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Summer in the Cederberg

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Some 16 years ago, I mooched around the length and breadth of South Africa for three months in a Land Rover Discovery II. A freelancer at the time, I had been given an assignment: I was to produce a small book called South Africa’s Top 50 4×4 Trails.

But time and technology move ahead, and here I was in a gleaming new Firenze Red Land Rover Discovery, on my way to the Cederberg Wilderness. Instead of sleeping in an old battered tent, as I had all those years ago, I now had a Bush Lapa Baobab… and not just any Bush Lapa, but a limited-edition Military Edition.

The Bush Lapa I was towing belongs to Jannie Oeschger, the owner and founder of Bush Lapa’s own Baobab off-road caravan, and was the prototype, already fully tested. There will be only 30 of these Military Edition caravans rolling off the factory floor in August 2018.

I wasn’t a stranger to the Bush Lapa off-road caravans. In 2015, I covered some four thousand or so kilometres in Namibia with a Miskruier, practically all on dirt roads. And to this day, I tell people, “Not a speck of dust in the van after 4 000 kilometres.”

This time, I was in for a more local trip to the Cederberg. I headed out to Bush Lapa’s new showroom on the Old Paarl Road between Klapmuts and Paarl to collect my home for the next week. As with all Bush Lapa clients, I was first given a top-to-toe demo of how every item on the Baobab works. I was itching to get on the road, but Jannie insisted that I first follow the whole routine myself, including setting up the patented Bush Wing Awning.

As it was already a bit late in the day, I spent my first night at the Berg River Resort a short distance down the road from the showroom. The next morning, editor Francois and Dean Castle from our office came around for some coffee and a photo-shoot of the setup, as well as to get drone footage.

My bosses finally buzzed off, and I could get my well-padded bum into the luxurious leather seat of the turbocharged Land Rover Discovery Si6 HSE, and head for the Cederberg.

SANDDRIF HOLIDAY RESORT

 

I love getting off a tarred road and heading into the sticks. My heart was singing as I hit the gravel road after turning off the N7 just past Citrusdal, and headed into the heart of the Cederberg.

The reality of the Cape drought hit me literally a few hundred metres down the gravel road –on previous trips, I would often stop and have a dip in the Olifants River at the low cement causeway over the bridge, but now there wasn’t a drop of water.

My first campsite was at Sanddrif Holiday Resort, deep into the mountains. To get there from the west (as I was driving), one first goes up the Nieuwoudt Pass. It’s a magnificent drive that winds down to the Algeria campsite and forest station in the valley below. All around, the carved sandstone formation of the Cederberg towered above the Land Rover and Bush Lapa.

As I headed on and up Uitkyk Pass, I found the six-speed auto Disco so powerful that I wasn’t even aware of the Baobab whispering along behind; and then I was going down, to the large Dwarsrivier farmstead at the head the valley.

The Sanddrif campsite at the foot of the Wolfberg is part of Dwarsrivier farm, and one books in at the office next to the Dwarsrivier wine cellars. These days, they also brew superb craft beers, so I bought a sample of their range before heading down to the superb shaded campsite on the banks of the Matjiesrivier.

After setting up camp, I picked up my small fold-up fishing rod and set off for the twenty- minute hike down to the Maalgat swimming hole. I had only one tiny spinner (a Mepps Black Fury) that was light enough for this rod − and the rod, when folded up, looked like a large fountain pen.

When I got hooked up near a small waterfall above the Maalgat, I thought, “To hell with it, I’m not losing this spinner,” and proceeded to strip and go slipping and sliding to recover the little blighter.

Like all fishing fanatics, once I was on dry land, I cast back into the swirling water below the cascade. Soon I hooked what I thought was a 2kg fish. When I’d got it onto the rocks, I found it was a tiny yellowfish of about 200 grams! No wonder the Clanwilliam yellowfish is considered, pound for pound, to be one of the best freshwater fighting fish in the world.

And I’d gained a good couple of pounds since I last climbed the steep ascent up to the famous Wolfberg Cracks. The mighty Wolfberg dwarfs the campsite lying at its feet. As a result of the devastation caused by a recent fire, the Cracks have been closed until the fynbos recovers.

Back at camp, I was intrigued to find a veritable United Nations of fellow campers. For whatever reason, there seemed to be a predominance of French visitors. There were Dutch and German visitors among the other campers, too.

The young neighbours on my right, from Paris, were heading off for a hike up to the Maltese Cross – one of many spectacular rock formations found in this vast 172 000-hectare wilderness area. Others include the previously-mentioned Wolfberg Cracks, Wolfberg Arch, Cederberg, Tafelberg, Sneeuberg, and Lot’s Wife.

On my left, another French couple, Marc and Michéle Legrand from Bordeaux, were heading to the Cederberg Private Cellar for a wine tasting. The vineyards, at an altitude of just over 1 000 m above sea level, are some of the highest in South Africa. With its unique climate terroir, this area produces a host of top-class wines.

