On a recent ‘Karoo to Coast’ Tour, I visited the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve to do the 15km Leopard Trap Day Hike.
Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve is situated in the Bokkeveld Mountains, 16kms from Nieuwoudtville in the Northern Cape. The reserve offers a variety of hiking trail options: from day-hikes to a full seven day trail. The terrain is extremely varied, and provides wonderful views over the Oorlogskloof River canyon and the Knersvlakte below the escarpment.
The area was once a stronghold for the San Bushmen who hunted and foraged in the fertile valleys. The Khoi people grazed their herds on the plains below. When the Dutch colonists began exploring the Western regions from the late 1600’s, they soon came into conflict with the Khoi and San people, usually over the subject of cattle ownership. The reserve gets its name (“oorlog” means war), from a battle between trekboer commandos and a Khoi group led by Captain Klipheuvel in 1739.
The Reserve was established in 1983, and gradually developed into the hiking paradise that it is today. The area is fascinating from a geological perspective, as the Oorlogskloof River has cut through the top layers of Table Mountain sandstone and quartzite, exposing the softer valley shale and limestone. The trail layouts take hikers past, or through, some spectacular rock formations. The Mediterranean climate (winter rainfall), as well as the fact that Oorlogskloof lies in the transition zone between the Fynbos and Karoo Biomes, have produced the exceptionally high diversity of plant species in the area. The fauna list has 36 mammal species, including leopards, and 94 types of birds.
The Leopard Trap Day Hike starts from the camping area at Groot Tuin, with a chance to fill bottles at the Varkfontein spring. After crossing the plateau, the trail drops down into Saaikloof and passes through a tranquil Wild Olive forest grove. This is a good place to pause and enjoy the songs of among others, the Southern Boubou and Cape Robin. A short steep climb brings one up to the fantastic rock headland aptly named Spelonkkop (caving peak). Here the trail takes an intricate route through the canyons, caves and cracks that characterize Cape sandstone. Good fun indeed!
On the eastern side of Spelonkkop an excellent coffee-break ledge can be found, which has a panoramic view over the Oorlogskloof canyon. We were lucky to be able to observe a troop of baboons foraging peacefully in the valley below. A detour down to the valley floor provides an opportunity for a swim in the river, but be prepared for a steep pull back up to the escarpment!
The trail continues along the rim of the Rietvlei river canyon, passing the stone leopard trap which gives the trail its name. A good lunch spot can be found on a rocky promontory high above the canyon. The next section is relatively level, but the terrain is very rough and rocky. The trail is very well marked, and leading hikers right to the western edge of the Bokkeveld escarpment. The views over the Knersvlakte are breath-taking, but do watch your footing as the trail is very close to the edge here. The return journey winds along the escarpment edge, before turning inland across the plateau, back down through Saaikloof, and eventually re-join the outward route.
The Leopard Trap Day Hike is, in the writer’s opinion, an excellent day out, in a spectacular area of pristine nature. The route is rough and demanding, and can take up to 10 hours if including a detour to the canyon floor. Hikers should be reasonably fit, and well equipped with all-weather gear, food and water. For permits and more information, please phone Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve on (027) 218 1159.