*** A special thanks to Jacques Marais for including the Leopard Trail in your book “More things to do in Moer and Gone Places”.   www.jacquesmarais.co.za

Here is a snippet from his book:

The destination

Province – Eastern Cape

Closest Town – Willowmore (84km)

Destination – Baviaanskloof

Baviaanskloof – the name is derived from the Dutch for “Valley of Baboons” – is a narrow valley blessed with pristine natural grandeur, and run with narrow gorges, streams, steep mountain passes and vast waving grassland plains.

The valley is just under 200 km in length, and encompassed by the Baviaanskloof Mountains to the north and the Kouga mountains to the south. The Valley itself lies at a lower altitude than the Karoo to the north. Intensified rainfall from the Karoo filters into the Baviaanskloof, making it a lush landscape supporting a wide variety of fauna and flora.

The Leopard Trail Hike is a moderately difficult four-day, three night slackpacking hike and is suitable for people with good hiking fitness. Along the way you will encounter a few steep and rocky ascents and descents, with intermediate daily distances for the duration of the hike.

The hike itself follows a circular route from the Cedar Falls Base Camp. The trail starts Day 1 (9.2 k, 3 – 5hours) with quite a stiff walk up Kick-Start Hill to the plateau. At the half-way mark, you can opt to take a detour to Gabriel’s Pools where you can have a swim in the small pools. This is the only place to get drinking water during the day. The detour is 570m each way, so think of adding an hour to the hike for the day.

Day 2 (18km, 5 – 8 hours) starts with an easy 5.5km walk along Rhebok Valley. At the end of the valley, there is another optional detour (314m each way) to the Cedars viewpoint. On the way, there is a stream with drinking water and a pool in which to cool down. From the detour point, the trail climbs up to the top of the saddle where you will have breathtaking views of the Kouga and Baviaans foothills before dropping down to the Reflection Pools where you can swim and top up your drinking water.

Day 3 (22km, 6-9 hours) is the longest day of the hike. The trail leads you through pristine wilderness deep in the heart of the Baviaans and Kouga mountain landscape towards three major climbs: Honeybush Hill, Inconvenient Truth and Ain’t So Bad. At the half-way point, Draaipunt, there is yet again a 224m detour for drinking water. The remainder of the day is spent walking down the incredibly beautiful Kosey Kloof for 9km to the third overnight spot.

Finally, on Day 4 (12km, 3-5 hours) you’ll set off through the beautiful Birdsong Valley, only to reach Fond Farewell, a steep climb to the plateau after 4km. Once on the plateau, the trail leads through the Cauldron, a series of two small valleys followed by a steep descent into the Cedar Falls alley, which brings you back to base camp.

The accommodation

This is a slackpacking hike, but you have to bring your own tent, mattresses and sleeping bags; these are then transported from campsite to campsite in time for your arrival, so all you have to carry is a daypack with food and drink.

Overnight sites have a catering tent that provides a communal space for protection from sun, wind and rain. Each tent has a table, some benches, a sink and a twin gas cooking plate. Camping sites have been cleared around the catering tents. Overnight camps are equipped with pots, pans, braai grids, crockery and cutlery. Water is piped from the mountain streams into water tanks.

Types of Accommodation: Self-Catering

Camping: Yes – maximum 12 tents

Caravanning: No

Alternative Accommodation

Red Cliffs Farmhouse is an ideal base for hikers. The farmhouse is built around a 150-year-old stone-wall room that has been added on to and expanded over the years and now provides a tranquil refuge in the kloof. The large open-plan lounge has a fireplace for the cold winter nights. Four bedrooms can sleep up to 12 people. Linen and towels are supplied by prior arrangement. Accommodation is in two rooms with a king-sized bed in each, one room with six single beds, and one room with two single beds. There are two bathrooms, one with a shower and one with a bath.

Cedar Farmhouse sleeps eight, with bedding and towels supplied. Sleeping options include one double room with a king-size bed and three twin rooms with two single beds in each. There are two bathrooms and a private outside shower, spacious lounge, well-equipped kitchen and an old-fashioned wraparound veranda. The indigenous garden has a braai area.

Reasons to visit

The Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area is one of the most rugged and beautiful places in the country, with pristine wilderness, spectacular mountain passes  and abundant wildlife, including the inevitable troops of baboons after which the area was named.

Go hike

In addition to the Leopard Trail, The Cedar Falls Day hike should not be missed. The trail meanders alongside clear flowing streams inside beautiful kloofs. Starting and ending at Cedar Falls Base Camp, it will take 4- 6 hours (including lunch and swim stops). At two points along the trail, you will have to swim a few metres to get through a narrow gorge. If hiking in winter, be aware that the water will be very cold.

Go view San Paintings

The guided San Rock Art Walk is only available to guests staying overnight at the Cedar Falls Base Camp. The two-hour trip (45 minutes each way, with half an hour at the caves) takes you through the Leopard Kloof Valley to the San cave where the stunning Running Man painting is found. A 30cm image of a medicine man, wearing a mask and carrying hunting sticks, dominates the paintings.

Go run

The Leopard Trail Run is a circular two-day run, using the path of the four-day Leopard Trail Hike. Runners combine days 1 and 2 into a one day and days 3 and 4 into a second day. The trail is along a single track path and is 70% runnable, but care must be taken on the remainder due to steep ascents and descents where there is loose material on the path (more info at www.ecobound.co.za).

Go crank

The attraction of the Baviaanskloof is best experienced on a multiday cycle ride, with overnight stops at self- catering farm cottages or campsites along the way. Spending time at Geelhoutsbos, Rooihoek and other hideaway spots along the way is a must. You may, however, feel the need for company if you plan on tackling this monster, and the best way of doing this would be to enter the annual Trans-Baviaans 24-hour MTB marathon. This event finishes near Jeffreys Bay and totals 230km – more info on www.transbaviaans.co.za .

Important info

Find your way: From Willowmore, take the N9 towards Uniondale. After 3km out of Willowmore take the road on the left signposted “Baviaanskloof”. Keep going straight on this road for 31km, at which point you enter the Nuwe Kloof Pass. Drive a further 7.4 km to a road on the right marked “Cedar Falls”. Drive 7km to Cedar Falls Base Camp.

Access: Gravel Roads

Cell Reception: Intermittent

GPS Coordinates: S33°34’31.28” ; E23 42’57.33”

Website: www.gobaviaans.co.za

Tel: +27 (0)74 939 4395