See the Cederberg risen from the ashes

Posted by Chris Davies on 26 March 2018 Tags:, ,

After almost two years of rejuvenation since the devastating 2016 fires, a road trip might make you one of the first to re-visit its open spaces and much-loved hiking attractions.

The stunning Wolfberg Cracks are a little closer to the Woldberg Arch and are well worth the steep, two-hour climb from Sanddrif. Photo by Chris Davies.

There are few places in the world where you can jump in a car, leave behind a city of millions, and after only a few hours’ drive find yourself alone with the stars in pristine, beautiful wilderness.

My hands-down favourite is a road trip into the Cederberg. Devastating fires in late 2016 cut all access to two much-loved attractions there – the Wolfberg Cracks and Arch – and they remain closed more than a year later. Environmental assessment is ongoing but it’s hoped they will open soon. Driving there in spring 2018 is the ideal time to return.

The best route from Cape Town is via Bainskloof Pass. Its twists, turns and views can’t be beaten, and from there it’s one great pass after another: Michell’s Pass into Ceres, Gydo Pass up onto the Koue Bokkeveld and Op Die Berg, then Blinkberg, the first of many spectacular sedan-friendly gravel passes (there is some tar at the top).

The Wolfberg Arch is a nine-kilometer, 4,5-hour walk from Sanddrif Holiday Resort. Photo by Chris Davies.

Blinkberg Pass signals the true start of the Cederberg and, if your timing is right, the late afternoon light will be turning the Klipbokberg – now straight ahead – the pastel oranges and reds that seem unique to this part of the country. From here it’s only a short hop to Sanddrif Holiday Resort, my pick of the abundant camping and cottage accommodation in the region because of its beautiful swimming river and convenient access to the Wolfberg Cracks, which are just a two-hour hike from camp.

A hike to the Cracks is essential and early morning is the ideal time to go, when the fissured, red cliffs still offer some shade. After lunch, there’s time to drive the Wupperthal Loop, north-west to stunning views atop Uitkyk Pass, then along the Rondegat River to Clanwilliam and Pakhuis Pass, another contender for the Cape’s most beautiful road.

The boulder and cliff formations of Pakhuis Pass are hard to describe – something Dr Seuss might have drawn for a kids’ tale on Mars. Without a sturdy high-clearance vehicle or 4×4, you’ll have to turn back here: the road to Wupperthal is good gravel, but then south to Sanddrif, it’s a 4×4 track with sandy sections and rocky in places. Take it slow – it’s better to be late. The last light along the Tra-Tra River Valley, a few kilometres from camp, is a terrible thing to miss.

Heading home, take a detour after Blinkberg Pass and turn east over Katbakkies Pass, across the Swartruggens hills to the Tankwa Karoo. As the Tankwa materialises below you, see if you can spot the tiny Tankwa Padstal, less than three kilometres north of where your mountain track finally drops down onto the R355. Don’t miss the opportunity for some excellent padkos and buy enough for the three-hour drive back to Cape Town.

Roads on the Cederberg; Taking in views of the Wolfberg Arch. Photos by Chris Davies.

 

7 Cederberg Highlights

1. Calabash Bush Pub is a great lunch spot on the Ceres side of Bainskloof Pass. Grab a burger and chips on the wooden sundeck for R65. Tel 0233551844

2. Sanddrif Holiday Resort in the Cederberg has shaded campsites and cottages on the Matjies River. Camping from R55 per person, cottages from R230 per person. Check in at Cederberg Wines. Tel 0274822825

3. Cederberg Wines is a five-minute drive from Sanddrif. There’s a small shop selling basic supplies, wood and meat, plus local wine and beer. Wine tasting from Monday to Saturday, R20 per person. Wolfberg hiking permits from R50 per person. Tel 0274822827

4. Traveller’s Rest Farm Stall & Restaurant, just before the Wupperthal turn-off, is a top stop for lunch on the Brandewyn River. Try the eland stew (R100). Tel 0274821824

5. Wupperthal Padstal doesn’t have a huge selection but is a good place to grab a cooldrink (from R10) for those keen to tackle the 4×4 track back to Sanddrif.

6. Tankwa Padstal is a small (but essential) detour on the R355 before heading back to Cape Town via Ceres. Good selection of snacks, with substantial meals served on Sundays. Closed Wednesdays.

7. Harvest Table Bistro at Winterberg Mountain Inn outside Ceres serves delicious farm-style stews and pies from R95. Tel 0232310860

 

This story first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

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