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Western Cape 2018: New Year with Friends and Birds


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Next stop was Karoo NP. Several trip reports covered this area, and its landscape beauties. It was easy to put it on our itinerary.


The shortest route from Wilderness to Karoo NP would be using Road 12 through Swaartberg Mountains. Also because on Tripadvisor I have found notice that the Swaartberg Pass road was closed for maintenance. But what I have also read on the internet about Swaartberg Pass lured me toward it. Thus the news that major work is done, and that the pass is open on weekends, made my day! Why I was so intrigued about Swaartberg Pass?! These two links might give you an answer:

about driving the road: http://www.dangerousroads.org/africa/south-africa/939-swartberg-pass-south-africa.html

about history of the road: http://www.swartbergmountaintours.co.za/history.html


Side note: when we will be back to Western Cape I will try to check-out more of the drives from this list: https://insideguide.co.za/cape-town/mountain-passes-western-cape/ :)!


And one other thing also played an important role; close to the road between Oudtshoorn and Princ Albert is the site of the largest cave system in South Africa: Cango Caves.



Coming from the country that is home to the best karst cave in the world (undoubtedly :D), visiting other countries caves is kind of a "must do" for us. To compare them to our jewell, and to reinforce our preferences toward Postojna Cave.


Cango Caves is a heavily visited attraction, specially for locals. It is recommended to book your visit weeks in advance. There are basically two type of tours: Standard and Adventure. We have opted for first one, due to time limitations (:rolleyes:). More about the Canogo Caves can be found here: http://www.cango-caves.co.za .


On arrival we have found the parking lot to be almost full; luckily our reservations were found quickly and we have got the tickets for the 11:00 o'clock tour. Photos are below; one thing has to be mentioned: our lady guide. There were English speaking and German speaking groups and we have joined German speaking as it was smaller. Lead by a lady guide. Great voice and easy to understand and witty comments. Grand finale at the end of the tour: she sings the national anthem!! What a treat! So at the end of the tour I have looked for her, not to give her a tip (you know me already, I do not tip!) but to pay her for her extra service she did for us :).


Now to the photos with comments.


Waiting before entering the caves



Layout of the caves



Grand theatre



Wonders of nature











Jabba The Hutt






Your pick is ...




At the end of the visit/tour, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of both the cave(s) and the guiding and overall organisation of the visit. Postojna Cave still have no match but Cango Caves have excelled our expectations, and were much more fit to compete for the top spot as any other cave we have visited until now.

Edited by xelas
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 Beautiful photos of the caves @xelas! And your vivid description of the Kingfisher Country House brings back good memories. We stayed in exactly the same room....i

Edited by PeterHG
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After this special visit we have continued our drive on road R328 towards Prince Albert town on the other side of the Swaartberg Pass. The road on south side of the pass was gravel but relatively OK, so I have expected to be worst on the other side of the pass. But it looked like the maintenance job was done on both sides of the pass, as the condition of the road surface was even better on its north part.


Traffic was slow, with only a couple of cars, all of them us tourists. Some of those (OK, one specific car with one specific driver) should not be allowed to drive a car on the parking lot of a SPAR supermarket less so on the windy road like the one over the Swaartbergs. But luckily for both I have managed to avoid a contact with the other lunatic vehicle. Scary moments for me, I am quite happy Zvezda was distracted by my loud cursing when the situation was evolving.


Driving over the pass is also popular with bikers. The ones we have seen were accompanied by a car; not a bad idea as on our way down (towards Prince Albert) we have stopped where an older guy has parked his off-road Yamaha. Flat tire was the reason, and he told us his partner in the car went to the town to get a new one (or to fix the ones that have been damaged before). He has been waiting there for couple of hours and will have to wait a bit longer still. biking has its pleasant sides but waiting for the new tyre (and then changing it, specially if the rear one) is not among those.


Comparing the two towns on each side of the pass, Oudtshoorn on south and Prince Albert on north, the later looks much nicer and much more inviting as an overnight stop.


About the half way up the pass



Not yet at the top but place to stop and relax



Much of the road is like this



Happy bikers ... if no flat tyre occurs



Some views from the road







Well reconstructed road towards Price Albert



At the bottom of the mountain



"Will they stop for the ice cream?"




