3 day guided hiking trail in the Swartberg Mountains – Max 10 persons minim 6
Die Hel in the Gamkakloof Valley was first inhabited by farmers in 1830. It was accessible only by foot until 1963 when a road was built winding from the Swartberg Pass down into this remote valley.
Before the road, a ‘donkey trail’ over the Swartberg Mountain from Calitzdorp to Die Hel was the only commercial life line with the outside world. This historic ‘donkey trail’ starts at Erika Calitz’s family farm Living Waters near Calitzdorp.
Some facts about the Donkey Trail
• Total distance covered on foot, approximately 26 kilometers
• Gradient not rated but expect moderate to strenuous, no rock climbing required,
you MUST BE FIT to complete this trail
• Highest altitude reached during the trail is 1523m at Wyenek. Depart from
altitude of 350m at Living Waters
• Do not count on having cell phone reception
Donkey Trail Itinerary
Day 1: Tour guests are asked to arrive before 17:00 on their start date. You are invited to arrive earlier and enjoy the unique architecture and atmosphere of Living Waters Mountain Estate, meet the donkeys and the guides. A safety and packing briefing will be held at 17:00. Dinner is served at approximately 19:00.
Day 2: 14.3 kilometers, 7-8 hours (moderate to strenuous hike). Breakfast and departure times vary depending on weather conditions, season and group fitness. Generally, breakfast (a substantial but not heavy, continental breakfast) is served at 06:00 and departure scheduled for 07:00. Energy snacks are provided during the hike, as well as a light lunch and dinner at Wyenek, our overnight stop for night 2.
Guests need to pack personal toiletries, extra clothing for one night and a second day’s hike, as well as cameras, binoc, hats, and anything else you think you may need during the 2 day hike. Each guest has a 5kg allocation to be carried by the donkeys. Should you need to take more than this allocation, please bring a day pack. The balance of your personal items (for night 3 and day 4) will be waiting for you at the accommodation in Gamkaskloof.
The donkeys return back to base camp on Day 3 morning with all refuse from our night on the mountain. Guests have the opportunity to send up to 5kg of used personal items (i.e. dirty clothing from day one) back to Living Waters with the donkeys.
Visitors must prepare themselves for a night in the wilderness. The camp at Wyenek comprises four spacious 2 man tents for guests, which are pitched by the guides on arrival. A stretcher, camping mattress and sleeping bag with separate linen inner is available for each visitor. Ablution facilities are basic.
Day 3: 6km (or an extra 9 optional) 7-8 hours Please take note, that any items you need on the mountain (night 2) AND in Gamkaskloof (night 3) for example toothbrush, pyjamas and personal medication, will need to be carried by yourself on this day’s hike (mountain camp to Gamkaskloof) or an extra set must be sent with the support vehicle. Your personal goods for the last night (in Gamkaskloof), are driven in for you by our support vehicles. We suggest that you bring extra clean clothing, extra pair of pyjamas, etc. Most people send their dirty clothing from the first day’s hike and pyjamas, back to Living Waters with the donkeys, making their second day’s hike very light.
After a night on the mountain, we suggest a slightly slower morning with a light breakfast. We depart by 9am (once again depending on fitness of group and weather conditions) and walk 6 kilometers across the northern slopes of the Swartberg toward Gamkaskloof. We then enjoy the spectacular views from above Elandspad into “the Hell” and a picnic lunch in the shade.
Our route then follows the breathtaking road down into Gamkaskloof to Cape Nature’s lovely, restored guest cottages. This is easy walking, though sometimes hot. Guests cross the river several times and enjoy the shade of the trees lining the road. We walk through the property of Annetjie Joubert the last remaining original resident of Gamkaskloof. Guests are welcome to stop at Annetjie’s unique shop and purchase home made produce or enjoy a cup of coffee or a cold beer (make sure you have some cash available). This is a good opportunity to speak to a “Klower” about the days of old in Gamkaskloof.
Our friendly staff host a braai for the last evening around a magnificent fire.
Day 4: After breakfast, we visit Cape Nature’s information center which offers excellent information to determine whether what you have heard during your hike is fact, legend or fantasy. We depart from Gamkaskloof at 9:00 a.m. Estimated time of arrival at Living Waters 13:00.
Our estimated 100km journey back to Living Waters is one of the most incredible road trips available in South Africa. Visitors marvel at the pioneering road building feats of the men of yesteryear. Passengers afraid of heights will need to ensure that they do not sit at a window.
We often encounter a variety of animals along this road, including kudu, klipspringer, dassies, baboons and an abundance of bird life. It is a game drive in it’s own right. There are at least 3 male leopards in this territory, so we keep a close look out for them, each group hoping they will be amongst the fortunate few to, spot one of these elusive but ever present, master predators.
Upon arrival at Living Waters, tea and sandwiches are served as our final farewell.
QUESTIONNAIRE FOR HIKERS prior to walking – Please provide your full name
1. Do you have any health considerations that we should know about
(e.g. asthma, heart problem, diabetes, allergies such as bee sting).
2. As we will be catering for you, we need to know of any food limitations
3. Do you have any particular interests in this area (e.g. a specific mammal,
plant or bird, local architecture)?
4. Will this be your first visit to Gamkaskloof, “die Hel”?
5. Did you know that you will be hiking through one of only 34 biodiversity
hotspots on the planet?
6. Where did you hear about the Donkey Trail
7. Which is the last trail that you walked and when?
8. Doctor’s certificate might be requested
What does it cost and what does it include?
Our rate includes all meals, trail snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, 3 nights accommodation including bedding (sleeping bags on one night) and soap, shampoo and towels, guides, CapeNature conservation fees, comfortable transportation back to the starting point (over the Swartbergpas) and of course the donkeys to carry your personal items.
Maximum size of group 10, minimum 6. Individuals and groups of less than six can be matched up with other small group bookings. Let us know your preferred dates and we will see what we can do.
What to bring
Hiking boots and socks
Light slipslops for on the mountain
(no barefoot at the rest camp on the mountain)
Insect repellant (mainly against ticks)
Swimwear (towels are provided)
Personal medication (we have first aid but not a dispensary)
Day pack rucksack
No firearms or narcotics
Cash for curios and local preserves/wine/port
3 layers of upper clothing for hiking days (t-shirt, fleece and waterproof)
Preferably long pants (the night on the mountain can be VERY cold)
Every precaution is taken to ensure the safety of our guests however indemnities will be signed prior to hiking. The trail traverses a remote, wilderness area which can only be accessed by emergency helicopter services during daylight hours and in favorable weather conditions.
We have confirmation from tracks and signs that leopards, though rarely seen, make use of the Donkey Trail. We also share the mountain with other potentially dangerous animals such as snakes, honey badgers, porcupines, baboons, bees, ticks and spiders. Our guides are trained in basic first aid.
The climate is generally moderate but temperatures can drop by 15-20 degrees as we climb to Wyenek camp (good news for hot summer days), in winter months, below zero is to be expected. Donkey Trail management will monitor weather conditions for 14 days prior to your booking departure and inform you of any scenarios that could require a postponement of your tour.
How to find us
From Cape Town, we suggest the R62 via Barrydale to Calitzdorp. From Garden Route, Langkloof or Beaufort West, via Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp.
Once in Calitzdorp you will need to turn north into Calitz Street towards Groenfontein. From the turn off in town, measure 15 kilometers. The road becomes a dirt road and crosses the river several times before you reach Living Waters farm.