Jeanne-Louise Wiese had to admit she knew precious little about Calitzdorp before her recent stint in the area to consult on the flood damaged roads. She’d thought it was just a Route 62 town on the way to Oudtshoorn or a place to buy Port but she soon found out it was so much more.
Well buy Port was all we did on our first trip through the town, and of course remind myself why I never eat/ate/will eat tripe. But for those who enjoy the acquired taste, you can pop into Dorpshuis restaurant and enjoy some curry infused intestines, or just be normal and eat steak. The town is surrounded by the Swartberg Mountains in the north, Rooiberge to the South and the mountains of the Huisriver Pass to the West. This mountainous landscape lends itself to floods, droughts and extreme weather which can offer the traveller very hot temperatures in summer to snow clad mountaintops in winter.
If you really want to know what drew me to this place you would have to pack your “roughing it” attitude and paraffin lamps, before heading out of Calitzdorp towards Ladismith on the R62. Turn off at Matjiesvlei, before you get to Huis River pass and get lost in this scenic valley. I stumbled across this road on a work trip and was very impressed by the self-catering facilities on offer. The beauty of this place is that it’s completely hidden and tucked away at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains. If you follow the Gamka River that leads to the Gamkapoort Dam, you can enjoy stunning sunsets and the glorious Karoo night sky, completely untarnished by the city’s smog and streetlights. It’s the perfect place for magnificent night rides.
Matjiesvlei is also situated close to the famous Bosch Luys Kloof Nature Reserve. The area possesses the highest level of natural beauty in respect of geology, fossils, botanical value, scenic beauty and potential mountain biking trails. The area is very well known for its indigenous flora and especially the 200 species of succulents which only occur in this area and nowhere else on earth. With a floral diversity ranging from Renosterveld, Klein swartberg fynbos, succulent Karoo, Rivierbosveld, Gannaveld and Spekboomveld there is never a lack of stimulation for the senses. You can also contribute to a reduction in your carbon footprint. Since you will already be cycling through the area, you can also be assured that all the carbon dioxide that you exhale as well as your exhaust fumes on your way there will be absorbed by the Spekboom plant, which occur in abundance there. Spekboom can store 20 kilograms of carbon per square meter of vegetation or 200 tons of carbon per hectare, which is equivalent to taking 37 cars off the road for a year. It would be quite interesting if one could measure the carbon footprint of a race such as the Expedition Blackberg to take place in this area in May 2014, when almost all the carbon emitted during that weekend could potentially be captured by these plants, since they are abundant in this arid environment.
The benefit of being able to travel in such a conservation focused area is that it is very likely that you can spot animals like the Cape Hyrax and Verreaux Eagle, Kudu, Duiker, Klipspringer, black-backed jackal, caracal, leopard, Cape baboons, Genet and Honey Badgers, amongst many other species. The selection of sedimentary rock types in the area include the Table Mountain, Bokkeveld group and Witteberg group make for interesting rock formation which can be seen in the valleys which has been eroded and shaped by the rivers which has been flowing there for thousands of years. When these rivers flow through the Great Swartberge in the Klein Karoo, the Buffels and Olifants Rivers join in and eventually becomes the Gouritz River which flows into the Indian Ocean near Mossel Bay. So it is interesting to note that all the water collected in these mountain catchment areas eventually lead to the ocean and supply drinking, irrigation, sewage and recreational water to hundreds of communities along the way. So always be mindful not to discard waste and pollutants into the water streams.
Just like these interlinking streams, the trails around there is simply never-ending, but always remember to ask for permission to cycle on private land when coming across a gate or fence. I think some members of our cycling community have done enough to scar the reputation of road cyclists recently, so let’s not do the same for mountain biking.