Almost directly opposite Zoar, a quaint little town founded in the early 1800s by the Berlin Mission, is a gravel road that leads to one of the Western Cape’s hidden treasures – Seweweekspoort.
According to some, Seweweekspoort is named after a missionary, Reverend Zerwick. It is renowned for its special natural beauty, immense rock formations and cliffs, and its timeless feeling of remoteness. The towering cliffs of the Swartberg bear witness to the immense forces from within the earth that once upon a time elevated these rugged, folded formations.
The road runs for some 20 km through the Poort, taking you from the Little Karoo to the Great Karoo, as well as from the winter rainfall to the summer rainfall area. It has been a gateway to the hinterland since before 1800, and Adam de Smidt built a wagon and horse road only in 1860. He was a brother in law to the well-known Thomas Bain. Only minor improvements have been made to this road over the years.
At some 2325 m above sea level, Seweweekspoort Peak is the highest in the Cape region. It keeps a watchful eye over the remaining klipspringer, dassie and even the occasional leopard. Often, Verreaux eagle can be spotted soaring among the cliffs. Beautiful specimens of Kiepersol can be seen along the way as the road crosses the meandering stream 23 times.
Only 7 km to the northeast is the Bosluiskloof pass – also built by Adam de Smidt, concurrently with Seweweekspoort. This little pass served as an extension of Seweweekspoort to create a throughway into the vast interior, and still retains its own special, untouched beauty to this day.
Dr. Atherstone (geologist) said the following in reference to Seweweekspoort in 1862:
“The most wonderful gorge or mountain pass I have ever beheld… how few know of this extraordinary mountain gap”
And in reference to the Bosluiskloof Pass:
“[From the top of the Pass] a scene burst upon us that I shall not forget in a hurry”.
C. Louis Leipoldt, after having travelled through Seweweekspoort, proclaimed it to be one of the Seven Wonders of the old Cape Province. Many a traveller has echoed these sentiments – why don’t you experience it yourself.
Things to do near
Swartberg Nature Reserve
*Distances are shown as the crow flies and not necessarily the actual travelling
Prince Albert (9 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
The Swartberg Hiking Trail presents a scenic but tough trek through fynbos over the Swartberg Mountains. There are three starting points: on the Oudtshoorn side, at De Hoek and from the Old Toll overnight cottage in the Swartberg Pass. Less fit hikers can chose the shortest route. Winter conditions can be extreme with occasional snowfalls.
Duration: 2 days
Distance: 12.8 km (Day 1) and 13 km (Day 2)
Prince Albert (13 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
The Grootkloof in Gamkaskloof Trail offers a unique experience in the Swartberg Nature Reserve. Along the 6 km route are 26 points of interest: the cultural history of the early Karoo settlers and the Little Karoo’s fascinating natural history.
One of the trail's highlights is the ruin of Tant Lenie Marais' Agter-Osberg cottage. Before starting the hike, purchase an information booklet at the CapeNature Ouplaas Information Center in Gamkaskloof.
Duration: 2 hours
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Distance: 6 km
Prince Albert (13.1 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
The 1.4 km Koningsgat Trail in the Gamkaskloof section of the Swartberg Nature Reserve offers a pleasant laidback walk through fynbos and along a river to the Koningsgat natural pool. The trail has amazing views and the reward of a cooling swim at the end.
Duration: 1 hour
Distance: 1.4 km
Four By Four Trails
Prince Albert (15 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Gamkaskloof, also known as Die Hel, is a really special full day’s outing, unfortunately only suitable for 4x4 vehicles. Be sure to pack your picnic basket and fill your tank before heading off into the Swartberg as there is no petrol in the valley.
Make a right turn at the sign (37 km), and experience magnificent views as you traverse this part of the Swartberg and meander down the zigzags of Elandspad to the almost ‘forgotten valley’ of the Kloowers, folk who lived in this fertile valley in isolation until 1962. Visit the kiosk for light meals and produce from the valley. Once refreshed, continue along the valley floor, crisscrossing the riverbed. Depending on time of year, it will be either dry or full, but still navigable.
