Hell, yeah!

Gifberg pass
Jacques Marais Media

To feel alive, suffer baby, suffer (only a little) with a nail-biting 4×4 drive, taxing mountain biking and tough trail running or hiking in the unforgiving ‘Eenkantland’[i]

Enigmatic rocks, precious San rock art, masses of bright yellow-orange gazanias in spring and intriguing critters such as crag lizards jostle for attention in the fascinating Gifberg and Ouberg passes. Adrenaline-rush activities in this stark, strange world might not be everyone’s cuppa tea, but for many its humming silence and big-brush beauty are addictive. Plus, adventures such as these in the back of beyond make for good dinner party anecdotes.

A quick geography and history lesson: partnered by the Cederberg, Bokkeveld and Matzikama ranges, Gifberg (Poison mountain), forms the eastern boundary of the 300-km Olifants River Valley, which borders Namaqualand and the Atlantic Ocean. Gifberg derives its name from the gifboom or gifbol (buphane toxicaria,  poison bush). Latex from its bulbs provided the deadly neurotoxin with which the San tipped their arrows to hunt prey.

The 4×4 way

For the most fun you can have at 20 kph, head due south through Vanrhynsdorp past the caravan park to the 28-km long Gifberg Pass which ends 490 m higher atop the Matzikama mountain. This challenging 4×4 drive is mostly gravel, but thank goodness, the steepest parts have asphalt surfaces. Fill up water bottles from the concrete water trough near the top of the pass and note the old stone oven built in 1917 to provide road builders with their daily bread.

Descend 493 m via Ouberg pass to the Knersvlakte – a splendid 55-km loop which ends back in Vanrhynsdorp. For this rutted descent you’ll need hair on your teeth.

Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour drive, otherworldly rock formations, waterfalls, proteas and mountain fynbos provide wow. Do stop at Waterval Resort to see the towering 380-metre, three-drop Maskam Waterfall amid lush vegetation.

Crank it on a bike

Graded moderate to extreme, Gifberg Holiday Farm offers 30- or 80-km MTB routes. If you’re going solo from Vanrhynsdorp, Gifberg pass has a slight ascent for the first 15 km, according to photographer/author Jacques Marais[ii]. ‘The pass itself makes for a solid 8-km climb onto the plateau, with continual “bumps” to test your calves.’ At the top, choose between Tierberg pass for a full-day circuit or Ouberg pass.

For the latter option, Jacques recommends starting at the top of the pass where Ouberg road turns left. ‘Crank along the road marked VR1 before turning left onto VR3 about 250 m from the gate. For the next 13 km, take note of MTB route signs until you reach Vlei Farm gate. Up to here, riding is moderate despite steep uphills, but it now switches to extreme with a punishing 3-km climb to the Matzikama apex. The Klein Koebee Route (18 km/26 km) is an easier option, with falter riding along gravel and farm roads spiderwebbing from town. Start along the tarmac to Nieuwoudtville, then turn right into the Koebee mountain foothills.’

Hit it on foot

Depending on your vim, Gifberg Holiday Farm offers three hiking or running trail options: 21, 8 and 5 km. The first one starts out as flat as a pancake along the plateau, then drops down alongside the Doring river. But the way back has many ups and downs. Mind you, there’s San art along the way to brush up your culture, but little shade and no water.

Much flatter, the 8-km trail has awesome fynbos and rocks to enthrall while the 5-km route features rock art and riveting potholes. If you have canine companions, take plenty water along.

So, if extreme is your poison, Gifberg is for you.

[i] Eenkantland, by Theunis Uys (Eenkantland = roughly translated: land on its own)
[ii] www.jacquesmarais.co.za

Photo: Jacques Marais