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  • Writer's pictureClare Travis

Western Cape Wanderings

Updated: Jan 6

At the end of such a strange year I decided to plan a shorter holiday than last summer and since we couldn't know what was going to happen with travel restrictions, decided to keep it in the Western Cape. Also having gone through such a time of uncertainty revisiting places we had previously enjoyed seemed a good idea. So we started out by revisting Red Stone Hills near Calitzdorp. The drive from Cape Town is about 5 hours and was nice and quiet this year. If you travel on the N2, which is a much better option than the N1, you go through the Tradouw pass between Suurbrak and Barrydale. It has beautiful views of the mountains and down to the river. There are a few spots to pull over and even a small cave to explore. Just before getting to Calitzdorp you drive over the Huisrivier pass, this is also beautiful with orange slopes covered with bright green spekboom.

Red Stone Hills farm is a few kilometers past the town of Calitzdorp, on a gravel road. There are a few cottages to stay in, widely spaced out and very private. We stayed in Aloe Gardens, which is the smallest Cottage. It has a comfy bedroom, large bathroom and open plan kitchen and living area. The kitchen is well equipped with a full sized fridge, stove and the ever important coffee bodum. The cottages have grid electricity and a solar geyser. There is a lovely shady porch at the front of the cottage and the braai is on the side, which is wonderfully sheltered in the evenings. It was quite hot for the few days we were there, but there was a little breeze and the bedroom has aircon. There is also a swimming pool next to the reception, a little way down the road. The cottage backs on the red hills and you can do a short easy scramble to the top. This is a lovely spot for a sunrise, which we did on our last morning. In the cottage there is a file with oodles of information on the area, birds, geology, flora, it's a good read if you are interested in this sort of thing, or just like learning new stuff. There are lots of birds that visit the garden, including Double Collared Sunbirds drinking from the Cotyledon orbiculata, Malachite Sunbirds, Cape Rock Thrush, Karoo Prinia, and many swallows and swifts darting about. It is a wonderfully quiet place, except for the squawking peacock. We also saw the most amazing bug, which looked like a tiny desiccated leaf and was blown around by the breeze!

There is a lovely hike through the hills, it is mostly jeep track, so you can also 4x4 it. The start of the hike is back down the road from the accommodation, about 3,5km at a gate. Since we were running we started from the house, but if you want to walk it and skip the bit on the road, Petro, the owner will give you a lift to the gate. There is a map in the file at the house, but you don't really need it as the trail is pretty straight forward. Near the beginning of the trail you can take a right fork onto another track, which goes up to the big window. It is steep and loose, but most healthyish people should manage it. The views from the top are worth it and it is a wonderful spot for a sunset. After looking around here you go back down the same way and back onto the jeep track. This track runs between the red hills and comes out back onto the road near the furthest cottage. If you time it right you can catch the sun rising through the window.

On our second morning we added a nice steep run up the track on the north side, near the end of the hike. It goes up the mountains and runs a long way along, I'm not sure to where, so we just went along it for a few kilometers to appreciate the views of the Swartberg to the north. The loop from the cottage, up to the eye and around is about 12,5km and is easy trails. The track to the north you can go as far along as you like, but I think only very the very fit would enjoy this, as it really is steep.

There are horses on the farm and you can book a ride. The horse paddock was over the road from our cottage and we watched the farm workers go past on a tractor with the feed. The one morning, during breakfast, we saw the tractor go by and the guy let the horses out, obviously to get ready for a ride. The horses all went the wrong way and he chased them around another field. Eventually the farmer in his bakkie arrived to help and the other farmhand ran down across the fields. It was great fun watching the one guy running after the horses, to get them out of the field and onto the road, and then the tractor and bakkie come zooming out from their hiding spots to chase the horses down the road. Putting them away again after the ride seemed much less trouble.

Since the updated covid regulations kicked in during our stay the wine farms had to close, and we had to adjust our plans of revisiting all the places we enjoyed. We did manage to get to Du'SwaaRoo wine and olive farm. It is quite a new farm doing red and white wine, port and yummy deli treats. The olives and olive crumble are divine and they even do a veg atchar, which never lasts us very long. They are a very doggy loving farm and everyone popped into the tasting room to meet our boys. The wine farm is on the other end of circular route than Red Stone Hills. So you can do a lovely drive from the accommodation, along the gravel road, which follows the course of the Kruisrivier and the Nelsrivier, for about 55km. There are lovely views of the Swartberg and surrounding hills and over the Calitzdorp Dam. Along the route are a few galleries, retreats and other wineries. Peter Bayley is a great winery to stop at. They are open everyday, but it's best to call and check, as it is just Peter and his wife who are there doing the tastings. We have been there a couple of times with the dogs, who have a great game with their pup. They do mostly red wines and port, as this is the main port region in the country. Their Cape White Port is fantastic and he suggests you have it as a summer drink with a mixer, which we have tried and loved.

