Seven days on horseback through the Baviaanskloof

Posted by Teagan Cunniffe on 20 July 2017 Tags:, , ,

The evocative Baviaanskloof is a place of towering rock echoing with the call of baboons and bird song. Here, trails lead off into terrain worthy of Lord of the Rings, and the landscape changes with every mountain range. I find myself returning here whenever possible. Last year, whilst on the Baviaans Camino (read the full story here: why you should try the Baviaans Camino) I heard about the week-long horse trail that traverses this area, and knew that it was something I’d have to try.

Also read: walking the Leopard Trail hike through the Baviaanskloof

Aptly called The Real Thing, the annual 250km ride starts in Kareedouw, touches on the coast, dips through forests, crosses farmland, treks up (and down) mountainsides, over Karoo veld and across rivers. Broadly speaking, it covers the 4×4 southern access route into the Baviaanskloof, crosses over the Baviaanskloof mountains and swings back around, ending Patensie-side.

It’s a few hours into the ride and I’m getting used to the dimensions of my saddle. My horse, Aster, flicks her ears at my weight changes and jogs forward a few steps before settling back into a walk. All around me are riders. 27 of them, to be precise. That’s another thing about this trail that’s different – it’s done with a large group, on varied horses. Endurance-fit Arabs from Molmanshoek, two heavy-set Friesians, a number of farm horses and Herclé‘s tough Boerperd stock, which you can hire.

The collection of people on the trail is as diverse as their horses. Friends, families and solo travellers. Doctors, vets, English professors, school-goers and farm managers. Many of them returning for the third or fourth time. The ride costs a fraction of what you’d pay for many international rides, or rides of a similar undertaking, and goes through just as isolated, beautiful landscape. It’s done at a slow pace for the most part, which gave us ample time to crane our necks at the scenery passing by, and canter where the ground saw fit. Being the designated photographer-horse, Aster covered more ground than most. We pushed on ahead, fell behind and climbed up high looking for shots. She was an absolute star.

Each night was spent in a different, beautiful valley, and the sunrise would bring the bleating of sheep and coffee on the boil, while each day took us through immense scenes of sky-scraping mountains, which we clambered up and cantered over before having lunch overlooking the valley floor far below. The last day is the most scenic -if that’s even possible. The mountains of the Osseberg glittered as patches of sunlight flitted over its craggy, purple face, and after drawing in the 360° views we made our way down to the Groot Rivier, which we crossed 9 times, grass as tall as our horses’ ears.

This ride is for the adventurous, for ones who want to get out into the wilderness with nothing between their horse’s ears but endless views. Here’s what it looks like to ride for seven days, through seven different biomes.

DO IT YOURSELF: Contact Herclé from Baviaans Horse Trips. He’s the only horse riding operator in the area and offers rides of various lengths, from day trails through to multi-day journeys, throughout the year on his well-mannered and fit Boerperde.

The ride starts along the coast, where steep cliffs drop away to the Tsitsikamma coastline below.

Views over the forest towards the Baviaanskloof.

Fiery skies on the trail’s start.

Day One leads you through the cool shade of plantations and across farmland, where cows low on green pastures.

Swimming at our first overnight stop in Nguniland.

Last calls before we head off into the mountain, and Suz finding a comfortable tree to lean against.

The trail begins in earnest on this day with a steep climb from the valley floor leaving us breathless and the horses’ legs trembling.

A must – swimming with the horses in the Kouga River during a lunch break.

My lovely mare, Aster (renamed Astertjie) wondering why I’ve made her stop and wait.

Ominous Moedenaarskloof Pass, with riders small specks below.

Grey skies made for dramatic silhouettes.

The quiet farming valley of Nooitgedacht was our stop for the night.

Tending to loose shoes on the way.

Lynda running to catch up with the lorry, their lift to the chalets for the night.

Suz taking Noodle to go get saddled up.

The sweet Custard, waiting patiently in the early-morning light.

Taking in the view. Fires had raged through the landscape a few months prior, razing plants to the ground.

Herclé’s  second-in-charge, Hanneke, leading loose horses.

This cosy spot was our stop for the third night.

And up! We scaled this distance from the valley floor in a few hours.

… And had to stop to take in the views from the top of the Winterhoek mountains.

Incomparable views at our lunch break, looking down into the Steytlerville side of the mountain range.

This was a wonderful family ride to do together.

After 30 tough kilometres, we arrived at our accommodation for the night.

The next day saw us riding 36 kilometres over the flat Karoo veld. We picked up some speed over the gravel roads.

Herclé breeds and trains up Boerperde, a breed well-suited to this terrain.

After a misty day’s ride we were eager to warm up next to the fire – humans and horses alike.

Day Six! Because of weather concerns, we took the much shorter route on this day. The road wound through aloe-filled valleys.

…And led us to one of our prettiest camps, nestled between mountains with a nearby river to swim in.

A short day’s ride meant we had more time to relax in the afternoon.

Day Seven – the hardest and most beautiful day. We were in the saddle by 6am and only got off around 5pm that afternoon. 47 kilometres today.

But so worth it. Today took us into the Osseberg, a little-explored landscape accessible only via horseback, hiking or mountain biking.

Our large group looked very small against these gigantic mountains.

Aster carefully picking her way along the remnants of an old road that lies beneath these grasses.

We criss-crossed the Groot Rivier, wading through the waters as we went deeper into the canyon. A fittingly dramatic end to an incredible ride.