“Not all those that wonder are lost.”
It seems that all great adventures no matter how long they are for start with humble pen sketches or even just ideas jotted down on a napkin. These sketches evolve and eventually maps are looked at and dreams are located within the folds of our old used maps. These dreams will either be written down or platted on Google Earth®, Treks4Africa® or Garmin® software and loaded onto our GPS’s. Though it always seems nicer to fold that map out across your bonnet and read the topography of the world around you.
The following are our travels into the heart of the Cedarberg and into the Rooi Cedarberg towards the Karoo town of Sutherland.
As with all trips you somehow never seem to have all that you need no matter how little you pack or how many times you go through your kit list beforehand. As for all our previous expeditions we have stopped at Outdoor Warehouse Bellville, to either purchase an extra headlamp of spare batteries. Though on this particular trip it was not our gear that needed a fix, but instead my left front Goodyear Wranglers had a flat. How I do not know but just before turning onto the N1 to make our way to Ceres we pulled in to Hi-Q Durban Road where the manager Dewald was only too happy to assist.
Once patched we made our way towards Ceres, with two spare wheels cooler boxes, recovery gear, compressors and a lot of First Ascent winter apparel including down sleeping bags. The aim of the trip was on the one side to visit friends in the surrounding areas, but mainly to test out a route which was decided upon for a future project. On arriving in Ceres we made our way to the local Spur, which has somewhat become a tradition when seeking snow on the slopes of the Matroosberg.
On entering Ceres you turn left along the R303 and make your way to the town of Prince Alfred’s Hamlet and then along the Gydo Pass towards the town of Op die Berg. The Gydo Pass within in its own right is an amazing winding road which takes you to an observation point at 500 meters.
The view looks back towards the town of Ceres and across the Cape Wine lands, reminding me of where we will be coming from in a few days’ time once the round trip is completed. On arriving at the town of Op die Berg it was time for a final fuel stop at the local Agri-Mark.
Instead of continuing straight along the R303 towards Citrisdal along the N7, our route wound right towards the Klein Cederberg and Kagga Kamma Nature Reverve. With the cold mountain breeze blowing from snow topped mountains we made our way towards the gravel roads which would eventually take us into the heart of the Cederberg a mountain range which has a special place in my heart.
The gravel road took us across the mountains and from one valley into the next, so much for technology as once more the awesome power of nature seems to of won against the reach of cell phone towers. This is to me how life should be no irritation in your pocket buzzing and crying, it is amazing to think that while I was in the Kalahari in 2010 doing game capture the Zulu men I was working with described the name they give to a cell phone “he that cries in your pocket”. A descriptive and very accurate name, as we took crossed a spur and descended into the next valley we were finally informed that we had entered the Cederberg by the familiar Black Eagle logo.
Despite being the iconic emblem for the Cederberg I must say in the 10 years I have been hiking, off road driving and exploring the area I have only had three sightings of this amazing raptor. Two while hiking around the Tafelberg area behind Algeria and one in the southern Cederberg in Beaverlac, where we were privileged to sit next to a water fall in a rock pool at watch the chicks being taught to fly. Though this was on a different trip and our road is leading to Nuwerust Camp for the evening which according to the Garmin GPS 62s (my new toy for this trip) was in the next valley. Our road took us past Mount Ceder an amazingly beautiful holiday destination, though it was not central enough for accessing the Dwars River and Krom River Campsites.
With the plans for the day to stop in Matjiesriver to visit Quinton Martins of the Cape Leopard Trust (www.capeleopard.org.za) and then make our way to Die Boog from where we would climb to the Woolfberg Arch, it seemed that we would have to get going as early as possible. Though the weather did not agree with the plans, as we got to the ranger it seemed as though our friend we encountered in Kammieskroon and Namibia almost exactly a year ago was going to slow our day down once more, the ranger was iced over.
Once defrosted we made our way towards Matjiesriver Nature Reserve, on route passing the Cederberg Oasis another must stop in this area as its reputation precedes itself. Due to a delayed departure this morning, we decided to stop over at the Oasis on our way back to Nuwerust later today. Only a day before the Cederberg sign board welcomed us into the familiar mountains we love, so it seemed that the boards welcome us across the borders of the Matjiesriver Nature Reserve.
The Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve was established in 1995, with assistance from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa. The nature reserve consists of 12 000 ha incorporates farm lands such as Kromrivier, Dwarsrivier and Sanddriff, within the approximately 130 000 hectares of rugged Cederberg mountain terrain of which only 71 000 hectare are proclaimed as the Cederberg Wilderness Area.
Despite the low water crossings looking undamaged, the first thing I was taught when driving off road was tyre pressure and never underestimates any form of water obstacle. This was no different and my Hi-Tec Ranier boots with my Gortex Sea to Summit gaiters came in handy walking across the bridge as along the left trek there was minor damage to the first crossing and a severe wash away on the second. Once passing the Cape Nature offices with Quinton Martins not being there, we made our way along the road to Wupperthal.
On passing a familiar board, “4×4 Vehicle advised for road to Wupperthal” I recall our family West Coast Wonders trip of 2009. Were we attempted to enter this beautiful part of the Cederberg from the town of Wupperthal, only to have to turn the vehicles around due to family members suffering from a severe fear of heights and pass driving. Now looking at the road ahead I cannot help but wonder how much of the two trek we drove December was left from the point where we turned around. Maybe next time we come through Ceres and descend into Wupperthal.
As we passed the board I could not help but notice a sticker belonging to a friend, Justin Patrick Brogan and his “WRITE TO ZERO DEGREES EXPEDITION”. Justin has had two success full expeditions to date with his third WRITE TO ZERO DEGREES departing from southernmost tip of South Africa in August 2011. He distributes educational materials to schools throughout Africa, as well as lap desks for the children to work on (www.writetozerodegrees.com).
The gravel road which is a lot better than the two trek from 2009, takes us to Die Onderhuis Keurbosfontein. This is where we are to collect permits to climb to the Arch from the Die Boog parking area. On signing for the permits we are given a paper map which is useless to direct us to Die Boog.
With our “map” in hand we make out way to Die Boog, as useless as the map is I must tell you that this is an amazing road and that it is worth a slow travel. From old historical ruins and farm houses to the winding mountain roads with streams flowing all over this is truly a special place in all seasons.
Though the highlight was undoubtedly a mountain slope of which I have never seen before. It seemed as if passers-by had taken the rocks which lay around and started packing them in the forms of their names. It is incredible for it is not only a small section of the slope, it is from the top all the way down into the valley. Though even more impressive than this, it seems as if no one that “builds” their names breaks other people’s names apart. It is an amazing site and worth a visit though I urge you to please respect it and its wonder.
The road winds along past a farm house, a kraal and then towards a small sign on the side of the road called Die Boog. From this point on the road is a two trek, with restios and flowers along the road side. The road ends abruptly in nothing but an open field, where the road turns into a wood cutters path into the mountains.
There are three paths leading to the Arch the one coming from the Tafelberg direction, the one through the Wolfberg Cracks and then our route one I did not know about until arriving at Nuwerust Camp. The path seemed to go on forever, though all new or unknown paths do. When the first ridge was crested the Cederberg played its old familiar trick of having one more behind the first one. The first glimpse of the Arch was seen after 2 hours of walking.
This is one of those sights which still takes my breath away even though I have seen it so many a time, it was a privilege to share it with someone that had never seen it before. As we made our way to the Arch and the angle changed you realise that there is defiantly an illusion as to from which side you view it. Once you stand below the arch you have a different perception to our significance in the world.
The most amazing thing was that the shadow side of the arch still had snow on the ground and the pools of water were frozen along the surface. It is amazing to think that the wind chill factor along with the temperature is low enough to keep the water frozen. As we sat and had lunch the temperature dropped all of a sudden and it was a perfect opportunity to pull out the First Ascent down jackets as well as the soft shell jackets.
After looking at the trek back function on the Garmin GPS 62s we descended along our exact route which we ascended. This is truly an amazing GPS so far and foes live up to its predecessor the Garmin GPS 60CSX an amazing mapping unit.
On arriving down at the vehicle once more in the small parking area at the foot of the mountains and looking back, one almost never believes that only a few hours ago you were standing under something that few people will ever see in person in their lives. It is an amazing privilege and honour to be able to explore the world around us so freely.
