Into the Baviaanskloof | 440km

Baviaanskloof.

Departing From Port Elizabeth

GAMTOOS RIVER VALLEY

...stretches in a southeasterly direction from the confluence of the Groot and Kouga rivers. The Khoikhoi named the valley Xami - 'lion' and 'the roaring lion' - but it is possible that it was named after a Khoikhoi chief. With its abundance of water and fertile alluvial soil, the valley is a major producer of citrus fruit, while vegetables, lucerne, tobacco and potatoes are grown under irrigation.

LOERIE

...you will reach this small settlement during your South African holidays situated in the foothills of the Elands and Groot Winterhoek Mountains, owes its name to the Loerie River. The river, in turn, was named after the Knysna lourie, which inhabits the indigenous forests along the river banks. The name was already in use when the explorer William Paterson visited the eastern Cape in the late 1780s. Limestone mined at the Limebank quarry is transported in cocopans along an 8-km overhead cableway, said to be the second longest in the country, to Loerie station for shipment by rail to Port Elizabeth.

The Loerie Dam Nature Reserve covers 1 000 ha of valley bushveld, indigenous forest and fynbos. The reserve serves as an environmental education centre, and activities for day visitors include angling and boating on the dam, and a 7-km-long day walk. Loerie is also the end of the unique 72,86-km Great Train Race, an annual competition between a steam locomotive and 10-member relay teams.

HANKEY

...developed around the mission station established on 1 619 ha of the farm Wagendrift, bought in 1822 by Dr John Philip, Superintendent of the London Missionary Society (LMS). The decision to establish the mission station here was taken when the Bethelsdorp mission near Port Elizabeth, founded in 1803 for remnants of the Gonaqua Khoikhoi, became too small. Situated at the foot of a ridge along the Klein River, a tributary of the Groot River, the mission was named after William Hankey, Treasurer of the London Missionary Society.

WILLIAM PHILIP IRRIGATION TUNNEL

South Africa's first irrigation tunnel was built to water land in a wide horseshoe bend of the Gamtoos River. The 94-m tunnel runs through a ridge that forces the river to swing northwards. Construction began from opposite ends in 1842 under the supervision of William Philip, son of Dr John Philip. Labourers recruited from the mission station used hammers, chisels and pick-axes to tunnel through 88 m of solid rock. The tunnel was completed on 13 August 1844, but a year later William Philip drowned in the Klein River.

The tunnel was extensively damaged when the Gamtoos River came down in flood three years later, and again in 1867, but it was repaired both times. Close to the tunnel there is a short, but steep, path to the Bergvenster, a natural rock window eroded through a ridge. Those who tackle the scramble will be rewarded with spectacular views of the mosaic of farmlands in the Gamtoos River Valley framed by the 'window'.

PATENSIE

...is the western terminus of the branch line of the Avontuur narrow-gauge railway line and an important commercial centre for the citrus, tobacco and vegetable farms in the area. The name is a corruption of a Khoikhoi name which is said to mean 'resting place for the cattle'. About 16 km beyond Patensie the road passes a striking rock resembling the profile of Queen Victoria.

The geological strata of this area, known as the Enon Conglomerates, were formed when boulders, pebbles, sand and clay were deposited in an early basin of the Gamtoos some 100 million ears ago. The material was subsequently cemented together to form conglomerate.

KOUGA DAM

...was completed in 1976 to provide a reliable source of water for the metropolitan area of Port Elizabeth and the Gamtoos irrigation scheme. When full, the dam has a capacity of 128 million m3 and the water backs up 28 km behind the 365-m-long dam wall. The 94-m-high double-arch wall was the first of its kind in South Africa. Picnic facilities are provided.

BAVIAANSKLOOF

Bounded by the Baviaanskloofberge to the north and the Kouga Mountains to the south, this wild kloof stretches from Die Poort westwards for some 150 km along your South African holidays tour. It owes its Dutch name to the many baboons encountered by early explorers and farmers, who began settling in the valley early in the 18th century. Here they raised angora goats, and cultivated citrus fruit, wheat and a variety of vegetables, and pure vegetable seed.

Aloe nectar is also eaten here. Die Poort, the eastern entry to the Baviaanskloof, is a spectacular natural gateway carved by the Groot River through the Coutomietberg and the Komdoberg. After meandering for 10 km through Die Poort, the road passes Cambria, famous for its sweet citrus. Cambria is the Gaelic name for Wales, and was probably bestowed on the area by one of the early farmers because the scenery reminded him of his homeland.

The road then snakes out of the valley along Combrink's Pass to Bergplaas, a large grassland plateau. Just before meandering down the Holgat Pass, the route passes Waterpoort. For many years, the deep gorge was a formidable obstacle between the farming communities of Enkeldoorn and Bergplaas, but in the early 1960s a cableway was built to transport livestock and agricultural produce across the gorge. Still further on is the turnoff to Doodsklip, allegedly named after people died there under mysterious circumstances.

About 5 km on comes the turnoff to Rooihoek, with its tranquil mountain pool set against a backdrop of a stark quartzite ridge. From the Kouga Valley the road hugs the valley slopes as it meanders steeply out of the gorge carved by the Baviaanskloof River to the summit of the Grassneck Pass where a viewsite affords spectacular vistas over the rugged countryside. Continuing further west, the road descends more gently and then crosses the Baviaans River several times before reaching Geelhoutbos.

BAVIAANSKLOOF CONSERVATION AREA

The Baviaanskloof forms the core of this conservation area, which covers 174 000 ha of deep valleys, rocky plateaux, wild rivers and spectacular mountain peaks. Complementing the wild scenery is an astonishing diversity of vegetation, ranging from lush indigenous forest and valley bushveld, dominated by tree euphorbias, to grassy fynbos and spekboomveld.

Among its more than 1 100 plant species are no fewer than 17 members of the protea family and botanical treasures such as the endemic Willowmore cedar and the rare Karoo cycad (Encephalartos lehmanii). Since 1985, several farms have been purchased and incorporated into the conservation area, and Cape mountain zebra, eland, buffalo and red hartebeest have been reintroduced.

The area has been managed by the conservation department of the Eastern Cape since 1994, and there are plans to extend it substantially. Basic camping facilities are given at Komdomo, Doodsklip, Rooihoek, Akkerendal and Apieskloof while Geelhoutbos has self-catering chalets. Donkey carts are common forms of transport.

ELANDS RIVER VALLEY

Between the Elandsberge to the south and the Groot Winterhoek range to the north, the Elands River has carved a beautiful valley. This is the final destination on your South African holidays self drive route. Dominating the scenery at the western end of the Groot Winterhoek range is the 1 758-m-high Cockscomb, so named because the five crests resemble the comb of a rooster. With its fertile alluvial soil and numerous streams draining the mountain slopes, the valley contains many farms on which a variety of crops are grown. The lush valley and the mountain with its arid fynbos slopes owe their name to the abundance of eland (Taurotragus oryx) that roamed the area until it became settled.

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