Eastern Baviaanskloof
Travel

Travel: Eastern Baviaanskloof

I had been stuck behind my desk for too long. The workload of the first quarter of the year had nailed me to my chair. And, with the added frenzy of expos and shows all over the country, I was in serious need of some nature time. Apart from a very enjoyable weekend at Rondeberg Holiday Resort, I had done almost no travelling!

So, you can imagine my delight when Jan Groen, the general manager of Travelstar, let me know that they had a brand new Navi motorhome ready to take out for a test drive. I’d seen the latest model from their workshop at the shows, and had been itching to get behind the wheel of the smallest unit in their stable.

I was to pick up the van at their factory in Knysna. ‘That’s just half a day’s drive… where should I head to after that?’ I wondered. At first, I planned to head further east... maybe go surfing in Jeffrey’s Bay. But as it was a long-weekend, I knew the resorts would be packed, and I was hoping to get away from the crowds.

So, the answer was obvious: Turn inland at Humansdorp, and head for Baviaanskloof.


Travelstar

The road from Cape Town to Knysna was a landscape that changed from green, to brown, to green again. With the drought, and in this season of the year, vast stretches of land along the N2 highway are dull, dusty fields.

Don’t get me wrong: as a change from the city lights, these rolling hills were still a fantastic sight to behold. But once you head past George and deeper into the Mediterranean Maritime climate of the Garden Route, the world around you turns splendidly green.

The Knysna area is one of the richest rainfall areas in the country, and most of the rain falls in the winter months, brought by the humid sea-winds from the Indian Ocean. Despite the raging drought, the town and surrounds looked like a green paradise. Rolling into town, I saw activity on every corner even though it was a Thursday morning. Knysna just pulsates with that holiday feeling. But, before I could slip into a fully relaxed mode, I had to pick up my ride at Travelstar.

The motorhome factory is situated in 36A Boswerker Street, in the industrial area. You’ve probably noticed some of their motorhomes on the N2.

Pulling up at the factory, I could see that Jan and the team had been busy. The Navi model is built on a Nissan NP300 single cab 4x4, and I could see a line of chassis (load bays removed) standing in front.

Jan was waiting for me with a big smile and a firm handshake. While I was admiring the completed Navi that I was to take out, and having a quick tour of the factory, he was describing the incredible success of the Travelstar line of motorhomes. Between supplying the Maui rental fleet and selling private units, he couldn’t keep up with orders. Knocking out 8 Navi units a month was still too few to meet the huge demand.

It wouldn’t be long before I realised why…


Woodbourne Resort

Contact: Cheryl | Tel: 044 384 0316 | Cell: 072 466 1459
Email: w48[at]mweb.co.za | Web: www.woodbourneknysna.com | GPS: S 34° 04’ 17” E 23° 04’ 09”

After I’d transferred all the camping equipment and our luggage from our car to the motorhome, my wife and I headed into town to stock up on supplies. Then, with the motorhome loaded and the 40-litre fridge/freezer packed with food for the next couple of days, we headed to Woodbourne Resort.

As we had already been on the road for a couple of hours, and had time to spare, we decided to spend our first night in Knysna to allow us to settle into the away-from-the-city mood.

Woodbourne is situated at The Heads, about 5km from the centre of Knysna. When driving up to reception, one can immediately see that the resort is well maintained. Despite the fact that some of the plants made it clear that the area was suffering a drought, the massive trees and grassed stands created an atmosphere of tranquil nature.

As it was not a weekend, we had our choice of sites. Cheryl from reception pointed us to her favourite section of the resort, so we headed over there and parked the Navi.

What a nice spot! Grassed, under the trees, close (but not too close) to the ablutions, with electricity, and a brick braai on site.

The sites directly adjacent to ours were all empty, and our nearest neighbours – a motorhome named ‘Swaeltjie’, a rooftop camper, and some tents – were all at least 15 metres away. But even when the resort is packed, you’d still have enough space as the sites are quite large (and clearly demarcated).