Take time to stop and look at the interesting graveyard, school and schoolhouse as well as various Kloower’s cottages. It will take you around 30 minutes to reach Cape Nature’s kiosk, at the end of the valley, where you can laze under large trees and grass to enjoy your picnic. See the Norse watermill and learn more about these ‘almost forgotten’ people.
The return trip will take you almost 2.5 hours; so plan your departure time to arrive back before sunset, as it is not advisable to travel the mountain in the dark. (Total driving time in and out is 5 hours excluding refreshment stops).
Four By Four Trails
Prince Albert (15.2 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Gamkapoort Dam is a wonderful 4x4 or mountain bike day or half day trip.
This journey takes you from valley to valley between the mountain ranges where you will experience the amazing rock formations along the way, and if you are fortunate you should have quite a few sightings of kudu, klipspringer, ostrich, tortoises and baboons with the most amazing silky long hair.
You will enter the Cape Nature Conservation area at the dam, and if you continue you will drive alongside the dam and around to an area where you can picnic next to the dam, canoe, fish or even take a dip, if you feel brave enough. Need to warn you though that it is very desolate and filled with ‘nothingness’, but so rejuvenating for the soul.
The Dam was built in 1970, and even though it is close to PA, was built for the sole purpose of the farmers in Calitzdorp, just on the other side and due to its construction there is now NO through road from PA to the other side, as it covers the original road, which is said to have been the main route through to Cape Town in days long gone.
This is yet another great cycling route for our crazy mountain bikers, don’t forget to take lots of water.
Prince Albert (15.5 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Get the real Karoo farm experience! Magnificent views, bird-watching, horse riding, baboons and antelope to be seen. Bushman paintings are within walking distance.
Group lunches or dinners can be arranged.
The Weltevrede valley lies 25 km from Prince Albert and is surrounded by the Swartberg Mountains. Weltevrede is a working farm and the main crop is Adam's figs which are sun-dried.
Visit during the harvesting and drying season (from January to May) and see how the figs are picked, processed and packed. The owners also grow oranges and naartjies and rear ostrich. Visitors are most welcome to view all the farm activities.
Guided hikes over the Swartberg Mountain from the farm into "Die Hell" are on offer during the cooler months.
Galleries and Museums
Prince Albert (18.2 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Situated in Seven Arches, a gracious Victorian building opposite the Fransie Pienaar Museum, the Prince Albert Gallery was conceived some years ago by local artists who needed a unique venue to show their work. In 2002, six artists elected to create the space and run the gallery and on 10 May of that year the first exhibition was opened.Since opening, the Prince Albert Gallery has held a variety of exhibitions by artists well known both locally and throughout South Africa. Alf Gundersen, David Goldblatt, Sally Arnold, Christine Thomas, Anne Kerr and her mother Erica Berry, installation artist Jo O'Connor, Richard John Forbes and painter Ben Coutouvidis have all exhibited in this space.
Prince Albert (21.1 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
This day walk and hiking trail is located near Tierberg in the Prince Albert district. Bloukop Mountain offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. This circular trail has a difficulty rating of moderate. The trail is 11 km long and features overnight facilities. Booking is required; the trail is not accessible during certain times of the year.
Prince Albert (24.3 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Climbing 1000 metres in 12 kilometres, the Swartberg Pass is one of the steepest passes in South Africa. Running between Prince Albert in the north and Oudtshoorn in the south, the route offers spectacular views over the Little and Great Karoo.The road is not tarred and can be tricky in wet weather but you certainly don’t need a big 4x4 for the pass.Along with striking warped and twisted rock formations and interesting plant life, you will see some amazing drystone work supporting the picturesque hairpin bends. Master pass engineer Thomas Baines and his team of convict labourers took five years to build it in the late 1800s. Today it is a National Monument and largely unchanged.If you really fancy a challenge you could crank you way on the Swartberg Pass Half Marathon. The race route heads out of Prince Albert and into the Swartberg Pass, with sheer rock on both sides.
