Author: Altra Ambassador Magan Hanekom

 The Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area protects part of the Groot Winterhoek mountain range which lies north from Tulbagh and about 30km from Porterville. The Groot Winterhoek Conservation Area comprises of 19 200 ha of Wilderness Area (proclaimed in 1985) and 11 408 ha of Nature Reserve. The area is also a declared World Heritage site with mountainous peaks reaching between 1000m and 2000m. 

 Our goal for the weekend was to explore the area along the two-day hiking trail and to visit Die Hel, in which one of the biggest natural rock pools of the Western Cape is tucked away.

On a beautiful weekend towards the end of January we took to the road on Friday after work and headed to Beaverlac, where we enjoyed an easy camp under a few old trees and a fresh swim in one of the many rock pools on offer – we prepped and braaied and enjoyed a few beers in anticipation of the days ahead. 

The road towards The Groot Winterhoek entrance takes you up the stunning Dasklip Pass – the air was thick with mist, the type that keeps you crawling along, chest on the steering wheel. 

The offices were perfectly tucked away, barely visible between the jagged rocks. The Groot Winterhoek Wilderness area is located within the Cape Fold Belt and comprises of sandstones from the Cape Super Group. Groot Winterhoek has the feel of the Cederberg, but the smell of water hangs in the air and the horizons are vividly green.

The Trail 

We opted for a hike, enjoying the route over two days, sleeping in the huts situated at the halfway mark of the circular trail. 

  • Quick facts: Day 1 
  • Distance: 20km
  • Elevation gain: 500m 
  • Elapsed time (includes lunch, swims and snack breaks): 7 hours and 30 minutes

The trailhead starts and ends at the parking area; day one lead us in a south-easterly direction along a stream towards Disa Pool, where we found countless red Disa’s grouped in twos and threes all along the banks of the stream. We continued through the morning on an easy open path crossing rivers and winding through rock formations and koppies heading towards Groot Kliphuis, our lunch spot for the day. Under a big old oak tree, we built brilliant hamburgers - fresh tomatoes, cheese and pickles – as you would expect from your favourite restaurant. The burgers, together with sweet potato’s set us up well for the second half of the days hiking.

Leaving Groot Kliphuis, the route drops into a valley towards the Klein Kliphuis River; the trail clings to the right-hand side of the ravine and takes you through hundreds of Waboom trees growing on the steep slopes.  

Once we hit the low-water bridge, we busied ourselves collecting water for the coffees to come and the supper waiting to be dehydrated. I jumped in for a swim after Jan and Bernard accidentally-on-purpose dropped the water bottles in the river. Jan had brought along a pair of swimming goggles, turning my rescue mission into a swim with small, strangely quizzical Cape Kurpers.

The Cape Kurper is a beautiful fresh-water fish, endemic to some river systems in the Western Cape.

There are four huts in the area of the reserve called De Tronk, so named because in the wintertime, the river floods, covering the low-water bridges, making the area inaccessible and inescapable. In the words of Mike Lundy: “Incarceration was by the elements and not the authorities.” 


Die Hel

  • Quick facts: Day 2
  • Distance from De Tronk to Die Hel: 4km (8km out and back)
  • Elevation gain / loss: 290m 
  • Elapsed time (includes lunch, swims and snack breaks): 2 hours and 30 minutes

The biggest attraction on our route was Die Hel, an inky black pool situated in a kloof through which the Vier-en-twintig Rivieren flows. 

Initially, the path is easy and flowy through sandstone rock formations and an abundance of Erica flowers before descending onto a steep single track into the belly of Hel. The pool is enormous, dark and infinitely deep. The water is clear and clean and filled with toe nibbling fish. 

We spent the morning exploring a large cave, 25m by 8m in size, with walls covered in San paintings and swimming in the pool, exploring the banks and enjoying the simple life before the rain set in and sent us running out of Hel. 

Hel and back 

  • Quick facts: Day 2
  • Distance from De Tronk to the cars: 12km 
  • Elevation gain: 550m
  • Elapsed time (includes lunch, swims and snack breaks): 3 hours

Warmed up, and semi-dry, we set off with our packs- now light, along the route back towards the cars. From De Tronk the trail follows the Groot Kliphuis River for about 10km before linking up with the jeep track that takes you home. 

The Groot Kliphuis River has some superb swimming holes, perfectly spaced so that you never have to pass up the opportunity to have a snack or take a quick dip. The route back was undulating and meandered along with the river, the plant growth was lush, and the flowers burst with color, every new horizon dotted with pink and red Ericas. 

The exploration possibilities for this wilderness area are endless. I would highly recommend a visit, January to March is particularly beautiful with the Disas flowering. 

Whether you are hike, run or make a bouldering trip out of it, you will spend most of your time in awe of the space; staring out into the vast landscape or trying to catch a sneaky Bloukop koggelmander. 

Cost: R200 pp included the overnight fee as well as conservation fees

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