Viv and Mary’s Karoo Trip

29 April to 16 May 2022

Our long-awaited Karoo trip kicked off with a few paid-up participants unfortunately having to withdraw. However we were privileged to have very worthy and experienced members, Ivan Napoleon & Greg Bond-Smith, who has been on quite a few of our trips going back many years. Our first stop was Anysberg Nature Reserve campsite via Ouberg Pass, with a cool Karoo wind keeping us wrapped up. The staff & facilities were tops, and we have proud memories of our Club contribution there, with the highly respected late Committee member Philip Sackville-Scott having taken groups to assist with the building of mountain trails there. Wild camping in Nature Reserves is strictly prohibited, which helps to retain the future of these heritage areas.

We were in high spirits on departure, with herds of Gemsbok and riverbed tracks through mountain ranges, then via Ladismith to the Calitzdorp area, passing Eagles Nest resort to Kruisrivier campsite, which we found attractive, warm & friendly. After setting up camp we spent a couple of hours driving through the Red Rocks area, which is a must-see place! A calm braai night ended a great day, and preceded our first hike the next day, joined by Milo & Kelpie the camp dogs, who lead the way, and plunged into all available dams.

After 2 nights we set out to drive up the Swartberg Pass to the turnoff to Die Hel in the Gamkaskloof valley. This was planned as a worthy test for our new rig and is not for nervous drivers!  Demanding but very rewarding efforts are needed to tackle sharp hairpin bends, at times with 2-way traffic. Awesome views and stony roads brought us to the campsite which had replaced the one previously visited, as a fire had swept through initial parts of the kloof. Free Wi-Fi at the interesting restaurant helped us to settle down quickly in a friendly place with interesting history and committed inhabitant families. The 9-year-old son of the restaurant owner resolved our technical issues by assisting with tricky comms, thanks to home-schooling. A drive down the kloof illustrated the unfortunate fate of Cape Nature there, with them having closed down all activities. Covid was preceded by a long drought and a huge bush fire, causing the collapse of support for this establishment, with only a few workers remaining there. Our hike to the dam was interesting, with outstanding mountain gorges around us.

After 3 nights we climbed the 45 km demanding track back to the Swartberg Pass, and then to De Rust for lunch at De Hut, which turned out to be a worthwhile bargain.

Then we were on our way to Baviaanskloof to Duiwekloof Camp via the awesome Meiringspoort. The west side of Baviaans offers no great challenges and is therefore easily accessed from Oudtshoorn. This camp offers many secluded campsites with excellent facilities. Next day we hiked along the riverbed with camp dogs Leo & Panda showing us the way. The next day we went sight-seeing firstly to the well-known Cave cottages which provide interesting holiday accommodation, and then to the Tree House cottage where we had previously been able to enter. The presence of tenants prevented that, so back for an early braai.

After 2 nights we crawled through the tricky route to the East side of the Nature Reserve, with the track accentuated by very wet riverbeds to test our low range skills once again, and all came through without a moan about conditions, to reach Kudu Kaya camp with light rain falling. The next morning we set out to hike up the kloof, which features a fast-flowing stream containing pools 1-6. This was a real scramble, and after traversing up past a few pools it was decided not to brag about which number we reached, not to disappoint or challenge future members to surpass our achievement! That night Greg set out to make flapjacks, but ended up in converting it to a well-done bread loaf.

We stayed 2 nights there and negotiated the balance of the beautiful Baviaans via Hankey and Patensie, before turning up to Kirkwood and ultimately Addo Elephant Park.

What an outstanding development this has become! Through farsighted market segmentation and implementation, they have now 8 unique sections addressing a wide basket of tourists, with unique and top-rate facilities. We chose the main campsite to provide quick access to the game park, to enable us to venture out early for best game-viewing. And the camp was full! Both local and overseas clients, with abundant game-viewer and private vehicles, in 28 degrees on 10th May.  A short ride out after setting camp produced a good sighting of a hyena family, who were defending a small meal from annoying jackals, as well as buffalo and plenty of elephant. 7 a.m. next morning saw us out in the park, and worthwhile viewing of hyena, buffalo herds and elephant were the main features. Back in camp monkeys raided Ivan`s food boxes, and he ended up handing over the damaged goods to them before our regular braai.

We had checked the board showing various sightings before we went out at 7 a.m on our last day there, with no lion seen for a couple of days. Riding South towards the ocean, the vegetation and landscape changed from the low bush areas to open plains and hills, which we had not seen on a previous Club trip there. Then we got lucky…..a tip-off produced a good male lion sighting, and he lay around in the sun with other vehicles arriving.

Also seen only there were zebra, also with many kudu around. Back in camp we were content with the day and prepared for the slow 3-day trip back.

Oppie-Dam near Oudtshoorn spoilt us with exclusive lapa with bathrooms for each vehicle, lawn and welcome sun over the mountains, and warm fires for chilly nights. Greg visited the Caves after Ivan had departed for home 2 nights early. He was walking his daughter down the aisle and making a speech the next day and needed to do his duty. Congratulations Ivan!

For our last night, the remaining vehicles moved to the hot springs near Calitzdorp, where we made for the steaming hot pool to soothe the hiking legs, stiff backs etc.

Determined not to rush back as usual, we had planned to drive the Rooiberg Pass on our way to R62, having previously been taken through there by Mike Eaton, who was a highly rated Committee member as well as a Lesotho specialist guide. A great way to wrap up our trip, especially with Greg for breakfast at Rooiberg Lodge.

Thanks to Greg & Ivan who are a credit to our club. Friendly, experienced and considerate guys!