Cederberg Things to Do

  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt

Most Recent Things to Do in Cederberg

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    A breathtaking maze of pinnacles and arches

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013
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    I've visited many caves on my travels over the years, but seldom have I encountered anything as unexpectedly wonderful as the Staalraad Caves in the Cederberg.

    I thought that I'd done a reasonable amount of research in advance of our trip, but the first that I heard about these caves was when I saw them lurking on the edge of the map provided by the Sanddrif resort where we were staying. The initial attraction was the mention of Khioi-San rock paintings at the Elephant Cave, and it wasn't until we got there that we realised that there was a separate and very different set of caves less then 2km further up the road. It was already late in the afternoon, and after a long, hot day of hiking, we questioned whether it was worth continuing on ... and, as is so often the case when you decide to follow your instinct and push yourself, our effort was rewarded in spades.

    The caves are small but utterly breathtaking. The rock is a friable sandstone that is susceptible to wind erosion once the protective layer of the outer weathered crust is breached, and the result is an intricate set of sculpted pillars and hollows, tinted in subtle shades of white, yellow and ochre. The Cederberg is a rocky region filled with fascinating rock formations, but what's so special here is the delicacy of the fretted rock that reflect the work of a master sculptor: Mother Nature herself.

    The views from here out over the Cederberg massif are utterly spectacular, particularly in the late afternoon.

    On a practical note, the Staalraad caves are loocated about 20 minutes drive south west of the Cederberg Cellars, and can be reached on a good dirt road. Both this and the Elephant Cave are located within the Matjiesfontein Nature Reserve, so you'll first need to get a permit from the Sanddrif reception, which is a nominal amount (and free if you have a Wild Card).

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    The wind-eroded chambers of the Staalraad Caves

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    Even the most unenthusiastic photographer can't fail to appreciate the myriad photographic opportunities offered by the insanely photogenic Staalraad Caves.

    The intricate fretted form of the pillars, arches and chambers etched by aeons of wind erosion. Rock painted with a delicate palette of colours grading from bone white through pale yellow to tinges of orange and ochre. The exquisite vistas out over the surrounding landscape. All of these will conspire to coax the artist out of the most workmanlike of photographers: just give thanks for the freedom of digital photography where you can snap away to your heart's content and the only constraint is your own imagination!

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    Go swimming in the Maalgat natural pool

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    It is almost impossible to overstate how very hot it gets in the Cederberg - in mid summer, temperatures range up into the low 40s and even around Easter (when we visited) it was still up in the mid 30s during the early afternoon.

    I'm not a fan of extreme heat, so when it gets that hot, all I want to do is to plunge myself into cool water. This is not usually an option in such an arid region - but, as always, the Cederberg manages to surprise and delight.

    The Maalgat is an extremely deep natural pool downstream of the Sanddrif camp which is hugely popular with the guests. it is accessed via a footpath that runs along the side of the stream and is probably 30 minutes walk from the camp. However, the effort and exertion is absolutely worth it for the lovely papyrus-fringed setting amid the rocks and the blissful respite from the heat.

    The pool is very large: about 50m wide and 30m long and at least 5m deep. The name means 'grinding hole', but it's also referred to as the 'Hippo Pool': quite appropriate given the amount of leisurely wallowing that takes place here!

    The path is fairly uneven, so don't attempt this without some sort of footwear. The path is quite overgrown in places and can appear to peter out, so follow your instincts and stick close to the stream.

    Technically this is private property, so you should be a guest at Sanddrif to access this pool.

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    Stupendous views from the Stadsaal Caves

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    By my reckoning, the Stadsaal Caves are pretty close to being the perfect tourist destination ... made even better by the fact that they don't attract too many tourists!

    These Caves have everything. Stunning geomorphology - tick. Fascinating history - tick. And jawdropping views out over the Cederberg massif - tick, Tick, TICK!!!

    For the best views, visit either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when you'll be rewarded by view like this, and the stunning vista that I've used for my Cederberg introductory page.

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    Beautiful Khoi-San rock art of the Elephant Cave

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    Whilst it's easy to find the car park for the celebrated Elephant Cave, finding the amazing Khoi-San rock paintings themselves is surprisingly tricky, as the signposting is pretty well non existent.

    Chances are that you'll clamber up the outcrop, and find yourself in the much bigger adjacent rock shelter, which was probably where the Khoi-San lived when they occupied this site. However, the main paintings are in a smaller hollow to one side of the rock shelter: look for the palisade fencing featured in the second photo that it has sadly been necessary to erect to protect the paintings from vandals.

