The Cederberg Wilderness is a treasure trove of outdoor adventure situated up the West Coast of South Africa. We’d decided to head out there for a winter weekend getaway and chose Algeria as our base.
Find Cederberg on the West Coast Way’s Wild Route
We pulled up at our cottage in the dark, excited to have arrived in this special place just a couple hours after departing a busy Cape Town on a Friday afternoon. We had an adventurous day ahead so after unpacking and settling down we ate our dinner around the indoor fireplace. It was cold out…totally expected to be the month of June! Down jackets and beanies on, we stepped onto the patio to bend your neck towards the sky and admire the stars without the cities light pollution. *Note: The Cederberg Astronomical Observatory at Dwarsrivier operates in good weather on Saturday’s at 20:00 (excl. full moon) – a donation is recommended. Picking a weekend close to the new moon when it is darkest.
Rising early for a good coffee & breakfast, we hit the gravel road down to Dwarsrivier to obtain a trail permit for the Maltese Cross hike. The drive takes you over Uitkyk Pass where the views northwards are simply spectacular! Try this at dawn, as we did, where the sky lit up gorgeous shades of soft pinks and purples. The mountain pass climbs steeply, where you gain 500m in elevation in the short drive from the cottage. We spotted two Grey Rhebuck’s grazing on the young fynbos vegetation which now covered the valley floor with vibrant greens after a recent fire. A few minutes further on three Klipspringers stood dead still watching us from the rocky mountain slopes. These small antelope have incredible agility on rocky terrain (hence the apt name which translates in English to Rock Jumpers) – to watch them prancing from rock to rock, or moving over near vertical rock faces is simply amazing.
Once at Dwarsrivier we collected our hike permit for the Maltese Cross and got the combination to the gate one needs to drive through. Using a high clearance vehicle is essential as the jeep track to the trail jump off is pretty rugged. The hike itself is real value for effort – 7km there-and-back allows you to view one on the Cederberg’s iconic rock formations! The trail ascends over rocky terrain – typical of the Western Cape – and the fynbos will provide wonderful distraction (read: opportunity to catch your breath and have a sip of water while admiring the details of the Cape Floristic Region!). The moment the Maltese Cross comes into sight for the first time will stick with me forever.
After finishing up with the hike we were in need of refreshment as the day was a dry, warm and windy one with a Berg wind blowing ahead of an incoming cold front. We popped in at the Cederberg Private Cellars where you can get introduced to the unique high altitude wines of the region. Their tasting room is relaxed, the staff is very informative and you’ll sample their full range (provided they haven’t sold out) for R40pp. Look out for the Shiraz (a favourite) – perfect for after dinner chill in front of the fire at the cottage. We took away a few of their beers too – the Cederberg Brewery Original Lager – to accompany the braai that we had planned. The wind was now blustery and signs of the imminent storm were in the air as we drove a long road back to Algeria.
We immediately got the fire started for the roast veggies and gourmet toasted sandwiches which would be dinner. The beer went down smoothly and we managed to get the braai done before getting rained out – phew!
Listening to the rain come down as we relaxed on the sofa as our indoor fire crackled was cosy. This rain also meant that come morning the dry mountain range would transform in a vibrant landscape – we were excited! We awoke to pretty stunning scenes and a cloud hung low down covering the mountain peaks, and the vegetation was bright and sparkling with rain droplets clinging to the leaves. There is nothing quite as beautiful in nature like the morning after rain, especially so in the Cape Fold Mountains.
A Sunday morning walk wrapped in warm winter layers under the Eucalyptus trees along the river with a mug of coffee in hand got the day started right! Light rain fell on and off as we packed up the car and sadly needed to depart from this pretty place. We noticed the tracks of a Grey Rhebuck in the wet sand near the river and not long after driving out of camp we spotted one running along the gravel road – trademark whitetail in our face as it moved at 25km/hr through the light rain. Before ascending the mountain pass it stopped, turned and sprinted past us. Wonderful! The cloud was dense as we gained ground once again over Uitkyk pass and we negotiated the wet and muddy road at a snail’s pace. The rain abated with patches of blue after we had spotted another two Grey Rhebuck’s (possibly the same as the day prior) and stopped for a minute to watch a troop of Chacma Baboons moving down from the rocky crags through a dense stand of flowering proteas.
