Swartberg Nature Reserve

Gamkaskloof (aka Die Hel) promises a sensory feast of proteas, regional ports and donkey trails

*Hikers in the reserve are urged to exercise caution due to the March 2016 fire, which caused extensive damage along the trails. 

Declared a World Heritage Site in 2004, Swartberg Nature Reserve stretches 121 000 hectares between the Klein and Groot Karoo, bordering the Gamkapoort Nature Reserve to the north and the Towerkop Nature Reserve to the west. The town of Oudtshoorn is 40km away. Visitors staying overnight sleep in restored cottages in the Gamkaskloof (otherwise known as Die Hel) and delight in the reserve’s rich heritage. San rock art and artefacts are found in caves throughout the reserve. European contributions to the region’s heritage include three mountain passes built in the 1700s, the Toorwaterpoort railway, Meiringspoort Road and the Swartberg Pass, to link the Klein and Groot Karoo.

This reserve conserves a diversity of vegetation from renosterveld to mountain fynbos and spekboom veld. It also supports a variety of wildlife, including antelope, baboons, dassies and leopard. Plants begin to flower on the lower levels of the mountain in spring and those fit enough to brave the higher peaks of the Swartberg Mountain could be lucky enough to spot the rare protea venusta. For fans of the beautiful protea, autumn is the best time to spot them in full bloom.

To find out more, download the Swartberg Nature Reserve brochure.

Download: The Klein Karoo Birdlist

How to get there

From Cape Town, take the N1 to Worcester, and then take the turn-off to the R60. Follow that road as it changes to the R62 at Montagu, and keep following it until you reach Oudtshoorn, about 420km from Cape Town. In Oudtshoorn, go to the CapeNature office in Baron von Rheede Street, and receive further instruction to reach the reserve.

General information

GPS: 33 35 01.69 S 22 11 45.74 E

Office hours: 07:30–16:00

Tel: +27 (0)44 203 6300
Accommodation and permit bookings Tel: +27 (0)21 483 0190

Accommodation

Self-catering

  • Andries Marais House

    The Andries Marais House sleeps up to five people in four bedrooms (three rooms with one single bed each, and one room with one double bed). Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Electricity: Gas Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Willem Marais

    The Willem Marais Cottage sleeps two people in one room with two single beds, providing a comfortable, small accommodation option for couples. Outdoor braai facilities are provided. Electricity: Gas Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Stappies Cordier

    The wheelchair-friendly Stappies Cordier House sleeps two people in one room with a double bed, providing a comfortable, small accommodation option for couples. Outdoor braai facilities are provided. Electricity: Gas Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: Yes Pets welcome: No
  • Marais Cordier

    The Marais Cordier Cottage sleeps up to six people in three rooms (one with a double bed and two with two single beds). Outdoor braai facilities are provided. Electricity: Gas Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, black stove, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Bush Shelter

    The Bush Shelter is a rustic accommodation featuring dormitory-style sleeping quarters and basic amenities, that can house up to 12 people. Reconnect with nature without roughing it. Electricity: Gas and solar Bathroom: Two, with flush toilers, showers (gas geyser) and warm water Kitchen: gas stove and fridge, cutlery and crockery provided Bedding: 12 single beds with mattresses Linen and towels: No, please bring your own Fireplace: Indoor and Outdoor braais, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Freek & Martha

    Located close to a dam, this traditional cottage sleeps up to four people in two bedrooms (one with a double bed and one with two single beds). This cottage is attached to Piet & Bellie and boasts a traditional stepped gable. Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Electricity: Gas Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, black stove, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Piet & Bellie

    Fully equipped for self-catering, this restored semi-detached traditional cottage sleeps three people in two bedrooms (one with two single beds and the other with one single bed). Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Electricity: Gas Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, black stove, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Sankie Marais

    The Sankie Marais Cottage sleeps up to eight people in four bedrooms (two with two single beds, one with a double bed and one with a three-quarter bed). The cottage is the perfect choice for informal get-togethers with family and friends. Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Electricity: Gas Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, black stove, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Snyman Huis

    Situated on the banks of the Gamka River, Snyman Huis sleeps up to eight people in three bedrooms (one with a three-quarter bed, two with two single beds), and a sleeper couch in the lounge (sleeps two). Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Electricity: Gas Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, black stove, basin, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Lenie Marais

    This traditional cottage, with decorative gable and pebbled windows and doors, sleeps up to five people in three bedrooms (one with two single beds, one with a double bed and one with a single bed). Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Electricity: Gas Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Schoolmaster's House

