Two magical days in Calitzdorp, Rooiberg and Cloete’s Passes.

Wilna Eloff’s  incredible watercolour paintings

We went ostensibly to attend the Succulent Show in Calitzdorp which is held annually.  The venue was a buzz of activity, – people come far and wide to attend this event, which is of great interest to all succulent collectors.  In the hall they had book sales, botanical art exhibitions, workshops, and  talks by succulent experts. The ‘formal’ stalls were filled to the brim with a mind boggling variety of plants, all beautifully displayed, and manned by  well- informed vendors. The ‘informal’ stall adjacent to the Old Age Home had some very unusual  plants potted up in tins which  were hand decorated with colourful  paint;  some even had lucky charms. Upon asking what a specific plant was called, they lady  answered:  “we called it honde drol”, I won’t give you a translation because it sounds  quite rude!  I’ve  been searching everywhere to find the ’proper’ name for this peculiar looking plant, but to no avail.

Euphorbia pillansii

We stayed overnight just outside the town on a farm which had comfortable and well appointed rooms.  After a hearty breakfast we embarked on a long journey (time- wise) over 2 passes to Mosselbay.  The first one we transverse was the Rooiberg pass. This pass was built in 1928 under the supervision of the Divisional Council of Oudtshoorn.  It joins the tiny village of Van Wyksdorp with Calitzdorp over the Rooiberg Mountain.  This is not a pass  for the fainthearted,  and the Calitzdorp side is not suitable for a normal car.  It is also a long pass at 14km and contains some fairly rough sections.  It may be of interest to some that there are a total of 69 bends, corners and curves which include 6 hairpin bends.  It is a road for the less hurried traveller and offers wonderful views of the valley to the east towards Oudtshoorn,  bounded by magnificent mountains to the north and south.

One of the hairpin bends, to the summit

We then headed  for the Cloete’s Pass,  on the Regional road R327 between Van Wyksdorp and Herbertsdale.  This pass straddles the Vreysrant Mountains, part of  the Langeberg mountain range which separates the southern Cape coast from the Little Karoo.  This pass is not well  known, and very little has been written about it apart from the fact that  it is named after the Cloete family who owned the farm there and that it was built in 1850. It offers spectacular views of the valleys below. The road is a bit rough, however the  many fynbos species, ruins of old toll houses and blockhouses built by the British during the Anglo-Boer war offer a fair compromise.

Cloetes pass, Renosterveld

What fascinated us most were the unique vegetation types, called transitional shrublands. They are habitat types in which fires occur periodically and the vegetation type is dominated by a single shrub species.  Perhaps the best known transitional  shrubland is Renosterveld, the habitat where Renosterbush (Elytropappus rhinocerotis) is the dominant shrub.  It occurs closer to the mountains, where the rainfall is higher and the soils have a higher sand fraction, just above Asbosveld.  Renosterveld may also be present in other vegetation types such as Asbosveld  where the dominant species is Pteronia incana) which always occurs on clayey soils in lowland areas.  Asbosveld also mixes with Succulent Karoo or Subtropical Thicket in more arid sites. Sandolienveld  occurs just above Renosterveld and adjacent to Fynbos, where the soils have an even higher quartzitic rock and sand fraction. The dominant species are Sandolien (Dodonaea viscosa) and Paraffienbos (Pteronia fascicularis).

Stoebe alopecuroides


He or she was huge, at least 500mm long

The Little Karoo has a special place in my heart;  the  plants, the size and stillness of the landscape, the foreboding rock formations and the fortitude of its inhabitants make this area so special.

So, before the eyesight fails, the joints become too creaky and you forget who you are, take this less travelled road and discover a  most fascinating part of our diverse country.

Text and photos: Esther Townsend