A lovely rainbow greeted us just before we pulled off the road to take a walk passed Lot’s Wife and see the finger-like rock formations in this area. After consulting our map, we progressed to Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve to visit the Stadsaal Cave and see the rock art nearby. We had obtained our permits the day before at Dwarsrivier – free as Wild Card holders, just like the Maltese Cross hike. The views towards the Wolfberg Cracks (closed as of July 2018) and Sanddrif are beautiful. The warped bands of rock along the Matjiesriver force you to pull over to pause for a moment and appreciate the nature of this majestic mountain range. Visiting the ancient rock art site to view the work of the San is mandatory. The beautiful, preserved artwork gives you a glimpse into life in the Cederberg just a few centuries ago. There is useful information provided by Cape Nature on signage which includes explanations on the materials used in the 1000+-year-old paintings.
Stadsaal, the City Hall, is a vast network of rock arches, overhangs & caves. The main chamber is impressive, with its numerous arches and pillars creating an interesting chamber. There’s a lot of graffiti here, some names date back to the 19th century and others dated 2017 – don’t add to it, please. Today, defacing the rock is a criminal offense. It is well worth strolling around the maze of pathways at Stadsaal, where you can admire the view towards Kromrivier.
The road to Ceres is an absolute pleasure to drive. So quiet and in good condition. Changing landscapes are the order of the day as you pass by old stock farmer’s kraals and grave sites, dilapidated stone buildings and the oasis at every river crossed. Upon reaching Op-die-Berg you’ll cover ground faster and soon Gydo Pass is descended with beautiful views over Prince Alfred Hamlet and Ceres. You’ll have the choice of numerous routes home from Ceres…all depending on preference and time.
As the sun dipped, and we followed the long road home with a sense of total satisfaction. What an enjoyable weekend…an awesome adventure! The best winter road trip and one I’d do again in a heartbeat.
The Cederberg is part of the West Coast Way’s Wild Route and if you have a little more time you can build onto this road trip. Pop into Kardoesie N7 Countrystop for padkos at Piekenierskloof Pass on your way up, spend an extra day relaxing at The Baths Natural Hot Springs or return via the picturesque Riebeeck Kasteel Valley. There’s so much on offer in this region you’ll be struggling to decide what to leave out!
From Cape Town take the N7 which you’ll follow all the way to Piekenierskloof Pass. Continue for 27km and take a right to Algeria. Doesn’t get easier than that!
With winter sunsets being closer to 17:30 – 18:00 at this time of year, getting to the Cederberg (a 2.5hr drive from Cape Town) is likely to be after dark if you’ve spent the day working. Algeria works brilliantly as it’s situated close to the N7, meaning that the after-dark gravel road driving is kept to a minimum. The cottages are modern, and with an indoor fireplace, you should be pretty cosy as you settle into your weekend.
- Stay at Algeria – a beautiful camp, smartly positioned for a weekend trip.
- Book with Cape Nature during winter (Algeria included) as you’ll get 40% off.
- Get the Slingsby Maps “Hike the Cederberg – Southern Section Maps 3 & 4” for the Maltese Cross.
- Get a Wild Card – you’ll save on conservation fees & permits (e.g. Maltese Cross hike, Stadsaal Caves) when in the Cederberg.
Cederberg Wilderness – CapeNature
Contact: +27 (0)21 483 0190 | www.capenature.co.za
Words & Photographs by Justin Hawthorne
West Coast Way is South Africa’s road trip with the most twists. Explore a unique collection of 101 road trip stops along themed routes by planning a self drive trip or guided tour for a nature and adventure-filled Cape West Coast vacation. The new West Coast Way “basket” of free routes on offer include the West Coast Way Tractor Route, the West Coast Way Berg Route, the West Coast Way Foodie Route, the West Coast Way Cultural Route, the West Coast Way Wild Route – as well as the newly launched Cape Way Route – all of which are designed to showcase the many attractions and activities that are already on offer on the Cape West Coast and inland areas – but may be unknown to many.
For more information on West Coast Way, the other routes on offer, and the list of 101 Things to Do on the West Coast visit www.westcoastway.co.za o