    The Schoolmaster's House accommodates up to three people. Built in 1938, the cottage offers full self-catering facilities and has two bedrooms, one with two single beds and one with one single bed. Outdoor braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Electricity: Gas and solar Bathroom: Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, black stove, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No
  • Koot Kordier House

    The cottage comprises two bedrooms (one with a double bed and one with two single beds), and two single beds in the lounge area. The bathroom is a few metres from the house. Braai facilities are provided and wood can be purchased at the reserve office. Electricity: Gas and solar Bathroom: Outdoor. Shower (gas geyser) Kitchen: Gas stove, gas fridge, black stove, sink, cutlery and crockery Bedding, linen and towels: Yes Fireplace: Outdoor braai, with grid Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No

Camping

  • Campsite

    There are 10 shaded campsites available, each named after the donkeys that did the hard work in the valley when it was originally settled. Solar-powered lights, a tap and picnic table is available at each site, but there is no power. Please ensure you bring your own firewood, supplies and flash lights with you. Sites available: 10 campsites Power points: No (solar-powered lights) Ablution facilities: Hot water showers, flush toilets and basins Shop on-site: No Firewood for sale:No, bring your own Braai facilities: Yes Disabled access: No Pets welcome: No

Activities

  • Guided Swartberg tours

    True South Travel provides a variety of activities in the Swartberg Pass area, in their position as a concession partner with CapeNature. These activities include:
    • Night sky eplorations - Learn more about the most prominent starts, planets, constellations galaxies and globular clusters
    • Swartberg Pass eco-excursion - A scenic guided tour up the Swartberg Pass
    • Day trips to Gamkaskloof/Die Hel - A guided tour via the Swartberg Pass into the Gamkaskloof valley. Option to stay in CapeNature accommodation overnight.
    • Prince Albert via the Swartberg Pass - Return tour to Prince Albert and back to Oudtshoorn via the Swartberg Pass. When possible, visits to the Ou Tollhouse will be arranged.
    • Swartberg Hiking Trails - Guided leisure hiking on two circular trails.
    • Birdwatching - With 4 vegetational biomes converging in the Klein Karoo bird lovers can view up to 280 species in this diverse region. This tour gives you the opportunity to explore the Klein Karoo’s unique birdlife.
    You may contact True South Travel on 0824618253 from 8am to 8pm to make bookings for the guided tours, or alternatively go to truesouthtravel.co.za for more information.  
  • Donkey Trail

    The Swartberg Four-Day Hike is a strenuous but rewarding trail with beautiful views. Alternatively, slack-packers will enjoy the exciting donkey trail, which allows hikers to soak up their surroundings while donkeys carry their luggage. Trail distance: 25km Estimated time: 4 days This unique experience combines biodiversity, history and heritage in an exciting four-day trail. Donkeys carry your luggage, leaving you free to explore the beautiful surroundings. The trail passes by ancient rock art sites, distinctive pioneer architecture and amazing plants. Hikers will indulge in regional cuisine and the famous ports of the region. All meals, trail snacks, bedding and towels, guides, donkeys, porters, CapeNature reserve fees and return transfers over the Swartberg Pass are included in the cost. To find out more visit www.donkeytrail.com or email info@donkeytrail.com.
    • Wear comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat.
    • Take a warm jacket/raincoat in winter.
    • Hikers should bring light slipslops for the evenings (no one may go barefoot at the rest camp), insect repellent, lip ice, binoculars, camera, personal medication, walking stick, day packs, cash for alcoholic beverages and curios, three layers of clothing for hiking days (t-shirt, fleece and waterproof), long pants.
    • No firearms or narcotics allowed.
    • Wine and beer is served at Living Waters and Wyenek. A variety of beverages are on offer during the last night at Gamkaskloof.
  • Picnicking

    Visitors can picnic and braai at scenic lookout points at Meiringspoort.
  • Mountain biking

    Permission is needed for mountain biking in the Swartberg Nature Reserve. It is prohibited during certain times of the year. 
  • Hiking and Walking

