Western Cape – Gysmanshoek Pass and Surrounding Area

About the Birding

To date, 151 different bird species have been recorded in the area surrounding Gysmanshoek Pass and along the access roads near Gysmanshoek Pass, including the areas alongside the Rooiwaterspruit Hiking Trail.

Birding along the Rural Roads located on the northern side of the N2 National Highway that runs between Riversdale and Heidelberg, but lying to the south of the Langeberg Mountain Range, is rewarding as many diverse habitats are crossed through along these roads. The habitats range from intensely cultivated agricultural areas, pristine Fynbos hillsides, and deep incised streams with some of them covered in dense indigenous vegetation. Beautiful views of the foothills and kloofs of the southern-facing slopes of the Langeberg Mountain Range exist along all these roads.

Along the northern access road through the Klein Karoo domain completely different and much more arid habitats are crossed through which adds to the diversity of bird species in this area.

Other key species:

Special bird species that can be added to the above list along the northern access road on the Klein Karoo (northern) side of the Langeberg Range, the R62 to R323 link road, to the Gysmanshoek northern turnoff, are Acacia Pied Barbet, Sickle-winged-, Ant-eating- & Karoo Chats, Namaqua Dove, Red-capped Lark, Karoo Korhaan, Blue Crane, Secretarybird, Martial Eagle, White-backed Mousebird, and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow.

Along the southern access routes bird species like Red-necked Spurfowl, Denham’s Bustard, Blue Crane, White Stork, Southern Boubou, Southern Tchagra, Sombre Greenbul, Olive Bushshrike, Red-chested-, Diederik-, Klaas’s- & Black Cuckoos, Cloud Cisticola, Cape Grassbird, Zitting Cisticola, Cape Clapper- & Red-capped Larks as well as African Paradise-, Dusky- & Blue-mantled Crested Flycatchers may be encountered.

About the Birding Site

Gysmanshoek Pass crosses over the Langeberg Mountain Range approximately 15km to the west of Garcia Pass (Road R323). Gysmanshoek Pass links the Klein Karoo, which lies on the northern side of the Langeberg Mountain Range, with the coastal belt which lies on the southern side of the Langeberg Range. Gysmanshoek Pass is a rough, steep, and very narrow gravel road. The pass section of this road is approximately 12km long.

During the Protea flowering-season, the scenery surrounding the Pass is awesome with literally thousands of flowering proteas of many different species blooming at the same time.

Access to Gysmanshoek Pass from the south is via a scenic gravel district road that links the towns of Riversdale and Heidelberg. The Korentepoort water supply dam to Riversdale is situated along this road. These roads cross through cultivated areas along the foothills of the Langeberg Mountain Range as well as through indigenous forested kloofs and commercial plantation areas where pine, blue gum and wattle species dominate.

Access to Gysmanshoek Pass from the northern side is via the Klein Karoo off the link road between Route R62 which links Barrydale to Ladismith, and Road R323, the Ladismith to Riversdale Road.

Birding along the Gysmanshoek Pass and in the surrounding areas are discussed in three different sections hereafter, namely:
• Gysmanshoek Pass
• Korentepoort Dam and Rooiwaterspruit Hiking Trail
• Rural roads between Riversdale and Heidelberg

Route description:
Gysmanshoek Pass crosses over the Langeberg Mountain Range approximately 15km to the west of Garcia Pass (Road R323). The Gysmanshoek Pass links the Klein Karoo which lies on the northern side of the Langeberg Mountain Range with the coastal belt which lies on the southern side of the Langeberg Range. The Pass is a steep and narrow gravel road. This pass section is approximately 13,2km long. The road can be accessed from the southern side at GPS -33.9706˚S, 21.0514˚E (Gysmanshoek South) or from the northern end at GPS -33.8911˚S, 21.0602˚E (Gysmanshoek North) and can be travelled in any direction but the scenery driving from north to south is much more rewarding. A 4×4 vehicle is not required when driving north to south, but loose rounded boulders on the southern side makes ascending from the south with a 2-wheel drive vehicle more difficult. A high clearance vehicle is however required as erosion gullies need to be crossed in many places.

