Gateway to the Cederberg

For his first post-Lockdown escape, Leon Kriel headed to the Cederberg and found pure bliss – with cellphone reception to boot.

When leisure travel opened up, the Cederberg was at the top of our list. So I took a chance and emailed Katrin at Jamaka to find out if they were open for camping. Luck was on our side. Not only were they open, they even had a winter camping special on.

Also read: Cederberg, South Africa’s best-kept secret

Crossing the Olifants River

We left Cape Town around 4pm on Friday with the van loaded and ready for the weekend. By 6pm, we’d reached the low-water bridge over the Olifants River. I have always felt that you are not in the Cederberg unless you’ve crossed this bridge. This is the “only way in”. I know it is not true – you can also enter from the Ceres side. But for me, this has always been the official entrance to the Cederberg.

I was relieved to see only one side of the bridge was underwater. With all the rain we’d had, I’d expected it to look worse. Before we knew it, we were through and on our way up Nieuwoudt’s Pass. More or less at the top of the pass, we saw the Jamaka sign stating that it would be much closer to walk down. But who would carry all our stuff? Not me!

The top of Nieuwoudt’s Pass. Pictures by Leon Kriel.

We arrived at the Jamaka office, which doubles as a well-stocked shop, at 6:30pm. Since they were quiet, Katrin said we could camp wherever we felt like. Jannie, her husband, asked me to give him a call once we’d chosen our spot. What? Was there mobile reception in the Cederberg? He just laughed and said, “We have everything except 5G.”

It was completely dark as we followed a jeep track down into the valley and carefully made our way over four low-water crossings. With 85 campsites to choose from, we were spoilt for choice. Some stands are large enough to accommodate groups, others are suited to couples looking for a bit of seclusion. We settled on stand number 60 and before long our fire was blazing away. After months spent indoors, we were in our element under a starry sky.

T4A tip: During the winter rainy season, contact your destination to check low-water bridges are passable before departing.

Back road to Clanwilliam

The next morning we woke to a grey and wet campsite. After coffee and breakfast, we decided to take the 27km drive to Clanwilliam – about 35 minutes on the dirt road. We passed some beautiful farms and scenery before the Clanwilliam Dam appeared in the distance. It was still drizzling when we got into town, so we found cover at the Velskoendraai Padstal. The shop is packed with things that catch the eye – homemade jams, freshly baked rusks and fynbos-infused skincare. But I was more interested in lunch by this stage. The restaurant has a huge variety to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with the double bacon and cheeseburger.

The back road to Clanwilliam passes beautiful scenery.

Back at camp my wife, Sharon, had decided that stand 60 wasn’t right any more. Having seen the other campsites in daylight, she preferred stand 69. Luckily our van makes it quick to pack up camp and within half an hour we had the fire going at 69. Now with a view of the river and the mountain.

The Jamaka campsite is surrounded by trees.

Blue sky thinking

Since Sunday turned out to be a blue sky day, we decided to attempt one of the five hiking trails Jamaka has to offer – some of them as long as 17km. The Rooiberg trail heads up the hill behind the campsite. What better way to get some perspective on our camp and the mountains across the valley? Before long we were back at the Jamaka sign at the top of Nieuwoudt’s Pass. The one that said 1km down and 10km around. They weren’t joking.

The Rooiberg Trail departs from Jamaka campsite.

Back at camp, we had a chance to meet the other guests seeking out the sun and taking in the surrounds. First, a family that had come just for the weekend. Then a retired couple from Durban taking a gap year before settling into retirement. They’d started their road trip through the Western Cape before there was a thing called Lockdown and they plan to keep going for another year.

Quick and easy Cederberg

Pack-up day turned out to be a bit cold but delivered another clear sky. Perhaps ‘a bit cold’ is an understatement. It was 4 degrees at 8:00 the morning. We spent the morning absorbing the last bit of quiet bliss and then decided to head a bit deeper into the Cederberg before turning homeward. We just needed to see where the valley opens up after Uitkyk Pass. Where those boulders as big as houses lie scattered across the valley floor. We pulled off the road and stopped for a picnic to take everything in.

Looking down the valley from Uitkyk Pass.

Sitting there on a rock in the veld, we reflected on what we’d experienced. This was a different Cederberg weekend to our previous breakaways. Cederberg Lite, if I can call it that.

Yes, we did go over the bridge at the Olifants River. But I missed those red rock formations that make me feel like I am in the Cederberg. I missed the hikes into the cracks or out to the arch. Will I stay at Jamaka again? Without a doubt. You don’t need to drive that corrugated gravel road all the way to make it official. At Jamaka, you’ll find a campsite with lots of space, clean ablutions and even cellphone reception. Two and a half hours from Cape Town make it the perfect getaway for a weekend. And you are still in the Cederberg.

Parting shot

We kept going to the Driehoek campsite to get a little souvenir: the Cederberg Conservancy sticker with the black eagle on it. The van simply needed to have one now that it’s made its first trip into the Cederberg.

The badge of a true Cederberg fan.

Where did you go for your first post-lockdown breakaway? Let us know in the comments.

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