De Pakhuys Revisited

Okay, so I need to give a fair account of De Pakhuys. We came back. Admittedly out of convenience – we were looking at a farm on the south side of the Doring River. We had a number of options in the vicinity of this farm, but wanted something that we hadn’t experienced before or that wasn’t sickeningly commercial. As previously stated, we didn’t get a fair idea of De Pakhuys the last time and it claimed to have walks and a waterfall, so we were sold.

This time, I booked and paid a deposit online (a rare option for a rustic campsite in the Western Cape) so we felt assured that we could get past the electric gate after 9pm. I called a few days before and we were told to simply ring the bell at the office when we arrived- pity we didn’t know about or see this the last time…Anyway.
We searched the campsite for the best spot. There is one area that is the official campsite, but don’t stop there. It may be close to the ablutions (2 showers and 2 loos per sex), and it is the only spot with full-on shade because of its situation under a number of gum tress, but because of these things, it can get pretty cramped. There are also no official borders between sites, so nothing other than courtesy is stopping some neighbours from camping a little too close to you.
The rest of the campsite feels somewhat unofficial. There are a number of obvious sites along the bottom of one of the ‘koppies’/ rocky outcrops, but despite a bit of natural shade from Cederberg-style bushes or the shadow of the koppie at the right time of day, the sites are generally not level. I only sleep on flat ground. We ended up where we camped last- along the side of the road where you drive in and next to another rocky mound. Considering it hasn’t quite reached summer and the weather was due to be average, a bit of sun wasn’t too concerning.
There is no grass, which is not something one expects here anyway. The sites are pretty well spaced, but don’t let this fool you into believing tranquillity and quietness are a given. Sound travels like a demon here as we experienced from a group of drunken, music-loving and ipod-carrying European travellers camping about 50m away from us.
The interesting thing about this campsite is its noticeable lack of local campers. Most people are foreign and are there to appreciate the extensive bouldering opportunities the area has to offer. I also guess that a campsite over three hours away from Cape Town, despite what it has to offer, is generally a no-go for most local weekend travellers. That suits us. The quieter, the better. The more rustic too, the more rewarding our experience.
We went farm-hunting on the Saturday, but took a walk to the farm’s waterfall and gorge on Sunday morning. It’s a pretty easy walk and certainly is a rewarding one. There’s a bit of rock art scattered around the farm too, if you’re up for searching for it and respect what it represents.
I like De Pakhuys. The endless Michael Jackson and bad singing on Saturday night may not have been too welcome, but the farm is spectacular. This time we were not inconvenienced by a lack of water and the showers certainly had hot water. It does appear to fizzle out pretty quickly, but this is both a water- and gas-saving technique that we’re happy to respect.
Head here for a lazy weekend, but don’t expect to be completely alone, even in the middle of winter. 

This is my last entry.


Canon Road Campsite: a gem in southern Namibia

Place: Canon Road Campsite, Gondwana Canon Park, Namibia
Closest Town: Grunau (?km), 20 km from the Fish River Canyon
Facilities: Excellent ablutions including great showers with hot water- one for every two campsites. Restaurant, Self-catering accommodation also available
Water: It’s the desert, but they do boast a pool with a splendid view
Surroundings: Namibian desert-like conditions in the canyon lands
Turf: Sandy spots generally under large, much-needed trees
Distance from CT: roughly 886 km
Privacy: Sites have been laid out in twos, but because the campsite is very spaced out in general, lack of privacy is not really a problem
Highlight: A really rustic campsite that captures the essence of southern Namibia, the Fish river canyon (25km away), the selection of rusting, vintage cars on the property
Cost: N$ 120 per person (rates until October 2011)
Contact: Website

I’ll start off by apologising for the map. I’m pretty certain that it includes the area where Canon Road Campsite is situated, although I cannot be sure (which drives me nuts). And it’s a good 3 years since I visited this spot, so take the map lightly and forget about GPS coordinates- if you stay here, you’ll be emailed directions anyway. I know it’s not in South Africa, but it would be a pity to not to give this spot a mention.
So what’s this spot about? Pure, wholesome Namibian desert goodness, that’s what. We visited here as part of a trip to Augrabies Falls and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape of South Africa and had booked a site by pure chance after some very frustrating searching. I’m damn glad we did.
Some may argue that there’s not much to do, but my guess is that one generally visits this area to see the Fish River Canyon as one part of a more substantial trip. If you’re in the hood, stay here. It was super chilled, very quaint and kind of everything I’d hope a desert campsite to be.
The sites were brilliant and very cleverly ‘organised’ in twos, so you would never be too close to more than one other camping group. An additional bonus is that you only have to share your closest ablution block with those immediate neighbours and the facilities are probably the best and most modern I have seen to date. Most sites seem to have a massive tree in the centre with ample space for a number of tents to be pitched underneath, so shade in feisty desert conditions need not be your main concern. There’s also a pool, a restaurant and some vintage cars to keep you occupied if you’re not out sightseeing.
In my opinion, it’s one of the better campsites I’ve been to and I’d certainly advise a stopover even if you’re just passing through.
Our Campsite
The pool

