Gamtoos River Valley
The Gamtoos River Valley Quick Travel Guide
Eastern Gateway to the Baviaanskloof
Known as the vegetable basket of the Eastern Cape, the Gamtoos River Valley is not only rich in unspoilt and superb scenery but has a variety of interesting places to visit and things to do. Somewhat off the beaten track, the Gamtoos River Valley is on the eastern fringes of the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site and is the perfect place to visit for anyone looking to get back to nature and enjoy the great unspoilt outdoors. With some great country accommodation, excellent hiking, wildlife spotting, 4x4 trails and quaint country restaurants, shops and farm stalls, the Gamtoos River Valley and the Baviaanskloof are well worth a visit for anyone who enjoys country life or is simply looking to escape the hassles of everyday life.
The Gamtoos River Valley is a fantastic family holiday destination because of its great variety of outdoor activities and clean natural surroundings. Ideal for quiet evenings at rural accommodation by the campfire or braai enjoying the company of friends and family, it’s also a great spot for anyone with an interest in wildlife, hiking or just being outdoors and at one with nature.
The best time to visit the Gamtoos Valley and the Baviaanskloof is any time, as it is a good year round destination.
What you want to do whilst in the Gamtoos Valley will determine how long you spend there. For a quiet break from it all 2-3 nights will leave you feeling relaxed. For keen hikers and bird watchers and those wishing to explore more of the area and the Baviaanskloof we would recommend at least a week if not a bit more.
- Pay a visit to Hankey – the oldest town in the Gamtoos valley, this pretty town is home to the largest sundial in the southern hemisphere at over 36m across and 18m high! It is also home to the Sarah Bartmann memorial – a Khoi-San woman dubbed the Hottentot Venus who was sadly sent to France in the 18th century to appear as a circus attraction, her remains were returned to South Africa in 2002 and the service during which she was laid to rest was one of the biggest events in Hankey’s history.
- Enjoy a trip to a working citrus farm and explore the Gamtoos Valley’s main industry.
- Get back to nature in frontier country and stay at one of the many country farms or accommodation, enjoying evening braais and campfires, hiking and even outdoor swimming.
- Go on an organised 4x4 trail, there are many great 4x4 trails in the Gamtoos Valley area that take in the incredible scenery.
- Stop off at Patensie – the eastern gateway to the Baviaanskloof. This quaint little country village is a great place to rest up for a night or two with some stunning B&Bs and guest houses available, as well as being a good spot to stock up on supplies before your Baviaanskloof adventure. The great little country shops and restaurants are also well worth a visit for a tasty bite to eat and some fantastic souvenirs.
- Visit the Kouga Dam, this was the first double-arched dam engineered in South Africa and offers up some pretty awesome scenery. Along the way, look out for unique rock formations – you may even be surprised to see Queen Victoria’s profile!
Gamtoos River Valley - The Full Travel Guide
(for those who want a little more information)
Known as the vegetable basket of the Eastern Cape, the Gamtoos River Valley is not only rich in unspoilt and superb scenery but has a variety of interesting places to visit and things to do. The Gamtoos River Valley is a stunning part of the Eastern Cape and because it is slightly ‘off the beaten track’ has to some extent been overlooked. Perhaps the fact that it is not a well known tourist destination adds to its unspoilt country charm and fascination. It is an area that really should be explored and not overlooked. Steeped in fascinating history, the area was home to South Africa’s first inhabitants – the Khoi and Mfengu people.
The Gamtoos River Valley is scenically located on the eastern fringes of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness area and is the perfect place to visit for anyone looking to get back to nature and enjoy the great unspoilt outdoors. With some great country accommodation, excellent hiking, wildlife spotting, 4x4 trails and quaint country restaurants and shops, the Gamtoos River Valley and the Baviaanskloof are well worth a visit for anyone who enjoys country life or is simply looking to escape the hassles of everyday life.
The little town of Patensie – the last stop before entering the Baviaanskloof wilderness is also a great place to stop for anyone intending to do a longer trip in the Baviaanskloof. Expect a holiday with a difference – the delightful and vibrant mix of cultural influences, agriculture and nature and back to nature atmosphere almost leave you feeling as though you have stepped back to simpler times. Swim in clear streams and rivers, drive past interesting rock formations and scenic mountains, enjoy one of the many great hikes or 4x4 trails or simply relax in your accommodation or at your campsite taking in the peaceful surrounds. A visit in winter will reward you with sites of vast orchards of brightly coloured and heavily laden citrus trees of all varieties – the citrus grown in this fertile valley is the main form of export along with potatoes, vegetables, tobacco and chicory. When you have eaten citrus from this area you will be spoilt for life and nothing else can even remotely compare!
