• Richard Brown

Telling Stories

The Cederberg is an awe-inspiring range, and it’s little wonder that it is the subject of so much poetry and prose. We spent a couple of days at The Storytellers, a tented camp ideally situated for the perfect hike weekend in this alien landscape

Three hours north of Cape Town lies a magical mountain range bestrewn with bizarre rock formations, bedecked in sundry species of fynbos, and blessed with distinctive and wonderful views. The Cederberg instantly creeps into the heart and replenishes the soul.

You know a place holds something special when it has been subject matter for so many poets and writers. Not least of whom was the legendary and esteemed C Louis Leipoldt, who made Clanwilliam and the Cederberg his ‘spiritual home’. Leipoldt was an extraordinary man, mostly known for his poetry – in Afrikaans and English – but also as a playwright, paediatrician, botanist, journalist, novelist, cook and connoisseur of food and wine. He was said to be at his happiest when botanising the bulbs and brushes that cover the Cederberg.

As we drive over the picturesque Pakhuis Pass on a particularly foggy morning, we pass a sign signifying Leipoldt’s grave, buried, on request, in this craggy landscape that he had derived so much joy from. And what a majestic final resting place it is.

The fog lends an extra layer of drama to the scene, and as we start to descend the pass, we keep an eye out for orcs, such is the resemblance to Tolkien’s Middle Earth. At the bottom of the Pakhuis Pass, we turn right on to a farm sprawled on the north-eastern foothills of the Cederberg. Tracy and her husband JP welcome us to The Storytellers, their corner of this paradisiacal patch, and show us to our accommodation for the weekend – one of three lovely and unobtrusive tented camps. We stay in Tortoise Terrace, which is the most secluded of the three, and is set in a corner in the cliffs, hugged and shaded by massive boulders on two sides.

A two-roomed safari tent is furnished with one double bed in the main compartment and a bunk bed in the second, smaller room. Adjacent to the tent is a solid wooden structure housing a bathroom and kitchenette, which looks on to a covered dining and lounge area, with a firepit and braai place off to one side.

It’s all rather rustic, but it blends into the landscape seamlessly and leaves it unblemished. And, honestly, in the Cederberg, too much luxury and sophistication would feel incongruous. The seeming impermanence of these structures feels right, as though we humans can only ever be guests who make brief visits to these alien scapes, before we have to pack it all up and be on our way. Big permanent lodges or hotels would simply jar.

On all my previous visits to the Cederberg, I have lugged my own tent along and pitched it in various campsites, but I’ll admit, it would be difficult to go back to that after this bit of glamping. Simple things such as a bed, fresh linen, an equipped kitchen, a private bathroom with running water, and the mere fact that one does not have to assemble and dismantle tents or gazebos, make the whole glamping affair really quite appealing.

Regardless, one doesn’t come to the Cederberg for a lie-in, one comes here for a nature fix – to take in the sights and to breathe in and savour the fresh air and fynbos-flavoured delights. The farm’s resident rooster also makes doubly sure you don’t sleep much after sunrise, so after a quick coffee we lace our boots, douse ourselves in sunscreen and up we go.

The other perk of staying in Tortoise Terrace is that one of the many hiking trails that criss-cross the property starts right behind our tent. Cairns mark the route, and we follow them up rough boulders and sheer rocks, but for a foothold or two. When we finally reach the top, the views are incredible. The morning’s golden light complements the sandstone formations sublimely, and shimmers off the dew-bedecked fynbos. Far below us, the farm’s pond reflects the sunrise’s bruised purples and yellows, while the verdant vineyards further off emanate a bottle-green light of their own.

We follow the cairns for another while as the trail snakes between aeons-old cracks, alleys and arches that look as though they could’ve been moulded by some surrealist sculptor. Knowing that the marked trails aren’t very long, we ditch the path after a while and cut our own trail over the plateau and make our goal the most southerly outcrop we can see. I hear a familiar call and look up to see the distinctive white marks of a jackal buzzard gliding above us, likely on a dassie hunt.

As we cut across the plateau, we come across several gullies, some of which force us to traverse around them, and others to negotiate some tricky bouldering as we cross them. After several hours, we finally reach the southerly outcrop we had aimed for. We surprise a troop of baboons that had been dozing on the huge rock, and send them scampering and barking disgruntled insults at us. On our way down, we come across an area strewn with porcupine quills, possibly the result of some skirmish. I pick up two for souvenirs.

We spend the rest of the day swimming in the pond, reading in the shade of the towering cliffs above camp, and braaiing succulent chops on the fire place. Later, we pack a few sundowners and make our way back up the rock for a good view at the setting sun. We’re not disappointed.

That night, we retire early to the sounds of frogs, the gentle hoot of an owl and the last sputterings of a dying fire. What bliss. I think Leipoldt had a point. There is something mystical about these rocklands that grabs hold of your heart and never lets go. I can see why he spent the bulk of his time here and requested to be put to rest in these craggy pastures. One can look at this view for all eternity and not get sick of it.

Know this

> The Storytellers has four camps: Tortoise Terrace, Porcupine Place, Dassie Den and Caracal Cottage.

> All are fully equipped, and only require you to bring food, drinks and swimming towels. Dassie Den, Porcupine Place and Tortoise Terrace are furnished safari tents with private bathrooms and kitchens. They all sleep four (two in a double bed in the main room and two in bunk beds in the second room).

> The recently opened Caracal Cottage is a little cottage built around a completely refurbished caravan, which now serves as the main bedroom. It sleeps three – two in a double bed in the main bedroom, and one in a single bed in a separate room.

> Book your stay: 027 470 0057, info@thestorytellers.co.za, thestorytellers.co.za

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