The aggressive Cobra we saw

Canon Roadhouse

De Pakhuys, Clanwilliam, Western Cape, South Africa

Place: De Pakhuys, Pakhuis Pass, Western Cape
Closest Town: Clanwilliam (28km)
Facilities: Standard ablutions facilities, which likely have hot water…hard to say because we had no water whatsoever
Water: Dam nearby, rivers on the farm and walking distance to river and waterfall
Surroundings: Splendid, rugged Cederberg
Turf: Informal, mostly gravely ground, fair amount of shade
Distance from CT: 256km
Privacy: You could certainly escape immediate neighbours on non-busy weekends.
Highlight: I’d imagine the river and waterfall that we unfortunately didn’t have time to see, bouldering/ rock climbing for those that way inclined
Cost: I seem to remember something along the lines of R70 per person (roughly)
Contact: Website, Email, +27 (0)27 482 1879
GPS Coordinates: -32.119946,19.059219
De Pakhuys Campsite
De Pakhuys

A fully accurate account of camping at De Pakhuys is slightly impossible because we only stayed for a night and left early the next morning to look at a farm. However, here is a slightly biased account of our night:
I’ll start with the few ‘obstacles’.
1)      We phoned to book a site for a random Friday night and were told to simply pitch up. I like this policy, but, it comes with its downfalls, apparently. We arrived at about 9pm on Friday and, as expected, the office was closed and farmhouse pretty silent. We presumed we could just proceed to the campsite, but missed the small sign for it and subsequently spent about half an hour chugging around the wrong side of the farm trying to locate it. This failed, so we backtracked to the farm house to find a sign or a person. Or even a door to the farmhouse. No luck. When we retreated out the gate, we found the inconspicuous sign and made our way in the opposite direction to the campsite. Worse luck. It was access controlled – guarded by a brand new electric gate that required a token or card.  We headed back to the farmhouse and decided to finally pester the people in a cottage adjoining the main house. They informed us that the owners went to bed ages ago, but kindly (and drunkenly) offered us their token. We didn’t hesitate to take it and arrived back at the campsite. Finally. In one minute flat, our tent was up, our bed made, the chairs out, the fire was blazing and, importantly, our glasses were full.

2)      Some farm workers seemed to be having a raging Friday night jol. “I like to move it move it” echoed off the Cederberg mountains and reached us almost as flawlessly as it left the speakers. We found it quite funny. Even two hours later at midnight.
3)      It’s bed time i.e. time to mission to the ablutions, brush teeth, pee and get a stash of water for next to the bed. There’s no water. Whatsoever. Okay, there is. One drop, which Mike tried to get before it evaporated. I panic. Not because of the toilet. I’ll wee anywhere. I need water. So, in the middle of the night, we make our way to the dam. We can’t reach the water. Mike laughs. I swear and then laugh.
That’s the unfortunate side of De Pakhuys.
I have no doubt, however, that it is a brilliant place to spend some time. The website reveals all the kinds of things in the vicinity that I love about the Cederberg and has the added benefit, for those that care, of some pretty well known bouldering/ rock climbing spots.
The actual campsite seemed pretty accommodating too- offering plenty sites away from immediate neighbours, lots of shade options, the ablutions were great (albeit our experience of no water), and for those travelling from afar, wifi is available…a pretty unique find in the mountains of the Western Cape.
I’ll go back because I’m curious. But, I’ll arrive early. And I’ll take water.

Very early morning
Vague early morning view

Extra Info:
Rocklands Boulders (for climbing enthusiasts)

Beaverlac in Winter

Ratel River
Beaverlac Campsite

My last entry on Beaverlac was a tad critical, but for very good reason. As I said, the setting, the site’s subsequent popularity and the no-booking policy have resulted in a campsite that is uncomfortably full over holidays and long weekends, especially in summer (a friend of mine having said that his visit over a long weekend this year was his first and will be his last). It’s a pity because it is possibly the most tranquil and splendid farm I have encountered, especially now- ‘out of season’.

Proudly displaying a hand axe
Empty Farm

We visited Beaverlac the other day- in a season where most people tend to hibernate and become better acquainted with their couches. Besides a few people in the cottages that are available, we only saw one other group of campers. We basically had the whole enormous campsite to ourselves, hot water in the ablutions was ample, the weather was perfect (good enough for a mid-winter dip in the river), and the only sounds we heard we the hundreds of birds at the campsite or the sound of the river when we strolled across the farm for sundowners.