More of a hops and barley man myself, I headed back to the office and shop at Dwarsrivier for one or two more Boggom Blonde Ales, and also some of their partner, the Voertsek India Pale Ale. I also got a permit to visit the nearby Stadsaal Caves; my Wild Card afforded me free access.

I am more of a photographer than a wordsmith, and hope that my pictures will give you a hint of the surreal, wind-eroded shapes and sculptures in the sandstone mountains of the Cederberg.

I never tire of walking around the other fascinating smaller caverns and rock formations surrounding the main cavern area. While I was there, I was privileged to meet Mary-Ann Booysen, who said, “I have never seen the veld so dry in all my life!”

Mary-Ann was born at Dwarsrivier, and knows every inch of her old home. On hearing that I was going to camp later at Kromrivier Farm, she immediately said, ‘Ask if you can get permission to visit Truitjieskraal.’ I did. Another jewel, which I’ll tell you about later on.

DRIEHOEK CAMPSITE

 

After a day of driving, fishing and cave exploring, I slept like a log. The next morning I went on to Driehoek, which lies directly at the foot of the stately Tafelberg with its distinctive tower known as Corridor Peak.

To get to Driehoek, I had to head back toward Uitkyk Pass. From there, it’s about 2 kilometres on a good farm road that takes you across the Matjiesrivier before leading you to the farmstead and campsite.

Every campsite at which I stayed in the Cederberg was unique and beautiful, and will draw me back again and again… but Driehoek had my heart from the moment I arrived at the entrance gate.

It is hard to define from which previous century Driehoek seems to have retained its persona − and a couple of old buildings. I particularly enjoyed visiting the small museum across the way from the small office and shop.

The campsite is on either side of a long row of oaks spread along the neatly grassed banks of the river. The river has a weir, so there’s a great swimming-hole for a hot day.

After choosing campsite Number 15, I stood looking over a small vineyard to the towering red massif of Tafelberg. The sandstone became an intense reddish colour as the sun set in the west.

I had two days at Driehoek, so I decided to explore some of the lesser-known areas of the Cederberg. I packed my padkos and pointed the nose of the Discovery down to Dwarsrivier, past Sanddrif, and down to the T-junction at the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve offices.

This stately old farm once belonged to former Special-Forces soldier Wynand du Toit. Wynand was captured during a raid on the Cabinda oil refinery in 1985, and held prisoner in Angola for two years. I had actually stayed with Wynand and his wife Louwna at Matjiesvlei shortly after he was released.

Turning left at the T-junction, I drove to the little hamlet of Eselbank and Wuppertal. At the first farm, Keurbosfontein, I stopped to chat to Oom Arrie Beukes and his son, Paul. I had met Oom Arrie many moons before; he has managed the farm for Johan van der Westhuizen for a long time. Johan is also the co-founder of the Cape Leopard trust. It was a pleasant trip down memory lane.

The main 200-year-old farmhouse at Keurbosfontein is one of the very few remaining examples of a traditional Cederberg farmhouse left in this history-rich area. The outbuildings, like the main farmhouse, have also been lovingly restored to their former glory.

After saying goodbye, I took the steep and rocky corrugated road, aiming for Eselbank. A little wary of damaging a somewhat low-profile tyre on a brand-new 20 inch alloy rim, I was heading out to look for another Oom from the past – Oom Piet Bolletjies!

As a storyteller, Oom Piet Bolletjies was known from Heuningvlei, Witwater and Brugkraal in the north, to Wuppertal, Eselbank, Vaalfontein, Voorstehoek and Landkloof in the south, and I was sad to hear that Oom Piet had died some time before. However, I still have a small cedar-wood box that he made. It was a very generous and treasured gift that Johan van der Westhuizen gave me that day (and the only day) that I met this legendary Cederberg figure.

While visiting Langkloof again on this trip, I met Oom Piet’s daughter. She proudly showed me a picture of the smiling and slightly rotund old gentleman. Perhaps I am fooling myself, but I had an idea that it was the picture I had taken all those years ago. I really hope it was.

I never got to Eselbank, as there was too much wandering about, so back to Driehoek I went.

That night, the temperature dropped radically; and this was after the first day that the Land Rover had indicated an outside temperature of 42 degrees! My summer duvet was just a tad on the light side, so I finally put on my long pants, and with my jacket over me, fell into a deep sleep.

Sadly, I was leaving this lovely campsite at Driehoek, but I knew that my next campsite, Kromrivier, was another superb spot.

KROMRIVIER

 

I love the whole of the Cederberg, but I particularly love the stretch of road from the top of Uitkyk Pass and down the narrow valley to the 12 800 hectare Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve.

The reserve is a proclaimed World Heritage Site, being in a transitional zone where fynbos and lowland succulent Karoo vegetation overlap.