Woodbourne has a total of 77 sites, almost all of which are shaded and grassed, and share 220V electricity points. Most of the sites have brick braai-facilities, and braai stands can be rented from reception.

The ablution blocks are spread throughout the camp, and are quite neat. I liked the fact that the shower cubicles have a curtain inside as well – even though there is no shelf or seat to place your clothes, you can hang your towel and clothes on the back of the wooden door, and draw the curtain to keep water from splashing onto them. Outside the ablutions there are also a couple of wash basins.

The spot where we set up camp was the first turn-off left after you enter the resort. If you take the second left, there’s a big open space of grass (no shade except on the sides) with about 8 sites. This part of the resort looks out to the east onto a stretch of wetland. I could imagine getting a couple of friends together and booking this entire section! With everyone camping around the edges, there would be a nice communal section in the middle to set up umbrellas, have a braai, and even play some boules.

The major part of Woodbourne Resort lies to your right as you enter; opposite and past the reception. Right across from the office is a small playground for children.

If you head on further up the road, you’ll take a left to get to the volleyball court and trampoline. This is also where you’ll find the large outdoor swimming pool. The pool area is fenced; a nice safety feature should you be worried about the youngsters.

Woodbourne also offers lovely wooden-chalet accommodation. The little units are spread throughout the camp, so if you are a travelling party of which some like to camp and others like self-catering accommodation, you will still be able to stay near each other.

Woodbourne is also a very affordable resort, with campsites costing as little as R200 per site (1 – 2 persons in low season); and the chalets are priced from R500 for 2 people in low season.


Geelkrans

Contact: Theo & Laurika Ferreira | Cell: 072 521 9615
Email: geelkrans[at]gmail.com | Web: www.baviaans.net/geelkrans | GPS: S 33° 44’ 50” E 24° 43’ 33”

With a 3-hour trip ahead to get to our next destination, and still having to stop for some final supplies before heading into the Baviaans area where we would finally be away from civilisation, we got an early start.

Of course, this was not before a proper breakfast of bacon and eggs…. and some chops and wors left over from the first night’s braai, of course! The Navi’s outside kitchen was up for the action, and it wasn’t long before the water had boiled for coffee, and the eggs were frying in a pan on the gas stove.

Packing up took only a couple of minutes, since we’d parked under the tree canopy and had not even put up the gazebo, so it was just a case of storing the table and camping chairs, wiping the groundsheet, loading everything in the motorhome and heading out.

It was a cloudy morning as we headed east on the N2 past Keurboomstrand, past Storms River, and on to Humansdorp. We’d be heading up to the kloof from there, so we stopped in town for some final shopping for provisions.

From Humansdorp, we drove north about 60km on the R330 through Hankey and Patensie, and then turned left onto the R331, where we found the Geelkrans Campsite.

We were met by Laurika Ferreira who runs the resort with her husband Theo, who is also the farmer. Laurika herself takes guests to their designated spot and makes sure that they are all settled in. Not that I could imagine needing anything at this amazing resort! On the way in, the road is lined with citrus orchards. Out host led us down past these, until suddenly we were out on a wide stretch of grass, looking at the Gamtoos River and the giant cliff from which the farm gets its name.

Most of the camping sites are spaced along the river, about 30 metres back so that you get a full view of the spectacular site… and there is never anyone in front of you to spoil the view. We were lucky to get the last available spot that looks out on the river and cliff, almost at the edge of the camp.

After parking and greeting Laurika, I immediately bought two extra bags of wood (which she delivers right to your site) because I knew that at this beautiful spot I would want to have a fire going for hours. Each camping spot has a big, round, cement braai area. The welcoming braai pack (a few pieces of wood, a welcome note and matches) that awaits each guest just shows how the Ferreira’s go the extra mile to ensure that their guests have a good time.

