Gamkaskloof, also known as Die Hel, or The Hell is located in a remote valley in the Swartberg mountains in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It was entirely cut off from the outside world until 1962, when the road; actually a steep, windy and sometimes dangerous gravel track, was built.
We took a short overland road trip there recently and spent a night in the valley, I wish it could have been longer though. The area is perfect for hiking, or just chilling. No mobile signal and no internet makes sure of that. It’s 37km from the start of the “road to hell”, near the top of Swartberg Pass, to the entrance of the valley. A fairly challenging drive but nothing that an experienced driver can’t cope with. While a 4×4 isn’t essential, I do recommend a high ground clearance vehicle.
Here’s the video of our adventure.
Most of the original 160 residents of the valley left soon after the road was completed, the last one departing in 1991. These days, Piet and Marinette Joubert, descendants of Annetjie Joubert, the last remaining resident, have created a Shangri-la, which is most definitely not hell, a small piece of paradise buried deep in the mountains. There is no cell phone reception, no internet and although it’s not a requirement, a 4×4 vehicle is definitely recommended to negotiate the sometimes treacherous gravel road.
There are different versions of where the name “Die Hel” originated. The most likely one being that “hel” comes from the Afrikaans word “heiling”, which means a steep incline. Another one is that back in the days when it was a long walk down a donkey cart trail, a visitor commented that ” this is hell”. But either way, this valley is definitely far from being hell, quite the opposite in fact, it’s a little slice of heaven.
The old cottages have been lovingly and authentically restored and can be rented for the night, or for longer. Ouma Sannie se Winkel and restaurant is a must. You can get a delicious home cooked meal, farm fresh produce, or just a cold beer to enjoy in the shade of the indigenous old trees in the garden. There’s plenty to do in the area which is popular with mountain bikers and hikers. It’s a place I can totally recommend visiting at least once in your life if at all possible.
We stayed in the recently rennovated Bush Camp. It was burnt down in a terrible fire in 2019, and the original tented camp has been replaced with basic, but comfortable stone cottages. There is a shared kitchen and ablutions, but were the only people there so had it to ourselves. I believe it can get busy over weekends though.
Marinette handles the bookings, email is best because farm work means that the phone isn’t always attended, you can book through the website below. I do recommend having a look at the Mountain Passes website if you are planning to go, they have a km by km description of the route, which I found very useful.