The San roamed the high reaches of the southern Cederberg from more than 6,000 years ago, and one still very much gets a sense of their earthy spirituality amidst the dramatic sandstone outcrops gracing Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve. High-altitude fynbos and renosterveld plains add to the attraction of the Swartruggens Conservancy.
Copy and images: Jacques Marais
In effect, it is a bridging biome between the Cederberg and Ceres-Karoo, also known as the Koue Bokkeveld. The reserve is a premium establishment and part of the RCI Group, which primarily markets itself to well-heeled South Africans and international tourists in search of a unique nature and culture escape.
The real secret of Kagga Kamma lies in the outstanding camping available within the reserve, with a variety of sites, the main one featuring a stunning pool and good ablutions. There are also three wild camp areas along the 4×4 route, thus making the reserve accessible to a much wider range of local travellers.
The high-lying escarpment tops out at around 1 400m above sea level, blessing Kagga Kamma with a cooler climate than Cederberg proper. Rare heathers and restios dominate the floral landscape, while plains game such as Burchell’s zebra, eland, kudu, wildebeest, smaller antelope and mammal species such as Cape mountain leopard and caracal are also found here.
Expect the winters to be freezing at this altitude, so come prepared with proper cold-weather gear. Rain and snow compact the sand, so this time of year makes for the best riding and trail running. More info at www.kaggakamma.co.za.
Bring your mountain bike, but be aware there will be sand. Riders will have a fabulous time along a route network of over 30km of ‘purpose-built trail’ inside the reserve boundaries. It’s necessary to qualify that, because much of the route has actually been designed for quad bikes, which makes for very different riding to pure single-track.
Tip #2 is to ride your tyres as soft as you can to compensate for the sand and – as mentioned – the riding is much easier after rain. Choose between a Red Trail (10km) and Black Trail (30km), both starting from the Main Lodge area, initially along a short stretch of jeep track before you turn right onto the quad-bike trail.
Despite the sand, the Red Route is flat enough to suit average riders, while the 30km option will give more advanced mountain bikers a good workout. Your total ascent is limited to just on 300m along the latter route, so expect to spend a good 2 hours or more in the saddle.
Kagga Kamma’s network of self-guided hiking trails and walks offer an interesting alternative, and in my opinion, a much more interesting ride. Obviously you want to stick to trail etiquette and give way to hikers, but this makes for a great way to experience the magic of this wilderness up close and personal.
Miniscule fynbos blooms, conophytums and lichens growing upon barren sandstone outcrops, and the stillness is occasionally pierced by the call of the ‘kelkiewyn’ (or sand grouse). Here you can truly recharge your soul as you meander amidst the extra-terrestrial rock outcrops with no other human in sight.
In addition to the hiking trails – ranging in distance from 4km – 9km – there is a solid 100km or more in access roads and 4×4 tracks to explore. Katbakkies Pass makes for a special climb, but the roads are extremely corrugated, and will test your patience (and your ass!) on any multi-day outride through the region.
Off the Bike
Kagga Kamma’s three self-guided hiking trails makes for superb bird watching, fynbos smelling and rock art hunting. Plus, it is an absolute paradise for trail runners, too, with drama and panorama unfolding around every corner. You might want to keep your eyes on the trail, though, because the technical rock features are sure to test your footwork.
The crisp and clear air, relatively high elevation and lack of incidental light means the reserve is a world-class astronomical destination. Star gazers and astro-photographers travel here from around the world to set up their tripods, and it sometimes feels as if you can swirl your hand around inside the Milky Way.
Those keen to explore in their own off-road vehicles can do so once they’ve filled out a necessary permit, with more than 100km of sandy jeep-track waiting to entice you. Don’t expect a wildlife bounty, but you’re guaranteed some interesting animal encounters, especially if you keep an eye out for reptiles and raptors.
Guided trips in their game-viewer vehicles will follow in the footsteps of the San people who lived here for more than 6000 years, with some superb examples of their rock paintings hidden within protected sandstone crevices and overhangs. The Kagga Kamma guides are your key to the rich history and ancient traditions of this magical place.
Best Time of Year
Kagga Kamma is a place of extremes. Winters can be icy with temperatures regularly dipping below freezing point and heavy snow dumps every year. Summers are sizzling, with temperatures easily nudging into the high 40°C range. Autumn and spring are thus the best times to visit to catch the milder weather, but expect the days to be warm and the nights to be cold nonetheless.
The best route is via Ceres, a farming community approximately 2 hours from Cape Town. Follow the R303 from here for 30km to Op-Die-Berg and then turn right at the Kaggakamma sign about half an hour later. A good gravel road winds into the Swartuggens Conservancy from the plains, and will get you to Katbakkies Pass after 18km. Again, look out for a signboard to the reserve on your left and keep going until you reach the entrance gate.
|FAST FACTS BLOCK
||KAGGA KAMMA TRAILS|
|GRADING:||Intermediate (very sandy)|
||Options up to 30km|
|CONFIGURATION:||Circular and return options|
|TERRAIN:||Jeep tracks, quad bike routes and hiking trails|
|START POINT||Main Lodge|
|MAP:||Available at the Reception|
|GPS COORDINATES:||32º44’45” S; 19º33’46” E|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||No day visitors allowed|
||Restaurant, bar and shop; range of premium accommodation|
||Limited to zero signal; free WiFi at reception and restaurant
||Thick sand, extreme climate and possible reptile encounters|
||www.kaggakamma.co.za / Telephone +27-21 872 4343|
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