There are quite a few other wine farms in town, which we have previously been to and they allowed us to bring the dogs. De Krans is great and has a big selection of wine, they also have an outside restaurant. Boplaas is lovely and busy, and we were hoping to see how they have expanded, but sadly could not. TTT also allowed the dogs and was quite an interesting stop, we did find their wines very porty though.

After 3 lovely relaxing nights here it was time to move on to our next destination, Skoorsteenberg, in the Tankwa Karoo, our only new place on the trip. To get there we drove through Seweweekspoort, which is amazing with folded rock formations and beautiful scenery

When you book to stay at Skoorsteenberg (Chimney Mountain) Nana will send directions, because Google Maps will try send you through locked gates when you are closer to the farm. Google maps showed that the trip would be 4 hours, but it was closer to 6 hours, basically only correct until the Tankwa farmstall. The farm is pretty much the most middle of nowhere you can get and you have no option but to chill and do nothing. The accommodation is quite new and immaculate! There are 2 identical houses, separated by a little hill, so you hardly notice that anyone else is there, and a camping area. The houses are big, 3 very spacious bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with showers and a fully equipped kitchen open to the living area, all with ceiling fans. The porch is large and shady and you can chose to braai in the big drum braai, weber or fire pit. We did the weber since there were only the 2 of us, with our veggie goodies. The power is solar and gas fridge and stove, there is a generator for when the solar runs out, but you can rather use candles because it's better anyway. There are horses, donkeys and ostriches on the farm, so the accommodation area has a small fence around it to keep them out and we needed to keep an eye out during walks and runs for the red-shinned ostrich. There are also a couple of farm dogs and cats. The one little doggy, Loki, is blind and when he's out on his walk he bumps into fences and things while Nana says "boop boop" to warn him, so cute. The cats also seemed to like going out for the afternoon walk.

The day we arrived was very hot and still so after exploring a little we jumped into the splash pool and sat outside and read, which is pretty much what you do when staying there, other than hiking or cycling. The moon was so big and bright when it rose the first night, that we had long moon shadows when standing outside.

The landscape is pretty empty, having had no proper rain in 7 years, the vegetation has died off almost completely, but so starkly beautiful. You can walk, run or cycle for as far as you like and just enjoy the heat and the dust. From the house there is a jeep track towards the kloof and the skoorsteenberg. At the end of the road is a trail that runs up the kloof and is marked by a few cairns. We were given very vague directions of how to get to the cave paintings and up to the top of the mountain, but there is no clear path. The first part of the kloof is pretty easy to run/hike, then once you get to the "waterfalls" it gets quite scrambly and you need to jump up in a few spots. It is a steep and loose scramble to get up to where the bushman paintings are and we decided not to go all the way up. We were told that from where you go to the paintings you can't get to the top, so sadly we didn't get there either. This place would be absolutely perfect if they made a hand drawn map or marked the route a little, especially if you are with dogs or have a little fear of falling and can't manage all the tricky bits. It would be a little safer and everyone could get to the top, because apparently there is an easy way. Anyway, we had fun exploring the slopes and looking at all the interesting rocks and landscape.

If you are looking for a holiday where you can really sit back and relax and feel like you don't have to do anything, then this is the place to go. Especially if you are like us and don't celebrate New Years eve and want a silent, early night. The weather is hot, but we luckily had some wind which kept it cool. Otherwise it is just so magically silent and 3 days was almost enough to read an entire massive Ken Follett book!

Next up Gifberg Holiday Farm in the northern Cederberg. Again the drive was almost 6 hours, including a grocery stop in Citrusdal. To get there we drove over the Middelberg Pass, which is quite narrow, steep and mostly gravel. There are some lovely views and rock formations on this route. Near the end of this road, just before the R303, we almost had an incident with a gorgeous Grey Rhebok who jumped into the road. Luckily I was slowing down for the upcoming T junction, so could skid to a stop in time. And then about 40 minutes later a Jackal Buzzard almost flew into the windscreen! Not my favourite driving time and I happily handed the wheel over. The Gifberg Pass is also a fun drive, very steep and narrow. When you are driving towards the mountain, before the pass, make sure to look up to see where the pass runs up near the top, it looks so crazy that there's a road there and like it will just fall down the slope.

