Nestled near the charming Karoo town of Oviston, just a two-hour drive from Bloemfontein, lies the breathtaking Oviston Nature Reserve. This hidden gem is a haven for nature enthusiasts, offering a unique blend of wildlife, awe-inspiring landscapes, and a tranquil atmosphere that will rejuvenate your soul.
One of the most remarkable features of Oviston Nature Reserve is its abundant game population. From the graceful springbok to the majestic mountain zebra, and from the iconic ostrich to the elusive reedbuck, the reserve boasts a diverse range of species. You may also encounter red hartebeest, black wildebeest, gemsbok, and other fascinating creatures as you explore the park’s vast expanse.
While Oviston may be situated in the Karoo, renowned for its scorching summers, it offers a surprising respite from the heat. Evenings bring a refreshing coolness, accompanied by breathtaking sunsets that are enhanced by the fine dust particles in the air. Picture yourself surrounded by wide open grasslands, small hills known as “koppies,” and a seemingly endless sky that stretches far beyond the horizon.
One of the most enchanting aspects of Oviston is its blissful tranquility. Visitors to the reserve are few and far between, particularly on weekdays, allowing you to immerse yourself in a world of serene solitude. It’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, offering an unparalleled sense of peace and a chance to reconnect with nature.
Located on the southern edge of the Gariep Dam, Oviston Nature Reserve spans an impressive 16,000 hectares. Here, you’ll encounter a variety of plains game, including ostriches, springbuck, zebras, oryx, and hartebeest. The reserve is part of a trio of nature reserves that border the Gariep Dam, with Tussen-die-Riviere (between the rivers) Nature Reserve and the Gariep Nature Reserve completing the trio. Tussen-die-Riviere Nature Reserve, in particular, is known for its hunting opportunities during the autumn and winter seasons.
While the Gariep Dam is a haven for water sports enthusiasts due to its vast size (over 100 kilometers long and 15 kilometers wide), Oviston Nature Reserve offers a range of activities for every visitor. You can enjoy game viewing from the comfort of your own car, embark on scenic walking trails (including an overnight hike for the more adventurous), indulge in birdwatching, or try your hand at fishing in the pristine waters.
It’s worth noting that the establishment of Oviston Nature Reserve initially had a dual purpose. Besides preserving the unique False Upper Karoo vegetation, the reserve also played a vital role in a breeding program for various buck herds, with the aim of relocating them to other sanctuaries for conservation purposes.
Popular points of interest in and near Oviston Nature Reserve
Oviston Nature Reserve offers more than just a tranquil escape and abundant wildlife. Explore the area and discover a range of activities, tourist attractions, and points of interest that will enrich your visit. From historical landmarks to breathtaking natural wonders, there’s something for every traveler to enjoy.
The Oviston Museum
Begin your journey by delving into the history and culture of the region at the Oviston Museum. Learn about the early settlers, the construction of the Gariep Dam, and the fascinating stories that shaped the area. The museum showcases artifacts, photographs, and exhibits that provide a glimpse into Oviston’s past.
Gariep Dam Wall
Marvel at the engineering marvel that is the Gariep Dam Wall. Standing 88 meters high and stretching over 914 meters, this impressive structure is the centerpiece of the area. Take a guided tour to learn about the dam’s construction, its role in water supply and electricity generation, and enjoy panoramic views from the top.
Gariep Dam Nature Reserve
Adjacent to Oviston Nature Reserve, the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve is another must-visit destination. Explore the diverse ecosystem surrounding the dam, including grassy plains, rocky outcrops, and the tranquil waters of the reservoir. Enjoy game drives, birdwatching, and picnicking while immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the area.
Orange-Fish Tunnel Tour
Embark on an intriguing underground adventure with a tour of the Orange-Fish Tunnel. This tunnel stretches for over 80 kilometers, transporting water from the Gariep Dam to the Fish River Valley for agricultural purposes. Explore the depths of this engineering feat and learn about its vital role in the region’s irrigation system.
Quaggasfontein Game Reserve
Just a short drive from Oviston, Quaggasfontein Game Reserve is a private reserve renowned for its incredible wildlife encounters. Join a guided safari and get up close to a variety of game species, including rhinos, elephants, lions, and buffalo. Experience the thrill of spotting these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
Venture into the charming town of Venterstad, located near Oviston. Explore its historical buildings, enjoy a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Orange River, and savor delicious local cuisine at quaint restaurants and cafes. Don’t miss the opportunity to interact with friendly locals and learn about their way of life in this idyllic Karoo town.
