Where and what is the Baviaanskloof?
Where and what is the Baviaanskloof? A question frequently asked of us, but before we go into any detail, consider these facts for a moment;
- South Africa’s largest wilderness area at approx. 550 000 hectares.
- Awarded World Heritage Site status in 2004.
- The only area in South Africa to represent 7 of the 8 biomes.
- 46 mammal species and over 300 bird species.
- Fascinating reminders of pioneer farmers.
- 46 river crossings, sometimes in flood, and sometimes not.
- A mere 75km from Port Elizabeth.
- Awesome 4×4 routes, or not, just as you please.
The Baviaanskloof valley is flanked by the Kouga mountain range in the south and the Baviaanskloof mountains in the north. The kloof is between Patensie (Eastern Cape). the citrus capital of SA in the east and Willowmore / Uniondale in the west (Western Cape).
Baviaanskloof, or “Valley of Baboons”, is a valley approximately 75 km long and varies in width and depth. The Baviaanskloof River rises outside the western end of the Kloof, flows through the kloof becoming the Kouga River and finally just as it leaves in the east it becomes the Gamtoos River. And the Gamtoos empties into the Indian ocean outside Jeffreys Bay.
Now if this still not enough to give you a good idea of where this hidden gem lies, it is, as the crow flies, about 40km inland from the N2 garden route. And it is possibly the attraction of the garden route which entices most road trippers to drive past Baviaanskloof without even realising what lies beyond the spectacular mountains one can see in the distance. If you were looking for the closest airport, it would be George if you intended to approach from the west, and Port Elizabeth if you were to approach from the East.
DISREGARD GOOGLE MAPS when it comes to anticipated travel time, it will take approximately 8 hours to traverse the kloof from Port Elizabeth to the exit in the west.
Baviaanskloof represents 7 of the 8 biomes which occur in South Africa.
So, you may have heard about these ‘biomes’ things, and if you were awake during geography class they would be ‘large naturally occurring communities of animals and plants occupying a habitat, like a forest’. To the rest of us Baviaanskloof is an area which has 7 of the maximum 8 in SA, and they include; Fynbos, Subtropical Thicket, Nama Karroo, Succulent Karoo, Grassland, Savanna and Forest biomes. This basically means a whole lot of spectacular scenery, and one can be along the banks of the river, and associated riverine thickets, and half an hour later cresting montane fynbos covered mountains.
What type of vehicle will I need to visit Baviaanskloof.
If you have, at very least, a high clearance vehicle and are a reasonably competent rugged terrain driver, then you should have no problem traversing the entire kloof from either end. If you are in a sedan then I would suggest that you enter the kloof from the west, and you will be able to get a pretty good idea of what Baviaanskloof is, before turning back when the going gets rough (about 50km’s from the western entrance).
Either side will take you into the kloof and at some point, you will enter the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism (ECPT) ‘managed’ section of the kloof (shorter distance from Patensie side as this section is east of the centre of the kloof). The ECPT section is slow going, partly because of the single lane road, which requires that you stop from time to time to allow vehicles from the opposite side to pass. The road winds alongside, up and over several mountains, offering breath-taking views at every turn, before descending to cross the river and so the process repeats itself until you leave the ECPT section.
From then on and until you exit the kloof in the west the road is easy going and there are plenty of river crossings still to come (in a good rain season) They are easy to navigate unless you can clearly see that it is in flood in which case don’t attempt it, sit back, relax and wait. Yip, it is not altogether uncommon for folk to spend hours or even the night waiting for the river to subside (but don’t worry there is generally plenty of warning). And besides if there is anywhere in South Africa that you would want to be stuck, it is in the Baviaanskloof, this has got to be the safest place in the country.
What is there to do in Baviaanskloof.
For the average adventure seeker, I would say that spending 3 nights in the kloof would be about perfect. Naturally there are going to be keen botanists who may want seek out the great number of Protea species, or the twitchers who will be adding to their life lists, not mention searching for the black rhino. And these folks may well want to dwell in the kloof a little longer.
Given that the Baviaanskloof mega reserve is constituted through a collection of state and privately-owned farms, your options as far as activities go may be restricted to what is available at where ever it is you choose to stay over. Having said, and for the most part, mtb and hiking is almost always possible, often in stunningly beautiful areas.
The river that runs through the kloof (when flowing) provides a great number of pools that one can take a dip in, and in the heat of summer, you may wish to linger a little longer in the clean fresh water.
Where to stay in Baviaanskloof
There are numerous establishments along the length of the kloof offering a variety of accommodation options, most of which are aimed at campers and folks who prefer catering for themselves. A quick search online, and you should have no problem finding something.
It is also possible to stay within the ECPT section, and although remote, with good access to the swimming pools along the river course, we would not recommend it. There are a few rogue baboons who the park officials are unable or unwilling to deal with, and they will cause
significant damage to anything left unattended. In fact, during our first and last stay at Rooihoek one or two did almost everything but drive our vehicles, such was the damage caused. Not a single bag or tent escaped with being significantly damaged, and don’t think for a moment that removing food stuff will remove the incentive ransack everything you have. If you are willing to leave someone near you tents and vehicles all the time, you will enjoy this experience.
The question should be not if you are going to visit Baviaanskloof, but when.
Even the most cynical adventure traveller will be impressed by what Baviaanskloof is and has to offer. For better or worse, time has stood still in the kloof, and one can’t help but be captivated by the peace and tranquillity that characterises Baviaans. We have often said that it is indeed a pity that most travellers, foreign and local, prefer to follow the ‘milk run’ along the garden route between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town instead of taking the road less travelled.
Still have questions about where and what is Baviaanskloof, please feel free to drop us a line, and we’ll do our best to answer them for you. Please also feel free to check out our annual camp in Baviaanskloof.