    A variety of walking and hiking trails are available in this reserve, including the Ou Tol, Platberg and De Hoek trails. The best time for hiking is April–May and September–October each year, because of the milder weather. Hiking trails There are a variety of hiking trails to choose from, varying in intensity. Regardless of how long the trail is, read the trail preparation points carefully. Help us protect nature No pets/no firearms/no picking of flowers or collecting of seeds/no fires except in designated areas/no quad bikes. Permits Permits may be purchased for R40 per adult and R20 per child at the reserve office or through CapeNature Central Reservations. Trail preparation
    • Wear comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat.
    • Do not hike alone.
    • Carry enough food and water with you.
    • Make sure you know what the weather conditions are before you depart.
    • Take a warm jacket/raincoat in winter.
    • Make sure you have a relevant map of the area.
    • Take a field medical kit with you for emergencies.
    • Obey all signage.
    • Stay in a group and on the trails.
    Ou Tol Circle Route Trail distance: 7.4km Estimated time: 2.5 hours Platberg Circle Route Trail distance: 8.4km Estimated time: 2.5 hours De Hoek Day Trail Trail distance: 8.8km Estimated time: 3 hours Konings Gat (in Gamkaskloof) Trail distance: 1.4km Estimated time: 1 hour This is a relaxing walk through fynbos landscapes to the natural pool alongside the river. There are amazing views along the route. Grootkloof Hiking Trail (in Gamkaskloof) Trail distance: 6.3km Estimated time: 5 hours A scenic route that provides a good workout and beautiful views of the Swartberg region.
  • Bird Watching

    More than 130 bird species are regularly spotted in the reserve, including black, fish and martial eagles, as well as the Cape sugarbird and pied kingfisher. Visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars and bird books with them. DOWNLOAD: The Klein Karoo Birdlist
  • Angling

    It is possible to fish in the Gamka River, however a freshwater angling license is needed.
  • 4x4 trails

    The 4x4 route, renowned for its spectacular views, can be booked as a day or overnight experience. Overnight visitors will stay in a self-contained hut. Please note there are no rubbish bins provided and what visitors take in, they must take out.  

Location

Conservation

Swartberg Nature Reserve Conservation

The Swartberg Nature Reserve is of particular importance in the management of the region’s mountain catchments. The Swartberg Nature Reserve, in conjunction with the neighbouring Gamkapoort Nature Reserve and Towerkop Nature Reserve, is of particular importance in the management of the region’s mountain catchments and water yields. This is a region of extreme climates with very hot summers (temperatures can reach over 40°C) and very cold winters (temperatures dip below zero) with snow on the mountains. The Swartberg Mountains are part of the Cape Fold Mountains. A diverse range of vegetation is conserved in this reserve, from renosterveld, mountain fynbos and spekboom veld to Karoo-veld and geophyte species. The rare Protea venusta grows in the higher mountain peaks. Leopards still live in these mountains, although they are rarely spotted by visitors. You are likely to see klipspringer, grey rhebok, kudu, baboon and dassies, as well as springbok in the flatter areas. Lucky visitors may spot caracal or a bat-eared fox.

Filming

Swartberg Nature Reserve Filming

The Swartberg Nature Reserve is teeming with a rich history and is perhaps best known as Gamkaskloof - a small settlement established there in 1830 by farmers of European origin. Entirely self-sufficient, the community of Gamkaskloof lived in isolation for over a century. The first road into Die Hel, as it is known, was only built in 1962. The village is now a cultural heritage site that forms part of the Swartberg Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site. Swartberg Nature Reserve lies in the district of Oudtshoorn, between the Great and Little Karoo. It’s an area of climatic extremes where winters are characterised by vast snow-capped mountains while summer days reach high temperatures. The Swartberg Pass is a wildly popular setting for both photographers and filmmakers.  

3 Reviews

Beautiful Gamkaskloof

Rae Vermeulen, Dec 1, 2015 - Swartberg Nature Reserve

The Kloof recently had rains (25.11.2015) and everything was green and beautiful, also a number of waterfalls. Prolific bird life to entertain. Our group of 5 stayed in Freek and Martha and Peet and Bellie. Basic, well kept and clean cottages. We had to fetch 3 of our party in Prince Albert and arrived at the reserve after 6pm and fetched our keys and bought wood from the friendly Douglas. The reserve manager, Martin, came to check on us on Saturday and was most friendly and helpful. Lots of info at the interpretation center. The proteas and erica were still in bloom and we had close-up sightings of kudu, duiker and the ubiquitous baboons. We would love to have had a longer stay and will recommend this place to anyone who loves peace and solitude.

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Ten Lovely Karoo Parks - Karoo Space, Mar 6, 2015 - Swartberg Nature Reserve

[…] Swartberg Nature Reserve near Prince Albert protects a huge swathe of the Cape Fold Mountains. Here you’ll also find […]

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Die Hel

Rob CLoete, Aug 20, 2014 - Swartberg Nature Reserve

Thanks Awesome page

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