If the words “4×4 trail” or “getaway” or “unspoiled” or “digital detox” ever made an appearance on your bucket list or perhaps those words come to mind when the pressure at work or the sounds of the city get too much, then put a weekend aside because it is time to visit Baviaanskloof.
Baviaanskloof is right on Port Elizabeth’s doorstep – and also just down the road from a multitude of other Eastern Cape (and even some Western Cape) towns – and this mega reserve of more than 200 000 hectares is especially loved by off-road and nature enthusiasts and known for its biodiversity where 7 of South Africa’s 8 biomes occur naturally.
Baviaanskloof is one of those places where I let out a little squeal of astonishment, “moer, dis mooi!”, every now and then as mountain vistas, wildlife, winding roads, water crossings and tiny little flowers greet you every step – or rather, every metre – of the road.
And just when you think it can’t get any better, another impressive rock formation stands tall and proud; another squeal of astonishment, another moment of being in absolute wonder of the Eastern Cape and its diverse beauty.
It is moermooi and it is one of those places where our modern world necessities become obsolete and get quietly chased away and driven out by nature’s pristine, remote and serene powers. It is one of those places where the million year history and the evidence of the footprint of humanity breathes a sense of belonging into life, where visitors bow their heads in awe of landscapes, where parts are still unknown and undiscovered.
And guess what?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily need a 4×4 to visit Baviaanskloof.
That’s right, you and your sedan can also tap into the serenity of this mega reserve (see below where you can go without a 4×4).
Of course Baviaanskloof is best enjoyed if you travel through the kloof, from one end to the other covering a distance of nearly 200 km, but the most eastern (Patensie’s side) and most western (Willowmore/Uniondale’s side) sections are sedan-friendly (but always keep an eye on the weather) while the Wilderness area – the middle section – is open to 4x4s or off-road motorbikes only.
I had the opportunity to take the Isuzu mu-X (4×4 6AT) through Baviaanskloof and it thrived over the passes and through the bumpy terrain and water crossings, it was a comfortable and sure-footed ride and the Hill Descent Control came in handy as I made my down the steep and corrugated road of the Holgat Pass.
Somewhere along the way another mu-X was spotted and its driver leaned out of the window and with a big grin, said, “jis, you are driving a lekker car!”
Of course, I had to reciprocate with the same comment.
If you are interested to find out more about Isuzu’s modern 7-seater sport utility vehicles, click here. There is also a 4×2 model available which boasts the same ground clearance of 230 mm as the 4×4 model.
Visiting Baviaanskloof? A few things to know before you go!
The passes of Baviaanskloof
In order from east (Patensie) to west (Willomore).
Combrink’s Pass: After a few small river crossings (concrete bases) and the lush low altitude valley of Poortjies with its unique vegetation, the first pass welcomes you with its steep road snaking up to the Bergplaas grassland plateau where beautiful panoramic views, an information board and also some ablution facilities await. Combrink’s Pass has an elevation summit of 592 m, and is 5.3 km in distance and will take about 20 minutes to complete.
Holgat Pass (Wilderness Area): This pass is just on the other side of Combrink’s Pass, and has almost 50 bends, corners and curves… and this is where you want to make sure your vehicle is in low range and a hill descent control (if you are travelling towards the western side) will come in handy as well. There are steep unguarded drops, the road is quite corrugated and caution should be your number one and your number two, three and four priority. Holgat Pass is 4.7 km long, with an elevation summit of 536 m and takes at least 20 minutes to complete.
Langkop Pass (Wilderness Area): A short pass but packed with oomph with its average gradient of 1:37 and a few river crossings; the crossing at Doodsklip can get quite deep from time to time (get out and explore the crossing on foot before taking any chances), and the Smitskraal crossing has a lot of large rocks that serves as the road (those travelling by motorbike should take extra caution). Langkop Pass is only 3.4 km long, takes 10 minutes and has an elevation summit of 268 m. Remember to maintain your speed when crossing a river.
Grasnek Pass (Wilderness Area): This 8.3 km long pass, which has a bend almost every 100 metres, was built by local farmers and it offers a clear view of the highest peak in the area, Scholtzberg, standing tall at 1625 m. The elevation summit of the pass is 451 m and takes at least 20 minutes to complete. While you will be treated to plenty of incredible views down into the valley, keep in mind that there are not a lot of safe spots to stop.
Nuwekloof Pass: ‘Dramatic’, is the best way to describe this pass with its unique sandstone formations and places like Raaskrans (noisy cliff) is well worth a stop and a whistle (or a scream). While this pass can be done in a normal sedan, do bear in mind that there are 14 river crossings and when the rains comes down you don’t want to be caught mid-river. Nuwekloof Pass is 5.9 km in distance with an elevation summit of 1066 m and takes at least 15 minutes to complete.
Where to have a picnic
Doringkloof Bush Camp (western side)
Smitskraal Picnic Area (Wilderness Area)
Where to eat
BaviJaans Farm Stall and Vero’s Restaurant (both on western side of Wilderness Area). Some accommodation also offers pre-arranged meals.
Where to shop
Babes se winkel for a few basics, or stock up in Patensie, Willowmore or Uniondale.
Baviaans Art Shop (opposite Vero’s Restaurant) sells a variety of crafts.
BaviJaans has a few gifts and preserves.
(The three abovementioned places are all on the western side of the Wilderness Area)
Where to go for more off-road adventures
Doornkloof offers five 4×4 routes with the longest trail being 78 km, and the four other trails are between 5 to 10 km with a difficulty ratings of between 2 and 4.
Where to hike
The Cedar Falls trail (4-6 hours) offers moermooi scenery and swimming spots as well as a waterfall (advance booking is essential). Kamerkloof offers a variety of trails, the Leopard Slackpacking Trail is 4 days and 3 nights (camping) and the Baviaans Camino covers a distance of 93 km over 4 days (accommodation in old farm houses).
Where to sleep
Where to overnight outside of the Wilderness Area (no 4×4 required)
Patensie’s side: Komdomo (camping), Bruintjieskraal (camping and chalets), Kudu Kaya (camping and chalets) and the Skoolhuis (cottage).
Willowmore’s side: Vaalwater Lodge (camping and cottages), Uitspan (camping and chalets), Makkedaat Cave (camping, chalets and cave accommodation), Duiwekloof (camping, lodge and cottages), Speekhout (camping, cottage and treehouse), Verlorenrivier (cottages), Bokloof (camping, cottage and guesthouse), Baviaanskloof Guest Cottages (cottages), Kamerkloof (cottages), Damsedrif (camping, cottages and guesthouse).
Where to overnight inside of the Wilderness Area (4×4 required)
Bergplaas (hut), Doodsklip (camping), Rooihoek (camping) and Geelhoutbos (lodge).
The four abovementioned places, as well as Komdomo, should be booked via ECPTA’s offices (043 492 0881).
Conservation fee for entering Wilderness Area: R43 per adult per day and R22 per child (applicable to day and overnight visitors, Wild Cards do not apply).
It is always wise to contact your accommodation or ECPTA to find out about the road condition. Baviaanskloof is currently closed due to heavy rain received over the first weekend of February. It usually doesn’t take too long (a few days) before it is open again.