    The Cederberg has a particularly high density of rock paintings which have been dated from 8 000 years to 100 or 200 years before present. Most have an animal theme, which would seem to depict the importance of the hunt, which represented the interweaving of themes to do with survival and religion. The images in this cave are primarily of elephant, which would have roamed on the plain below prior to white settlement. It's clear that these images have been overpainted at some point - which could be an authentic way of the Khoi-San preserving their own heritage, or perhaps a misguided attempt on the part of the tourist authorities to make the artwork more prominent.

    Although the elephants in the section behind the security fence are much clearer, I've chosen to use a more faded image from the adjacent rock shelter as the illustration for this tip, as I find the faded image far more evocative.

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    A pretty well perfect rock shelter

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    The first European settlement of the Cederberg took place in the 18th century, but long before that, the area was inhabited by the nomadic Khoi-San (Bushmen) people.

    The most visible legacy of the Khoi-San's presence in this area are the rock paintings that they left behind, the most accessible of which are found in the Elephant Cave, adjacent to the Staadsaal Cave, which is about 5km south east of Sanddrif.

    Just next door to the Elephant Cave, you'll find yourself in the most amazingly perfect natural rock shelter, which would have been the ultimate transient accommodation if you'd been a nomadic hunter. This broad, shallow cave commands an unobstructed view out onto the plain below - from which both animals and enemies could have been observed whilst still miles away - and also provides superb shelter from the elements. The place fairly resonates with history, and when you're somewhere like this, you can really appreciate the concept of a 'sense of place' that is such a pivotal issue for indigenous peoples.

    In short, a wonderful, wonderful place.

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    Cederberg Cellars: South Africa's highest winery

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    Wine culture is huge in South Africa, and a major drawcard for tourists to the winelands of the Western Cape, but as someone who's allergic to the stuff, I usually find it all a bit too precious and pretentious for me.

    However, the Cederberg Cellars are different. For one thing, at it's the highest wine farm in South Africa, with vineyards extending up to 1100m above sea level. It's also the only winery within the Cederberg region, and the contrast of the vivid green of the vineyards set amid the stark, rugged landscape (as seen in the distance in this photo taken from the Maltese Cross trail) is arresting.

    The Cederberg Cellars have been run by the Niewoudt family who've lived here for six generations. Production is fairly small compared to some of the huge estates around Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, with just over 50ha under vines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot grapes are used to create red wines (which accounts for 60% of production), whereas Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Bukettraube and Chardonnay cultivars account for the balance of white wine production.

    As with most South African wineries, it's possible to purchase wine from the 'cellar door'. Not only does this allow you to buy the wine at a price that's significantly discounted below the usual retail price - particularly welcome here, as Cederberg wines are not cheap by local standards - but you also know exactly where and how the wine's been grown, and have the opportunity to engage with the wine maker if that's your thing. Unlike many of the wineries in more heavily touristed areas of the Western Cape winelands, just be warned you won't find a restaurant or other tourist amenities here, other than the adjacent self-catering Sanddrif camp, and it's about a 90 minute drive to the nearest town of Clanwilliam, so be sure to factor this into your planning.

    For some reason (probably to do with sulphites added during the process), the only type of of wine I can drink is champagne, and I cannot recommend their Blanc de Blancs Method Cap Classique highly enough. Quite literally the nicest champagne-style wine I've ever had the pleasure to drink, and perfect when chilled to icy perfection as a sundowner at the end of a long, hot Cederberg day!

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    A toast to six generations of Nieuwoudts!

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    The Western Cape was the first part of South Africa to be colonised by white settlers, and many of the Afrikaans farming community can trace their roots back to the early 1700s.

    Such is the history of the Nieuwoudt family - originally of Dutch stock - who have lived on the Dwarsrivier farm for six generations. The family bought the property as far back as 1835, but only settled on the farm in 1894, and subsequently farmed fruit, vegetables and tobacco. In 1963, the first table grapes were planted, and proved so successful that the first wine grapes were planted in 1973. The first vintage - a Cabernet Sauvignon - was produced in 1978, and the Cederberg Cellars business has since diversified to produce a range of red and white wines.

