Located in the Groot Winterhoek mountains, is one of the largest rock pools in the Western Cape, aptly named ‘Die Hel’. Before embarking on the hike, I didn’t understand why a rock pool – a secluded piece of paradise that probably offers the necessary respite from the heat of Groot Winterhoek – was called ‘Die Hel’. The reason soon became clear, writes David Henning.
A World Heritage Site
Die Groot Winterhoek Wilderness area is one of Cape Nature’s many reserves and a World Heritage Site. The area comprises 30 608 hectares, of which 19 200 is a declared wilderness area, particularly important for the protection of mountain fynbos in the Cape floral kingdom The wilderness area is also embedded in history, with San rock paintings and relics of an old farm established in 1875. Early settlers used the area to transport produce and supplies between Porterville and Saron, and their tracks are still visible.
I had never heard of the hike up until recently. I found out about it via my friend’s father, an old-time hiker who commented that his 72-year-old body would never be able to do this again. He sourced some old photos from a cupboard and showed me the photos he took on his old disposable camera in the 80s.
After seeing the photo of a large rockpool with a waterfall at the end that was called ‘Die Hel,’ I was hooked. I was entranced by his old stories of kloofing in the valley.
About a week later, we made a last-minute booking and set off. We arrived at the reserve, feeling well prepared after stopping for a roosterkoek at the Piketberg Padstal.
The Hike begins with a bit of descent but the gradient flattens as you follow the river, which offers the necessary respite from the scorching sun and a place to top up your water bottles. It is about 15 km to the De Tronk huts, and we were of the impression it would take 3-4 hours to get there. We didn’t book the huts but we were aware of large oak trees near to them, which could serve as a nice overnight spot.
After hiking for about three hours, we arrived at a very alluring rock pool with a small waterfall where we were tempted to turn into a nice lunch spot. We put down our bags and before we got too comfortable, we quickly consulted the map to get our bearings. The hike takes longer than we initially thought and we still had about 2-3 hours to go with an equal amount of daylight hours remaining.
We had earmarked the spot for our return trip when we would have more time on our hands, as we wanted to set up camp before it got dark. We trailblazed the rest of the way, and at last, on the horizon, the huts and the nearby oak trees beckoned.
When we arrived at the oaks, seemingly out of place in this fynbos environment, we propped down our bags, and I instinctively placed the bottle of white wine in the stream to cool down and I felt grateful for my instinctive last-minute packing when I grabbed a bottle on the way out of the house. It was worth the extra weight on my back.
Soon, the pitfalls of our last minute packing began to emerge. We packed our sleeping bags, but no floormat to make sleeping on the ground a bit more comfortable. To add to this, some ominous clouds made their way over the mountains and when darkness fell, we were greeted by a lightning storm. We hadn’t booked the huts but decided it would be best to stay under the protection its stoep offers.
Just as well, because the rain began to pour down. So with the rest of our wine and a flask of brandy, we enjoyed the sound of the rain falling and hoped that Olof Bergh would help us fall asleep on the hard floor of the concrete stoep. It was a restless night, with each of us tossing and turning and a paranoid Namibian shouting “Jackals!” in the middle of the night when they heard a noise in the bush (there was no jackal).
The morning arrived and sleepless night aside, we were ready to continue with the extra 5 km to Die Hel. The rest of the hike was easygoing until you get to the gorge that takes you down to the rock pool. It is a steep gradient that you have to tackle slowly. As you make your way down, you get glimpses of the rockpool and the waterfall as it starts to reveal itself.
When we finally made it to the pool, it was pure bliss. There was no one else around, and we were pretty sure we had the whole valley to ourselves throughout the hike. As we plunged into the ice-cold water, we were rejuvenated, making our way around the pool, finding cliffs to jump off.
After a few hours by the pool, it was time to begin our long trek back. We had fortunately left most of our bags behind the huts, so we could hike the first 5 km with relative ease without our overnight bags weighing us down. Picking up our bags on the way, we pushed ourselves to get to our earmarked rock pool which we estimated to be the halfway mark. The pool was occupied by a Cape clawless otter when we arrived, clearly getting some respite from the heat as well. Along the sides of this pool, there was an abundance of the Disa flower growing, the endangered orchid and the symbol of the Western Cape.
After a refreshing dip and a quick lunch, we marched on towards the car. We made it back to the last ascent, and the beautiful panorama lay behind us as we made our way up. The final few hundred metres down the road to the car park felt excruciatingly long. My legs were shaky and I felt exhausted, and I realised why it was called Die Hel. My clutch control as we started driving back was shaky, to say the least, and we were longing for the comfort of our shower and bed when we got back home. On the drive back, mountains gave us a grand finale as we approached the pass. The large expanse of the valley opened up before us as we made our way down, and the whole expanse was painted in an orange hue. To hell and back? I’ll do it again.
There are numerous huts with self-catering facilities that can be booked, or for those who feel like roughing it, they can simply book the overnight costs and the conservation fee.
The overnight fees are as follows:
Self Catering Hikers basic overnight huts (max 8 people)
- Peak season: R800
- Off-peak: R440
- Additional p/p/n R70
- Conservation Fees:
- Adult Day Access: R70
- Overnight fee: R40
- Children Day Access: R40
- Overnight fee: R20
Getting There: Travel about an hour-and-a-half up the N7 from Cape Town towards Piketberg. Opposite Piketberg, take the R44 towards Porterville, but instead of going into Porterville at the T-junction, turn left for Cardouw on to what becomes a dirt road and head for the Dasklip Pass. Follow the signs to the office, which is on top of the mountain and about 33 km from Porterville.
For additional information, visit Cape Nature here.
Words: David Henning, Getaway
Picture: Getaway Magazine