'I know it’s here somewhere,’ said Tom Barry, Gamkaberg Nature Reserve’s manager. He’d dragged us to the top of a barren-looking koppie full of stones and flaking shale, and was scratching around among the stones, muttering.
‘Here we go!’ He squatted next to a plant called perdetande (horse’s teeth), a tiny succulent with a row of four squarish windows smaller than the nail on my pinkie. These transparent windows allow sunlight to creep inside the plant, where photosynthesis takes place. “The Gamkaberg is the only formally-protected area where it grows,” he said.
Cape Nature’s Gamkaberg Nature Reserve lies between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp in the Western Cape. We were staying at Fossil Ridge Eco-lodge on the reserve. Like its cousins Sweet-thorn and Tierkloof, it encourages an ecofriendly, sustainable way of life through solar lighting, ecoloos and recycling. We loved it: the canvas tents and reedand- shadecloth kitchen, the splash pool, the paths among the sweet-thorn trees, the lapa at the foot of a rocky koppie.
It was a few weeks before the Kannaland 4x4 route was due to open to the public, and we were lucky enough to get a sneak preview from Tom, accompanied by two of his rangers and two interns.
From Gamkaberg’s info centre, we drove west, 30 km outside the park – along a road awash in mountain views and ramshackle farmhouses begging to be photographed. Then we entered the Groenefontein section through a locked gate.
‘The route winds through vlaktes and foothills where it’s mostly Succulent Karoo and sub-tropical thicket,’ explained Tom, emphasising how important it is to conserve this lowland flora.
The route is named after the kanna plant, and it didn’t take long to find one of these sprawling succulents. ‘The Khoisan dried it, then smoked it, chewed it or used it as snuff,’ he explained. They rather fancied its mind-altering knack for lifting their mood, lowering stress and easing hunger and thirst.
The 32 km route was a medley of plants and views, open areas and dense thicket, rounded shale koppies and rocky Table Mountain sandstone. Best of all, it passed through 40 000 hectares of unspoilt wilderness with almost no sign of people. We had the whole world to ourselves. Because it’s a sensitive environment rather than a macho-man playground, the route is open only to visitors who stay overnight at Gamkaberg.
You get a map of the route before you set out, and there are 20 clear route markers. Unless you ignore these or leave the track – which is verboten – you can’t get lost. We found easy-to-navigate jeep tracks interspersed with some stony tweespoor sections, a few steep uphills and downhills, but nothing madly technical, because all surfaces are stable. It’s not a place for softroaders, though; you need a proper 4x4 with high clearance and it’s better to engage low range on the hills, to minimise spin.
Roxanne Reid is a freelance writer and editor. Read more about African travel, people, wildlife and heritage on her blog.
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