Deep in the Cederberg Mountains the silence hangs like a blanket. It’s so quiet here that your ears tingle. But you are not alone. Leopard tracks line the paths you walk on, and your journey into the wild is watched by ravens and eagles.
The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. Panoramic views of monstrous mountains and plummeting ravines accompany you all day. At night, the cosmos appears almost as soon as sunset is over: the Milky Way and giant constellations rush out into a sky scored by the streak of a shooting star.
Yet despite their barren appearance, the Cederberg Mountains are full of life. The most obvious is the flora. The Cederberg’s indigenous fynbos vegetation is bursting with diversity, and visitors are treated to extravagant displays of flowers throughout the year.
The Cederberg’s animal life, on the other hand, ranges from frogs and snakes to porcupines and antelope although it’s usually the signs of their passing – footprints and droppings – that you see. The river valleys are thick with birds however, and foraging baboons often sit back and watch you as you pass. The leopards here, you’ll be glad to hear, are small and shy and very rarely seen.
With peaks reaching 2 000 metres, the Cederberg is serious mountain country. Sheer red cliffs loom high above you as you hike; giant slabs of rock litter the landscape like Palaeolithic stone circles, many carved into grotesque shapes by wind and rain. And the Cederberg certainly gets its share of the elements. Snow often covers the high ground in winter and summer temperatures can reach 40°C.
But the Cederberg is above all an accessible wilderness. The weather is usually warm, dry and sunny and the drive there is easy. Fill up the car in Cape Town and you’re sitting down beside a cheerful mountain stream three hours later. Campsites and self-catering cottages are tucked away under shady trees and there are even a handful of lodges on private concessions.
Bring your boots. There are over 300 kilometres of hiking trails in the Cederberg: half-day strolls, full-day hikes and of course overnight trails in the designated wilderness area. And it’s the overnight wilderness hiking that gets most people interested. You can bring a tent but the Cederberg is also home to mountain huts and natural shelters, thoughtfully lined with dry straw and offering million-dollar views.
Bring the best hiking clothes and equipment you can. If you base yourself at a valley campsite or cottage, you won’t need specialist kit for the day hikes but you’ll need it for multi-day hiking in the Cederberg. These mountains are magnificent but quick to punish the under-prepared. Boots, backpack, sleeping bag, clothes – it all has to be the right stuff.
You’ll need to be pretty fit too. A day’s hiking in the Cederberg can see you doing the equivalent of a couple of hikes up and down Table Mountain – and you’ll have to carry food and water too.
You can visit at any time of year but I find the best time for Cederberg hiking is winter and spring (June to November). It may not be the most obvious choice but the region enjoys long periods of dry and sunny winter weather. It’s the best time for flowers, many birds are breeding and animals are active, and the Cederberg’s streams are in full, tumbling flow.
Summer hiking in the Cederberg usually means dry weather but it’s hot, especially December through March, and there’s often not much water around; April and May offer cooler weather.
Sounds like Cederberg hiking might be for you? Get in touch with The Fynbos Guy for more information and ideas.