In mid September this year, Mama Cat and 13 friends did the Rock Pigeon Route in the Oorlogskloof Canyon. Below is her journal entry.
I am amazed that more people don’t know about this hike. It is truly extraordinary. You hike through the Oorlogskloof Canyon, along the Oorlogskloof River. The trail leads you through small shaded forest, up and out of the canyon to see cave paintings that are humbling beyond words, and along the escarpment with stunning views of the valleys beyond this area. We were blessed with the best flower show I have seen (better than West Coast National Park). Fields of flowers as we drove in, as far as the eye can see, but it was the little flowers along the path that excited me the most. Such diversity in such a harsh landscape. I highly recommend this hike the avid adventurers.
Management & Bookings: The trail is managed by the Department of Agriculture and Land Reform. You can contact Leonie via this telephone number to make your booking; 027 218 1159. You can also email but I have yet to receive a reply from emails I have sent to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting there: While it’s a 4 hour drive from Cape Town, the first day is short so you don’t need to take an extra day of leave.
Check In: Someone will emerge at the office as you arrive and check your booking. There is no reception at the beginning of the trail / parking lot so make sure you download your POP / booking confirmation beforehand.
Parking: You can leave your cars at reception under shaded trees. There is a toilet block with showers here so you can get cleaned up after you complete the circuit.
Facilities: The huts can sleep 16 people so if you are into big group hikes, this is perfect. There is only one room with all bunk beds. One couple slept outside in their tent, and myself and my partner slept on the balcony on the mattresses provided. There are tables and benches in each hut, and a compost toilet outside. There are no showers. You get your water from the nearest stream.
Length: 5 day circular route
Distance: 63km, total elevation gain 2038m.
Weather: I would highly recommend doing this hike between seasons when the weather is cool but not too rainy (there is a lot of scrambling and you don’t want to slip on the rocks) and not too sunny as you are in the Northern Cape and it's hot! Aug / Sept / Oct are great months because there is lots of water after the winter rains, and you get to experience the flowers. We had perfect weather, a slight drizzle on the last day, not too hot, cloud cover when we needed it.
Water: There was plenty of water to drink along the way except on Day 4, so make sure you fill up where you can. There are no taps at the huts (this should be changing soon) but there is always a stream close by (sometimes all the way down a hill, so make sure you take every vessel you have so you have enough water to prepare your dinner).
Difficulty: There are some hairy sections on this route. Plenty of ladders, a few ropes and many parts where you need to scramble. There is one chimney you have to climb up. I am relatively afraid of heights and I felt nauseous a few times, but nothing that was unmanageable. Many people advised to pack lightly as you do have to balance along the route over rocks and I can see why having a light pack is best!
Day One: 6.6km | 160m ascent
We headed out from the car park at Groot Tuin. We cruised over a small plateau and then headed down into the valley. We walked through a field of flowers (past Brakwater Hut), crossed a small river where we had to take our shoes off, and arrived at the first hut on our route, Kareebos Hut. There is a little stream where we bathed and hung out as the sun went down. A very relaxed first day, no tricky sections and we arrived at the hut quickly.
Day Two: 15km | 570m ascent
This route led us through various terrains, lush wooded areas, along the river, exposed rocky sections and then up to the ridge line of the canyon, bringing us closer to the cave paintings on the plateau. There is a river crossing on this day, don’t try to use the chain, it’s deceiving and doesn’t help you cross the river. Rather send your bravest person (without their pack) to map out the best route and then cross over with your packs overhead. Ideally someone is on the other side to help you and your bag get up the big rock. After this crossing (within the first 30 minutes or so of the hike) we came out at wide section of the river, with plenty of spots to swim, make breakfast and warm up in the morning sun. From here you head up the canyon, there is no hut on the plateau as the map indicates, just the remains of a platform and parts of hut.There are at least three areas where there are paintings in the caves and I highly recommend going to see all of them. They are all unique, unlike any cave paintings you may have seen before. We then descended into the valley to Kameel se Gat for that night. Be careful of rock falls, and there is a beehive on the trail, underneath a rock you will have to walk over.
Day Three: 13.5km | 456m ascent
We started our day at the river, having breakfast, drinking tea & coffee and then brushing our teeth before we headed out of the canyon. You cross the river on a bridge and then immediately start the big ascent for the day. As you near the top you have to climb up a chimney with the help of a rope (or your friend grabbing your backpack and pulling you through the chimney). Once you have emerged through the rockface you spend the rest of the day on the plateau, walking through rock corridors and then down through fields of flowers. This is the day where water is limited, so fill up in the morning and if you have to, make sure you bundu bash to the stream to top up. There is a beautiful small pool which has been dammed up which is great for an evening bathe, its tricker to access flowing water for drinking so be prepared to get into the pool and walk up the stream to fill your bottles.
Day Four: 19km | 604m ascent
This is by far the longest day, but it’s gentle, you follow the undulating plateau. There are so many incredible things to look at on this day, from the expansive vistas in every direction and then micro ecosystems among the rocks. It’s worth stopping to marvel at flora and fauna. There is a detour to Aries se Punt (we thought we did this but we actually ended up doing a scout of the route we were about to follow - head left toe Aries se Punt, not right :)). Unfortunately I have no idea what it looks like. After a long descent we arrived at Pramkoppie Hut which is nestled in a kloof. If you take a walk behind the hut the path will lead you through an old area where you could light fires, and then to a pool in the stream. It feels as if you are walking through an enchanted forest. Perfect place for an evening bath, alternatively you can walk down the valley to where the stream crosses a jeep track and have a splash bath there.
Day Five: 9km | 271m ascent
We were blessed with an overcast morning. Our legs were starting to feel the previous four days as we headed back to the car park. We stopped off at a few cave painting sites - clearly marked on the trail. There was plenty of water on the path. This last section is wonderful as you get to look back at valleys you walked through and the mountains you climbed throughout the route. We arrived at our cars around lunch time, had showers, and headed to Nieuwoudtville for some Roostebrood for lunch.
Overall this is an incredible hike and I could not recommend it highly enough!