At the far northern extension of the Cape Fold Mountains is a mountain range known as the Cederberg. It is a vast array of weathered sandstone mountains and long, arid valleys that combine into a 830 square kilometre hinterland offering rock formations, remote hiking opportunities, camping, rock climbing and some breathtaking scenery.
Bounded by the towns Clanwilliam, Citrusdal and Wupperthal the Cederberg functions as a weekend bolthole for Capetonians, and a hiking mecca for those after wilderness adventures. And all of this a mere three hours’ drive from Cape Town.
Spelled interchangeably Cedarberg, or Cederberg, (depending on whom you ask) the mountains are named after the Clanwilliam cedar (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis) now regarded as a ‘relic species’ from a time when the area had a colder climate…
As with so much of our natural forest, these slow-growing trees were over-exploited, leaving only a few remaining examples. But the declaration of the Cederberg Wilderness, in 1973, gave this splendid area complete protection from any further desecration.
The Cederberg Wilderness is not the only conservation initiative.
The Cederberg Conservancy, a voluntary agreement between 22 landowners to farm and manage the environment sustainably, was established in 1997. Visitors, who can reach the conservancy from the N7, via Algeria, or from the south via a gravel road from Op-die-Berg, can camp, hike, walk or simply drink in the views.
Since 2004 the Cederberg has had World Heritage status for its contribution to the Cape Floral Region.
And the new Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor, most of which falls in the Cederberg Conservancy, is an attempt to link Cape Nature’s Cederberg Wilderness and Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve with the creation of the Rooi Cederberg Karoo Park.
As a playground, the Cederberg has been blogged about aplenty, with information on hiking, climbing, biking and visiting San rock art sites. But the more unusual, authentic local experiences are only now being discovered.
Our Top 7 Really Unusual Activities In The Cederberg
DO A ROOIBOS TEA SAFARI
The biggest industry in the Cederberg is rooibos tea production. That and honeybush and buchu – an everyday sight on the lower slopes of the Cederberg. Despite the huge industry, rooibos is difficult to plant.
The seeds are rather tough and they germinate only after scraping them, so seeds need to be germinated in beds and then transplanted as seedlings. It takes a good 18 months before the first harvest of tea.
There are two ways you can explore rooibos. One is to visit the Rooibos Factory in Clanwilliam, and the other is a rather novel Rooibos safari, offered by Elandsberg Farm, where they explain the entire farming process to the visitor, from its cultivation to the processing of a final product. Contact Chris and Annette du Plessis on 027 482 2022.
BUY A PAIR OF ‘VELLIES’ IN WUPPERTHAL
The pretty little Moravian missionary village of Wupperthal lies on the fringes of the Karoo between Clanwilliam and Reneen. The veldskoen tradition has been here since one of the co-founders (Johann Gottlieb Leopoldt), a shoemaker by trade, set up a shoemaking workshop in town.
Today what must easily be the oldest shoe factory in South Africa still operates, and you can get yourself a handmade pair of leather hiking boots, or veldskoens (field shoes).
Vellies are a traditional local footwear made from untanned leather. If any shoe were to make it into the history annals of what constitutes a truly South African shoe, then this would have to be it! Order your shoes in advance as the factory does not keep huge stocks.
VISIT A GOURMET’S LAST RESTING PLACE
Leipoldt’s ashes is the cave in which the ashes of the poet, journalist, medical doctor and connoisseur of fine food and drink, C Louis Leipoldt, are scattered. Despite being a doctor and having his practice in Clanwilliam, Leipoldt played a fascinating role in the country’s culinary history.
Having grown up in the kitchen with the family cook, who taught him not only how to produce good food, but the medicinal properties of herbs, he was to write a number of books on food and wine – Kos vir die Kenner, Leipoldt’s Cape Cookery and Polfyntjies vir die Proe amongst them.
His final resting place is a little cave with some remnants of rock art, signposted from Pakhuis Pass. (Leipoldt was born in Wuppertal; his house is now a café).
SEE FOSSILISED SHELLFISH IN THE BIEDOUW VALLEY
The valley that links the Biedouw Mountains in the north to the Tra-Tra Mountains in the south is a carpet of flowers during spring, and renowned as one of the richest flower areas, with a particular penchant for vygies.
This is further enhanced by sustainably-inclined farmers who make sure their herds graze elsewhere during the flower season.
But the valley is also the site of fossilised shellfish deposits that are as much as 375 million years old and include fossil fish, land plants, and molluscs found in amongst the Bokkeveld Series shale. Back then the area was seaside and the valley was under shallow coastal waters.
VISIT THE RED CEDERBERG
The newly acclaimed Red Cederberg Karoo Park lies beyond the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve. The 60 000 hectare conservation area is the commitment of seven landowners to sustainably farm this biodiversity hotspot, which forms part of both the Cape Floristic region and the Succulent Karoo.
It functions as a corridor for animals that include the Cape leopard and Cape mountain zebra. Within the park there are 4×4 routes, the Cederberg Arch Hiking Trail, and an easy to do hiking trail to reach the Wolfberg Arch.
RIDE IN A DONKEY CART
Ride from the edge of the Pakhuis Pass for two and a half hours by donkey cart to Heuningvlei, one of several Moravian Mission Church outposts in this back end of the Cederberg. The local community, where they produce dried fruit and rooibos tea, will welcome your patronage at the local guesthouse or the community lodge.
From here you can hike, explore local rock art sites or visit an organic rooibos tea farm.
Do the ride either as part of the Cederberg Heritage Route, or contact Cederberg African Travel on 027 482 2444.