Thursday, December 31, 2009

Little Karoo: Gamkaskloof (Die Hel)

Gamkaskloof, also known as “Die Hel” or “the Hell, is a fascinating, hidden valley in the heart of the Swartberg Mountains where a small, proud, community lived in isolation for more than 100 years. Access was on foot and horseback and harvests of dried fruit and wild honey were carried out by pack animals. The first road into the valley was built in 1962, facilitating communication with the outside world, but also ultimately leading to an exodus of all the valley’s farming families.
Entrance to the valley is through the same dirt road, beginning about half way along the Swartberg Pass, and is a beautiful 50km drive, although not for the faint hearted (nor for those driving their ‘luxury German sedan’ with low profile tires and low front spoilers). The warning sign at the beginning of the road attests to the risks!
Entrance road to Gamkaskloof (Die Hel)
Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) entrance road
Gamkaskloof (Die Hel): winding road through the Swartberg Mountains
Winding road towards Gamkaskloof (Die Hel)
The first part of the drive is a pleasant dirt road winding its way along the valley. A valley edged by kilometers of rock that had obviously been flat a long time ago, but now snapped off and pushed up on one side in tortured formations.
Gamkaskloof (Die Hel): entrance through a tortured valley
Pushed up rocks
Tortured rock formations along the route to Gamkaskloof (Die Hel)
Tortured rock formations en-route to Gamkaskloof (Die Hel)
But then you arrive at the edge of the real Gamkaskloof, and you look down over that narrow strip of green, fertile, farmland. It’s the last chance to stop for a photograph, beyond this the road dives down the edge of the mountain towards the valley in a series of tight, rocky, turns. Often there is only enough road width for one car, and for many cars, some of the corners require 3-point turns. Certainly no place to stop for photos, so I don’t have any of this section!
About to drop down and enter the fertile valley of Gamkaskloof (Die Hel)
Looking down into fertile Gamkaskloof Valley
At the bottom of the valley, one passes some of the original mud brick houses, a few of which have been renovated and now used as cottages for overnight accommodation. This brings us to the Farm Mooifontein, owned by Annetjie Joubert (neé Mostert). She is the only remaining "born and bred" inhabitant that has retained property in Gamkaskloof. She came back permanently in 1998 and skilfully converted the original farmstead (Fonteinplaas) into comfortable guesthouses, has a caravan park, camping sites and the only Kiosk and Licensed Restaurant in Gamkaskloof. I came away from the kiosk with a stock of jams and chutney made right there in the valley.
Original mud structures of Gamkaskloof (Die Hel)
Original Gamkaskloof mud homes
Gamkaskloof (Die Hel): Annetjie Joubert's guest house Fontein Gaaste Plaas
Fonteinplaas, home of Annetjie Joubert, in Gamlaskloof
Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) restaurant and shop
Restaurant and kiosk in Gamkaskloof

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