A Weekend in the Cederberg Mountains

The next morning, we started our day early on the wide, open road and headed into the mountains. Stunning vistas and rolling fields surrounded us, with very few cars passing by. We took the R399 to Pieketberg and then went back onto the N7 to Citrusdal, a quaint town with a few bed and breakfasts, and nestled in a valley dotted with citrus trees. We stopped for a slice of Picasso cake and coffee at Die Sitrus (the perfect road trip lunch, by the way) before continuing north to Clanwilliam.

In Clanwilliam, we stopped for food and supplies at the local Spar. We traveled up the N7 a bit further and turned onto a gravel road for a few kilometers (this road was not so kind to our tiny rental car!) to reach our next accommodation, Gecko Creek Wilderness Lodge.

This lodge is in the middle of the mountains on a 517 hectare private nature reserve and affords travelers with beautiful views, access to great hikes, and a pool overlooking a panoramic view of the valley. There is a ‘boma’ and a ‘lapa’ on site to do all of your own cooking.

Quite unexpectedly, the owner had a North American Timber Wolf as a pet that is domesticated, but still very much a wild animal (so no pets or children under the age of 16 are allowed at this lodge).

We spent our afternoon exploring the property and hiking around, and finished the day with a few beers while sitting around a roaring campfire.  The night was cold, but our tent came equipped with two twin beds and warm comforters, so we had a good night's rest.

We woke up to a stunning sunrise and studied the road map while we ate our breakfast.  Our next idea was to drive up the Pakhuis Pass, see Leipoldt’s grave, and then head towards our next accommodation - one of the last remaining privately-owned rooibos tea estates in South Africa. At Yellow Aloe, we stopped for coffee and pressed sandwiches, and after, wandered through their gardens and guesthouse.  I made a mental note to come back and stay here another time.  Stopping to reflect for just a moment, we discussed how it must have taken some pretty tough people to traverse these mountains in the 1800’s to make this area their home.

Heading West on the R364, we arrived at Elandsberg an hour (or so) later. We were slightly early, and met our host Chris du Plessis as he pulled up in his 4x4 vehicle with that morning’s tour group. We instantly felt at home in our self-catering accommodation.  His wife, Annette offered us iced rooibos tea, and made sure we were comfortably settled in our room.

I set off on a walk around their estate, and even found some rocks with preserved San bushmen paintings.  There were many rows of rooibos bushes, and I could only imagine how beautiful these hills would look in the springtime with the fynbos in full bloom.  In the evening, we cooked dinner in our room and I settled into a rocking chair with a copy of Mark Twain’sTom Sawyer. Stepping outside for a bit of fresh air, I couldn’t help but marvel at how many stars light up the sky in the Southern Hemisphere.

We awoke early to pack our things and get ready for Chris’ tour of the estate. Honestly, I’m not that into horticulture, but I found his narrative fascinating. I learned what tricks different fynbos use to pollinate themselves, that the Cederbergs are older than the Alps and the Himalayas, and that there is a right and a wrong time to harvest rooibos. Because his farm runs each step of the tea making process, (from growing, to harvesting to packaging) they can control the quality of their teas (unlike some of the larger commercial farms that deal with high demands for quantity, not necessarily quality).

On our way to our factory tour, the sky opened up and it started to pour. We ducked inside the factory and saw how the tea was processed.  The smell of the rooibos had me craving a nice hot cup. He must have read my mind, because we high-tailed it back to the house where Annette was waiting with a warm cup of tea for each of us.  We browsed their small gift shop and bought a few boxes of their tea for our friends before leaving. We hugged goodbye and promised to return again in better weather.

If not for the rain, we would have headed right out of their driveway and towards Lambert’s Bay, but we instead took a left and began our three hour drive back down the N7 to Cape Town. That doesn’t sound like very far, but it felt worlds away - exactly the sort of feeling I want to end a weekend getaway with!

Marie Frei

One Carry-On is a blog managed by Marie Frei, a travel expert and photographer with a passion for exploring off the beaten path locations. The blog covers honest and personal stories about living and traveling as an American abroad, shares her global appreciation for culture and design, and promotes traveling to far-flung destinations with a carry-on as fun, affordable, and easy.