Gamkaberg: where the lion retreated, so humanity might prosper
We are fortunate in the Western Cape. The land forever heightens our sense of exploration with its expanses and its wilderness. And with the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve in the Little Karoo, we need not go far to find a place with such space and detachment.
The brooding Gamkaberg, together with the equally mysterious Rooiberg, appear to have been laid down as one over the lowlands of the Little Karoo. The Gamka is therefore a range in isolation and its name is derived from the Khoisan, gami, meaning lion, where the Cape Lion – now extinct – once so successfully wondered here.
As the humans approached, so the lions withdrew so humanity could prosper. The Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, now a World Heritage Site, was established in 1974 to conserve a small, remnant herd of endangered Cape mountain zebra. They numbered just five in 1976 but, fortunately, focused conservation initiatives, involving resettling of animals into private and national nature reserves, helped their numbers increase.
The reserve is open daily from 7h30 to 16h00. Day visitors can browse the information centre, enjoy finding their way through the labyrinth, take short hikes and use the picnic or braai facilities. The reserve is ideally suited to those seeking some peace and tranquility.
Video by The Good Holiday
How to get there
From Cape Town: take the N1 from Cape Town north towards Worcester for 110km. Turn right on to the R60 at Worcester, continuing on the road as it becomes the R62. Follow this road until you see the sign to turn right for the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve. Your entire trip will be about 400km. Please note that the directions given on Google Maps are incorrect. The main entrance to Gamkaberg Nature Reserve and the Info Centre is at the northern entrance at GPS co-ordinates: 33 40 17.51 S, 21 53 18.37 E
Download directions to Gamkaberg Nature Reserve here
Download the Gamkaberg map and brochure here.
Download: The Klein Karoo Birdlist
There are two 4 x 4 routes in the Gamkaberg Conservation Area.
The Zebra Crossing 4x4 Route takes you on the Gamkaberg sector mainly through upland fynbos and renosterveld and offers you a chance to see rare Cape Mountain Zebra in its natural habitat. The route covers a large and rugged section of the reserve, taking you to and from spectacular viewpoints more than 1000m above the Little Karoo.
The Kannaland 4x4 Route on the Groenefontein sector winds through the vlaktes and foothills where Succulent Karoo and sub-tropical thicket are the dominant vegetation types.
The name “Kannaland” means the place where the Kanna plant grows. Kanna is a sprawling succulent belonging to the genus Mesembryanthemum. Since it was abundant in this area it was widely used by the early inhabitants (San and Khoikhoi) as a mood altering substance. The prepared, dried plant material was chewed, smoked or used as snuff to elevate mood, decrease anxiety and stress, as well as to reduce thirst and hunger, with no documented severe adverse effects.
The main attraction of the 32 km route is the 40 000 ha of unspoilt landscape through which it takes you, making this a unique wilderness experience. The route is not technical and relatively easy to drive. There are a number of steep uphills and downhills, but all are on stable surfaces. (It can also be tackled by experienced mountain bikers.)
The area covered by the route is an Arid Zone Flora Biodiversity Hot Spot, and prime conservation land has been bought up since 2002 by the WWFSA with funds donated by the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust.
This makes the route a plant lover’s dream as many of the unique dwarf succulent plants which are characteristic of the succulent karoo biome can be seen along the way. Associated with the high diversity of habitats through which you travel is also a host of interesting birds. Although shy and seldom seen, interesting nocturnal mammals such as leopard, caracal, jackal, honey badger, aardwolf, aardvark, porcupine, spotted genet and striped polecat are often recorded on the remote camera traps used for research. Antelope that are commonly seen are klipspringer, kudu, eland, steenbok and duiker. Spectacular landscapes and geological formations make the route perfect for photographic expeditions and the peace and solitude is unequalled.
The trip will take a minimum of 5 hours from the Gamkaberg visitor centre. You have to exit the reserve at the Gamkaberg main gate and re-enter the reserve at the start of the Kannaland route (30 km further on). There are two shaded but basic picnic/ braai spots on the route, Dou Karoo and Batis, with an open-air long drop toilet at Batis. There is no water along the way and you need to take your own firewood as you are not allowed to collect wood.
This is an extremely sensitive environment and has thus previously not been open to the public. It is also for this reason that the route is open only to visitors using the overnight facilities on Gamkaberg. Visitors are reminded that under no circumstances may vehicles leave the track. There are no refuse bins along the track so please take all your refuse out with you.
A maximum of three groups will be allowed on the route per day and this will be allowed on a first come first served basis.
Do's and Dont's
Bookings can be made through CapeNature's booking office.
Trail distance: 0.7km Estimated time: 20 min
This short trail takes one through the lowland succulent karoo vegetation. The 20 most common and interesting plant species are demarcated for ID purposes and interpretation is provided in the info brochure.
Trail Preparation: Do not hike alone. Wear comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat. Make sure to carry sufficient food, water and take along your binoculars. Permits are to be purchased via CapeNature Central Reservations or reserve office. In winter, a raincoat/pancho is advised.
We were very impressed by Gamkaberg. A beautiful park, friendly and well informed staff, clean facilities, plus hardly anybody there. Which is both a blessing, and a bit of a shame as the park offers lovely walks which are very well signed and maintained. We were looking for a good place to walk whilst staying in Oudtshoorn, and found Gamkaberg almost by chance on the internet. It is ca 30 km away from Oudtshoorn and well worth the drive.
We have visited Gamkaberg about 15 times in the last six years. This time we were a large group staying at Tierkloof, Soetdoring and the Stables. As usual it was comfortable, exciting, clean, spectacular - Gamkaberg truly remains one of the gems of Cape Nature. Congratulations to Tom and every one of his team.
[…] restio reeds and delicate pink proteas line the road into the heights of Gamkaberg Nature Reserve. A steep ascent at the beginning of the hour-and-a-half drive from the gate sets the tone from the […]
Spending the weekend in Gamkaberg was so amazing. The facilities are the cleanest I have ever experienced. The staff must be commended for their high standard of service. Gamkaberg is the feather in CapeNature's cap and a secret gem of the Karoo.
This is a beautiful tented camp. Very well planned and laid out for maximum privacy and soaking in the wonderful vegetation and golden hills. Very comfortable and environmentally friendly. Stay a few days to relax and to enjoy utter peace. Staff very helpful and ample opportunities for hiking and bird watching. Thanks Cape Nature!
How do you want to get involved?
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.