With its remote location and minimal light pollution, Oviston Nature Reserve offers ideal conditions for stargazing. Marvel at the vastness of the night sky as you witness countless stars, constellations, and even the Milky Way. Bring your telescope or simply lie back and let the celestial wonders captivate your imagination.
Aliwal North Hot Springs
Nestled in the Eastern Cape, Aliwal North is a quiet town that exudes its own unique charm. While it may seem unassuming, this town has a secret that has garnered it a dedicated following among visitors from all over South Africa—the hot mineral springs. These springs have become a popular destination for those seeking relaxation and therapeutic benefits.
Previously, the Hot Spring Spa Complex was a recommended tourist attraction, featuring rejuvenating supertubes, outdoor swimming pools, and delightful picnic facilities. However, it’s important to note that we no longer endorse this venue as a tourist attraction. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.
The hot mineral springs in Aliwal North are renowned for their high concentrations of gases and minerals, which are believed to possess therapeutic and curative properties. They are particularly known for alleviating the symptoms of painful arthritis and rheumatism. With a comforting temperature of 34 degrees Celsius, the springs offer a soothing escape from the rigors of daily life, even during the chilly winter months.
Aliwal North is situated on the banks of the majestic Orange River, with the thermal springs emerging from the Gariep Dam. This unique geographical setting contributes to the region’s rich faunal and floral diversity. Nature enthusiasts will find themselves immersed in a landscape teeming with fascinating wildlife and vibrant plant life.
Beyond its natural wonders, Aliwal North also boasts an intriguing history. Located just over 500 kilometers from Port Elizabeth and 356 kilometers from East London, this small town has witnessed the passage of time and retains remnants of its past. Take a stroll through its streets, and you’ll encounter historical landmarks, architecture, and stories that offer a glimpse into the town’s heritage.
While Aliwal North may be a tranquil destination, it holds an undeniable allure for those seeking a peaceful retreat and an opportunity to reconnect with nature. With its hot mineral springs, picturesque location on the banks of the Orange River, and a touch of historical charm, Aliwal North is a hidden gem worth exploring in the Eastern Cape.
Barkly Pass stands out as a unique gem among the eight passes of the Eastern Cape. Unlike its gravel counterparts, Barkly Pass boasts the distinction of being the only tarred road in the region. However, don’t underestimate its challenges, especially during wet or icy weather when the road can become remarkably slippery. Despite the potential hazards, this pass offers breathtaking views, remarkable rock formations, and a sense of adventure that will captivate your senses.
While traversing Barkly Pass, keep an eye out for a natural wonder perched atop the summit—a fascinating sandstone rock formation that resembles either a tortoise or a snail. See if you can spot this captivating feature as you journey along the pass.
Barkly Pass serves as a vital link between the picturesque villages of Barkly East and Elliot. However, it is not just a means of transportation; it’s an experience in itself. The pass presents two distinct perspectives—one while ascending and another while descending. Those traveling uphill, especially with trailers or caravans in tow, will encounter a thrilling adventure as they navigate the winding road. Yet, it is the awe-inspiring vistas that will leave an indelible mark on your memory.
The mountains surrounding Barkly Pass exhibit a characteristic undulating pattern, reminiscent of the Transkei region. As you drive past landmarks like Loskop and Vaalkop, the landscape unfolds before your eyes, showcasing a carpet of lush green grass stretching all the way to the summit. The pinnacle of these mountains resembles a series of grand obelisk columns, appearing as giants poised on the edge of the hill. This natural splendor creates a scene that is both majestic and surreal.
Even with its tarred surface, Barkly Pass demands caution, particularly in adverse weather conditions. However, in the past, when it was a gravel road, traversing this pass was an even more challenging endeavor. Yet, it is not just the stunning scenery that warms the heart in this region. Barkly Pass and its surroundings are known for the hospitality and kindness of its residents. Tales abound of lost wallets being returned with all the money intact, a testament to the genuine and caring nature of the local community.
While Barkly Pass may not be an essential route to your intended destination, it is a detour well worth taking. The allure of panoramic views, the sensation of being alive in the heart of South Africa, and the exhilaration of traversing this iconic pass make it an unforgettable experience. So, veer off the beaten path, venture onto the tarred road of Barkly Pass, and immerse yourself in the beauty and essence of this remarkable corner of the Eastern Cape.
For those seeking awe-inspiring scenery that will leave you breathless, a drive through the Bastervoetpad Pass is an absolute must. This gravel pass connects the towns of Barkly East/Elliot to Ugie, winding its way through the majestic Drakensberg Escarpment. However, be forewarned, as this pass is not for the faint of heart. Travelers often recount tales of challenging driving conditions, especially during the ascent, due to mist and difficult terrain. It is highly recommended to tackle this pass in a 4×4 vehicle or, at the very least, a vehicle with high clearance.