Unfortunately, no lookout points have been established along the route from where the adjoining kloofs, deep incised valleys, and the steep inclined mountain slopes can be studied, but short periods of stopping on the road is not a problem as few vehicles travel this road and approaching traffic can easily be heard in the distance.

Birding along the route:
Scan the bracken fern next to the road carefully and pay attention to sound as well as the slightest movement within the bracken. Little Victorin’s Warblers, Fynbos Buttonquails, and Striped Flufftail, the ultimate skulkers, are likely to be encountered here, but they are all extremely difficult to locate. Knysna Warbler, Cape Batis, and Bar-throated Apalis can all be found in the dense thickets along stream beds. Orange-breasted Sunbirds, Karoo Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola, and Cape Sugarbirds are easy to locate when the proteas and pincushions are in bloom. Red-winged Starling, Cape Rock Thrush and possibly also Cape Rockjumper or Ground Woodpecker may be seen where they perch on top of rock outcrops. Red-necked Spurfowl may be located along the verges of the road at times. Alpine-, Common- & African Black Swifts can all be seen under favourable conditions. Raptor species that may likely be encountered are Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Jackal- & Forest Buzzards, Booted Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, and with a bit of luck a Verreaux’s Eagle on flying over.

Along the road verges Cape Robin-chat, Southern Boubou, Sombre Greenbul, Southern Tchagra, Fork-tailed Drongo, Karoo Prinia, Speckled- and Red-faced Mousebirds, Tambourine Dove and African Olive Pigeon can be found.

The Korentepoort Dam is located on the Vette River at GPS -34.0066˚S, 21.1996˚E approximately 16km from Riversdale with the Langeberg Mountain and the well-known Sleeping Beauty Peak as the backdrop to the dam. The dam is surrounded by mainly Black Wattle, Blue Gum, and Pine plantations.
The Korente-Vetterivier Irrigation Board manages the accommodation facilities at the dam which includes seven chalets as well as a camping site for tents and caravans. The old construction accommodation for the dam has been converted into chalets which can be rented by visitors. Day-visitor facilities are also available.

Birding on the surface of the dam is normally quite restricted with generally only a few White-breasted- & Reed Cormorants, African Darter, Grey Heron, Yellow-billed Duck as well as Rock- & Brown-throated Martins on show. The plantation edges and reedbed seams of the dam however are likely to yield species like Forest Buzzard, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, African Olive Pigeon, Terrestrial Brownbul, Olive Thrush, Cape Batis, Common- & Swee Waxbills, Brimstone-, Yellow-, Protea-, Cape- & Forest Canaries, Cape Siskin, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Little Rush- & Lesser Swamp Warblers, as well as Cape Grassbird.

Rooiwaterspruit Hiking Trail description:
The start and end point of the 10km Rooiwaterspruit Hiking Trail (out and back) is located at GPS -33.9983˚S, 21.1577˚E. The trail ascends 134m from the start of the trail to the highest point on the trail near the turn-around point. The trail is described as an easy hike for hikers of varying levels of fitness. The trail can comfortably be hiked in less than 4 hours.

The first half of the outbound leg of the trail runs along a forestry jeep track through the pine and blackwood plantations whereas the second half of the trail crosses through Mountain Fynbos. A disused hiker’s hut is reached at the end of the trail, directly above the waterfall. To reach the actual waterfall a bit of bundu bashing is required over the stream above the ledge of the waterfall and then along an overgrown contour path. To reach the waterfall you need to cross the spruit at the hikers’ hut and search for the overgrown contour trail on the northern bank. Continue about 150m along this overgrown contour trail and then carefully search for a safe place to descend to the natural pool at the foot of the waterfall.

Birding along the Rooiwaterspruit Hiking Trail:
Birding along the trail is however quite rewarding. In the Fynbos areas Karoo Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola, Neddicky, Cape Grassbird, Cape Sugarbird, and Orange-breasted Sunbird should be quite easy to locate as well as Brimstone Canaries and Cape Buntings. Special birds to be on the lookout for on the south-facing mountain slopes in the moist bracken fern areas are Victorin’s Warblers, Fynbos Buttonquail and Striped Flufftail.

