Ever since I moved to the Western Cape I have been drawn to the Koue Bokkeveld and all it implies. The vividness of Camdeboo does it for me too – the combination of unusual name and the corresponding picture it evokes in my mind stirs something within me. Visions of me, a backpack and a serious pair of boots no longer feels foreign.
And I’m not wrong. In fact its name is so intuitively bestowed that I have to laugh out loud at how apt it is.
First of all – it’s off the beaten track. Few people use this alternative route to Citrusdal from Ceres via the R303, they’d rather take the N7. So the road, when we use it, is devoid of traffic.
Then there’s just how high the Bokkeveld actually is. An initial climb up Mitchell’s pass just before reaching Ceres (the Spar here is a good spot to stock up on local fruit) already transports one into a different climate and valley, also known as the Warm Bokkeveld, which it shares with Prince Alfred Hamlet – a fertile area that produces peaches, cherries and other fruit .
But not to be out done, the Bokkeveld sits higher still – up the Gydo Pass. The plateau on which it rests is 1050 metres above sea level, hence its name – the winters here are not warm. Summers are brief and intensely hot; winters experience frequent snowfall.
Koue Bokkeveld is not the only pretty name in the vicinity to inspire poets. The Katbakkies pass lies on the road that links the R303 to the R355, whilst the same route takes one via the Skitterykloof. It’s a sand road, so best take an off-road vehicle (although I believe you can do it in an ordinary sedan).
The plateau of the Koue Bokkeveld is farmland. Predominantly apple, pear and vegetable producing land, some of the oldest farms in the country are located here. At its centre is the Dorp op-die-Berg – a sixty year old village established as a business centre for the farmers of the Bokkeveld, though blink and you might miss it.
The farms up here are huge, there are few people and, in the gentle light of almost sundown, the softly blowing grasslands catch the last light of day to provide a breathtaking landscape. I’m enchanted.
Directly translated from the Afrikaans Koue Bokkeveld means ‘cold buck shrubland’, which does little to prepare you for the mountain scape dominated by Cederberg sandstone. Erosion and dollops of rock litter the landscape that almost looks as though you’re on the moon at times. Interesting to read that this is the site of a meteorite crash, even if as far back as 1838.
The cold describes most of the year. It might be the middle of summer when we ascend the veld, but farm workers on the road to left and right wear long sleeves, many of them in windbreakers.
Our stay is in an old, rustic (strong emphasis on ‘rustic’) home of a friend of a friend that rests just above a river on the border of the Cederberg. From where we sit on the veranda we look directly onto the mountains of the Cederberg and the Wilderness area.
Our two days are spent doing very little. We sleep out under the stars, quite literally – our mattresses lined up alongside one another, all decorum banished for the duration of the weekend – swim in the icy river often, and retire to the shade of the lounge when it gets too hot to play board games. Draped shadecloth over the entrance to the veranda keeps things cool.
I’ve never done a weekend quite like this – three families in a one-bed house, a couple of us bedded up for the night in a Landie, the rest of us muddling together utterly content. The initial evening’s excitement of getting lost on sand roads we didn’t know, and subsequent tow out of sand, paled when compared to the sheer fulfillment of the weekend.
Significant was the ease with which we abandoned usual social protocol. It isn’t hard to turn native when one’s surrounds are so arousing, undisturbed and uncultivated. A stay here is most popular during the winter months as people come to find snow, but summer is idyllic when you have a weekend such as ours, that didn’t go above thirty degrees Celsius.