Four star game reserve, South Africa

THE SHEPHERD‘S TRAIL

The trail started as a 4x4 route exploring the northern parts of the reserve, in essence also foothills of the Elandsberg, part of the greater Witteberg mountain range. Exploring possible routes at the time – 2010 – we found traces of what appeared to could have been old routes used by flock shepherd’s in bygone days. We have utilised those wherever possible.

Whilst utilising the 4x4 tracks over the years it became clear that guests also liked to walk parts of this route. We have found that the first three legs of the track were most suitable for hiking. It covers the Elands route, Gemsbok route and the Ribbok route sections. The Eland section is also part of the Langerug hiking trail. Refer to the map sketch at the end showing the entire 4x4 route.

There are two options – you can exit at the end of the Gemsbok trail OR at the end of the Ribbok trail. For the first option take the Exit going south after the gemsbok section and do not carry on with the Ribbok trail. It will take you back to the “main road” of the reserve. Walk back (west) to the lodge (turn right on main road, the lodge is some 3km further back). The total distance is approx 10.5 km.

The second option is not to exit but to carry on with the Ribbok route going east to its end where it meets the “main road” again shortly after crossing over the stone bridge. Turn right (west) and just follow this road to the lodge. The total distance is approx 15 km. You can identify the two options on the map sketch at the back.

The route crosses over many southern foothills and slopes of the Witteberge as well as drainage lines. It is not an easy flat area, you have ups and downs – it is not the easiest walk, except for the homecoming part back via the “main road“.

The 4x4 booklet has a lot of info about the route, old boreholes, flora, Fauna, the rock formations, etc and is a worthwhile read. We copy parts of the booklet here.

THE SHEPHERD’S TRAIL 4X4 – adapted.

The Shepherd’s Trail is a scenic route along the more remote southern foothills of the Elandsberg range with beautiful and unique vistas of the hills, valleys, kloofs and landscape. Starting at the Lodge the Shepherd’s Trail takes you through the Bosluiskloof River, over dry riverbeds, koppies, necks and stretched out valleys right down to the Gamkapoort Dam viewing spot. It is a unique experience of the typical koppies environment of the mountainious Great Karoo. It has been quite difficult to re-open the route and much care has been taken to effect the least possible disturbance to the sensitive Karoo ecosystem.

Eland’s Trail 3.5 km

  1. Immediately after departure you will experience a river bush area and a crossing over the Bosluiskloof River. You will also pass a game boma that is used when the reserve buys in game from bomas/auctions. During summer the river bed is usually dry as well as parts of the winter.
  2. After crossing a sandy pitch you enter a river bed running northernly which is in fact a drainage line from the many koppies of the Elandsberg. Cross them all.
  3. Once out of the drainage lines the track turns more to the West through a piece of open veld with an Acacia-Gwharrie bush valley on the left.
  4. Next you will reach a very narrow little kloof – Nouekloof going norternly – pass through it.
  5. Once out of Nouekloof, the trail swings west again. There are two signage boards – Elands (go left) and Gemsbok (go right). Go left. You are going upwards all the way.
  6. The track ends at an old watering point on top of a hill where a borehole was sunk and a windmill erected in 1950. The road was originally built to get the drilling machine to this point. One is often fortunate to see Eland roaming in the hills. The Elands Trail was named after our first group of eland that continues to roam this area. They must have learned somewhere that the mountain to the north is called Elandsberg!

You have now reached the first victory point! Stop and enjoy and spend some time. Climb up the little hill on the north to the sign pole. From this point you have beautiful vistas. To the north you can see Slagkloof. To the east is the beautiful Blue Mountain range running toward Prince Albert with a glimpse of the Gamkapoort Dam. To the south you can identify the endless spekboomkoppies, the Acacia thicket area in the middle of the reserve as well as Hartmansberg. To the west the Seweweekspoort Peak (the highest peak in the Western Cape) is visible, sometimes with some snow in winter.

Gemsbok Trail 3.5 km

  1. You now have to backtrack to the two-spoor turn-off just before you hit the Nouekloof again. You will again see the Gemsbok Trail sign on the left.
  2. The track follows old game tracks, covers and crosses many dongas and koppies. Every time you reach a neck you will find areas where the game have resting/sleeping spots on fairy circles (read more under animal resting spots). It is interesting to identify the game from the droppings. From these spots you have wonderful vistas.
  3. The trail will lead you over three necks. From the second neck you will be able to see the chalets to your right through a rocky kloof and on your left is Rondekop. Enjoy Diepkloof right after the Klipplaat.
  4. After passing over Diepkloof you will venture along The Wall, a black, almost vertical rock face on the right. The wavy patterns on the rock surface are evidence that the Karoo area was once an inland ocean millions of years ago! The glossy texture on the rock surface is the result of some of the elements in the rock undergoing metamorphoses. The changed elements then protrudes through small pores in the rock and creates a glossy layer.
  5. As you reach the top of the third neck a beautiful vista of the Bosluiskloof river valley and a glimpse of the Gamkapoort Dam can be enjoyed! Enjoy the view, take a break and breathe in the fresh, Karoo air!
  6. Continuing down the neck you will pass a rocky-drainage line crossing.
  7. At the very end you will find you are at a T-junction. Turn to the right and proceed for ±200 meters where you can either
    1. Go straight, cross the river and return to the Lodge, or;
    2. Go left and explore the next section! The Ribbok trail.

