mountain vistas and rock formations on either side remain just as attractive. Along the road, bottomland savanna or valley bushveld with its sweet thorn trees is seen but beyond it, much of the veld to the left of the road is either renosterveld or passerina veld, both composed of a mixture of fynbos and succulent karoo plants. On the right you will see the Campbell memorial to the flood victims in 1916.
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The road then leads to Kamerkloof at Studtis and towards the beautiful Studtis Poort.
Back on the road, a very short distance further on, another interesting rock formation, The Seven Dwarves, can be seen on the right. At the same place, to the right of the dwarves, is a cliff on which grow numbers of the rare Baviaanskloof Cedar (Widdringtonia schwarzii).
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Nuwekloof forms the western gateway of the Baviaanskloof. In it you will see two interesting sights. One is the Sleutel or Key, and a massive rock formation split right through from top to bottom. It is so-called because if it ever topples over it will lock the Baviaanskloof shut from this end. It is the bulge on the left of the road.
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The other is the Hangleer or Hanging Ladder, the remnants of which can be seen above you. Honey gatherers built it to access the bee's nests beneath the cliff's overhang. Only a couple of rungs still exist so it can be quite difficult to spot. If you are battling, look just below the left-hand tuft of grass on the skyline. However, there now (in 2014) seems to be even less of it to see than before!
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The road continues through the Baviaans Wes area until it strikes the N9 road from Uniondale to Graaff-Reinet, a short distance from Willowmore.
Courtesy of Baviaanskloof Info