Ahhh, the Cederberg Wilderness area!
Being just a few hours out of Cape Town, it’s a pretty popular destination and a lot of hikers, climbers, birders, plant fanatics and outdoorsy people will know it well.
But as for me? Well, I hadn’t been there before, but I sure made up for that last winter by signing up for an 8 day, 100km hike through the region.
The Cederberg 100 is a slackpacking affair. That means you don’t have to carry any serious baggage with you, make any fires, cook any meals or do any dishes.
Packs are transported by bakki between destinations, or else they are carried by the local Gautrain equivalent (The donkey cart)
If your legs get heavy they’ll probably transport you as well
Each night you stay in a local home in one of the 14 Moravian villages in the area, or else you are put up in a custom made hikers house or a local bed and breakfast.
Its fully guided by local village residents, so there’s no chance of getting lost, and if you are a seasoned hiker, you wont find the distances between destinations particularly challenging.
It’s a ramble rather than a march, commencing from Driehoek Farm in the shadows of Tafelberg and Sneeukop and ending further north at the Pakhuise Pass not so far from Clanwilliam. But just because it’s a slack pack trail, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
The Cederberg is hilly after all.
As I stood huffing and puffing atop the Gabriel’s pass at 1430 meters above sea level, I began to wonder if I was up to the task, but long time Cederberg wanderer Rudolf Andrag was there to offer encouragement.
A dedicated fan of the wilderness and a committed conservationist of both the wildlife and people of the Cederberg, Rudolf has been traipsing around these steep and winding paths since the 1940s.
“This is the inaugural Cederberg 100” he told me from somewhere inside his hooded jacket “And its glorious weather for a mild hike like this. Really feels like winter doesn’t it?”
Well; It was!
The hens (a name I had given to a group of three ladies who were with us) clucked and twittered in agreement. Even Aiden, my buddy who I bring with me on these sorts of things by merit of him being less fit than I, was looking at me mockingly
“Yes, come on Dale” he scorned “don’t be such a sissy ”
I had man flu, courtesy of the Icelandic conditions. But although the climate and the dripping bogeys had dampened my physical resolve, my spirit remained buoyed.
Never before had I set eyes or feet (or any other body part) upon the awesome peaks of the 71000 hectare Cederberg wilderness. Nor had I seen the stunning floral displays, the black eagles or the quaint little hobbit like villages that lie secreted away amongst mountain folds.
It was all a delightful surprise, and it didn’t feel like I was in Africa at all.
More like Scotland, or somewhere up high in the cold Artic circle.
Early on in this odyssey of inclement weather I paused upon a rise overlooking the tiny little village of Langkloof. Across its valley, a snow-clad mountain named Taffleberg rose ominously into a gray and swirling storm. Below us, the sounds of barking dogs and vociferous chickens blended with the smells of chimney fires and good home cooking.
It reminded me of my childhood growing up in the Welsh Mountains, so dissimilar it was from anything I had seen, smelt, heard or felt before on the Great African continent.
“Ooh, I would love a nice cup of tea” twittered one of the hens. And as we entered the little village and met with our elderly hosts for the night, a china teapot materialized along with some rusks as if by magic. We took off our shoes and wet outer garments and were ushered by Anne and Kosi Salomo into their tiny kitchen where an old iron stove radiated waves of blessed heat.
The ceiling was low, the thick insulating walls made the rooms in this cottage feel small and cosy, the doorways were built for little folk.
It was the perfect sized home for Anne and Kosi, neither of whom were much taller than five feet high. Aiden, a relatively tall chap, was continuously bumping his head on light fittings and lintels.
‘Hobbits town indeed’ I thought to myself
Many, many moons ago, way back in the 19th Century the Moravian church set aside a large tract of land adjacent to what is now known as the Cederberg Nature Reserve. Mission stations were established, and sanctuary was given to followers in the form of villages to stay in and land upon which they could farm.
Today, pretty much every resident of the 14 villages and settlements that dot the area are members of the Moravian Church.
“But there isn’t any real industry here” old Kosi told me through the interpretation service Rudolf had offered. His voice was a sing song version of Afrikaans that had a distinctly tuneful tonal range to it.
“We grow Rooibos tea and plant vegetables and the like, but otherwise our young folk feel they need to leave in order to find work”
Tourism however, has been identified as a really good means to provide jobs and stability to the residents of the Cederberg. Visitors and hikers can stay in local homes. Taxi drivers (donkey carts) are a profitable attraction, whilst infrastructure improvements, trail maintenance and guiding services all provide money for what is essentially a hand to mouth economy.
Each leg of the Cederberg 100 is guided by a local from the nearest village, so by the time we finished the whole trail, we had met and been guided by no less than 6 different guys.
They took us on our daily outings between villages through gorgeous mountains and past the strange sculpted sandstone formations that so typify this beautiful wilderness area.
In my opinion, the Cederberg 100 offers some of the best hiking in Africa, especially so in winter when the peaks are wearing their best alpine attire.
Each morning we awoke to chilly (and sometimes outright freezing) weather, a hot breakfast and some good old horrible ricoffy before being met by our local guide for the day. Some were quite shy, but knowledgeable on the route, others were chatty and full of info about the local history, flora, fauna and geography.
None of them seemed bothered by the weather
The rain and snow had caused tiny streams to turn into rivers and beautiful cascades, and we spent many an enjoyable hour making detours so as to avoid being swept out into the wilderness by class five rapids.
Thank heavens for the guides knowledge on where we needed to go and which rivers were safe to cross!
Each evening, cold but uplifted by the sights and sounds of the day, we would shuffle into a village; Eselbank; Kleinvlei; Brugkraal; Heuningvlei and Boskloof, each with its own quaintly dilapidated edifices and characters.
Portly ladies (with hair curlers) would fuss and cook for us, local men would come sing a ditty on their guitar or tell us all about the excitement of living in the Moravian village in the Cederberg.
Just last year, a man had a chicken that laid an egg with two yolks. Imagine that if you will!
It’s a cliché, but in the Cederberg Mountains, time really has stood still.
We missed out on some of the highlights on our hike; a walk to wolf berg arch; a trip over this peak or that, but Rudolf and the local guides all advised that the weather would likely kill us should we insist.
Wisely, we did not, and instead stuck to the donkey trails or else wandered through level glens where flowers of every shape and colour had erupted form the ground.
After 7 days of hiking, I was done (literally). But I had seen most of what the Cederberg Wilderness has to offer and I was left wanting to come back to see it again, perhaps next time in the spring.
I had seen little Moravian villages populated with little Moravian people. Flowers galore, rock formations and caves, Snowy peaks straight out of the Andes, and leopard spoor upon the soft damp earth. We had met the locals, tasted their food, slept in their beds and rode on their donkey carts. And we had climbed rare Cedar trees (for which the area is named)
Come the end, I had acquired several new blisters, a taste for traditional bobotie and a deep respect and fondness of the Cederberg Wilderness that will see me heading back this way as often as I can.
Not everyone can manage seven full days of hiking, but don’t worry, you don’t have to miss out.
The Cederberg Heritage Route is a not for profit organization that supports local communities and habitat conservation through hiking trails and has helped to maintain a number of guided or self guided trails and accommodations throughout the region.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0274822444 or visit www.cedheroute.co.za
More information on things to see and do in the Cederbergs can be found at www.cederberg.com