The Donkey Trail
SA Mountain
Issue nr.26 Sept-Nov 2008

Between the years 1830 and 1962 the inhabitants of the isolated valley of Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) had no road access into their valley Only a few footpaths crisscrossed the mountains and connected the valley to Calitzdorp and Prince Albert. Donkeys were used to carry heavy items and produce between the valley and Calitzdorp, also via the Wyenek route. Once the road to Gamkaskloof was opened in 1962, the donkey trail and other footpaths sadly lost their purpose and faded into insignificance, except for the odd intrepid hiker.

In 1998, Hans and Erika Calitz bought a portion of the farm Groenfontein (now known as Living Waters), which was the original access point to the Wyenek donkey trail from the south. They moved to the country with a view to a better quality of life for their own young children and to reach out to the broken youth in this rural community.

Casual meetings with the young people were started on Friday evenings, providing a foundation on which to build trust. A youth center was established in 1999 which still provides opportunity for social interaction through sport, film and life-skill discussions, this all safe from the messy norm of violence and alcohol abuse. As young people started breaking away from the vicious cycle of substance abuse, Erika started seeking alternate avenues for education for those who had already dropped out of school and employment initiatives to get young people motivated to improve their own lifestyle and bring hope for the future.

A bridge with Creare, a drama, dance, art and music school in Bloemfontein has provided a brilliant platform for some of these young people to train in the arts and thereby learn to express their own life stories to other desperate youngsters from nearby communities. Stepping Stones is a much needed preschool which was established to provide a foundation for youngsters (4-6 years old) on their way to Grade 1 in Calitzdorp. These children already take pride in their conservation mindset and adore their donkeys.

Soon, Living Waters became recognized by Social Welfare and the SAPS as a place of safety and children were being placed in the care of the Calitz family for varied periods of time while their parents rehabilitated. In many cases young teenagers who had clashed with the law were placed at Living Waters by Correctional Services and some have come voluntarily to rehabilitate. It became evident that the only future visible to these young people was "spade", "maid" or "fade" and this reality gave birth to the idea to revitalize this cultural, historic route as a sustainable, eco-tourism product to provide the community with hope and vision. The root of this heritage product is youth development - this is the heart of the Donkey Trail.

Then of course there are the donkeys. Eleven donkeys are currently in training at Living Waters. The majority of these equines were been placed on our farm through Hillary Schutte from the De Rust Donkey Awareness Program. She is always on the lookout for safe homes for broken donkeys. As the frightened and often injured donkeys started arriving at Living Waters we recognized an uncanny likeness between their former suffering and that of many of the children who have been placed with us. Nothing that a bit of tender love and trust can't fix. With time, each donkey's unique character has surfaced - and what a wacky bunch they are! Walking with donkeys has got to be one of the most insane but rewarding things to attempt in your life. This is really something to look forward to.

Years of brainstorming and research followed and culminated in the completion of a thorough feasibility study and management plan funded by CEPF (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund). CapeNature and the Calitz family have now entered into an exclusive agreement to jointly open, manage and operate this route as a formal guided tour for visitors who wish to experience this magnificent region.

The route follows the original trail and donkeys walk alongside visitors and assist with transportation of their daypacks and water. Members of the local previously disadvantaged community are being trained by the Nature College (Ladismith in the Cape) as THETA-accredited guides and donkey handlers to accompany all groups utilizing the route.

The trail has been packaged as part of a heritage tour through one of the prime areas of the Klein Karoo and the mountain portion of the trail takes one through the Cape Floristic Region which falls under the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unique vernacular architecture, a biodiversity "hotspot", bushman paintings, geological marvels and of course the pioneering path and road engineering feats of the people of yesteryear will be experienced. Visitors can expect a rich blend of local flavours including Klein Karoo lamb, dried fruits and Peter Bayly's Port produced in Groenfontein, near Calitzdorp.

The four days and three night tour includes all meals, trail snacks, bedding and towels, guides, donkey porters, CapeNature reserve fees and return transportation to the starting point over the Swartberg Pass from Gamkaskloof.

The all-inclusive rate for the current season is R2500 per person. Tours start in September 2008. For all bookings and enquiries, please call Erika Calitz on 083 628 9394 or 044 213 3990, or visit our website

For more information regarding CapeNature reserves, please contact their central reservations office on:
Tel 021 659 3500

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