    During our stay, I developed a particular taste for their spectacular Blanc de Blancs Method Cap Classique and got talking to the owner. I was charmed to hear that the vintage that I was happily quaffing had been bottled on the very day that the first Nieuwoudt of the sixth generation was born - an excellent excuse to raise a glass to toast young Emma's health!

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    Keep a keen eye out for the smaller mammals

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    As a general rule, the Western Cape doesn't offer the sort of spectacular game viewing opportunities that you'll be spoiled with elsewhere in Southy Africa. This partly results from the fact that the huge herds of grazing animals that occurred in the region prior to European settlement were subsequently shot out. However, in rockier upland areas such as the Cederberg, probably the conditions were never conducive to supporting large herds of game, and the mammals that exist here tend to be more diminutive and live in small family groups.

    A typical example of this would be the small group of reedbuck that we saw several times along the road about 5km to the west of Sanddrif. They are shy by nature, and their cryptic colouring helps them to blend into the landscape: in fact, probably the only reason why you'll notice them is if they attempt to move away and your eye catches their motion.

    The other common mammal species that you may encounter (especially if you go on one of the Cederberg's spectacular hikes) are klipspringer, which hang around in pairs on rocky outcrops, and portly dassies (rock hyrax) which love to sun themselves on boulders. There are also several troops of baboon, one of which holds court on the Wolfberg Ridge behind Sanddrif camp, where their raucous calls pierce the silence around sunrise and sunset.

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    Lot's Wife hiking trail is very family friendly

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    Lot's Wife is the shortest and most accessible of the hiking trails around Sanddrif, and is ideal for families or those who are short of time. The trail is so named because of the supposed resemblance of a rock pillar to the Biblical tale of Lot's Wife, who disobeyed God's instruction by glancing back behind her towards the immoral city of Sodom, and was turned into a pillar of salt for her trouble. However, I have to own up to the fact that as there are several pillar-like formations en route, we never did quite work out which one was mean to be the unfortunate Mrs Lot!

    The entire circular trail is about 4km long, and should take you about 1.5 hours at a leisurely stroll. The sandy path is well maintained and pretty well flat, which make it ideal for those of dubious fitness or hikers with children.

    This hike is particularly family friendly because wind erosion has hollowed out many of the outcrops into curious forms that make ideal hidey holes for kids to play in. Even if you're not up for hiking the entire trail, you could take a short stroll to the Window Rocks, which will take you about 30 minutes return from the parking area.

    As with all the trails in this area, you'll need to get a hiking permit from the Sanddrif office at the Cederberg Cellars: the fee is nominal and is free if you have a Wild Card. The trail starts right by the road, close to the Observatory.

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    Look out for wild flowers in season

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    The Western Cape is a winter rainfall season, and in the Southern Hemisphere spring (around September), the landcape blazes into bloom. This is big business, and wildflower tourism is the mainstay of the tourism business in the arid Namakwa belt that runs from Darling up to the Namibian border.

    The Cederberg isn't as renowned for wild flowers as the neighbouring area around Clanwiliam (where many flower tourists choose to base themselves), but you can still see evidence of the wild flowers from the previous season. This attempt at an artistic shot was taken on the hike between the Sanddrif camp and the Maalgat water hole.

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    Hike the Maltese Cross

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    One of the aims of our trip to the Cederberg was to convert our kids to the joys of hiking: an activity that we love, but have not had the opportunity to pursue whilst the children were small.

    The logic underlying the strategy was sound: this was a healthy activity that we could all do together, allowing us to explore nature, experience our country's amazing scenic beauty and improve our fitness, all in one fell swoop. And - as is usually the way with universal panaceas - it was a dismal failure, and in our family, 'Maltese Cross' has become domestic shorthand for torture and child abuse.

    The Maltese Cross is one of the two most popular hikes in the Cederberg (the Wolfberg Cracks are the other) and is a morning's hike which should take you 3-4 hours, depending on your level of fitness. It's not technically difficult, but it is quite a long haul, and the fact that there is virtually no shade en route can make it more challenging, particularly in hot weather, or if you make a late start.

    It is a stunning hike through a starkly beautiful landscape, and would have been even more enjoyable without the plaintive Greek chorus of, "Are we there yet?". The trail is a well maintained path that winds up a steady slope through the fynbos until you reach the plateau on which the Maltese Cross is located. On your way up, keep an eye out for the rather cryptic wildlife: we saw klipspringer, dassies and baboons, as well as heaps of resident lizards.

