“We are fortunate in Africa, as the land forever heightens our sense of exploration, its expanses and its wildness – and we need not go far to find it”. This is particularly so with the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve – such space and detachment, so close to towns and people.
The brooding Gamkaberg, together with the equally mysterious Rooiberg, appear to have been laid down as one over the lowlands of the Little Karoo, like a huge dyke between the Swartberg, the Outeniquas and the ocean. But they are riven by the Gouritz River that slides from the heights of the Swartberg and heads for the sea southwest of Mossel Bay. The Gamka is therefore a range in isolation. Its name is derived from the Khoisan word ‘gami’, meaning lion. The Cape lion, once so successful and confident here, is now extinct.
The Gamkaberg Nature Reserve was established in 1974 to conserve a small, remnant herd of endangered Cape mountain zebra. They numbered thirteen in 1970 and five in 1976 (six were shot by a local farmer in one outing). The numbers have now increased, but the struggle continues. Other mammals on the reserve include eland, red hartebeest, grysbok, klipspringer, baboon, honey badger, leopard, caracal and numerous smaller species.
It is through exploration of the Tierkloof ravine that most visitors come to know Gamkaberg. In Tierkloof’s riverine thicket, is a bush camp constructed of thatch, wood and reed. The spacious and comfortable main hut has one double bed and two singles. Also within this hut is the kitchen, with utensils, a gas fridge and stove, and a gas water heater at the sink. There is a food preparation table and a dining table. Solar lights are provided. There are a further four beds in two semi-permanent tents pitched under their own reed roofs a short distance from the main hut. The reed and thatch ablution facilities, along a pathway lit by a hurricane lamp, consist of two flush toilets, a hot-water shower and an outside basin. Alongside the main hut is a welcoming lapa, with its own table, chairs and braai (barbeque) area. Just beyond the lapa is a cement dam with a sheltered deck, that in summer, when temperatures hit 40°C, is a blessing. The complex is wheelchair-friendly.
Activities on offer at Gamkaberg include overnight hiking and 4×4 trails. Both overnight at Oukraal, a stone shelter in the mountain fynbos. Gamkaberg also has more than twenty rock art sites – a guide can be arranged. Mountain bikers should enquire after the approximately 30km of incredibly wild overnight trailing currently being set up in the shadow of the Rooiberg.