However, with the spectacular view of the river and cliff, I can’t imagine anyone not having the best of times. If you are looking for an exceptional break-away spot, go to Geelkrans.

There are only 14 campsites, so you are guaranteed a relaxing stay. Imagine sitting in front of your motorhome or caravan (note, it’d have to be off-road capable), with the fire crackling, and the cliffs lighting up bright yellow in the rays of the evening sun.

Also, there is no cellphone reception, so it’s just you and nature! I seriously considered skipping one of the camps I’d wanted to visit later on in our travels, so that I could stay another day at this gem.

I also wished I’d brought a fishing rod; with the Gamtoos River just metres from my doorstep, throwing a couple of lines would have been a treat!

Geelkrans does not have any electricity or water at the campsites, but a short walk will take you to the ablution block. The beautiful wooden building is tiled on the inside. It’s a very spacious ablution, and kept in pristine condition day in and day out.

Apart from the riverside campsites, there are a few spots higher up, secluded in the lush vegetation. Laurika says that they are also in the process of building a guest house. This will be right next to a camping site, she says, as they often get groups in which some people like to camp, while the other half, often those with very young children or babies, like to have more facilities available.

Geelkrans is definitely a treat for the youngsters… and there were quite a few families there. The kids clearly had a blast, playing in the river, riding their bicycles, fishing, etc

There is also a pair of fish eagles that nest in the cliff. Unfortunately, I did not see them during our short stay. If I had spotted them, or even just heard that famous bird call, I would surely have been swayed to stay another day!


Baviaanskloof

The Baviaanskloof lies in the Eastern Cape between the Kouga and Baviaanskloof Mountains. Its name is derived from Dutch, which means “valley of baboons”. Yes, there are a lot of baboons in the area!

But the true association of the area is not with the animal, but rather with incredible natural beauty, pristine scenery, narrow gorges with flowing streams, steep mountain passes, vast plains of grasslands, and views of unspoilt wilderness.

The narrow valley of the Baviaanskloof is just under 200 kilometers in length. The Baviaanskloof area includes various protected areas managed by the Eastern Cape Parks Board, the most well-known part which is the 184 385ha Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve.

It is the third largest protected area in South Africa. The Baviaanskloof has a diversity of natural ecosystems – seven of South Africa’s eight biomes (major natural regions) are present: fynbos, forest, grassland, succulent Karoo, nama-karoo, sub-tropical thicket and savanna.

Because of this spectacular diversity of plant species, an impressive variety of birds can be found in the valley. The Baviaanskloof is part of the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2004 and is one of the richest plant regions in the world.


Important Information

There is no cellphone reception in the Baviaanskloof.

There are no bank tellers and card facilities are only available at selected establishments.

There is no petrol or diesel in the kloof. Please fill up in Patensie or Willowmore.

If you are camping, stock up on food and drinks, because there are no shops.

It takes approximately 7-8 hours to drive from Willowmore to Patensie.

Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve

Gate time: Open from sunrise and close at 16h00.

Permits: Available at the Reserve Gates.

Day visitor activities: Smitskraal Picnic Spot & Grasnek Lookout Point

Dangerous Animals: There are dangerous animals within the Reserve and visitors should exercise caution at all times when walking outside of camp and within day visitor sites and on trails.


Komdomo

Tel: 042 283 7912 | Email: info[at]baviaans.co.za or reservations[at]baviaans.co.za
Web: www.baviaans.co.za | GPS: S 33° 44’ 26” E 24° 36’ 51”

Just 11km from Geelkrans, further along the R331 and R332, you get to the official Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area. The eastern entrance to the nature reserve is at the Komdomo Campsite.

This is one of the few campsites in the Baviaanskloof conservation area that is accessible without a 4x4. However, once you’ve been at Geelkrans and then experience Komdomo, you’ll wish that you could keep on heading deeper into the kloof.

