It is a strange phenomenon to find a place dubbed “Die Hel” (The Hell) in the middle of Eden, a beautiful and flourishing Fynbos rich region of the Southern Cape in South Africa. Nobody can really tell you where the name comes from and historians can at best venture a guess as to why this stunning hideaway right at the bottom of the Gamkaskloof has such a devilish nickname. Treacherous to get to, with the last 50km taking as long as 3 hours to traverse, the winding road leading into “Die Hel” is a scenic wonder.
Located approximately 100 kilometers from Oudtshoorn and surrounded by the Swartberg Nature Reserve, the fertile valley runs in an east-west direction and is approximately 20 km long and 600 meters wide.
The earliest inhabitants of the valley were the San Bushmen. The first farmers settled there in the early 1830’s. Other families soon followed and lived in relative isolation for about 130 years. Local children were educated in a building that doubled as the church with church services held by the school master or a teacher.
In 1997, the valley was declared a national monument and was included into the Swartberg Nature Reserve. The cottages in the valley were renovated and equipped with solar power. Today it is the ideal escape for tired city slickers or people in search of a real ‘off the grid’ experience.
Annetjie Joubert (neé Mostert), from the farm Mooifontein is the only remaining “born and bred” inhabitant that has retained property in Gamkaskloof. She came back permanently in 1998, and converted the original farmhouse into guesthouses, a caravan park, and camping sites. She also has the only Kiosk and Licensed Restaurant in valley.
The Valley also features the Gamka River, other camp sites, picnic sites, the Swartberg Nature Reserve head office, several historic houses and outbuildings, a school, a cemetery, an Old Norse watermill and even a landing strip. There is an abundance of wildlife in this hidden sanctuary, including Klipspringers, Grey Rhebuck, Rooikat, Porcupine, Leopard, and about 153 species of bird-life that thrive there.
Negotiating the first part of the trek to the Hell from top of the Swartberg Pass is the ‘easy’ part, although at times, the narrow zigzagging road only has room for one vehicle to pass at a time. Vehicles of all shapes have tried to get down to the campsite at the bottom (before really even entering into the part they call ‘hell’), but the road is actually best suited to the higher 2×4 and 4×4 vehicles, able to navigate the rough roads. The rugged terrain is quite tough, and when it rains, it almost always causes flooding of the paths.
But once you find yourself surrounded by the lush green basin of the valley, you really begin to wonder what about this gorgeous, tranquil, and rich piece of paradise would inspire people to refer to it as hell.
Maybe they wanted to keep it a secret?