In the forest area search for Red-chested- & Black Cuckoo, Cape Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Sombre Greenbul, Olive Bushshrike, Cardinal-, Olive- & Knysna Woodpeckers, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Forest Buzzard, Knysna Warbler, African Olive Pigeon, as well as African Paradise-, Dusky-, & Blue-mantled Crested Flycatchers. Red-necked Spurfowl can also be spotted with luck.

Route descriptions:
As is depicted in the above road layout (Yellow and Orange routes), two different rural gravel roads can be travelled between the towns of Riversdale in the east and Heidelberg in the west. The Northern Road (Yellow in the map above) is approximately 41,2km in length with a short cross-cutting road to the Southern Route located at 17,7km from the eastern end of the Northern Road. The Southern Road (Orange in map above) is approximately 32,5km in length and the cross-cutting road to the Northern Road joins the road at approximately 19km from the Eastern end of this road.

The eastern and western ends of the Northern Road are located at GPS -34.0676˚S, 21.2402˚E and at GPS -34.0322˚S, 20.9753˚E respectively, whilst the Eastern and Western ends of the Southern Road are located at GPS -34.0775˚S, 21.2454˚E (east) and GPS -34.0426˚S, 20.9634˚E (west).
The length of the cross-cutting gravel link road is approximately 3,5km.

The Northern Road crosses through mixed-use farmland ranging from intensely developed agricultural fields to pastures with dense indigenous vegetation patches along streambeds and rivulets as well as patches of pine, blue gum, and blackwood plantation sections.

The eastern section of the Southern Road travels through intensely developed corn and canola fields along the railway line whilst the western section crosses through mixed-use agricultural areas. Due to the varied habitats the roads travel through a good diversity of bird species can normally be encountered along any of these road sections.

Birding along the routes:
As mentioned above the diverse habitats encountered along these road sections provide for a good diversity of bird species. The riverine thickets in particular produce several special species which are not normally encountered easily in the area. Bird species like Red-chested-, Diederik- & Black Cuckoos, Forest Buzzard, Olive Bushshrike, Knysna Warbler, African Paradise-, Dusky- & Blue-mantled Crested Flycatchers, Cape White-eye, Cape Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Burchell’s Coucal, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, and African Olive Pigeon are all common species in summer in the riverine sections.

On the Fynbos slopes species like Grey-backed Cisticola, Neddicky, Cape Grassbird, Bokmakierie, Karoo Scrub Robin, Cape-, Brimstone-, Yellow- & White-throated Canaries, Cape Bunting, and Cape Siskin are easy to locate. The corn and canola fields should be scanned for the presence of Blue Crane, Secretarybird, Southern Black Korhaan, Denham’s Bustard, Large-billed-, Red-capped- & Agulhas Long-billed Larks, African-, Long-billed- & Plain-backed Pipits, Cape Longclaw, Zitting- & Cloud Cisticolas, as well as Cape Clapper Lark.

Other Related Information

Permits to undertake the Rooiwaterspruit Hiking Trail is not a prerequisite but can be obtained from Cape Nature.
Korentepoort Dam access for day-visitors: Current 2023 day-visitor rates are R16p.p plus R50 per vehicle.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
There are several guesthouses offering farm stays on farms surrounding Riversdale and Heidelberg as well as other accommodation types in the area which are available through the normal accommodation booking sites. Currently there are no Birder Friendly Establishments listed for this area.

Local guide information:
There are no community bird guides available for this area.

Text prepared by:
Francois Furstenburg

Key species:

Victorin’s- & Knysna Warblers, Orange-breasted-, Malachite- & Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Cape Sugarbird, Karoo Prinia, Cape Grassbird, Rock Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Jackal Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Red-necked Spurfowl, Yellow Bishop, Bar-throated Apalis, Swee Waxbill, Cape-, Brimstone-, Yellow-, Protea- & White-throated Canaries, as well as Cloud Cisticola.

Contact details:

Korente-Vetterivier Besproeiingsraad (Korente-Vetteriver Irrigation Board):
Cellphone: +27 (0)82 990 6611
Telephone: +27 (0)28 713 3316
Email: korente.oord@easycoms.co.za
Web: https://korentepoortdam.co.za

Cape Nature:
Cellphone: +27 (0)87 087 8250