Warning - it's long!

Trip Start Oct 13, 2009
Trip End Nov 26, 2009

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Where I stayed

Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Sunday, November 22, 2009

NOV 20
Sanddrif in the Cederberg Wilderness area.
OK, time to catch up with this. On Monday I picked up a car and headed north-west along
the west coast of South Africa, though the road itself is always several kilometers inland
from the coast, with minor spurs heading to the occasional coastal community. I ended up
at one of these - Paternoster - for the night, a tiny cluster of small, white-washed buildings
spread along a couple of kilometers of beach and rocky coast. As soon as I arrived at the
junction at the entrance to the village, I was accosted by three or four young men carrying
plastic bags of crayfish (lobster), who hang out most of the day trying to sell their wares,
freshly landed from one of the numerous tiny wooden fishing boats dragged up on the
beach. The village has two shops, one small hotel, three or four B&Bs and a host of holiday
cottages, many of which are let on a self-catering basis. The first B&B I looked at was
perched on the rocks with a nice sea view and a funky layout, but they wanted SAR1340
(about US$181) per night! The next one had a large, modern room with a terrace
overlooking the beach, and was SAR325! Dropped my luggage and went for a long walk
on the beach and dipped my toes in the chilly Atlantic. I can’t remember the last time I
walked on a sandy beach, but despite all my travels, it was most likely at Cooper in
January. Clearly I am not a beachy person. Had a delicious fish & chips dinner at the
Voorstrand restaurant, sitting at a wooden bench/table right beside the beach.

On Tuesday I headed inland to the main road, and then out to another coastal community,
St. Helena Bay, motivated to see the Vasco da Gama monument, erected in 1997 to
commemorate the 500th anniversary of VdG arriving in South Africa. It wsn’t a very
impressive erection (I’ve seen better) - just three slabs of granite perched on a rock in the
sand, with faded writing. The community itself consists of three large fish processing plants,
a commercial fishing harbour (with no public access) and several large holiday-home
developments, some with houses built, some completely vacant except for paved roads
and streetlights. And they are carving more developments out of the hillside; clearly
somebody is expecting a huge demand for coastal holiday homes.

Talking of streetlights, if I may digress for a moment, reminds me that somebody in Oman
must have recently landed a huge contract for streetlights! I saw miles and miles of
streetlights being installed: but not in towns - along empty roads near the desert with no
towns or villages nearby. In Franklin County, voters at town meetings are bickering over
which streetlights to disconnect in their town to save money; in Oman, they are illuminating
the desert!

Back to SA, and inland to Citrusdal at the foot of the Cederberg Mountain range. As it’s
name implies, this town’s raison d’etre is to grow citrus fruits - acres and acres of neat
rows of beautifully tended and perfectly irrigated orange, lemon, lime and apricot trees, just
beginning to bear fruit. I stayed at a B&B on a citrus farm, and had dinner in town at the only
restaurant, called Die Citrus!

Next day I headed north up the N7, the main road from Cape Town to Namibia; only two
lanes, but with very little traffic - mostly the occasional long, double-articulated lorry,
probably carrying consumer goods to Namibia as that country has very little industrial
capability. I arrived at Clanwilliam, a small, sleepy town at the north end of the Cederberg
range, and then headed south on a gravel road into the Boskloof, a thinly populated valley
along the Jan Dissels river. The driveable road ends about 16km from Clanwilliam, at a
gem of a small lodge called Karukareb, where they have five rooms in a cottage next to the
dining-lodge, and five “tents” spread out along the river. The tents consist of a large
concrete foundation with stone floor tiling, and solid, tiled walls at the rear third, forming a
very comfy bathroom complete with claw-foot bathtub and separate slate-tiled showet.
Attached to the front of this bathroom is a real, heavy-duty bush tent with zippered,
screened windows all around, and a full-width double canvas door to a generous
teak-floored, shaded deck, overlooking the river and the mountains. No mains power:
12volt battery power for lights, and a propane fridge. (What does that remind you of?)
Absolutely beautiful. The tents are about 1.6km from the main lodge where they serve
breakfast and dinner, and they provide mountain bikes to get to and from, though it’s
definitely dodgy on a bike at night with no moon, especially after dinner, when one may
have had a couple of glasses of wine! The dinner itself was excellent, and even though I
was the only guest that evening, and it’s a set menu, there was a printed menu to explain
what I was going to eat (smoked snoek tart with beetroot chutney; Greek salad; fresh
baked bread; pan-fried lemon and herb hake with crispy potato wedges, sweet carrots with
fennel, mixed fresh vegetables; chocolate cake with berry sauce; cheese platter), and of
course, super service.

I decided to stay a second night, so on Thursday I went for a short hike up one side of the
valley, but with no existing track, it was hard work finding a path through the brush and
rocks, so I gave up, and instead took one of the bikes and followed an old track on the floor
of the valley for about 8km until it petered out to nothing. I saw a couple of wild antelope,
and heard baboons barking off to the side, but no leopards, though the manager said that
they had seen one in this area a couple of weeks before.
Sat on my deck with a sandwich and salad for lunch, and then wallowed in the rock pool in
the river, right in front of my tent, followed by another delicious dinner at the lodge.
Stumbling back to my tent after dinner in the dark, I marvelled at the myriad stars above me
and how bright and close they seemed, compared with the stars I usually see.

On Friday, I planned to head deeper into the Cederberg Wilderness Area, though the only
roads are unpaved, and the only accommodations are self-catering. So I stopped at the
Spar, the only supermarket in Clanwilliam, bought a cooler and enough food and drink for
two days, and headed south to Algeria, the forest station and main entry point. Continuing
south through lovely open, mountainous countryside, with almost no sign of human
habitation, I came to Dwarsrivier, the home of Cederberg Wines (look for them at
Waitrose) and the neighbouring collection of holiday cottages run by the winery, known as
Sanddrif, right beside the Matjies river. I took a two-bedroom cottage, with fully equipped
kitchen, and porch facing the Wolfberg Mountain.
Today, Saturday, I did the hike up to the Wolfberg Cracks, a group of fissures near the top
of the mountain which provide access to the huge plateau on top. It was only about an hour
and a half up, but involved an ascent of over 500 meters so my legs got a good workout,
and I was rewarded with a magnificent view over the whole unspoilt valley, the vineyards
and farm buildings of Cederberg Cellars being the only sign of development. Later I went
for a wine tasting, and I can confirm that they produce some very good wines, well worth
looking for when I get home. Retief who was pouring the wines, told me that they have
about 53 hectares under vine, and they produce about 190,000 bottles each year, the
harvest being in February and March. He also explained that the CWA was created several
years ago by the owners of the dozen or so farms comprising the 710 square kilometer
area, who decided to dedicate the bulk of the land to Cape Nature (a conservation
organisation), each retaining a small fraction of their land for agricultural or low-impact
tourist use. Hence the handful of farms and self-catering places to stay within the CWA - no
hotels or resorts, thankfully.

OK, time for dinner - lamb chops and baked potato in the oven, stir-fried veggies on the top
- and hopefully I will get some internet access so I can post this tomorrow. It does seem to
have got rather long-winded though - that’s what comes of hanging around in wilderness
areas with no distractions in the evening, other than reading or writing!

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lmcfarland on

Stunning stuff! It's fantastic the way they add comforts to rough quarters.I'll watch for the Cederberg wines.

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