Your cell phone signal is gone and forgotten. Behind a bush a kudu with its stately curled horns is having a leafy lunch. A baboon barks – ba-hoo ba-hoo – and in the distance you see the troop moving up a hill. At a picnic spot you hear someone went searching for bushmen paintings, while another one saw a Cape leopard spoor in the riverbank. As the summer sun beats down, a stream ripples promises of an icy cold swim later and you are between two cliffs – a beautiful sandstone rock and a hard place – soaking in every inch of nature in its truest form, soaking in the wilderness that is Baviaanskloof.
The mega reserve of Baviaanskloof, in all its 500 000 hectares of ecological wonder and glory, is situated between the towns of Willowmore and Patensie on a 200 km stretch of dirt road. And this off the beaten path destination, that is also a World Heritage Site, boasts many eco-titles beckoning nature enthusiasts from all over, closer.
As one of eight protected areas that make up the Cape Floristic Region, it is home to the most diverse species of plants per square kilometre. Here you will find seven biomes: Fynbos, Savannah and Grassland, Succulent Karoo, Nama Karoo, Afrotemperate Forest and Thicket, and in the words of botanist Richard Cowling, it is “perhaps the most biogeographically complex place on earth”.
For off-road fanatics the kloof is a low range playground. Here diesel engines roar through water crossings, bump on corrugated roads, go around hairpin bends, along narrow roads and over passes. Each pass is unique in its own right, and with interesting names such as Combrink’s Pass, Holgat Pass, Langkop Pass, Grasnek Pass and Nuwekloof Pass, you can expect sandstone formations, panoramic views and the famous Raaskrans (direct translation: noisy cliff), where you can hear the echo of your own voice.
The Baviaanskloof – with its mix of farming and conservation – is a place of plenty, with nature pristine and remote, history that can be traced back to millions of years ago and a road, albeit bumpy, that is yours to explore.
Things to know before you go to Baviaanskloof
Here are a few key pointers to help you plan your adventure to Baviaanskloof.
Do you need a 4×4?
Yes and no. You can still see a decent stretch of Baviaanskloof without using a 4×4. Even though it is a dirt road, the northern (Willowmore’s side) and southern (Patensie’s side) sections of the road – before you enter the Wilderness Area – are usually sedan-friendly, depending on the weather. To enter the reserve gates (the section in the middle of the kloof) a 4×4 is required.
Activities in Baviaanskloof
There’s more to the 200 km stretch than meets the eye.
You can do one of the five challenging 4×4 routes on Doringkloof; the routes have a grading of between 2 and 4, and the longest is 78 km in length as it winds its way up the Kouga Mountain Range into the Langkloof.
The Cedar Falls trail (4-6 hours) offers incredible scenery and swimming spots as well as a waterfall (advance booking is essential) while you will find a variety of day trails at Kamerkloof. If you are looking for a multi-day trail why not try the 4-day, 3-night Leopard Slackpacking Trail or the Baviaans Camino which covers a distance of 93 km over 4 days (accommodation in old farm houses). Some of the hiking trails will also give you the opportunity to see cave paintings.
Home to the Trans Baviaans, a 24-hour mountain bike marathon, you can bet your sweet 29-inch wheels that there are some roads to tackle, and things to see form the seat of your bicycle; some accommodation establishments also have their own trails.
If your acrophobia is intact, another popular activity to try is rock climbing; the highest concentration of hard climbing routes in the Eastern Cape is at Waterkloof in Baviaans while Kudu Kaya offers 22 naturally protected routes, and via Bruintjieskraal you will get access to Grips, a quartzite slab of up to 120 metres.
For the twitchers there are nearly 300 bird species and you can look forward to bringing your binoculars along and spotting the protea canary, Knysna Lourie, blue crane and Stanley’s bustard to name a few.
Where to eat in Baviaanskloof
There are plenty of farm stall and restaurant options in Willomore and Patensie; on the western side of the Wilderness Area you will find BaviJaans Farm Stall and Vero’s Restaurant, both offering lights meals. Some accommodation also provides pre-arranged meals.
If you want to have a picnic, you can go to Doringkloof Bush Camp (western side) or the Smitskraal Picnic Area (in the middle of the Wilderness Area).
Baviaanskloof is not exactly a shopper’s paradise – you come here to escape the crowds and the city – but you can find quirky arts, crafts, gifts and preserves at Baviaans Art Shop (opposite Vero’s Restaurant) and at BaviJaans. Babes se Winkel stocks a few items of necessity, if you were looking for something like a cold drink or sugar.
Where to stay in Baviaanskloof
Whether you want to camp or do a farm stay, the options are endless. Choose your accommodation in Baviaanskloof, or opt to stay in Willowmore or Patensie and explore the kloof from there.
A few more Baviaanskloof details to keep in mind
- There are no ATMs in Baviaanskloof, some places do accept cards, but it is always safer to bring enough cash.
- There is no fuel station, fill up in Patensie or Willowmore.
- There is no cell phone reception in Baviaanskloof.
- Give yourself at least 8 hours to drive through the kloof, from Patensie to Willowmore. It is best to stay over at least one night.
- As a provincial reserve, entering the Wilderness section requires a conservation fee and a permit (which can be paid for and obtained at the gate). The gate is open from sunrise to 16:00.
- When driving and walking around, keep in mind that there are dangerous animals, like buffalo, in the reserve.
- As a reserve and a World Heritage Site you need to act as a custodian of the environment, don’t remove plants, feed or disturb animals or damage anything in the area. No drones, firearms, traps, explosives or poison are allowed.
- Baviaanskloof is often closed due to heavy rain and it is always best to make contact beforehand to enquire about the condition of the road.