Writers’ places: Cederberg

Posted on 28 April 2020

Words by Henrietta Rose-Innes

The Cederberg wilderness has always been special for me. Only three hours north of Cape Town, it feels like a different world. The mountains, burnt orange by iron oxide, dominate the landscape and there are jagged sandstone formations like the Maltese Cross and the Wolfberg Arch.

Getty/Gallo Images

My family went there when I was a child for hiking holidays; this dramatic, semi-arid terrain of twisted rocks, high-country fynbos and reddish-brown mountain pools was dug deep into my psyche well before my seventh birthday.

As a student, I revisited this universe during the annual UCT archaeology field trips – the most magical events of my education. The department was engaged in mapping the sites of San rock paintings, many previously unrecorded. Day after day we tramped along ridges, through the cool interiors of caves, hunting those subtle images of eland, dancing women, elephants. My favourite, which I found all by myself, was low down on a small, unremarkable boulder: a crisp umber silhouette of a hide bag, two centimetres square, with a strap and tassels. It looked like it’d been casually hung on a hook for a moment while its foraging owner rested her legs, one afternoon some time in the last two millennia.

We were housed on a farm in a valley rich with some of the most extraordinary, and relatively accessible, paintings I’ve ever seen. I remember particularly a mystical trance scene on the ceiling of a low cave in a stream-cut ravine (shown to us theatrically by torchlight, in a location I cannot disclose – sworn to secrecy by the Archaeology Elders running the trip). The sites were closed to the public, but there were plans to attract visitors once the researchers had completed their work.

These days, the five-kilometre Sevilla Rock Art Trail wends its way past a few of these striking images. The paintings range along the Brandewyn River, a blessing on a hot day as there’s little shelter in this stony landscape.

Traveller’s Rest Farm offers rustic cottages to stay in. Several are pleasingly remote, providing an authentic Cederberg experience – without requiring the conquest of large peaks, and with the benefit of clean bed linen. As the historic name suggests, it’s an ideal outspan spot on the way to other adventures, up the west coast or deeper into the berg. Perched just beyond Pakhuis Pass, it’s easy to access from Clanwilliam, and offers a (car-punishing) route to Wupperthal. If you’re into climbing, it’s adjacent to the famous Rocklands bouldering site.

We’ve spent Christmas there, in the company of giant centipedes, duikers, hawks, baboons and foxes yipping in the bushes all night. On clear evenings, the stars are ferocious. (If scorpions in your festive crackers is not your scene, down the road is the five-star Bushmans Kloof, whose posher pleasures I’ve yet to sample;
it also boasts beautiful rock paintings.)

That summer holiday, in the densely bushy hills behind our stone cottage, we scouted several pieces of unsignposted rock art; they felt like special encounters, just for us. We didn’t find my little tasselled bag but I know it’s out there in one of the folds of those rocky hills. One day I hope to stumble across it again.

• Henrietta’s latest book is Animalia Paradoxa.

Stay here

The 12 cottages at Traveller’s Rest are all delightful: rustic, vibrant and surprisingly homely. From R600 per cottage. 082-554-9303, travellersrest.co.za


This article was first published in the January 2020 issue of Getaway magazine.
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