Komdomo is split into two sections, with the nature reserve office in the middle. As you enter, you’ll see a huge area for day visitors on the left. This area provides braai facilities in the shade, as well as ample ablutions.

For those caravanners and campers who are not too fond of day visitors, I can’t say what Komdomo looks like at other times of the year, but during my visit on this long weekend, there was not a single one!

The camp area is to the right, and consists of 22 caravan and tent sites spaced out along the Grootrivier. All the sites are spacious, level, well grassed, and with ample shade under trees.

You know you are at a good spot when you drive into the resort relatively early in the morning, and the fires are already burning as campers get ready to cook their breakfasts.

The Komdomo camp has a quiet and relaxed atmosphere – few campsites, a calming river nearby, and spectacular rock formations rising up on the opposite bank. Just note, because the camp is in the kloof, the sun comes up a bit later and sets a bit earlier than you’d expect.

The campsite has two ablution blocks, one old and one new. The old block needs a bit of a touch-up, but the new facility is relatively neat, and has showers and flush toilets. Bring your own toilet paper!

While electricity is available at some of the sites, water needs to be fetched from the ablutions.

The stands are of a decent size, which is a positive as there is no proper separation of trees or bushes between you and your neighbour. The main road through the camp runs quite close to the sites, so dust can be a problem. Just face your tent away from the road and you should be fine.

Baboons can also be a pest in this area, as they are in almost the entire Baviaanskloof, so never leave food lying around, and make sure that you close your caravan and tents properly before you leave the camp.


Kudu Kaya

Contact: Petrus & Heléne van der Watt | Tel: 087 700 8195 | Cell: 073 862 1968
Email: info[at]kudukaya.co.za | Web: www.kudukaya.co.za | GPS: S 33° 39’ 11” E 24° 34’ 59”

I was encouraged to go to Kudu Kaya by my neighbour at Geelkrans. He was visiting the Baviaans on “business”, shooting drone footage for some of the resorts, so I could be sure he’d had a very good look at the place.

For some reason, even though I had often heard good things about Kudu Kaya, I had never stayed there. So, from Komdomo we set off north-west, deeper into the kloof.

Even though rain in the area had been scarce and the kloof was feeling the effect of the drought, the scenery was still spectacular, with green still all around.

With nothing to hasten us on our journey, we stopped often to admire the views as we wound our way between the high cliffs on either side.

It’s impossible to miss Kudu Kaya if you are driving through the kloof – at the turn-off to the resort there is a sign that has a big baboon sculpture… oh, and he’s smoking a cigarette!

The camp is located on the working citrus farm Ysrivier, with reception situated close to some of the farm houses.

When we arrived, around midday on a Sunday, there was only one site left… luckily, since I had actually not made reservations for this middle part of our trip. I was feeling so self-sufficient in the Navi that I thought I’d just drive around until I found a campsite I liked.

There are a total of 17 campsites at Kudu Kaya, a couple of them spread out along the Ysrivier mountain stream. Although all of them are shaded under indigenous trees, (including plenty of yellowwoods), only a few are grassed.

If you are a couple of campers travelling together, check out campsite 16: it is a large stand suitable for groups and has its own ablution block.

There are 4 shared ablutions in total, all with hot-water showers and flush toilets. To be honest, some of these ablutions are very basic and need some attention, but they are kept clean. Glampers would be best to stay far away. But, hey; you are camping out deep in nature, getting off the grid. If you are looking for fancy scented soaps and double-ply toilet paper, book in at a guest house!

Probably the biggest attractions of Kudu Kaya are the amazing rock pools and waterfall. To get to the waterfall, you have to hike and swim through 9 pools. Of course, feel free just to chill out at the first cool spot of water and enjoy the outdoors.

Bird watchers will love this site, as there is a large variety of birds on the farm, including the Knysna Loerie. There was even a spotting of the rare Narina Trogon a couple of years ago!


