HAPPY HERITAGE DAY TO ALL SOUTH AFRICAN READERS!!! Have a great braai…….
This has to be one of the most iconic gravel roads in South Africa, holding almost pilgrimage status to gravel-road devotees. It winds through 37km of rugged mountain scenery, culminating in the vertigo-rush, single-width Elands Pass, and terminates in the very hot, low-altitude Gamkaskloof – reminiscent of a lush oasis and paradoxically nicknamed Die Hel (The Hell).
A long and fertile valley cuts through the mountains on the east/west axis. There are various accounts of the lengthof this valley. As the crow flies it measures 12 km from the Gamka River to the base of the Elands Pass. This was the original Gamka Poort farm which was granted to Petrus Swanepoel in 1841. The Boer commando leader Deneys Reitz entered the valley in 1901 during the Anglo-Boer war whilst attempting to evade British forces. He wrote an interesting account of their short visit:
” As we approached the huts, a shaggy giant in goatskins appeared and spoke to us in strange outlandish Dutch. He was a white man named Cordier, who lived in this valley with his wife and a brood of half-wild children in complete isolation of the outside world……. We were received with uncouth, but sincere hospitality and applied ourselves to the goats meat, milk, and wild honey that was placed before us…..He told us that no British forces had ever penetrated the valley and that we were the first Boers to do so”
Getting there – by pictures:
Here’s a pictorial essay of the ‘going up’ leg of the Swartberg Pass – from the Prince Albert side:
The Karoo (/kəˈruː/ kə-roo; from a Khoikhoi word, possibly garo “desert”) is a semi-desert natural region of South Africa. There is no exact definition of what constitutes the Karoo, and therefore its extent is also not precisely defined. The Karoo is partly defined by its topography, geology, and climate — above all, its low rainfall, arid air, cloudless skies, and extremes of heat and cold. The Karoo also hosted a well-preserved ecosystem hundreds of million years ago which is now represented by many fossils.
The Karoo formed an almost impenetrable barrier to the interior from Cape Town, and the early adventurers, explorers, hunters and travelers on the way to the Highveld unanimously denounced it as a frightening place of great heat, great frosts, great floods and great droughts. Today it is still a place of great heat and frosts, and an annual rainfall of between 50–250 mm, though on some of the mountains it can be 250–500 mm higher than on the plains. However, underground water is found throughout the Karoo, which can be tapped by boreholes, making permanent settlements and sheep farming possible.
Source: Readers’ Digest History of South Africa.
To-day, the Karoo is the centre of South Africa’s rich wool farming industry, as well as many flocks of the ‘white diamonds’, the Angora Goats and their priceless mohair.
About 25km from Prince Albert on the road to Oudshoorn, lies Die Letterhuis. A restored farm cottage which is an ideal retreat from the hustly and bustle of city life.
The owners live on a farm nearby and have created a fascinating garden, nooks and crannies and a ‘prayer route’ – a winding walk through the Karoo bushveld. There is plenty of water from a perennial river so its more lush than the usual dry Karoo.
Around Die Letterhuis you will find various calligraphic and letter art installations. On the koppie next to the house there are several examples of letters cut into stones found in the area. There is also a semi enclosed contemplative area overlooking the Poplar trees and the Grootrivier.
The prayer route is a 30 minute easy stroll starting at Die Letterhuis. It follows a disused water canal through a Poplar forest to the river. Along the route there are many calligraphic gems upon which to reflect. For the more energetic there is a slightly longer route that follows the flow of the river.
Inside the more than a century old Letterhuis you will find original calligraphic works, letter castings by Belgian letter carvers Maud Bekaert and Kristoffel Boudens and handwritten letters on the walls.
For rentals or visits, click here.
A ‘must’ stop in Prince Albert is Gay’s Dairy. Owned by a local businesswoman who is very hands on and involving many sectors of the community the dairy is at the end of the main Church Street.
Gay’s Guernsey Dairy team have won many South African awards for their delectable cheeses.
In the cheese room you can taste cheeses whose names reflect the local heritage: Prince Albert Royal, Prince Albert Regal and Queen Victoria. All Gay’s cheeses are produced from unpasteurised milk and are guaranteed free of hormones, antibiotics, colouring, additives and preservatives.
Also on sale are milk, amasi, delicious fat free yoghurts and a selection of feta cheese.
Bay is a formidable lady. Not only does she have the dairy, but she is regarded as one of South Africa’s foremost Angora Goat farmers, with 1,300 animals providing sought after mohair.
Don’t miss it!