Ribbok Trail 2.5km

  1. This part earned its name as this is the place most likely to spot the shy Grey Rheebuck (Vaal Ribbok). You will pass a point where you have a really great view of Gamkapoort Dam.
  2. Having turned left at the T follow the track – still going eastwards all the time. Just keep going.
  3. Going down a drainage line you will encounter Kwaai Draai. Once again you will have noticed the interesting glossy, black, almost vertical rock face on you right!
  4. On top of the third neck you will again have a view of the Dam. Stop and enjoy.
  5. To you left high up, you can see “Chaka’s Rock” waiting for somebody who feels like jumping (without being pushed!).

After crossing the “Tons of stone Bridge” you will reach the “main road” to the lodge – go west.

Old borehole

The track was originally built to make way for a drilling machine as the farmer of that time thought it sound to invest in a waterhole and a road because of the grazing potential of this part of the Reserve. Evidence of the old “stamperboor” was found and can be viewed at the Slagkloof turning point. The areas where the drill bits were worked are still visible. Ashes of the coal used to heat the metal can still be spotted. The borehole itself however still couldn’t be located! A previous owner apparently removed the windmill but didn’t take care to seal or cover-up the borehole itself. This happened in the mid 1950/1960 as far as we can ascertain.

Flora

At first the Shepherd’s trail will lead you through a vegetation type characterized by Acacia karoo (Sweet thorn) known as the Acacia Riverine Thicket. Dominant species in the Acacia Riverine Thicket are:

  • Acacia karoo Sweet (Thorn Tree)
  • Zygophyllum morgsana (Skilpadbos)
  • Lycium hirsutum (River Karee)
  • Rhus lancea (Karee)
  • Rhus longespina (Koeni bush)

Karroid Broken Veld

Most of the Shepherd’s Trail is located in the Karroid broken veld of the Reserve on the northern side of the Bosluiskloof River. This unit consists largely of a karroid shrub vegetation with woody shrubs and small trees along drainages. Important species in the Karroid Broken Veld are:

  • Eberlanzia ferox (Doringvygie)
  • Delosperma sp. (Doringlose vygie)
  • Rhigozum obovatum (Karoo Gold)
  • Limeum aethiopicum (Koggelmandervoetkaroo)
  • Garuleum bipinnatum (Slanghoutjie)
  • Bleraphis mitrata (Klapperbossie)
  • Dicoma spinosa (Karmedik)
  • Lycium cinerieum (Kriedoring)
  • Indigofera sessilifolia (Boontjiekaroo)
  • Euphorbia sp. (Milkweed)
  • Helichrysum dregeanum (Bergankerkaroo)
  • Sericocoma avolans (Gras-bo-bas-onder)
  • Salsola tuberculata (Blomkoolganna)
  • Euclea crispa (Bush guarri)
  • Thesium lineatum (Witstorm)
  • Eriocephalus ericoides (Wildrosemary)
  • Helichrysum scitulum (Vaalbergkaroo)
  • Aristida diffusa (Iron grass)
  • Melinis repens (Natal Red Top)
  • Aristida adscensionis (Annual three-awn)
  • Fingerhuthia Africana (Thimble grass)
  • Aristida vestita

Seed release in Mesembs (Vygies)

A feature of many vygies is that they occur only in very specific microhabitat types. These ‘islands’ are often quite a distance from each other – too far apart for the seed to be dispersed via the usual seed dispersal method of vygies, namely seed that splash from capsules.

Most vygies retain their seeds in capsules that open and release the seeds only during rain. The capsules of species that occur in dry areas open rapidly, within a minute or two. Raindrops that fall into the centre of an open capsule splash the seeds out of the capsule. The seeds can be ejected over quite a distance or can be splashed out close to the mother plant. The design of the capsule depends on how far the mother plant wants her babies to fly off.

In a few cases, e.g. Glottiphyllum sp. the entire capsule breaks off and can be blown or washed away some distance from the mother plant. A risky business if you are an ‘island species’ as most of your seed can land in the ‘sea’! Work by S. Milton and R. Dean showed that tortoises sometimes swallows entire vygie capsules and hence can disperse them from one ‘island’ to the next. Tortoises are important long-distance dispersal agents for several of these specialized plants.

Fauna on the Trail

Following the trail sections you are most likely to spot the following mammals. Some sections have been named after game spotted in that area. If you are lucky – but keep an eye open.

Eland, Gemsbok, Baboon, Porcupine, Ribbok, Kudu, Dassie, Klipspringer, Zebra, etc

Animal resting spots

Along the Shepherd Trail you will notice bare patches of soil. They are especially prominent on the necks between koppies. Spend some time at one of these so called “fairy circles” and have a look at all the animal tracks and droppings! Animals love to spend time at these fairy circles and we also refer to it as animal sleeping spots.

These conspicuous circles are often the result of old perished termite mounds.

Feathered Friends

The Shepherd’s Trail offers you an opportunity to spot a variety of bird species. Bird activity in on the Reserve is mostly higher in kloofs, the Acacia Riverine Thickets and around water holes.

The Story of the Rocks

The Reserve lies within the southern branch of the Cape Fold Belt on the northern limb of the Swartberg Mega-anticline. The bedrock consists entirely of sedimentary rocks of Mid Paleozoic age (425 – 360 million years ago).

The three main rock formation groups on the Reserve are:
Table Mountain Group (440-420 million years old)
Bokkeveld Group (360 million years old)
Witteberg Group (370-330 million years old)

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