Oudtshoorn (33.1 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Visit a sparkling ancient African cave system in the Karoo. One of the major attractions in the Garden Route and Oudtshoorn area is the Cango Caves, which extend for kilometres into the extensive limestone hills. Situated in the Swartberg Mountains, 30km north of Oudtshoorn are the 20 million year-old Precambrian caves. Africa's largest show cave system is definitely worth a visit just to see the beautiful crystal and flow structures alone. Although the massive system of tunnels and chambers stretch for over four kilometres, only a quarter of this is open to visitors. You can do a guided standard one hour tour or tackle the more adventurous one and a half hour tour, which includes some tight squeezes.
Four By Four Trails
Calitzdorp (33.1 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Gamkaberg Zebra Crossing comprises various 4x4 trails ranging from 16 km to 36 km. The trails take about 3 to 4 hours to complete and stretch over the Gamkaberg Mountain. The trails start at the information centre and leads over scenic trails to be enjoyed by all. The difficulty grading is 2 and high clearance vehicles are needed. Soft 4x4 vehicles with no low range are welcome but please contact the information centre for further enquiries. The exact GPS coordinates are unknown and have been placed in Calitzdorp.
Oudtshoorn (34.8 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Producers of top quality Port and wines. Wine tasting offered.
Oudtshoorn (35 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Take the kids to enjoy a quiet, relaxing farm environment and wide range of animal interactions at Ikkos Equine Sanctuary and Animal Haven Petting Farm. Meet horses, donkeys, dogs, cats, an angora goat, sheep, miniature pot bellied piglets, guinea pigs and rabbits. Come and pet them and feed them and even have a ride on one of the horses.
Older kids can walk with the horses and everyone can feed and pet the donkeys, sheep and goat or cuddle one of the friendly guinea pigs or the rabbit. Also on offer are short horse rides led by the owner in an enclosed camp – which makes for many great photos and memories. Ikkos Equine Sanctuary and Animal Haven Petting Farm help neglected and abused animals. The Greek word for horse is Ikkos, it also means the "Great Light", and the sanctuary aims to provide visitors with an enlightening all round equestrian experience.
So, what goes on at Ikkos Equine Sanctuary?
Rescue of abandoned and abused equines and other animals.
Ikkos equine therapy – come and walk with their equines as well as groom, feed them and get to know them.
Ikkos riding tuition – learn about horses in a fun and interesting way and learn to ride.
Ikkos eco horse riding trails and tours – absolutely stunning trails in natural veld private game reserve with a variety of game and stunning views.
Adopt an equine or another animal here at the sanctuary – a unique gift for yourself or a loved one.
Need to know? If you would like to make a booking (at least the day before), please send an SMS to 076 600 1115 to confirm your visit and get directions. The cost is R50 entrance fee that includes a tour round the farm to meet the animals, there is the option of pony riding at R40 per person and feeding the animals at R20. All entrance fees and donations go directly back into Ikkos Equine Sanctuary and Animal Haven Petting Farm for the care of the animals and towards the rescue of other animals in need of help.
Oudtshoorn (35 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Just outside Oudtshoorn lie the vineyards of Sandkoppies, the home of Grundheim Wines. Fine wines have been produced there for the past 50 years, with some growing there for 80 years.
The grapes are allowed to ripen on the vines, hence the distinctive raisin character.
There is no artificial colourings or sugar in the wines. Here you can also try "Danie se Withond" which is a very strong witblits and a wide range of Grundheim Liqueurs.
The warm and friendly atmosphere of this farm is sure to bring you back.
Four By Four Trails
Calitzdorp (35.4 km from Swartberg Nature Reserve)
Bôjaankop 4x4 Trail has an amazing history dating back to the 1800s; sharecroppers would drag their bundles straight down the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains. The route follows the Gamka River and offers breathtaking views. The tail is relatively easy with a grading of 2 to 3. The 15 km route is a self-drive course and can reach 540 m above sea level.
The trail requires a low range, high clearance 4x4 vehicle – provision has been made for softroaders. The trail takes approximately 3 to 4 hours and is open all year round.
For accommodation, enquiries and bookings please contact Matjiesvlei Guest Farm .