Bruintjieskraal

Tel: 084 515 0993 | Email: info[at]bruintjieskraal.co.za
Web: www.bruintjieskraal.co.za | GPS: S 33° 42’ 18” E 24° 36’ 35”

At this stage of our trip, I was beginning to regret the fact that I’d have to return the Navi − for two reasons: Firstly, I was enjoying it; and secondly, because it needed to go back to Knysna, which meant that I couldn’t head through the entire kloof to exit at Willowmore.

I’m absolutely positive the motorhome would easily have handled the more difficult roads that lie in that direction – the Combrinks Pass and Holgat Pass and beyond.

But, to ease my sorrow, I was at least in for another treat: Bruintjieskraal. This campsite lies down the road back towards the eastern park entrance, and a good option for our last night in the kloof before having to tackle the long road to the Cape.

The Bruintjieskraal camping sites are spread out along the bank of the Groot River, and divided into groups: Sites 1 - 5 are situated together, sites 7 to 10 together, and then sites 11 to 14 at individual locations.

Again, we did not have a reservation, but were directed to the site 7 – 10 area, which had some open sites.

How glad I was that I had decided to take a chance on this resort! After turning off the main road, you amble along a dirt road to see the site sprawled along the river… the sites are enormous, to put it lightly. We parked our Navi right at the end of this section of Bruintjieskraal, at number 7.

The stands, which are all grassed, each have a small “lean-to”, under which I assume you could pitch your tent, but would probably better serve as some additional shade during the hot days. It’s right next to the braai area, which is basically just a small cemented area on the ground. Some of the other sites have more “advanced” braai areas and extended shelters, or bush kitchens, with cold-water sinks and worktops.

Perhaps this would be a good point to note that the facilities at Bruintjieskraal are the bare basics. We had our own ablutions… which consisted of a weathered hokkie with a flush toilet on one side, and a gas shower on the other side. It’s a rudimentary setup with very old equipment to heat the shower.

Still, it was perfect! The Kouga Mountains were on one side, the Winterhoek Mountains on the other, and the river ran close by. Absolutely quiet in nature, with spectacular views of the mountains. Alone and happy.

Long after we had set up our camp, and with the fire already going, more campers arrived and set up on the site adjacent to ours – I estimate that they were about 30 metres away.

It was a beautiful, hot day, so taking a one-minute walk down to the river to cool down was quite enjoyable. The rest of the time I spent lazing on the grass, sitting at the fire, and just enjoying the sights.

While having a delicious steak just off the coals after the sun had set and night had fallen, I heard a rustle in the bushes near our camp, close to the ablutions. Knowing that this was baboon area (and having seen and heard a troop of them across the river earlier in the day), I immediately swung my headlamp to see what was walking into our spot. To my surprise, it was not a baboon, but a small deer.

This just rounded off the Bruintjieskraal experience!


Natures Valley and Home

It was tough packing up in the morning, knowing that it had been our last night in Baviaanskloof, at least for this short trip. There was a chill in the air, an indication that despite its not being winter yet, the weather in the kloof could get quite cold even out of season. Making the coffee (outside, as I don’t like being indoors when camping, even if there is a gas stove available) I actually put on a beanie I’d picked up at the launch of the new K-Way winter range.

It was a cloudy morning again. Our surroundings were absolutely silent. One finds such peace in the morning, sipping coffee, looking out at the mountains, with one’s breath steaming in the air.

Baviaanskloof

But all good things must come to an end, so we packed up camp and took the scenic drive east out of the Baviaans. Luckily, we had one more night with the Navi before it had to be returned. I had wanted to revisit Nature’s Valley for a while, and suddenly realised that it had actually been years since I’d last been there. So we headed back through Patensie, on to Humansdorp, then right on the N2, back the way we had come.

We spent our last night of the trip in the Nature’s Valley Rest Camp. It was an eventful day – including wading through rivers during a hike, and having baboons smash our window… but that’s a story for another time.

 
 

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