There is a place in the Klein Karoo, a place of solitude and peace, where mountain zebra roam. A place very close to South Africa’s port capital, Calitzdorp, and yet so quiet at night that you’d never guess a town lies within 30km of its boundary. It’s called Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, a real gem in the Cape Nature stable.
Gamkaberg is an isolated range lying between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains. The reserve covers more than 10 000ha of rugged plateau, incised by deep ravines. Since 1974 it’s been set aside to conserve a local population of endangered Cape mountain zebra. Four South African biomes are represented: fynbos, succulent Karoo, subtropical thicket and evergreen forest.
And one can camp here! However, the two sites (maximum four people each) are more suited to tents or a camping trailer, than a caravan. The access road to the reserve may be a bit of a bother to a tar-road caravan. Square concrete slabs have been laid, complete with eyelets for the guy ropes, cemented in – a very thoughtful idea. A covered area is provided, with two deck chairs and a picnic table at each site. Apart from the portable braais, there is also a communal braai area. Electrical plug points are a new addition. Water is on tap.
Lamps guide the way at night to the modern and spotless ablution block. Although only one toilet, basin and shower is available at either gents or ladies, there will never be more than 16 visitors at a time in the area. Hot water is provided at the ablutions.
Right next to the campsite, but privately tucked away, are the Stables – ideal for those not wanting to pitch a tent. These have been converted into two separate rooms, each sleeping four people on two bunk beds. Mattresses and mosquito nets are supplied, but own bedding is necessary.
Between the two rooms is a kitchen with a large table, a two-plate gas stove, a large fridge with freezer compartment, and a plug point. All the required crockery and cutlery is provided.
Gamkaberg Campsite Images
The open-fire braai place invites one to linger, and camping chairs are supplied. A sink with two basins stand outside. One has to boil water for the dishes. (Remember to bring washing-up liquid and a cloth). Visitors to the Stables may be amenable to those camping next door using this wash-up facility.
Although the campsite and Stables are very close to the office, we never found that to be an intrusion. We were regularly checked on by the duty officer, and even by a very helpful conservation student busy with her practical training at Gamkaberg. Firewood and firelighters, as well as ice, can be purchased from the office, but for everything else one needs to be self-sufficient.
A communal freezer is available at the workshop for guests to store frozen food. Take time to browse the information centre at the office.
For those who really want to get away from it all, the remote Oukraal shelter at the top of the mountain provides a basic but quaint stone dwelling with a hearth, and stupendous views. Tents may be pitched here, but it is only accessible by 4×4 vehicle or via the Tierkloof hiking trail. This site is booked to only one group at a time. The website warns “… only stay here longer than one night if one is seasoned to spending time in the wilderness”. Don’t say you didn’t know.
A moderate 4×4 route called Zebra Crossing is an out-and-back adventure of about 3 hours. The accommodation options at Gamkaberg don’t end there. For those who want to take it easy, a number of “eco-lodges” can be booked. The Sweetthorn Eco-Lodge, for instance, provides a rustic facility built from poles and reeds. Again, only one group at a time is allowed. The lapa consists of a kitchen/ dining room and a kuierplek. Separate to this are three safari-style tents pitched on decks. And the lodge boasts a non-chlorinated splash pool!
So, there is something for everyone at Gamkaberg. Several day walks can be explored, apart from the Tierkloof overnight hiking trail. The trails are expertly laid out and well maintained. Benches are situated at strategic points along the routes. A trail map is provided, beautifully illustrated by Lisl, the wife of reserve manager Tom Barry. On the flipside of the map, a very informative “Bossie ID guide” explains the uses of some plants, such as the botterboom, found along the path. I tried the Guarrie, Spekboom and Mousebird trails and found them all a pleasure.