Just as we left to two trek road from Die Boog and turned towards the Cederberg Oasis along the Wupperthal- Ceres road we were passed by two old vehicles and it made me think of us with our big 4×4 vehicles, kitting ourselves out and driving all over the place. I though once more of the privilege we have and that we need to keep out “playground” intact. We reached the Cederberg Oasis, to be greeted by the owner and his wife. This place is a definite must stop at and I believe supporting local shops is vital when visiting an area.
While sitting outside chatting about the day past and thinking ahead to tomorrow the sun set behind the Oasis and the Cederberg showed its true colours as the mountain peaks shades turned to red and Cederberg showed its true colours and lived up to its name of the Red Cederberg.
This morning it seemed that the ice was not going to spare us and it seemed that the evening was colder last night that the night before. The roof rack and front window had frozen over to such an extent that water had to be poured over the windows to assist with the defrosting. Though I must say that one of the best photos of the trip was a photo of “Die Hell” sticker next to the First Ascent sticker on my vehicle covered in ice, having hiked in Die Hell and knowing how hot it gets there the ice covered sticker was a reminder of the extremes you experience in traveling.
On departing from Nuwerust Camp we made our way back towards Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve, though this time instead of going straight at the fork in the road towards the low water crossings it was decided to go over the back towards Krom River and then head up to Dwars River and collect the permits to require to walk to the Maltese cross. The road took us over the mountains and through remnants of pristine or un-altered fynbos, towards Truitjieskraal and on to agricultural lands of the Krom River farm.
On entering Krom River, were the road was blocked by sheep and among them an Anatolian sheep dog. They are used by sheep farmers to reduce the rate of domestic livestock loss due to predation by animals such as the Cape Leopard and smaller carnivores such as caracal. This dog is seen to be a step in the right direction when it comes to human animal conflict management. Anatolians see themselves as being part of the flock of sheep at they are raised as “one of the sheep” so to speak. They become protective over them and defend them against predators, despite the dog’s success rate they are costly and are only given to farmers that can afford to maintain them, use them properly and are willing to adhere to requirements set by the Anatolian sheep dog foundation.
On departing from Krom River, we collected permits for the Stadsaal caves and soon thereafter found comfort in the gravel road, leading across a pass and making its way towards Dwars River and the entrance to the Cederberg Observatory as well as the Sneeuberg hiking trail.
The permits are obtained from the Dwars River Cellars and not from the camp site, this is apparently a common mistake and as unfortunately we wasted time trying to find out exactly where the office was. On arriving at the correct office it was calculated that there would only be enough time for one hike to the top and a quick stop at the Stadsaal caves before heading off towards Katbakkies Pass and the frozen town of Sutherland. On arriving in the parking area for the Sneeuberg hiking route we were lucky enough to stop next to Scott Ramsay’s Ford Everest for his current project “Year in the Wild South Africa” (www.yearinthewild.com).
Once more our root took us up the wood cutters paths of the Cederberg Mountains and as I walked I thought of were the Cederberg got its name. The Cedar trees grew throughout the mountains and were utilised to satisfy growing demands for construction wood. From 1903 to 1973, exploitation of natural products occurred within the Cederberg, with 7 200 trees being used for telephone poles between Piketberg and Calvinia. This over utilisation and poor adaptations to the intensity and frequency of fires within the fynbos fire driven system has pushed the Ceder trees to the brink of extinction. The exploitation of Ceder trees was halted in 1973.
Though walking through the mountains I could not imagine what it would of looked like with slopes covered with trees.
As the path got narrower and steeper, the path ways became water ways as the ground water from the wetland at the base of the Sneeuberg peek was released through the different rock layers. It was amazing to be walking, listening to the water flowing and looking down towards the valley and thinking of the water catchment areas below feeding the Olifants River flowing into the Clainwilliam Dam for agricultural irrigation and towards the West Coast opening up into the ocean a few meter from our first nights camp along the West Coast Wonders trip, as well as other rivers flowing towards the east of the Cederberg feeding the agricultural lands around Ceres with water and providing water to the predominantly dry Karoo in the centre of our country. One mountain range having such an impact, it makes you wonder as to how important “water-towers” of mountain catchment areas actually are?
