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  • Klein Swartberg

Sightseeing in the Seweweeks...

Bitis rubida - Red Adder

Having lived at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, situated between the towns of Barrydale and Montagu in the Little Karoo, we have spent many hours flying along the R62 headed past the towns of Ladismith, Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. As one nears Ladismith the majesty of the Swartberg Mountain Range begins to truly make an impression with the peaks of Towerkop looming above you. It was a site we knew well, having spent many mornings at Sanbona watching the sun make its appearance over the large mountains in the distance: the Anysberg, Touwsberg and Swartberg ranges.

Seweweekspoort R62 Turnoff

So, as one begins to pick up speed having cruised through the small town of Zoar, we would often stare at the Seweweekspoort turnoff into the Klein Swartberg and feel the itch to cancel plans and hang a left. To turn from whatever responsibilities were drawing us elsewhere and disappear into the mountains. Sadly, we never did.

So, when we were visiting Alouise’s parents during the Christmas break just outside of Barrydale, it seemed like the perfect time to right that wrong.

The Klein Swartberg, forms the western limit of the Swartberg mountain range and the name belies the fact that five of the eight highest peaks in the Western Cape are found in its formations. The peaks Towerkop, Seweweekspoortpiek, Peak Plaats, Steenslang, Toorkop and Elandsberg are all above 2000 meters and they are all within fifteen kilometers of Ladismith. One can imagine just how spectacular the sandstone formations of these Cape Fold Mountains are.

As it was the height of summer (temperatures cranked up to 37°C on the day) we did not plan to spend too much time on foot in the mountains but rather to spend the morning on an #EcoExploration. Getting to know the lie of the land as well as some of the locals (two legged) and to scratch about and see what was on offer. As we expected to spend most of our time in the vehicle we decided to explore the road linking Ladismith in the Little Karoo to Lainsburg, a town further north in the Great Karoo. The Seweweekspoort Pass suited our needs perfectly.

Seweweekspoort Sandstone Formations

Thomas Baines is often described as the person responsible for the most elegantly built mountain passes in South Africa and the Seweweekspoort Pass is another of his masterpieces.

One winds along a river valley with numerous crossing while slowly gaining five hundred meters of elevation over the course of its 17 kms.

Swartberg Nature Reserve is managed by CapeNature

The Pass winds through the Swartberg Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site which is managed by CapeNature.

The mountains have burnt recently and the system is beginning to recover well from what appears to have been a very hot burn.

While enjoying the various bird species in the pass, photographing Rock Hyraxes and flipping the odd stone to see what lay beneath, we slowly but surely began to realise that this was an area where we would be spending a lot more time. The road is incredibly well maintained. The crags that rise above one are awe inspiring. The river banks are lush and beautiful waterfalls surely make the pass spectacular after rains.

Eventually we exited the pass and begin travelling along the north facing slopes of the Klein Swartberg, where we came across a sign board for the Zandrivier farm that offered accommodation and had the owners cell phone number displayed. Alouise decided to make a call to see if we could get permission to explore some of the area on foot and were we glad that she did! The owner, Ben, was very friendly, helpful and accommodating. We explained the purpose of our #EcoExploration and he then recommended that we park at the Stone Cottage and walk into the mountains from there.

Keir climbing the mountain behind Stone Cottage on Zandrivier Farm.

The whole Seweweekspoort and the north facing slopes burnt in the last two years. Though the north facing slopes recover far slower after fire the area still showed plenty of signs of life and we enthusiastically begin to clamber up the boulders and crags to get more elevation.

Once we had gained 200 odd meters vertically we happened across a true gem. One of the dwarf adder family, a Red Adder (Bitis rubida) sunning itself in the early morning light. This was the first of the dwarf adders we had ever come across and excitement levels were very high.

Those that know me well will remember that I have been nursing a fear of snakes for many years, but thanks to the excellent influence of Cliff and Suretha Dorse, I am now on the mend and hoping to encounter as many of the dwarf adders as I can in 2017. So, we were over the moon to have located this individual and to be able to get some photographs as well.

A quick phone call to Ben to thank him for the experience led to a discussion of some of the other finds that have been made in the vicinity on the farm, including a very localized endemic butterfly, the Elandsberg Opal. This is truly an exceptional working farm that has spectacular biodiversity and a landowner committed to protecting it. We will undoubtedly be spending a few nights in Stone Cottage with its stunning mountain views very soon.

Winding our way back into the Seweweekspoort, photographing the most trusting of Southern Rock Agama’s (Agama Atra), we stopped regularly to see what dragon- and damselflies we could come across. This is quickly become a fascinating obsession and provides hours of fun trying to get decent photographs that aid the identification process when relaxing around the fire late at night.

All in all, it was a spectacular morning and as the mercury levels rose drastically and we bid the pass farewell we began our homeward journey.

But we will be back.

And soon.

We have now seen the area and are transfixed.

A few trips will undoubtedly be planned for 2017 and hopefully we can make the acquaintance of some of the areas specials: Protea aristata, the Elandberg Opal butterfly (Chrysoritis adonis aridimontis), the Swartberg Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion atromontanum) and the Swartberg Leaf-toed Gecko (Afrogecko swartbergensis).

Please visit our gallery for more photographs...

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