A cloud of dust puffs up mid-air behind your wheels as you meander along the dirt road, above a lone jackal buzzard’s glides into the distance and to your sides rock formations – stacked by Mother Nature herself – grab your attention with an “oh, look here” and an “oh, look there”.
This is the Cederberg Wilderness Area, and in that moment of dust and flying birds you realise how unique South Africa’s natural environment is, and on top of that, how unique the sense of exploration is among travellers, because here you are, about 230 km away from Cape Town, stopping to admire rocks…
Somewhere in South Africa, someone else is capturing one of the big five on safari yet here you are capturing photos to the left and the right of jagged sandstone rock formations resembling crosses, halls, people and anything your imagination can whip up in the spur of the moment.
And you are not alone; before you know it another vehicle pulls up with jaw-on-the-floor admiration in their eyes.
But in reality and retrospect, it is so much more than ‘just rocks’.
The geology of the Cederberg Mountains consists of sandstone, shale and sedimentary rockthat dates back to 700 million years ago, a big climatic change resulted in continental moving glaciers which formed the valleys and high mountains and to this day we admire the formations which were sculpted by wind and water over the years.
It is no wonder that rock climbers come from all over the worldto visit the area to reach new heights while the rest of us experience vertigo.In fact, while conquering the Rocklands in the Pakhuis Pass, the American author and rock climber, Cedar Wright, said: “If Salvador Dali and Dr.Seuss got together to make a bouldering area, it would look something like this.”
The World Heritage Site of the Cederberg Wilderness Area encompasses 71 000 hectares of mountainous terrain (and of course, rocks) in the Cape floral region, where rooibos humbly originates from, and the area boasts an array of interesting sights and activities for visitors.
Whether you’re a history buff, an adrenaline junkie, nature lover, off-road adventurer, rock climbers, mountain biker, birder, hiker or a wine connoisseur, you will find something to do beyond the moments of rock admiration and appreciation while small town explorers can also hunt for treasures in the surrounding towns of Clanwilliam, Wupperthal, Citrusdal and Ceres.
The area’s accessibility as well as the distance from Cape Town gives visitors the best of both worlds; you will be in for a treat on a quick weekend getaway and a bigger treat if you choose to stay a bit longer.
Things to do in Cederberg
If you don’t have a lot of time or prefer to plan your getaway, here are a few suggestions of what you can do in the area. Leave some space and time in your schedule for rock admiring, perhaps add another hour to a hike to just take it all in, make some time for gathering around a fire, toasting a marshmallow and reading a book.
Taste the area
You are spoilt for choice!
Throw back a cold one at Cederberg Brewery, situated at Cederberg Private Cellar at Dwarsrivier. Their handcrafted beer is made from the purest ingredients and they use only spring water from the surrounding mountains for your taste perfection.
Cederberg Private Cellar’s wine portfolio consists of seven ranges and is the only wine farm in the Cederberg ward, as well as the highest wine farm above sea level in the Western Cape. They believe that the secret to their award-wining wines is the unique terroir and a pure, virus-free environment and winemaker, David Niewoudts says, “I want people to drink my wine and think of these mountain ranges, unique and untouched.”
If you’ve had enough beer and enough wine, you can also opt for a rooibos tea tasting. Taste Carmién Tea in Citrusdal on Bergendal Farm or do a tea, wine and flavour pairing (or tea, wine and meal pairing) at Hebron on the Piekenierskloof Pass on the N7. You can also have a rooibos experiences in Clanwilliam.
Explore on foot (or by bicycle)
Tie your hiking boots in double knots and make sure you have a puncture kit for your bicycle because you’re in for a wild adventure if you choose to hike or bike in the Cederberg.
With ease, and only a minute or four of walking, you can explore the rock formation sites such as the Stadsaal Caves (where you can also view rock art) and Lot’s Wife, while other trails – ranging from 1 hour to 8 hours – will require a bit more perseverance, time, water, some snacks and a sun hat.
Some of the most popular trails are the Maltese Cross Trail of 5 hours, the famous Wolfberg Arch that is an 8 hour strenuous hike with incredible views along the way, and the Waterfall Trail of 3 hours that takes you from the Algeria Forest Station to a waterfall that is great picnic-and-swim spot.
For mountain bikers there are the Bakkrans trail, six trails at Kromrivier, four at Dwarsrivier including the Maltese Cross and Lot’s Wife ranging from 7 km to 30 km, there is the Bushmen’s Cave circular route, Cederberg Ridge have a few on site and then there is the family-friendly 10 km Olive grove route at Mount Cedar.
Follow the stars
Due to lack of light pollution in the area you’re bound to see the night sky light up with glitter and sparkles. The Cederberg Observatory is situated 2 km from Dwarsriver and here you can enjoy a two-hour stargazing experience through slides shows and you’ll get the opportunity to peek through a telescope. The show is every Saturday, it starts at 20:00 and they’re not operating during full moon weekends.
Discover the nooks and crannies of Clanwilliam
Clanwilliam’s history can be traced back to the 1600s and apart from yesteryear’s memories and history,there are a great number of things to do to keep yourself busy.
Visitors can visit the showroom Strassbergers Shoe Factory, they’ve been making hand-stitched leather shoes since 1834, you can do a buchu and rooibos tour, a Rooibos tea tasting at Velskoendraai and apart from day hikes there is also a 3-5 day heritage route trail and mountain biking routes.
Know before you go
You can access the Cederberg from the N7 of from Ceres via the KoueBokkeveld. The majority of the road network in the Cederberg area are dirt roads yet apart from the road going towards Wuppertal from Matjiesriver(4×4 only) and a few other short detours, the rest are sedan-friendly. As precaution of weather-related changes, always make sure what the road condition is like before you leave for your trip; there are some bridges that might get damaged or become impassable for a sedan during heavy rains and floods.
Apart from some accommodation establishments selling a few products (drinks, potato chips, etc.), there are no shops in the wilderness area. There are a wide range of Cederberg accommodation options available from guest farms to nature reserves with cave suites, chalets, lodges, resorts, glamping tents as well as option to pitch your own tent.
Signal is limited; prepare yourself for a digital detox.
Always stick to marked paths when you go hiking and don’t disturb the natural environment or damage or touch the rock art.
Most rain is between May and September, summer can get extremely hot and winter exceptionally cold with the possibility of snow in the higher parts; pack, plan and book your accommodation accordingly. Getting four seasons in one day is not uncommon.
There are no fuel stations or ATMs available in the conservancy; while the distances are not exceptionally long it is best to fill up in the nearest town or to take extra fuel.