Eastern Cape DestinationsWillowmore, Baviaanskloof
When people describe the little Karoo town of Willowmore as the western gateway to the Baviaanskloof, it is more literal than one thinks.
People entering or exiting, depending on how they choose to drive it, the wilderness kloof use the town as a place to refresh themselves, or overnight. It is geared for tourists, its main thoroughfare (Knysna Road) littered with antique furniture stores, delis, restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and places to stay. It's colourful, to say the least.
There is a donkey cart ride around town, known as the Willow Limo. But don't try taking a sneak photo of the donkeys without asking permission first, as the oom who drives the cart is more likely to remonstrate with you about the R5 fee he charges to have his face and cart grace your camera, than comply.
The reason many visitors to this remoter part of the Eastern Cape may not know about the allure of Willowmore is because the N9 bypasses town. If you're slightly distracted on your journey, you'll whiz by without a second glance.
Willowmore lies 140 km north-east of Knysna, and about an hour's drive south-west of Aberdeen. Just outside town is the dirt road that takes you through the Baviaanskloof, a remote place of jagged and folded mountains. If the muddied bikers who shot out of the edge of the Baviaanskloof on the day we were there are anything to go by, it's another world.
Lying between Willowmore and Patensie the Baviaanskloof is a long narrow valley. Running its 200 km length is Thomas Bain's longest road, arguably one of the engineer's most spectacular roads, given the natural beauty of the two mountain passes, low-water bridges and incredible views.
It takes the average 4x4 vehicle six hours to navigate, but you'll probably want to do it a lot slower than that.
You have a couple of choices open to you when navigating the kloof. Either you can go as far as the Nuwekloof pass, before turning back to Willowmore. Or you can drive right through to Patensie. This latter section is when you'll need a 4x4 as the narrow gravel passes, and the state of the road, make the going tough.
Willowmore is worth a stopover. Town is filled with historical architecture (even the Old Jail is now a unique overnight venue) and includes a wonderful old Boer graveyard, and a well cared for Jewish cemetery. The Pierre Ferreira hiking trail into the surrounding veld incorporates a couple of historic forts and wonderful views over town.
Look out for: the little yellow vintage car on the south side of town, the red pedestrian bridge (rooi bruggie) used during floods, Antiques at Sophie's Choice, Kapoet for coffee, and the Blackstone power station.