The third of the goals mentioned on a recent roadtrip here was the drive from Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp that winds its way along the Swartberg Mountains. This is way off the beaten path – not the main tarred road linking these towns, but the alternative back road to the usual R62. This should take about an hour but, as usual, my companions and I stopped many times so it took us a lot longer than that.
This is a gravel road but in decent condition and it’s definitely a more scenic road than the usual route because it passes through farmlands, a small mountain pass, crosses a river, and takes you past some very pretty farm houses and even a boutique winery.
Living Waters is an estate with, among other things, a donkey sanctuary. They offer a wonderful 4 day/3 night donkey trail through the Swartberg Nature Reserve, including a night in Gamaskloof, aka Die Hel – a small valley with a fascinating history that until 50 years ago was completely isolated from the rest of the world and now has only one permanent resident. This is a Klein Karoo experience for the fit and adventurous – one night in the open, no soft beds but lots of wonderful stories and local colour.
At Kruisrivier you have the option of continuing along the gravel road to exit eventually right in the centre of Calitzdorp, or you can take the left fork to go through the Red Stone Hills. It’s a tough decision to make because the Red Stone hills are awesome. These red sand-stones (called Enon-conglomerates) were laid down 60 million years ago as sediments beneath water and then tilted by the powerful pressures visible throughout the ‘capefold’ mountains. As they dried out they turned into the red colours we see today. Nowhere else are these coloured stones seen. Some rock art is still to be found on the walls of caves.
Along the way, there are accommodation options ranging from guesthouses to camping with horse riding and a variety of other outdoor activities in very pretty surroundings and even an art gallery but it’s not always open. This back road is a destination in itself.
If you happen to arrive in Calitzdorp during the annual wine and port festival you’ve timed things perfectly to sample the best port in South Africa!
Many thanks to Caroline Elston for the use of some of her photos!