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The Secrets of the Cederberg – SA’s under-rated Geoheritage and Geotourism Site

At first sight the Cederberg Mountains may come across as a stark landscape, where ridges of nude mountainside, seemingly void of all life, lie stretched out across the land. But spend some time in these hills and you’ll discover some of its’ secrets.

Our first account of the mountains was thanks to Bartholomeus Diaz spotting them in 1488 and naming them “Sierra dos Reis” (the mountains of the three wise men of the East). The name current name is owed to the Clanwilliam Cedar Tree, which occurs naturally in the area.

Over 500 million years old folding and fracturing formed these mountains which was first home the San, South Africa’s original inhabitants.

The 17th century saw the Cederberg’s first European settlers make these mountains their home as stock farmers. Not being particularly fertile, the land could not sustain this form of agriculture, and decades later the effects of over grazing soon began to devastate the land. In 1997 livestock farming was barred, and this geoheritage site could begin to recover, and come into its own as a significant geotourism site.

Below is a little tour of some of the secrets of the Cederberg, and hopefully you’ll also make it your home for a few days in the future.

 

THE SECRET CEDERBERG TOUR

LEGENDARY FYNBOS
As you head North on the N7, you’ll trade suburb and settlement for open fields, and finally the Cederberg mountains – a UNESCO World Heritage site by virtue of the mountain fynbos. Records show that the early settlers traded with the Khoi San for Buchu, a medicinal shrub that they’d already been using for years. The fynbos plant is endemic to the Cederberg, and soon became known internationally as ‘Royal Tea,’ with eight bales of Buchu onboard the Titanic when she met her ocean fate. Rooibos, another fynbos plant drunk around the world, is also endemic to the area. Pay a visit to Skimmelberg or one of the other local growers to discover more.

SANDSTONE LANDSCAPES
From here begin the drive into the Cederberg, and prepare to be awed by the ruggedly handsome beauty of the mountain ridges. Unique Sandstone formations and giant bands of folded rock colour the landscape with deep earthy tones. Enter over the Olifants River, and then travel Southerly past Algeria, and over the impressive Uitkyk Pass.

DRINKS OF ALTITUDE
Soon you’ll discover Cederberg Wines – the Western Cape’s highest wine farm, with vineyards reaching over 1 000m above sea level. It almost seems inconceivable that in this remote and barren landscape award-winning wines are produced. Budget around two hours for a leisurely tasting experience. Another twenty minute drive and you’ll be able to try the Kromrivier Vineyards wines, and a tasting of the Nieuw Brew beer collection.

OUTDOOR GALLERIES
Kromrivier Cederberg Park is a perfect home base from which to explore further, with many attractions within a short drive. The Stadsaal (Afrikaans for City Hall) Cave is a cavernous dome has been carved out of the rock by thousands of years of wind erosion and other weather factors. Besides the alluring beauty of the spot, the cave also carries historical significance, as various political gatherings have taken place here. Scan the walls for some rather infamous names and imagine what kind of historical discussions took place here in the 1930s and 1980s. Truitjieskraal is another cave site nearby, popular for climbers, hikes, and explores alike.

MOUNTAINOUS MISSION HAMLETS
Travel in a Northerly direction from here along wild, twisting mountain passes to discover the mission hamlets of Eselbank and Wupperthal. It’s hard to imagine that communities live so remotely here in the mountains, guarded by the peaks and peace that surround them. A 4×4 or high clearance vehicle is recommended for this route, and make sure to pay a visit to the shoe factory in Wupperthal.

OUTDOOR GALLERIES
There are over 2 500 rock art sites in the Cederberg; the Elephant paintings near the Stadsaal caves are worth a look, and if you manage a stay at the luxurious Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve (one hour’s drive north of Wupperthal), their rock art curators will give you informative tours and interpretations of their rock art sites.

THEATRE UNDER THE STARS
Did you know that the Cederberg has a Bushman’s Cave Amphitheatre? You can visit this unbelievable spot where concerts and other performances happen, and adrenalin junkies can explore one of the thrilling 4×4 drives nearby. The village of Clanwilliam will be your last stop on this tour, before you jump back onto the N7 and make your way back to Cape Town.

 

Where to Stay

  • The Cape Nature Algeria site provides some great budget accommodation, with several great hiking options
  • Kromrivier Cederberg Park is surrounding by both mountains and several Cederberg activities. The brand-new units are spacious and well-appointed homes that take in the surrounding mountain vistas
  • For a truly unique luxury lodge with understated country elegance, Bushman’s Kloof is the perfect place for a wilderness retreat

 

For more about the Cederberg visit the Cederberg Tourism Authority Website

 

Words & Images: Jared Ruttenberg

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