Our previous stay at Gifberg was in September and we absolutely loved it. This time, being at the start of summer was just too hot. We stayed in the Kliphuis, which is the smallest cottage. They say the cottages are old renovated labourers cottages, but they have used those horrible grey bricks on the inside which hold the heat so much that you can barely stand to be inside. Plus it was over 40ºC. Luckily there is a shady spot next to the cottage where they have put a table and braai, so we chilled there a lot. It was also an ideal place for bird watching, as it is lush and there is a drippy sprinkler. There was a lovely family of juvenile Double Collared Sunbirds, a Fairy Flycatcher, lots of White Backed Mousebirds and colourful European Bee Eaters. Also a great place to lie after dark and look up at the masses of stars. There is a swimming pool near the cottage and also since they had really good rain during winter there are a lot of full potholes to swim in.

There is a Slingsby map for the hiking trails, which is marked with the bushman painting sites that you can visit. There are more sites than marked on the map, but no trails leading to them. For our first run, because it was the hotter morning, we linked together the shorter trails, which made it about 13km. We started with the Pothole route so the dogs could swim and be wet for a little bit. There are a few paintings on this route, and we discovered a couple we had missed previously. For our next loop we did the Gifboom route. There are no paintings on this one, but lots of unusual rock formations, interesting plants and views over the rooibos tea fields. The last loop we did the Hamerkop route, which has one painting site and a lovely big swimming spot near the end, which I jumped into with shoes on because it was so hot already, this was probably only about 7am.

The second morning we were there, was forecast to be a little cooler, but still high 30's. So we did the 21km trail, luckily being early risers we were ready as soon as it was light enough to not need headlamps. We took about 5,5L of water with, since the second half of the trail has no water and very little shade. The 3 bushman painting sites on this route are quite close to the beginning, so if you are not fit enough to do the full route you could do an out and back. The Sleepers Cave, which is the second one along, has the most amazing paintings, which are only 400-500 years old and show that they had started using implements to paint. The yellow parts in the picture are the skins they slept under and the things above their heads are their bags that they would hang on a stick lodged in the rocks. The Fertility Cave, a little further away, has hundreds of pictures and hand prints in it. After passing the caves you drop down quite steeply to the Gifberg River, there are a few big jumps here, that the dogs needed to be helped down. There was quite a lot of water in the river and the dogs had a swim every chance they got, because it was already so hot even though we were still on the shady side. You cross the river and climb a little bit above it and continue on to the halfway point at the Doringrivier, which was beautiful and full. From here there is no water so you have to take a bowl for dogs. It is also quite sandy and slowly uphill the whole way. Luckily there were a few clouds passing the sun every so often, so we managed to get to the end in the super heat.

After running around the property and getting super hot we spent most of the rest of our time at the big pothole, close to the start of the Pothole trail. It is lovely and cold to float around in, with some shade to lie and read in and small potholes in the rock for Dash to curl up in. By now the dogs were pretty exhausted from the running and heat, but still having fun and ready for more adventures.

Like we did last year we made out last stop in Doringbaai, only an hour and a half drive from Gifberg. Because we only stayed 2 nights last year there were a few things we had wanted to do, but didn't have time for and had planned for this 3 night stay. Sadly they were all wineries and breweries and beach, so we missed out again, because of covid restrictions! We stayed in the same house, Dejabalou Cottage, since it's the only small pet friendly spot in the area, unfortunately Standfontein only has big holiday homes to rent. There had been a couple of small improvements to the place, they had made a braai and put up a wooden fence along the back, so it was more private. Hopefully the next thing they fix will be to somehow block the sound travelling from one room to the other. The place is built like a little house with a thin wall between, so you can hear everything from next door, including toilet trips, yuk. Last year because our stay was shorter and we seemed to be on opposite schedules to our neighbours hearing their tv on didin't bother us too much. But this time's neighbours stayed the same nights as us and didn't even leave the room, not even to sit on the porch! Anyway, we survived, mostly because we are almost never inside on a holiday. There is still the old Uno pack, so we played a lot. Funny that this was our first stop this holiday with a game, it's always nice finding a scrabble set or some card games in a cupboard. We went to Fryers Cove for lunch the one day, sadly couldn't buy their lovely wine again, but it's a great place. We also did a drive to Strandfontein and Paapendorp, which was interesting and we looked longingly at the lovely closed off beach in Strandfontein.

We did the cliff path run 2 mornings, which is a really gorgeous route. It is about 8,5km from Doringbaai to Strandfontein, so about 17km total. There are lots of little trails, so you can just follow whichever takes your fancy, and some of it is jeep track. The first morning was lovely and cool and misty, a perfect change from our last run in Gifberg. The second morning was lighter and we found the little labyrinth on the Strandfontein side, the boys did not understand how to run this at all. On the way back to Doringbaai the view of the lighthouse is lovely.

And that's another summer holiday done. Time to start planning for the long weekends and hope we are free to go on many adventures.

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