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Taking the back road

Cape Town - Fair, poor, bad, very bad.

These are the indicators for the untarred road conditions on the Slingsby guide map as we rattled our way through the Cederberg.

MARKED BY TIME: In the main section of the Stadsaal, the walls of the saal are crudely marked with signatures from at least 1888. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The indicators, typed in minute black capital letters above the road, are for dry road conditions. Below, in blue, are the conditions when the roads are wet – when poor becomes bad, bad becomes very bad, etc – perilous conditions unless you are travelling in an unshakeable 4x4 with a well-stocked bar fridge.

But it is just as well that you are forced to slow down to about 18km/h. The stark, rocky celestial-like landscape is so startling that you need time to take it all in. Travelling from our cottage at Uitkyk Pass, about 5km from the camping hub of Algeria, our day-trip goal was a visit to the ancient Stadsaal caves.

The names of the sites along the way were a giveaway to the peculiarly crafted landscape – Malkop se Kraal, Uitskietdrif, Lot’s Wife, Die Gat se Kloof and Mied se Kop. The map indicators were also a telltale sign, showing old leopard traps, quarries, cattle crates, old sledge tracks, leopard claw marks and cemeteries.

At Dwarsrivier, we popped into the rather oddly situated Cederberg Cellars to buy some local wine, including their award-winning sauvignon blanc. The proprietor said that the vineyards – which are exposed to heat in summer and snowfall in winter – thrived in the desolation of the Cederberg as they were not exposed to killer viruses from neighbouring vineyards.

At Stadsaal, we followed a footpath that took a circular loop, passing weirdly shaped rocks, cracks, arches and spirals. We had a picnic lunch in the main section of the “saal”, the walls crudely marked with signatures dating from at least 1888 – Wagener being prominent among the names.

On the way back, we stopped off at the Elephant Rock art site – a well-preserved painting that could be more than 1 000 years old. The heads of the Khoisan people in the painting were missing, but, according to the guidebook, this was not a creative symbol for anything other than they were drawn in white or black, which fade quicker than red.

We were on the lookout for rare sightings of three threatened species – leopard, snow protea and Clanwilliam Cedar trees – but they remained elusive during our two-night stay. But we saw a spectacular array of lizards of all shapes, sizes and colours, and a cheeky, overfriendly mongoose and striped polecat, both of which came around to visit – separately - during an evening braai.

A few hundred metres from our Cape Nature cottage, Prik se Werf, there was a small rock pool with a miniature waterfall, an idyllic place to cool off in the Cederberg heat. Easy access to water is a prerequisite in summer (an essential question to ask when making a booking).

Two days is insufficient time to get more than a brief introduction to the Cederberg. It became a recce weekend before a more leisurely visit because the rating for Cederberg, bar the stony roads, is: out of this world. - Cape Times

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