Back into the plains Prince Albert is the first town on the route, and there we have decided to get a short break, also because we have spotted a sign that cannot be overlooked. The Lazy Lizard coffee shop with ice cream parlour, what better way to celebrate the conquer of the Swaartberg Pass! BTW the ice cream was fabulous, among the best we have had ... ever! If anyone reading this will drive through Prince Albert town, not stopping for an ice cream at Lazy Lizard is an unexcusable mistake. Trust my words.


Ice cream here!



Yes we did!




Edited by xelas
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Ha! you should try driving the Swartberg pass in the fog @xelas much more scary when you can't see ahead of you or the side of the road :wacko:

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Oh dear, I have misspelled the name of the pass; only 1 "a" = Swartberg Pass is indeed correct name. Anyway, I can imagine driving it in fog or rain might be a completely different "walk in the park". And most probably the road condition was much improved with recent maintenance works :).

Edited by xelas
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What a great trip, and I'm getting my South Africa fix. Loved the cave pics and the landscapes, but the Turaco....ohhh, the Turaco, that's a beautiful bird. And not to mention, with a red under-skirt!

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Peter Connan

As my mother's parents lived in Prins Albert for many years, i have visited the town and driven the Swartberg pass a number of times, and have loved it every time. And when little, we used to walk and play in the "lyvore" (the little canals next to the streets).


But no visit to this area is complete without also driving the other route across the mountains. Meiringspoort is in it's own way just as beautiful!

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3 hours ago, Peter Connan said:

Meiringspoort is in it's own way just as beautiful!


Duly noted and already inserted into our "Western Cape 20xx" itinerary!!

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Karoo NP was easily booked through Sanparks web site. I have no idea which chalet we will be appointed but as we arrived still early in the afternoon, one on the outer perimeter was allocated to us. The chalet is very comfortable, even a bit too much for giving you a proper "being in the wilderness" feeling: A/C, fridge, even a SAT TV ... Plenty of space inside and outside, with huge braai area (never used :wacko:) and with excellent sunrise view over the mountains as a backdrop.


Backdrop to die for



Our Chalet #34



Sleeping room with A/C



Mornings have started here




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The best way how we can describe the way Karoo presented itself to us is this description: Plenty Of Nothing! But in a positive way. The area of the National Park is vast, and has two very distinctive regions: the flats and the mountains. Not that there were no wildlife at all; just in smaller groups, and at larger distances then we have been accustomed to in other parks we have visited so far in Africa.


Another Tortoise to watch over us?!




There are three basic routes for all type of vehicles, and many more 4x4 only tracks. This is how it looks on the map that hangs out of the reception area:




As you can see most of the drives are 4x4 tracks only (dotted lines on the left side of the map). We have done only one such track, the Afsaal Loop as part of the Potlekkertjie Loop (H3); but only half of this loop was done as the road surface was quite bad, and there was very little to be seen on the plains.



On our arrival day we have had enough time to drive the shorter loop on H2. Again, although more green then the area around H3, it revealed not much of its secrets to us. Part of the H2 loop road is paved as it is the entrance road. But the majority of it is gravel, although in better condition then H2 was. On the far end of the loop is Bulkraal picnic spot. This is a well equipped picnic area with many braai places and even a large pool. No people were there at that late afternoon. I was hoping for more birdlife to take advantage of green and water but ...


Driving from the entrance gate



Plenty of nothing



Ostrich lost on the plains



Private braai places at Bulkraal



Must be very visited when the heat is on





Edited by xelas
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Our only full day at Karoo we started early in order to beat the heat and to find some wildlife while still fresh outside. Took the Potlekkertjie Loop till the turn-off for Afsaal Loop. On map about 25 kilometers looks like a short drive ... in reality, it was a gruelling bumping drive with, well, plenty of nothing to be seen along the road. OK, almost nothing. There were rumours of a lion pride somewhere deeper in the 4x4 territory but I have had zero interest to drive deeper into that part of the park. So it was a slow day for wildlife photography, but not a completely wasted one.


A lonely springbook



An Eland couple



A Gemsbok family



Cape Mountain Zebra



Red Hartebeest group







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While the H3 road up to Afsaal Loop turn-off was plain boring (disclaimer: these are very personal comments, based on one only time driving that road!), the 4x4 Afsaal track offered a bit more adrenaline driving. Here it is important to mention that our Renault Dacia was a 4WD vehicle, but I do not trust much to such driveline. It did have enough of a ground clearance for this particular track but don't know how it would handle the other tracks.