    The plateau is strewn with enormous rocks and feels remote and otherworldly. It's bleakly beautiful, and for reasons that I can't quite put my finger on, it has a forbidding air that I found dstinctly unsettling.

    If I may, here are a few suggestions to make your hike more enjoyable. Firstly, the Cederberg is an arid area, and the only permanent water on this route is a stream that you'll cross just after the parking area, so make sure that you're carrying enough with you to keep hydrated in these dry conditions. I'd recommend at least 2 litres of water per person, as well as high energy snacks such as muesli bars or dried fruit to give you a boost when your energy levels start to flag.

    Because the fynbos ecosystem contains no trees, the vegetation en route offers virtually no shade, so you'll need to be particularly diligent when it comes to taking precautions against sunburn and heatstroke. At a minimum, you should be wearing a hat and all exposed skin should be slathered with a high factor sunscreen. You'll also need sturdy, closed footwear, as although the path is well maintained, there are sections where you need to do some scrambling: takkies (training shoes) are OK, but hiking boots or other shoes offering ankle protection would be a better option. Also - for fear of stating the obvious - you should never hike alone: it would be all too easy to turn an ankle in this terrain, and under such circumstances, you'd need someone to raise the alarm, as there is no cellphone coverage.

    In terms of practical details, you'll need to get a hiking permit from the Sanddrif office at the Cederberg Cellars: the fee is nominal and is free if you have a Wild Card. To get to the start of the trail, you'll need to drive a few kilometres on a sand road that can be rough in places, and you'll also need to pass through a locked gate (you'll be given the lock combination code when you get your permit).

    For the tweezer-wiedling nerds among up (my husband and daughter included), the Maltese Cross was featured on the 25c stamp of a particularly attractive set of South African stamps issued in 1986.

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    Window Rock: accessible even with limited mobility

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    The Cederberg is a photographer's dream because it's stuffed full of spectacular rock formations whose character and colours shift as the light moves. The best times for photography are early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the oblique light lends a glow to the rock and the shadows accentuate details that otherwise tend to be lost in the 'flat' light when the sun is higher.

    The Window Rocks are one of the best known formations in the area, probably because it's close to the road and accessible even for those with limited mobility. It's located on the flat, well maintained Lot's Wife route and because it's close to the trail head, can be reached even if you're not intending to hike the whole trail, in which case it will take you about 30 minutes as a round trip.

    Just bear in mind that if you're intending to hike this - or any other of the wonderful trails in this area - you'll need a hiking permit. These are available for a nominal fee from the park offices at Sanddrif, which is adjacent to the Cederberg Cellars winery a couple of kilometres further up the road.

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    Fascinating plants nestle in nooks and crannies

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 13, 2013

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    I love the diversity of plants that you encounter on hikes through the fynbos. Although it's the most ecologically diverse floral kingdoms in the world, it's not immediately glamorous, and like the wildlife, many of the most interesting plants are cryptic. With the exception of the proteas and aloes - whose architectural shapes and exuberant profusion of flowers in season make them stand out from the shrubby vegetation like sore thumbs - most of the plants don't immediately jump out at you, so you'll be rewarded if you keep a sharp eye out for small details.

    We literally stumbled across this sundew plant where the path up to the Maltese Cross crossed a short boggy area around a small spring. Sundews are carnivorous plants that live in waterlogged environments where the acidic conditions limit the amount of nutrients they can take up from the soil. As a result, they cunningly supplement their diet by trapping small insects that are attracted to the glistening drops ('sundew') at the end of their leaves.

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    Paths are well defined but involve some scrambling

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Oct 2, 2013

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    We did three hikes during our time in the Cederberg: the Maltese Cross, Lot's Wife and the short hike from Sanddrif Camp to the Maalgat waterhole.

    In general the paths are well maintained, and as the Cederberg is sparsely vegetated, there's not much risk of the main hiking trails becoming overgrown.

    The starting points are reasonably signposted - pick up a photocopied map at the park office at Sanddrif where you'll also pay your nominal park entrance fee. However, if you're used to hiking in a highly organised place like Germany, you'll find that there's nothing in the way of distance markers and once you're on the path, there aren't many route markers to reassure you that you're on track. Having said that, there aren't too many trails that you could wander off onto either, so you shouldn't have a problem.

    Two of the three hikes - Maltese Cross in particular - involved some scrambling and would not be suitable for those with impaired mobility. However, the Lot's Wife trail is relatively short and has a flat, even surface an could be negotiated even by those who walk with a stick.

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