Activities / Attractions / Western Cape

Ride the Cederberg Heritage Route in a donkey cart – a clean, green break

Updated Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A friend of mine on Facebook, Jeremy Smith, has co-written a fantastic Rough Guide called Clean Breaks – 500 New Ways to See the World. He’s also an editor of Big Picture TV and the founder of the website that promotes innovations from around the world for sustainable living – filled with a host of unique ideas people have come up with, like a bicycle powered water pump, turning trash bags into toys, portable classrooms for nomads in Ethiopia and floating solar powered schools in Bangladesh.

But this blog is not about my ‘friends’ on FB, despite the fact that Jeremy’s an all-round good guy. What is interesting about his book is that one of the clean breaks he has selected, given that he and co-author Richard Hammond had the whole world to choose from, is the Cederberg Heritage Route …

Cederberg Heritage Route

Friends of mine (these are ‘normal’ friends, not on FB, promise) are escaping there this very weekend, intent on getting away from their parents, who have decided to paint their house for them. Whilst this is very well intentioned, it does lead to certain irritations and privacy issues, given that the house is now inundated with painters, people, dust sheets and the like.

The gorgeous Cederberg Mountains are only about 2.5 hours’ drive north of Cape Town. Trails on the Cederberg Heritage Route, as there are a number, start from Clanwilliam. It is a challenging, beautiful terrain, most of it designated Wilderness Area – read: wild, undisturbed, beautifully preserved with rather poor roads and very limited overnight accommodation.

Usually, it is only accessible to the hardy hiker. Until the advent of the Heritage Route, and slackpacking. The Heritage Route is a collection of four community-based trails that range from three to five nights in length, all beginning at Clanwilliam. They’re known as ‘slackpacking’ trails for obvious reasons that have to do with not carrying your own pack. The fee for the trails  include accommodation, meals, transport and park fees. And the route has made the Cederberg accessible to those who aren’t resiliant hikers, and to families.

‘Slackpacking’ is actually an official term. It’s been used in America, New Zealand and Europe for quite a while but we’re a little behind in South Africa. Given the time though, we usually catch up, and now there are, I believe, about 30 such trails around the country. Only a few criss-cross mountain wilderness areas such as these in the Cederberg.

You get to stay in gorgeous guest houses in the Moravian mission villages of Heuningvlei, Brugkraal and Wupperthal on the eastern side of the wilderness area – all places you might not usually go to – and on the trail, you are accompanied by someone from the local community, so you’ll get to hear all the stories and history that makes these little villages so incredibly interesting.

Cederberg Heritage Route

One of these is the Donkey Cart Adventure from the Pakhuis Pass to Heuningvlei. This, I have to say, is my idea of how you do holidays, particularly with a four-year old in tow. You can walk alongside the donkey cart if getting exercise is your thing, and otherwise you get to amble along at the sedate pace of donkeys.

It’s a three-night journey across the wilderness in the company of a guide who can point out wildlife, explain customs before you descend on a local community for a meal, and generally impart his knowledge of the San and the Khoi people who lived here, fat-tailed sheep, and the cave paintings they left behind (the San, not the sheep).

From what I gather there is one completely donkey cart-based trail, whilst other trails incorporate a bit of both – hiking and donkey cart gadding – wonderful for those for whom multi-day hiking can get somewhat taxing (I include myself in this group). Your bags are taken for you between overnight spots, so you get to walk with only your water, camera, lunch and whatever else you deem essential.

The upside to the donkey-cart ride is obvious – you get to ‘put back’ into local communities and end your hike with your self-esteem and muscles still very much intact. The downside is that some of the trail can be anything but smooth and hanging on for dear life, bouncing up and down over potholes on steep inclines, or worse, descents that leave you speechless, can be invigorating, to say the least. One account I read spoke about the need for a stiff drink upon arrival in Heuningvlei.

But the beauty of the Cedarberg far outweighs any momentary discomfort. Once over the Pickenierskloof pass this is a world of its own – wild, dramatic beauty with towering mountains, incredible valleys – see wild flowers in spring, fynbos and dramatic rock formations – rooibos tea farms, incredible star-studded skies by night and the slowness and wonder of an area where time still stands still.

Cederberg Heritage Route

If you want to experience the donkey cart ride but do not intend doing a full three-day trail, you can, I believe, park your car at the top of the Pakhuis Pass and join the two-and-a-half hour ride to Heuningvlei, where you can choose to stay a night or more at Mrs Solomon’s guest cottage before making the return trip.

Clean breaks are defined as ‘unusual, alternative and incredible experiences that also make a difference to the lives of local people and the planet. It is about minimising your environmental impact – on your journey and at your destination – by choosing carefully how you travel and the nature of the place you choose to stay at. It’s also about having a positive impact in other ways – by contributing where you can to the conservation of wildlife and local heritage, and supporting local economies’.

Cederberg Links

Bookings & Contact

For hiking trail and donkey cart reservations, or for more information, contact Cedarberg African Travel on +27 (0)27 482-2444 OR contact Cape Nature: National callers: 0861 CAPENATURE (227 362 8873) or International callers: +27 861 227 362-8873.