Afsaal Loop started with a small waterhole where we parked the car for nearly an hour, waiting for any mammals to come quenching its thirst. Not much luck with them but luckily birds were coming and going.


Female Kudu lurking out of the bush



Afsaal Cottage at the far end of the loop ... very solitude location



A young Steenbok



Cape Oryx aka Gemsbok



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We came back to the camp at around 11 o'clock; the breakfast was included in our rate but according to the posted info it is served only till 10:00 am. So I've said to Zvezda, it is already late for it. Zvezda replied:"Its Africa time here!" and indeed, we were seated and served a tasty breakfast! Now that is a positive customer approach.


After eating it we decided to finish the Potlekkertjie Loop, only starting in the opposite direction. The aptly named Klipspringer Pass is the highlight of that drive, and we have seen Klipspringers there. On top of the pass is the viewing platform, Rooiwalle lookout point, over the deep canyon. The tarred road ends there, for the most part is gravel again. Only other section with tar is close to the almost at halfway of the loop where a second lookout point is located.


Heart of Karoo








Nicely paved road over Klipspringer Pass



Seen along the road were Red hartebeest, zebra, oryx and omnipresented Rock Hyrax










Dolerite banks as seen from Rooiwalle lookout point



The sides of the canyon were steep and rocky so seein an oryx how it navigates the steep incline in the best manner of an ibex was quite a surprise sighting.






Half way through the loop the mountains gives way to plains again, road decent into the plains. There is where the second picnic place is located. The flowering acacia trees provides the much need shade and some colour in otherwise very uniform coloured landscape.


Back toward plains



Green & Yellow @ Doornhoek picnic place




Edited by xelas
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Hello @xelas we were 3 nights in the Karoo NP in Feb 2017 and apart from the splendid tortoise sightings,and mountain Zebra sightings it was very quiet! We thought it was because the rains had been very poor.the chalet and restaurant was very good value and we heard lion and saw mountain reedbuck from the chalet. We also did the 4x4 loop you mentioned in a 2x4 Nissan X trail.We did prefer mountain Zebra np

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Great landscape shots, and I do love those caves. I had to laugh reading about your De Hoop guide frustration because I could see you hulking out in my mind.:P


Your Steenbok is a Reedbuck surely?

Edited by michael-ibk
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I'm really enjoying your report and lovely photos @xelas! Your Oryx in the canyon looks like a Kudu to me? :-)

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Great photos of a region I haven't seen too much of. Everything looks incredibly pleasant.

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2 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

Your Steenbok is a Reedbuck surely?


A Mountain Reedbook?! Oh, that is a lifer then :):D!! Thanks, Michael. I owe you one Imperial :lol:.

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1 hour ago, Davesg said:

Your Oryx in the canyon looks like a Kudu to me? :-)


Now, after enlarging the photos, indeed it looks more like a Kudu also to me :unsure:!! Thanks for correcting my mistake, Dave!

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1 hour ago, Marks said:

Great photos of a region I haven't seen too much of. Everything looks incredibly pleasant.


Everything ... but the H3 road while in the plains.

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11 minutes ago, xelas said:


Now, after enlarging the photos, indeed it looks more like a Kudu also to me :unsure:!! Thanks for correcting my mistake, Dave!


Even the Kudu was tired of the landscape on the plains and decided to explore the mountains Alex...very unusual for a plains Antelope!:D

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Peter Connan

Actually, Kudu is one of the few large antelope that seems to like fairly rugged terrain. Especially the big old bulls are very reclusive and seek out tough terrain.


What is unusual is seeing them at it, normally one just finds their droppings...

Edited by Peter Connan
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3 hours ago, Peter Connan said:

Actually, Kudu is one of the few large antelope that seems to like fairly rugged terrain. Especially the big old bulls are very reclusive and seek out tough terrain.


What is unusual is seeing them at it, normally one just finds their droppings...


You're right Peter but normally in thick scrub and woodlands, not on cliff edges. :D

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This is another great Alex & Zvezda report in the making!

The pictures of the Cango Caves are stunning and brings back memories of when we visited them on our first ever trip to Africa in 2003.

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Thanks, Angela! You should visit also Škocjanske Jame while in Slovenia! Maybe next visit?

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