Oukraal Hideaway Perfection, Gamkaberg
When Vuurtoring and I drove through the Klein Karoo on our way to CapeNature’s Gamkaberg Reserve, I had no idea what to expect. I was pretty excited, as I knew that the three Gamkaberg eco-lodges made it in Africa’s Finest by David Bristow and Colin Bell. Africa’s Finest is a collection of 50 tourism facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa considered by the authors as the most outstanding, sustainable tourism operations that have succeeded in implementing and successfully managing a robust triple bottom line. A real accolade, considering Gamkaberg is one of the merely seven properties in South Africa that made the top 50 and the only parastatal.
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Gamkaberg is a 30 km drive from Calitzdorp along an old cement road and about the same distance from Oudtshoorn. The reserve was established in 1974 to conserve a small, remnant herd of the endangered Cape mountain zebra of which only five were left in Gamkaberg. With concerted conservation efforts between CapeNature and the private sector their numbers have now increased to between 40 and 50.
The reserve is part of the beautiful and rugged Gamka mountain range overlooking the plains of the Klein Karoo. It is not only a diverse and scenically stunning area, but fascinating from a natural history point of view too.
It has rock formations that date back 750 million years and marine fossils as old as 360 million years. Rock art is prevalent in the area with early Stone Age as well as more recent Khoisan rock art. Floristically it is part of the rich and diverse Cape Floral Kingdom and four of South Africa’s biomes, namely Fynbos, Succulent Karoo, Subtropical Thicket and Evergreen Forest, are represented at Gamkaberg. Besides the rare and endangered Cape mountain zebra, leopard and honey badger that are some of the reserve’s fauna highlights, eland, kudu, red hartebeest, grysbok, grey rhebuck, klipspringer, steenbok, baboon, caracal, aardvark, aardwolf, black-backed jackal and numerous smaller species can also be spotted.
I guess you get my drift by now – Gamkaberg is pretty special.
We were staying in one of the three eco-lodges, which are beautiful, private, self-catering camps. Each camp has three Meru-style tents set on a wooden deck with comfortable beds (doubles & twins), a communal kitchen, lounge and boma areas, bathroom facilities and a splash pool, which is crucial in the Karoo heat. They are fully off-grid with solar for electricity and hot water, dry-composting toilets, and gas cooking.
However, nothing had prepared me for the experience Iga Motylska from Eager Journeys and I had driving the grade 3 Zebra Crossing 4×4 route. Since I drove from Cape Town in my beloved Suzuki Jimny, we decided to check out the 4×4 trail rather than hiking up. Please be warned, this route is definitely ONLY suitable for 4×4 vehicles.
We set off early to catch the sunrise and the soft morning light. The road slowly winds its way up from the bottom of Tierkloof on an 800 m climb over Bakenskop, from where you descend slightly towards Oukraal. It covers a large and rugged section of the reserve, mainly through upland Fynbos and Renosterveld, with a good chance to see the rare Cape mountain zebra. Unfortunately, we didn’t, but we did spot Eland. The viewpoints along the way provide breath-taking views of the Klein Karoo lying a kilometre or so further down.
The Oukraal accommodation is a good point of return for a day trip, but I would encourage you to pre-book the rustic Oukraal, which is just the ultimate hideaway. It is surrounded by Fynbos vegetation and little koppies with no evidence of other habitation or civilisation anywhere close by – just nature in its purest form. It would be a perfect writers retreat. The downside is the absence of electricity, so you need to resort to the good old pen and paper ;-).
Gamkaberg is a true hidden gem, by-passed by the vast majority of tourists on their way to or from Oudtshoorn. I definitely want to go back get to know the Klein Karoo’s alter ego more intimately.