My good friend Monty who is always an opportunist for adventure out in the great outdoors accompanied me on a day trip through the Cederberg Region South-Africa. His love for wide-open vistas, peace and quiet of lesser travelled places, and my desire to know more about this strange land made him my perfect travel companion, as he is quite familiar with the Cederberg Region. This was my first visit to this strange land of rugged, crazy rock formations, and it won’t be my last either.
The Cederberg Wilderness Region is only three hours outside Cape Town, but it feels like a different world. It lies 200km north of Cape Town, stretching from the Middelberg Pass in Citrusdal to the north of the Pakhuis Pass at Clanwilliam. It was proclaimed a wilderness area in 1973. A reserve of about 5 250 hectares was established in 1987 to prevent the extinction of the area’s namesake: the Clanwilliam cedar tree. The Cederberg Mountains, burnt orange by iron oxide, dominate the landscape. Jagged sandstone rock formations, like the Maltese Cross and the Wolfberg Arch, and ancient San and Khoi rock art, make this area truly spectacular.
The Cederberg Wilderness Area encompasses about 71 000 hectares of rugged, mountainous terrain, making it a top spot in the Western Cape for hiking and rock-climbing enthusiasts. This region is renowned for its spectacular landscapes and the sense of solitude they inspire. Sandstone caves and rocky overhangs shelter some of the region’s finest examples of ancient San rock art. At Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve the eerie Stadsaal rock formations are found, where the presence of people long gone is still palpable. It is here, too, not far from the Stadsaal Caves that the evocative elephant rock painting is found.
The Cederberg, which forms part of the Cape floral region, is a World Heritage Site, is covered in mountain fynbos, including the laurel protea, the red disa, rooibos, and the rare and endemic snow protea. Rare Clanwilliam cedars, the area’s namesake, dot the higher mountain cliffs.
The area is also rich in wildlife. Visitors with a keen eye may spot porcupines, honey badger, the Cape clawless otter and aardvark. The lucky few may even catch a glimpse of the elusive leopard. There are also smaller predators like the African wild cat, lynx, bat-eared fox, aardwolf and Cape fox. Other, more common animals include baboons, dassies, grey rhebok, klipspringers, duiker and grysbok.
In 1988, the Cederberg Wilderness Area was established as the centre of a leopard management area to protect leopards by minimising conflict between stock farming and nature conservation.
We set off early around 06h15 from Worcester and headed towards Ceres on the R43, thereafter taking a turn onto the R303 to Prince Alfred Hamlet stopping to take in the view at the top of Gydo Pass. It was unbelievably cold and very windy at the top of the pass, the spectacular view of the hamlet below as the sun started to paint the peaks red and the mist glowed blue below. The altitude is around 1000m ASL and this is now the Koue Bokkeveld area.
We also got to fill in a logbook behind the Gydo Pass signboard, which is something I didn’t know about until that day. It is run by Cape Mountain Passes of South-Africa. En route to Die Dorp Op Die Berg, translated in English, means the Town On The Mountain, a breezy and chilly 3°c sunrise scene presented itself to us and we couldn’t help stopping at a farm near Elandsfontein on the R303. The Dabchicks and Coots were already busy feeding in the dams while the mist rose from the water and the sun danced pastel colours on the mountain peaks. We were now making our way between the Hexberg Nature Reserve and Cederberg Mountain Catchment Area towards Citrusdal on a gravel road where cellphone reception was barely available and sketchy for most of the time. The views from the Middelberg Pass are quite something and the pass is in fairly good condition, for more information on the pass click here.
Citrusdal is legendary for the citrus fruits that are grown in this region. The fragrance and perfume of the citrus blossoms at the right time of year can be quite heady, if you are asthmatic or suffer from hay fever, this might not be so appealing to you! I have visited Citrusdal before, but not Algeria which is a very pristine campsite run by CapeNature. We had our breakfast here and soaked up the mountain scenery, man it was so good to be out in Nature! I will definitely be returning to Algeria to camp there.
On leaving Algeria, one climbs the spectacular and scenic Cederberg Pass. There are plenty of interesting rock formations throughout the Cederberg Region, around every corner you can imagine an object or shape that makes sense to you. Along this section of road, we came across the privately owned Cederberg Astronomical Observatory at Dwarsrivier Farm. There is a nice little shop on the farm and good accommodation as well.
We took the opportunity to visit Lot’s Wife nearby, except this time she is cast in rock. From a different perspective, she can look like a rampant male lion about to climb a rock.
This was an interesting drive, we could either turn right to head back to Citrusdal or continue on to Wuppertal via Eselbank. We chose this option and whilst a road map makes this route look quick and easy, it is by no means so! The road is mostly single track and having the right vehicle for the job really counts in one’s favour. We passed many strange formations en route to Eselbank, the journey was slow but very interesting. I strongly recommend a satellite phone or a Garmin InReach device if you are exploring this area, it is so remote and we passed one vehicle here for the whole day!
Eselbank has a population of around 150 people and they exist off living from rooibos tea grown there. There is one guest house – Ina’s Paradise Guest House in the village which is worth a stay for hikers and explorers alike. Our highlight for the day there was discovering the waterfall at the gorge just after exiting the village. I must stress the drops are around 80-100m, should you fall, it could be a fatal ending for you. The water bubbles out from potholes in the rock and is polished very smooth. It is cold, fresh and very clean and refreshing on a hot day. There are quite a few pools where one can relax in. This is quite a photogenic spot and the waterfall reminded me of Nieuwoudtville Falls where the river tumbles off of a cliff to the bottom below. We also discovered some caves as pictured in the cover photo, with the late afternoon sun glowing red on the rocks from within.
The next exciting part of our journey was down the very narrow Eselbank Pass to Wuppertal, a Moravian mission village which was destroyed in 2018 by fire, all the homes have thatched roofs. Sadly, very little survived the fire except the large historic church built in 1834 there. Wuppertal is known for having the oldest shoe factory in South-Africa. It was quite late in the afternoon, and we decided to make our way home before sunset.
This was approximately a 600km fascinating day of exploration for both of us. Soul food one can surely say! Our route home took us from Wuppertal to Clanwilliam and then via Citrusdal, Piketberg for a meal at the Spur, onwards to Porterville, Tulbach Wolseley and Worcester. Do look out for an upcoming photographic workshop in this region, there is still much planning to before I launch it in 2020.
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CapeNature information sourced from their website.
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