Though as the last corner is turned and Sneeuberg comes into sight with a tiny Maltese cross before it you somehow seem to doubt why you climber all the way up here to see this rock. Though as you come closer to the cross you cannot help but stop and wonder at its majesty and size. The Western Cape’s mountains are amazing, with the Cape Fold Mountains and its unique Table Mountain Sandstone formations. Though you cannot help but wonder how such a structure was made as it stands in the middle of what seems to be a “flat” area and unlike other similar structures like the “finger of God” in Namibia which has fallen over due to wind erosion and abrasion, the cross is doe exposed to such elements.
On descending and reaching the Ranger we turned or nose towards the familiar rolling gravel roads towards the Katbakkies Pass, though we had one more stop to make. The Stadsaal Caves and the Rock Art, this site is a crucial part of the Matjiesriver Nature Reserve and from a historical perspective this site is special with well-preserved rock art open for public viewing. Though Standing here and looking out over the vast expanse before us, I imagine a fire roaring under the cliff over hang and Bushmen dancing under the moon light. Though my mind is brought to a story told by Prof Johan Bakkes about how the Cederberg has changed from an inaccessible wilderness to an almost commercial holiday destination. He tells of how wood cutters were attacked by leopards and how men suffered, though here we stand once more with the soil between our toes and feel that attachment to the earth and its beauty.
From the rock art the road winds towards the Stadsaal Caves, this is a place I have been told about but until today have not had the opportunity to explore. The rock formations came into sight and the best way I could explain what I saw, as photos do not do justice, is that it looked as if someone put a straw into the earth and blew bubbles as you would do in a milkshake. The bubbles remained and their walls had fallen in joining them in a network of tunnels, rock formations and crevasse. Standing before this I felt like a little boy and could not contain my excitement, I wanted to explore and see all this spectacular place had to offer. Unfortunately though there was no time as the Ranger still needed to reach Sutherland and it was already 04h30.
An hour later the Ranger stopped at the sign indicating that Katbakkies Pass started as we crossed the bridge. After expecting gravel from what I was told by locals as well as other travellers, I was thankful for the tarred road which wound its way over the mountain and descended into the Karoo. The view from the top of Katbakkies Pass even at 06h00 with the sun vanishing behind the Cederberg to the west and the Karoo darkening in the valley before us was breath taking.
On getting to the bottom of the Pass, it was dark and the proposed route was to follow the R355 and then head across a secondary road towards the R356 and then on towards Sutherland. Though on consulting the maps and GPS an alternate route along main roads was found heading along the R355 towards the R46 and then turning onto the R356, despite this route being longer and on “main” gravel roads it was decided against as our rout plan was submitted in Cape Town to the family and there was no cell phone reception to inform them of a route change. We made our way towards the secondary road and came across our first farm gate. The roads deteriorated and after a while it was clear that the Ranger would be traveling farm roads, I can honestly not recall the amount of farm gates that were opened and closed along the 200 km of road. Though I stopped counting low water crossing and flood damaged water sections by the 15th crossing. With the Rangers motor roaring into the night, the road to Sutherland seemed never ending. The GPS 62s came into its own as a navigational aid though my only disappointment was that the buttons did not light up, as a new user I had not yet memorised the buttons as I had on the quest, etrex and 276c but never the less the GPS was a blessing. With 5 riverine rabbits spotted along the way, it seemed as though we had finally came to the end of the gravel. This was honestly the most intense driving session I have had in a while, at one point along the route the head lights and spots seemed to stop working on inspecting the lights they were being blocked by a thick layer of mud. On arriving on the tar road heading to Sutherland, there was a tar kissing session in order and for the first time in a while I was happier to travel on tar.
The R345 was a welcome relief and I was amazed at the capability of the Goodyear Wrangler tyres, before leaving Cape Town an man came up to me at Hi-Q Durban Road and asked where I was heading with the vehicle and two spare wheels. On telling him the route, he shook his head and said that the wranglers would never make it, that he punctured all 4 his BFGoodrich tyres at once on the same road. Now thinking back at what the Ranger just went through and how we drove, I could not imagine what you would have to do to lose 4 tyres at once.