The Bastervoetpad Pass derives its name from the Griqua people who once settled in the area before eventually finding more comfortable habitation in the valleys around Maclear and Ugie. Geologists are particularly fascinated by the rock formations found in the region, as they provide evidence of glacial formation in the area.
Gazing upward from below the pass, your eyes will be treated to incredible views of the Drakensberg Mountains. The striking rock formations and lush green hills create a scene that is nothing short of breathtaking. Conversely, from the pass’s summit, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic vistas of verdant kloofs, picturesque valleys, and even cascading waterfalls, all stretching out along the magnificent escarpment.
The history of the area is intertwined with the Griqua people. In the 1860s, Adam Kok, a former slave who had bought his freedom, led a group of Griqua settlers to the Kokstad region. The Griquas, known as “Basters” or “bastards,” were a mixed-race group born from the unions between Dutch explorers and local indigenous women during their journeys into the interior of the country.
During their migration, a faction of the Griqua group chose a different path, venturing over the Drakensberg Mountains and descending through what is now known as Bastervoetpad Pass, eventually settling in the Ugie area. Today, a community known as Basters can be found in various regions, including south-central Namibia, the Northern Cape, Kranshoek in the Western Cape, and at Kokstad itself.
If concerns about mist and challenging inclines weigh on your mind, it is advisable to travel in the opposite direction, opting for the descent rather than the ascent. This choice will offer a slightly less demanding driving experience while still providing you with remarkable views along the way.
The Bastervoetpad Pass is an adventure that beckons the daring and those seeking to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Eastern Cape. It is a route that promises breathtaking vistas, a glimpse into the geological wonders of the area, and a touch of captivating history. So, gather your courage, prepare your vehicle, and venture forth to conquer the thrilling Bastervoetpad Pass, where nature’s majesty awaits.
As you approach the summit of Carlisleshoek Pass, a signboard catches your attention, advising you to engage the lowest gear, maintain high revs, and take wide corners. It concludes with the encouraging statement to drive confidently. These instructions may leave you feeling a mix of excitement and trepidation, as they hint at the adventure that lies ahead.
The Eastern Cape Drakensberg boasts the Eight Mountain Passes, including the highest dirt road in South Africa. This developing and unspoiled region is a haven for 4×4 enthusiasts, offering thrilling off-road experiences amidst stunning natural beauty.
In all seriousness, the warnings on the signboard are sensible precautions, for Carlisleshoek Pass is renowned for its descent into the historic village of Rhodes. This pass serves as a vital link between Rhodes and Tiffendell, the premier ski and alpine resort nestled on the slopes of Ben McDhui peak. In fact, Tiffendell is South Africa’s claim to snow and the sole ski resort in sub-Saharan Africa.
Descending Carlisleshoek Pass has been likened to “going into free fall” by intrepid bikers, thanks to its steepness. The gradient is practically vertical, earning it the reputation as one of the most challenging descents on the African continent. In a mere three kilometers, you’ll drop more than 300 meters, sending your adrenaline soaring.
Before the descent, the plateau at the pass’s summit offers a picturesque scene of pastoral beauty. Expansive grasslands, grazing cows, and occasional mud huts and farms paint a serene landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see. As you begin the descent, you’ll notice the initially unusual concrete strips, resembling more of a farm track than a road leading down from one of the highest plateaus in the country. However, the breathtaking views along the way make the journey worthwhile. Once the steepest section of the descent is behind you, the track transitions back into a dirt road. Surprisingly, a 4×4 vehicle is not a necessity for this route, but precise control over your vehicle’s power is essential.
Below, nestled amidst the dramatic mountain backdrop, lies the charming town of Rhodes. A visit to this picturesque gem is highly recommended. Interestingly, during the Second Anglo-Boer War, Rhodes endured no less than 29 invasions between June 24, 1901, and February 7, 1902, adding a fascinating historical layer to this quaint town.
Carlisleshoek Pass offers an exhilarating descent into breathtaking scenery, combining adrenaline-pumping thrills with captivating landscapes. So, gear up, exercise caution, and prepare to experience the heart-pounding beauty of Carlisleshoek Pass, where adventure and natural wonders converge.
Whether you’re interested in history, nature, adventure, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, Oviston and its surroundings have an array of attractions to captivate every visitor. Immerse yourself in the beauty, heritage, and adventure that await you in this remarkable corner of South Africa.
Whether you seek a peaceful retreat, an immersive wildlife experience, or a thrilling outdoor adventure, Oviston Nature Reserve has something for everyone. Plan your visit to this untouched haven and immerse yourself in the unspoiled beauty of South Africa’s natural heritage.