This is a lesser-known gem which enables one to explore the Gamkaberg, an isolated range that’s sandwiched between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains in the heart of the Klein Karoo. The trail can be run as a 4-day, 3-night, fully supported out-and-back excursion from Cape Town, or as a 2 or 3-night add-on to a self-drive itinerary which combines Cape Town, the Klein Karoo and the Garden Route – it’s easily accessed from the R62, a very scenic inland driving route which cuts across the Western Cape. The trail comprises 2 days of hiking in beautifully rugged, classic Klein Karoo terrain, all within a protected reserve featuring interesting flora and fauna. Excellent, well-appointed, yet fittingly rustic accommodation adds to the enjoyment.
tierkloof trail highlights
- Superb, well-equipped tented eco-camps at base booked for private use
- A night on high at Ou Kraal herder’s hut, where fine views are enjoyed
- Rugged, yet beautiful Klein Karoo scenery offering a strong sense of open space
- Home to endangered wildlife and four South African biomes
- Enjoyable scenic drive to get there, with pleasant stops en route
- Visit historic Calitzdorp and taste South Africa’s top ports
- Fully supported by a personable, knowledgeable guide
The Tierkloof trail in detail
The Tierkloof Trail lies in the Gamkaberg (Afrikaans, meaning Gamka mountains), an isolated mountain range in the south-eastern part of the Klein Karoo in Western Cape Province. It lies between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains, southeast of Calizdorp and southwest of Outdshoorn. The name originates in the word gami, meaning lion, which is taken from the language of the Khoekhoen people, the aboriginal herders of the Cape.
The reserve was established in 1974 in order to conserve a local population of endangered Cape mountain zebra and their natural habitat, and is now a World Heritage Site. The terrain is rugged, with a mountainous plateau incised by deep ravines. The main rock formations consist of Table Mountain quartzites and shales, and Bokkeveld sandstone and shales.
Situated within the Cape Floral Kingdom, which hosts some of the richest flora on earth, the reserve is of particular interest to botanists. Here, four of the South African biomes are represented, namely Fynbos, Succulent Karoo, Subtropical Thicket and Evergreen Forest. Lying between South Africa’s winter and summer rainfall regions, the reserve experiences gentle soaking rain in winter and thundershowers in summer – the best times of the year to visit are in spring and autumn but visits throughout the year can be rewarding.
The rare and endangered Cape mountain zebra, leopard and honey badger are some of the reserve’s fauna highlights. Other mammals include eland, kudu, red hartebeest, grysbok, grey rhebuck, klipspringer, duiker, steenbok, baboon, caracal, aardvark, aardwolf, black-backed jackal and numerous smaller species. The reserve is host to a wide variety of birds, reptiles and insects. The Gamkaberg is also rich in Khoisan rock art and early marine invertebrate fossils.
The Tiekloof Trail is a 2-day hike that is moderately strenuous and as a minimum you will need to spend two nights within the reserve, the first in a tented eco-camp located close to the entrance gate and the second at a simple-yet-appealing herders’ camp, named Ou Kraal, located on top of the mountain.
Starting in succulent Karoo, you’ll hike up the deep, forested Tierkloof ravine to a fynbos-covered plateau at the top of the range, gaining almost 700m in altitude – the distance is just over 13kms and the ascent should take around 7 hours. Once at the top, you can put your feet up at the herders’ camp and soak up the views of the distant Swartberg and Outeniqua ranges which follow parallel ridges lying to the north and south respectively.
Having enjoyed a night up on the mountain, descent is then made by a slightly shorter route (11.6 kms) – you’ll start descending on a different path to the one used for your ascent the day before, but this path eventually links in to the approach path down in the valley. Relax and have lunch before moving on, or perhaps enjoy a further short walk if you plan to stay a final night in one of the tented eco-camps.
This is a supported trail and you’ll be able to sit back and relax when in camps – the trail will be fully catered by the guide, who will bring all supplies and luggage into the first night’s camp by vehicle. The tented eco-camps have good cooking facilities and you’ll either enjoy a South African Braai or a traditional Poitjie Kos prepared by the guide. All food and effects for the evening spent up at Ou Kraal will need to be carried up; the guide will carry a large pack containing all the food and you will need to carry a small pack containing a lightweight sleeping bag (provided), a warm layer for the evening, clothes to sleep in, head torch etc.
The accommodation for this trail is very appealing and this adds to the overall atmosphere of the experience in a very positive way. There is a choice of four tented eco-camps located at the base of the reserve, each positioned well apart from the others, and these are rented privately, ie. just for your party only. Each camp is constructed in a way that balances comfort with simplicity and has good facilities for outdoor living South Africa style – there’s even a little plunge pool to cool off in.
Up on the mountain, the former herders’ hut named Ou Kraal has been upgraded in recent years, with four new, robustly built herders’ huts and an Enviro-loo on site. Each hut sleeps two hikers in two single beds with mattresses, with a shelf around the interior for bags and belongings. You may find others who have booked to stay here and these could be hikers or those with a 4×4 (there’s a 4×4 track which uses another approach), but the camp is small and choosing a week night will more than likely mean that you will be alone up here.
The Tierkloof Trail is arranged for private parties only, for one or more persons. Dates are completely flexible, subject to hut availability. Weekends tend to be busier as it’s popular with South Africans, so choosing dates mid-week is recommended. There are two ways we can arrange this trip:
- As a fully-supported, self-contained expedition originating and ending in Cape Town or environs, including the winelands. The guide will pick you up, drive you to the Gamkaberg, handle all catering, guide you on the trail and drive you back afterwards. The journey out and back along the R62 route is a very enjoyable and scenic road trip and good to do in itself; interesting stops are made en route, such as a port tasting in historic Calizdorp (best done on the return journey). You’ll spend three nights in the Gamkaberg – the middle night is at Ou Kraal, up on high, and the nights either side are at one of the tented eco-camps at the base of the reserve.
- As part of a self-drive trip along the R62, which is a recommended detour off the western part of the Garden Route (N2). We will direct you to the Gamkaberg or a convenient spot to meet your guide (usually Calitzdorp). The guide looks after all catering and will lead you on the trail. Two nights are spent in the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, the first in one of the tented eco-camps at base and the second on high at Ou Kraal. You have the option of moving on having descended from Ou Kraal and taken lunch, or electing to stay another night at base in an eco-camp, catered for by the guide.
The Trail can be undertaken all year round, but the summer months, particularly January and February, are usually very hot and in winter nights can get pretty cool (circa 5 deg.C). The best seasons are spring to early summer (August to November) and autumn (March to early May), when temperatures are more moderate.
The R62 Route - onward travel options
Just over the folded mountain ridges of the coastal belt lies the Klein Karoo and its well-worth venturing here when touring along the Garden Route, skipping the less interesting, western stages. You’ll then re-join the coast at George, where the best section of the Garden Route starts. The R62, the main artery cutting east-west across the Klein Karoo, is a supremely scenic driving route which is getting a reputation as South Africa’s “Route 66”. You won’t encounter much traffic, but might well spot the odd biker on a Harley. The R62 links scattered historic settler towns, including Calitzdorp, the port capital of South Africa, and there are some lovely properties to stay at.
The Gamkaberg Mountain Range lies just off the R62, between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn, and if you are self-driving we recommend you stay a couple of extra nights exploring the area before or after hiking the Tierkloof Trail. A favourite place to visit is The Retreat at Groenfontein, a historical and welcoming property situated directly beneath the Swartberg mountains. From here you can also strike north over the magnificent Swartberg pass to the historic Karoo town of Prince Albert before leaving the area for the coast.