28 C
Mossel Bay
17th Jan 2019
Editor's Picks Tourism & Travel

Gamkaberg, Mountain of Lions

Gamkaberg … many people haven’t even heard of this conservation area managed by Cape Nature but considering it lies just northwest of George. Right in our own back yard.

The name Gamka comes from the Khoi term for lion, “gami”, intimating that these cats once roamed the isolated mountain range Gamkaberg, in the Klein Karoo, situated roughly between the rugged Swartberg mountains and the beautiful Outeniqua.

The nature reserve has three hiking trails, from short excursions to a six-hour day walk and the two-day Tierkloof hike— but we like the crunch of stones beneath our tyres, so we had in mind the 4×4 trail. First up, though … an utterly charming tented camp, Sweet Thorn,one of the nature reserve’s eco-lodges situated close to the entrance, at the end of a winding gravel road. It even has a private plunge pool naturally filtered by an adjacent grove of reeds.With a lovely breeze chasing away the dusty hot breath of the day and lilting melodies of birdsong, our contentment was replete when, at dusk, the quavery trill of the fiery-necked nightjar floated to us through the trees.

And so to the Zebra Crossing 4×4 Trail … Listed as a three-hour outing, there are variations which modify the distances. It took us four hours to do a 19 km 4×4 trail (countless stops for nature pics, coffee, and picnic lunch).A bouncy, very stony road of humps and bumps and sharp loose shale took us past crinkly-leaved guarrie bushes and scraggly sweet thorn acacias. As the road angled up the mountainside, crunching stone gave way to concrete strips, two white ribbons like the extensions of a ladder stretching up into the sky. Fluorescent-green spekboom and fat little botterbooms like bonsai baobabs passed us by. On the mountains, sheaves of rock spines fanned artfully outward.

We kept climbing upward, till we hovered way above the land. On a sliver of road curving ahead, a klipspringer sniffed at plants. In the heat (30°C) the dusty-blue haze was as if a gauze veil had been drawn across the landscape. We rose up and up again, did a rock ‘n roll ride across a mountaintop, crept down a very steep descent, then nosed slowly back up again. At least the two boys could play with their 4×4 toys … engaging low range, adjusting high clearance, switching to hill descent control, mud & ruts …
At Bakenskop, the highest point (1,105 m), a wooden platform gave us wraparound views onto the Gamkaberg’s round-topped hills and into an incised valley.

Russet-toned rocks and boulders, rich in iron, tumbled away from us. It was the perfect spot for a coffee break. It was only when we got to the crossroads sign for the Southern Gate or Oukraal that we spotted, through the binoculars, our first mountain zebra sprinkled across a valley slope (considering the nature reserve’s boast of eland, red hartebeest, grey rhebok, grysbok, and even black-backed jackal).

After descending from our sky safari, it was time for a late picnic lunch. Our view was a valley bowl of undulating crests and dips, with a klompie of red hartebeest tucked into distant bushes. Then a 47 km circle took us back to Sweet Thorn camp after an inspired day of communing with mountains.

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