Have you ever heard someone say they’ve been to Hel, and enjoyed it? Well I can happily say I’ve been to Die Hel and back, and enjoyed every bit of it!
Now, you might be thinking, that’s not the most attractive name of a place to visit, but don’t let that put you off! It may be quite a trip to get there, but once you’re there, you’ll never want to leave.
On a visit to two of Cape Nature’s incredible reserves, one of which was Gamkaskloof, otherwise known as Die Hel, I got to spend some time in this remote and arid region, and get a sense of what life must have been like there when the first people arrived.
Part of what made this journey special, was the vehicle that we were fortunate enough to travel in.
Land Rover Cape Town were kind enough to lend us a brand new Range Rover Velar for the trip which just added an extra dynamic to the entire trip. I was slightly hesitant as to how the Velar would handle the rough roads going down to Die Hel, but I was overwhelmingly surprised by it’s off-road presence and handling.
SCARLET, OUR BEAUTIFUL RED RANGE ROVER VELAR ON THE SWARTBERG PASS
The first people to have explored the Swartberg area were the San, and parts of their history here can be found in rock paintings and artifacts. They survived the area by hunting, fishing and foraging, using tools that they were able to make from the natural resources in the area. This included using ostrich eggs and tortoise shells as containers.
There are varied stories about the discovery of this valley by Europeans, some dating back to 1787, but the first permanent residents were here from the 1830s. The first families to reside in this area were Afrikaner Cattle farmers, namely the Cordiers, Marais, De Vries, Mostert and Nel families.
Due to their isolation they had a very subsistence livelihood, and for more than 100 years after their first settlement, the area was only accessible on foot or by horseback. Talk about luxury then we we’re able to travel in a Range Rover! The Otto du Plessis Road that runs via the Swartberg Pass and through Elandspad was constructed over 2 years, from March 1960 to Aug 1962 and cost over R30 000, which in today’s terms is over R2.7million.
ENJOYING THE SPLENDID VIEWS OVER THE ELANDSPAD LEADING DOWN TO DIE HEL
With the construction of the pass, it meant access to the outside world was much more accessible for the residents of Die hel, and as a result many moved away. With a severe drought in the 1970s, most of the subsistence farmers were forced to sell their land, much of which was bought up buy the state over the course of the next 30 years.
The largest portion of the Gamkaskloof now forms part of the Swartberg Naure Reserve, which is managed by Cape Nature, and was declared a national monument in 1997.
KOORT CORDIER COTTAGE, AND ENJOYING THE FIRE AT DIE HEL
We stayed at the Koort Cordier Cottage as shown above, and definitely has some of the best views of the surrounding valleys! Waking up in the morning and stepping out you’re surrounded by peaks that have been drizzled with Spekboom, as the green plant engulfs the top layers of the dry mountains. Sipping freshly brewed coffee, the sun heating up the ground, and enjoying these views is what makes a visit here so special.
It’s not often that you would find someone longing for Die Hel, but it was difficult for us to leave that place. The absolute peace and quite, and the feeling of escape is what a weekend away from the city should feel like. The drive down is not only breathtakingly beautiful, but knowing that you’re only a few hours out of Cape Town, is what makes this country so incredible.
WHAT WOULD THIS VIEW BE, WITHOUT SOME GIN & TONIC!
The kind of places that not many people know about, are the kind of places that are worth visiting.
Cruising along those winding roads through the mountains make you realise the amount of time and effort spent to inhabit this desolate place, and how thankful were we for that!