How to get to the Gamtoos Valley
There is no commercial airport in the Gamtoos Valley itself. The nearest airport is at Port Elizabeth which is around an hour and a half’s drive from the Gamtoos River Valley so you will need a car unless you are taking part in an organised tour that includes transport. For advice on travelling to the Gamtoos River Valley by car please see the section below.
When to go
The best time to visit the Gamtoos Valley and the Baviaanskloof is throughout the year. If you are keen to see the citrus trees for which the Gamtoos Valley is famous, winter is the best time to visit, however the evenings can get quite chilly so you will need to remember some warm clothes. Sometimes untarred roads in the Gamtoos and particularly the Baviaanskloof area can become inaccessible during the rainy season and it is advisable (essential for Baviaanskloof) to check in advance of any visit on road conditions.
Things to do in the Gamtoos River Valley
Hankey is the oldest town in the Gamtoos River Valley and is home to a few interesting tourist attractions. For those with an interst in history head along to the Sarah Bartmann memorial site and learn about the sad past of a Khoi-San woman dubbed the Hottentot Venus, who was sadly sent to France in the 18th century to appear as a circus attraction, her remains were returned to South Africa in 2002 and the service during which she was laid to rest was one of the biggest events in Hankey’s history. Hankey is also home to the largest sundial in the southern hemisphere some 18 metres high and the 228 metre long Philips Tunnel constructed in 1843 is an interesting site to visit. There is also a popular 9 hole golf course at Hankey where you can tee off in some pretty impressive surroundings.
Enjoy a 4x4 Trail
One great activity in the Gamtoos Valley and Baviaanskloof regions is heading off on a 4x4 Trail. This is a great way to explore the beautiful hilly surroundings and spot the local wildlife. There is often a choice of organised 4x4 trails and we would recommend this if you are not familiar with the area.
Visit Loerie and the Stinkhout Berg Nature Reserve
This is a stunning area and a great place for hiking and bird watching – don’t forget your binoculars and hiking boots! Flanked by the striking Cockscomb Mountain, the scenery is incredible and the area is well known for sightings of the elusive Knysna Loerie – a bright coloured and pretty little bird. Loerie is probably best known for its annual Naartjie Festival, which takes place during September and where naartjies (a small citrus fruit with an easily-peelable skin and easy-to-separate segments) are the big attraction, but visitors can also enjoy tasting a range of locally produced vegetables and food and there the music stage and naartjie-eating competition make for great excitement.
Wonder around the African Dawn Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary
If you are travelling to the Gamtoos Valley it is well worth visiting the African Dawn Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary positioned between Jeffrey's Bay and Port Elizabeth where you will be able to enjoy watching not only over 200 bird species but cheetahs, servals, wallabies, crocs and various buck varieties to name a few. African Dawn Wildlife Sanctuary and Endangered Species Breeding Centre is a truly beautiful bird and wildlife sanctuary which includes an endangered cat breeding program and rehabilitation centre for wild animals and birds. There are picnic and braai facilities, a restaurant and bar.
Head to the Kouga Dam
In 1967 the Kouga dam was built which was the first double-arched dam engineered in South Africa – well worth a visit as it offers some impressive scenery. Along the way, look out for unique rock formations – you may even be surprised to see Queen Victoria’s profile!
Eating out in the Gamtoos Valley
The best way to dine whilst in the Gamtoos River Valley has to be in the great outdoors, cooking delicious local produce over a fire, just as nature intended. Many of the accommodation choices in the Gamtoos area will have braai (or bbq) facilities so that you can enjoy just that. As the area is quite isolated, many places to stay will also offer delicious freshly prepared food on site so that you don’t need to travel too far for a tasty evening meal. For those that would prefer to enjoy a night out you will find some excellent country restaurants perfect for a meal out. Do remember though you may need to drive a little bit to get to your restaurant of choice.
Where to stay in the Gamtoos Valley
Visitors to the area can be assured of a wide choice of accommodation and a warm welcome from the many delightful B&Bs, guest houses, the two hotels and for the energetic, the well maintained hikers huts. For those wanting to enjoy a break in one of South Africa’s best kept secrets the Gamtoos River Valley has an excellent range of country accommodation to choose from.