There are many famous stories about Gamkaskloof, most of them with a donkey lurking somewhere in the middle distance. In the days before Oom Koos van Zyl and his grader cut a pass down to Die Hel that looked more like the giant Mark of Zorro than the elegant mountain work of pass-builder Thomas Bain, you carried your shopping in over the cliffs and through defiles on your shoulders. Or your donkey did the work for you.
Soldier, politician and author of Commando, Deneys Reitz, came over these mountains with a squad of men during the Anglo-Boer War, trying to link up with Boer leader Jan Smuts in a last desperate Cape campaign against the Brits. He and his men came upon “a shaggy giant in goatskins” called Cordier who was living in such rough and splendid isolation that the war gripping his country was but a vague notion to him.
The Joubert family are still in Gamkaskloof, known to some as ‘Die Hel’. They run a little hospitality business consisting of a campground, some caravans, a kiosk and a restaurant. The preserves in the shop are a linguistic delight that roll easily off the tongue:
“Halwe lemoene, Kerrie kool, sitroen, agurkie pekel, kersies in blitz, bobbejaan knaters, kool blatjang, makataan en gemmer, kweper konfyt, perske chutney, ingelegte pere, pekeluie, spicy hot tomato relish, mostertbone, Ouma Hester se Stringe…”
CapeNature runs most of the valley these days, and you can stay in one of the reconstructed old houses and just drink in the isolation. De Hel (Gamkaskloof) has been declared a national monument and is part of the Swartberg Nature Reserve.
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