I could drive this stretch of road every day of my life and not be bored for a second.

I hadn’t been to Kromrivier for many years. But, as long as I live, I will never forget the view as one arrives at the steep winding road that goes down to the farm on the banks of the Krom River. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

On the opposite side of the mountain are the jagged and towering spires of Appollo Peak, the Breëkrans Twins and Bosman Peak. (These names are not found by Google)

Kromrivier, the home of the Niewoudt family, is the oldest holiday camp in the Cederberg. The seventh generation of the Niewoudts is still farming in the area.

There’s a new campsite, apart from the one that I camped at many moons ago. The “new” campsite is under a long line of spreading oaks on the banks of the Krom River. Each site is spacious and shady, and has a neat green privacy fence separating it from its neighbour. Each site also has its own private toilet, shower and scullery. The sites are electrified and the solar geysers provide piping-hot water, day and night.

While sitting on my battered old camp chair with my cup of home-brewed coffee, surrounded by the sheep that are sent every morning to mow the campsite lawn, I watch the horses in the paddock. There are guided horse trails along the Krom River valley.

However, I don’t belong in the saddle, so I could either fish for largemouth bass in one of the two dams, or fish for trout in the small stream just below my campsite. Believe it or not, I hooked a trout, but my darn travel-size reel finally fell apart for good. That small trout is probably still smiling in his hidey-hole down near the irrigation pump on the Krom River.

As in all the campsites that I visited in the Cederberg, there are tons of activities for the whole family at Kromrivier. Apart from horse rides, the Cederberg is also home to some of the finest rock-climbing and hiking in Africa, and has hikes and climbs to suit every level. In camp, I saw mountain bikes on almost every vehicle.

For the city kids, this working farm is a great opportunity to watch the cows being milked, or to fetch a pail of scraps from the restaurant to feed to the black-spotted pigs. In lambing season, kids can help the staff bottle-feed the lambs.

I arrived on a Sunday, when most campers were heading home. I was left alone at the campsite except for a couple, Ian and Nadine Kitley, who were travelling on their off-road motorbikes. Ian was riding a Kawasaki 650, and brave Nadine, a pharmacist, was on her first dirt-road adventure on her double-headlight Honda 250.

They joined me for supper, and I learnt that they had ridden mostly on the gravel backroads all the way from Somerset West. I went into dream mode, as I had just swapped my old red 600cc thumper for a small 250cc.

I had one last mission to accomplish on this short trip: a visit to Truitjieskraal.

You’ll remember that I told you about meeting Mary-Ann Booysen at the Stadsaal Caves, who suggested that if I were staying at Kromrivier, I should consider visiting Truitjieskraal.

A big thank-you to Mary-Ann for that wonderful tip. It turned out to be easier than I thought. At the reception, I was told that Truitjieskraal is part of the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve, so I then asked for a permit from the Dwarsrivier office.

This was a place of such beauty that I feel perhaps only pictures will give you a hint of its beauty and other-worldliness. Words are totally inadequate.

What travel does, is stimulate dreams. So, I am now dreaming of camping out in the Cederberg for months, and constructing a coffee-table book based on the people and the scenery. Dream on?

LAND ROVER DISCOVERY Si6 HSE Luxury


They say comparisons are odious? But to compare the 5th generation new supercharged Land Rover Discovery Si6 with the Discovery II drove for 3 months would be would crazy, to say the least.

But it did give me some indication of the huge technological advances in vehicle technology in the last 16 years.

Land Rover with the Discovery range since its inception has maintained its great off-road ability and toughness, but over the years has just upped the ante in creating a luxury vehicle.

The Land Rover Discovery comes out with a supercharged 3.0 litre V6 petrol motor, that pushes out a maximum of 250 kW and 450 Nm of torque.

As a tow vehicle, the Discovery can only be described as awesome. If you know the Cederberg, you will know the steepness of the Nieuwoudt’s Pass on the way to the Algeria Forest Station before descending the perhaps even steeper Uitkyk Pass would have any tow vehicle huffing and puffing… not this Disco! I never lacked power, and had to constantly remind myself “nice and steady does it”. The power of that supercharged engine is phenomenal.

The new Discovery 5 is almost 500kg lighter than its predecessor but it’s still a juggernaut just a whisper short of five meters long and some 1.85meters tall. An interesting detail is the weight loss has been achieved by foregoing the ladder chassis of old and replaced it with aluminium monocoque setup used in the Range Rover Sport.

I guess if you can afford this beauty you’re not too worried about the oke at the petrol pump, but for its size and weight I was quite impressed with its fuel consumption of 15,4 l/100km.

SPECIFICATION

Power                               190 kW

Torque                              600 Nm

Max towing unbraked       750 kg

Max towing braked           3 500 kg

Ground clearance            283 mm

Price                                R980 000 – R1 457 500

For Richard’s review of the Bush Lapa Baobab Military Edition, click here.

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