Never the less, the phones went on in anticipation for reception as our estimated time of arrival in Sutherland was supposed to be around 6and not 10 in the evening. As we entered reception we contacted Cape Town to inform our route holders that all was well and made our way towards the town contacting the owners of Kosmossie Guest House to inform them that we were on our way, mush to their relief as they had waited up for us and left the lights on outside. What amazed us the most was that there was not a single restaurant open in Sutherland, they all seemed to close early in the evening.
Realising that the vehicles tyres had not been inflated for tar roads and the vehicle had not been unpacked the first order of the day was to sort this out before heading towards the Observatory.
On arriving at the Observatory brought back memories from when our last trip to Sutherland in the middle of winter searching for snow in 2008, despite freezing weather and a Pathfinder that had no fuel in it resulting in us not being able to go and view the stars we did not find any snow. This trip was the same, no snow and this time the stars were not able to be seen as all the private observatories and SALT was closed? How this works is honestly beyond me as it is peak tourist season and on phoning and making bookings, they assured me that there was space for stargazing. Never the less a tour of the observatory was a consolation prize, it was still amazing to be able to walk through the different telescopes and see how technology has changed over the year.
Within the education centre guests are able to walk around playing with the interactive educational tools, after watching a 5 minute clip showing us how magnification works and highlighting the size of the Universe. The rest of the day was spent exploring the town’s shops, coffee shops and just walking through the streets and photographing the homes. The town does not have a lot to offer from a city perspective but it has character and some of the side roads are a photographers dream with houses falling apart and just telling stories by themselves. The evening was spent at Jupiters restaurant, before returning to Kosmos and packing the Ranger for the day next day’s travels.
After saying good bye to the town of Sutherland the Ranger turned once more towards the gravel roads of the R46 towards Ceres. Fresh in my mind where the stories told at the Jupiter Restaurant by the management last night of couples losing tyres along the road we travelled a night ago, of 4×4 vehicles getting so stuck that Land Cruisers could not pull them out and that tractors had to be fetched. Apparently one couple got stuck for 3 days with no one driving by, never the less I am happy with how the Ranger and the Goodyear’s performed and now it is the last stretch towards Cape Town.
The evening before leaving Cape Town I popped in by an old family friend Stadler le Roux, an avid off road driving enthusiast and adventure lover. On telling him of our proposed route he informed me that there was a place we had to stop at. As all friends do we share ideas, maps and locations of those breath taking views. With Google earth, Tracks 4 Africa and Garmin’s making this sharing of information easier than what it was in the past, I received maps as well as co-ordinates on my black- berry later that evening. Our surprise destination would be Bossieskerm Een Stop owned by Santa Bothma, this is an amazing destination and if you are ever in the mood to gravel travel and seek somewhat of a different shop I would advise you to make the effort and try and locate her stall.
Deflated tyres rolling over the gravel roads we made our way towards this “place we simply had to see”, it was an amazing experience something that I would share with friends if they so desired. Though I would like to once more ask you to please not abuse the hospitality of any place you travel too and Santa’s shop is no different. It is a kraal with a fire place at the centre and a counter with sweets, drinks, biltong, beer and homemade cakes for sale though bring cash as there are no card facilities for those of us that like to swipe.
For those of you that have the traveling problem that then the vehicle stops you need the toilet or that once you have driven half way to nowhere that the “I am hungry, how far are we” questions start to come from the back seat this is an amazing stop off point. Santa has even gone so far as to facilitate braais and if you stand looking at the main door and look into the veld to your left you might be able to see what looks like a mini version of the kraal. That is in fact the flushing toilet with white fluffy towel you can read about on the board inside. On leaving this oasis I urge you as Santa does to close the door behind you so that the sheep do not enter the Kraal.
The road from here wound its way back into Ceres completing the round trip and as I looked now to my right as we passed Gydo pass, making our way to the Bain’s Kloof pass to Wellington, passing Twede Toll I thought of a few days ago when we stood at the 500 meter lookout point starting off this adventure. The rest of the drive home was uneventful and on arriving home the Ranger went for a quick wash and go before it received its thorough wash the following day, along with a wheel aligning and balancing. Dewald and I chatted of the trip while waiting for the Ranger at Hi-Q, he was amazed at all that happened and was pleased the plug held as he put it. Though for now the Ranger is clean and taken care of until its next adventure.