Bordering the expansive plains of the Great Karoo, the Cederberg (map) and Swartruggen mountains are one of the Western Cape’s wildest and most desolate regions. Located just a few short hours north/northeast of Cape Town, this region boasts some truly spectacular mountain passes, rock formations, unique safaris and fascinating San rock art. San or Bushman rock paintings are one of South Africa’s greatest cultural treasures. Discovered some 350 years ago, there are more than 20,000 San rock art sites scattered throughout the country; some of which date back to the Stone Ages.
The region encompassing the Cederberg and Swartruggen mountain ranges features some of the most rugged wilderness in the Western Cape. In this region, lush, verdant valleys interchange with craggy mountains and flat barren plains. Spend a few days here exploring the curiously-shaped sandstone formations and get a guide to show you the fascinating San rock paintings. There are many miles of dirt road to navigate but the whole experience of this enchanting, desolate region is worth it. When darkness falls, sit back with a divine glass of Pinotage and a warm wooly blanket, look up and admire some of the most magical star-studded skies on the planet. In the spring, the wild flowers carpet the mountainsides and valleys for as far as the eye can see.
One of my favourite drives is from Clanwilliam across three thrilling mountain passes (Pakhuis Pass, Hoek Se Berg and Kouberg Pass) to Wuppertal, an isolated Moravian mission station (where you can get some delicious Rooibos tea) surrounded by rugged mountains. This area also houses the Bushman’s Kloof nature reserve, a stunning South African National Heritage site. The Bushman’s Kloof extends from the majestic Cederberg mountains to the plains of the Karoo and is a desolate area with unique flora and fauna as well as many San rock sites. The reserve is also the location of the Bushman’s Kloof, an upmarket resort and spa. There are gorgeous natural rock pools and waterfalls, flower trails, guided nature walks, sunset drives and amazing San rock art.
You can also opt to stay at Kagga Kamma, a comparable (slightly cheaper) private reserve which offers cave rooms (quite an extraordinary experience), Bushman rock paintings, fantastic rock formations and safaris (no Big Five here but lots of bontebok, springbok, oryx, wildebeest and elands). Sign up for the Sundowner drive and enjoy a picknick out in the middle of nowhere on a ridge overlooking the expansive Karoo plains while the sun sets and the landscape is coloured with brilliant shades of red, orange and mauve. In the evenings, dinner is served in the ‘lapa’ around a massive campfire. Don’t miss the magical star-studded skies from the hilltop where a large telescope allows you to zoom in on Jupiter and some distant galaxies.
For a more exciting safari, head for the Inverdoorn Game Reserve. The reserve has many species of antelopes (the ‘boks’), white rhinos, giraffes, lions, cheetas and many birds.
This region also has some of the most breathtaking mountain passes. In addition to those mentioned above, others definitely worth exploring are the Mitchell’s Pass (into Ceres; the mountain passes into the Ceres basin – South Africa’s fruit bowl – are truly spectacular), the Middelberg Pass and Piekenaarskloof (both near Citrusdal a farming community in the charming Olifants river valley).