Empty Campsite
Brilliant view bar the caravan

I think people are missing something, but I’m not complaining. I quite like my favourite farm almost all to myself.

Matjiesvlei Farm Campsite, Calitzdorp, Western Cape

Place: MatjiesvleiCalitzdorp, Western Cape
Closest Town: Calitzdorp (12km)
Facilities: Open campsite with some sites nestled between the trees, relatively new ablutions with hot water compliments of an easy-to-use donkey boiler*, quaint cottages also available for accommodation
Water: A dammed stretch of river, Matjiesvlei
Surroundings: Mountainous Klein Karoo
Turf: Mostly grassy with ample shade around the edges
Distance from CT: 372km
Privacy: A few semi-private campsites nestled in between the bushes along the dam, rest of the campsite fairly open
Highlight: Exquisite views if you explore the farm, very hospitable hosts- Bennie and Selma Nel
Cost: R150 per vehicle
Contact: +27 (0)73 174 1028 (Selma Cell), +27 (0)44 213 3756 (home), Email: matjiesvlei@telkomsa.netWebsite
GPS Coordinates: -33.454646, 21.636286

Matjiesvlei Campsite
Matjiesvlei Campsite

I’ll confess upfront: I didn’t actually camp here. The intention had been to camp, but since very affordable cottages were available and there was a group of people interested in joining us, we settled for a lovely little house on the hill.
However, I did scout around the campsite and become slightly acquainted with the farm, so feel quite confident that I can give a fair account of what it would be like to camp here.
Some context:
Matjiesvlei is situated off the R62  about 5km before Calitzdorp. Access to the farm is via dirt road with a slightly bumpy river crossing at the end necessary to get to the campsite (admittedly a stretch that may not favour conventional passenger vehicles).
View towards the campsite
The campsite:
It’s situated in the river valley next to where the river has been dammed. While the view of the river is blocked by trees and bushes and access to it from the campsite is limited, there are plenty superb views of the surrounding mountains and a mission to get to the river is easy enough. It’s not a massive campsite, but likely doesn’t get too busy anyway.
What we liked:
If you are camping in a big group, a highlight would be the area in the middle of the campsite designed specifically for bonfires. The ablutions seem pretty new and very comfortable- arguably better than most campsites we’ve encountered. There are also great shaded spots along the perimeter of the campsite for people who may want a bit more privacy and/or plenty shade.
Matjiesvlei from near the campsite
Activities on and around the farm:
Mountain biking, a 4X4 route, fishing and there’s at least one fair hike up a ravine. There are plenty things to see and do in the greater area, with Calitzdorp offering cosy restaurants, coffee shops and a couple of wine farms, including Boplaas, which renowned for its port.
I’d certainly recommend a stay at Matjiesvlei whether at the campsite or in the cottages. The farm captures the essence of the Klein Karoo- an area that has its own flavour, offering something refreshingly different, slow paced and relatively unexploited.
Example of shaded perimeter
*If, from the description at the start of this entry you are wondering what a donkey boiler is, it’s an old fashioned hot water geyser. It works very simply- make a decent fire in the opening and feed it wood every so often to keep it hot. It works perfectly, but while it may seem a bit primitive, it is no reflection on the actual facilities. They are pretty new and probably the best we’ve seen in a while. The donkey boiler actually speaks to the heritage of the farm, making the experience that much more authentic- it’s a farm that has been in the family for several generations.

Campsite Ablutions
Campsite Ablutions

Easter Part 3: Kokerboomkloof, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape

Place: Kokerboomkloof, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Closest (significant) Town: Hmm…Alexander Bay? (150-ish km. Google maps won’t play ball)
Facilities: No water whatsoever, well-kitted but superfluous ablutions for each one of the campsites- superfluous because none have running water to operate them (loo, shower, basins)
Water: Nope
Surroundings: In the middle of a beautiful boulder-strewn kloof
Turf: Gravel, generally around rocky outcrops, so boulders for wind protection and some shade
Distance from CT: About 900-ish km
Privacy: Excellent. 8 designated campsites, but cannot hear or see neighbours.
Highlight: Kokerbome or Quiver Trees, Sunsets, Exquisite views, solitude, our camping shower!
Cost: R155 per campsite per night (includes 6 people), R45 per day conservation fee (2011)
GPS Coordinates: -28.283824,17.30072

Our Kokerboomkloof Campsite
The currently redundant ablutions

View of the valley

Overlooking our campsite

We arrived here and felt quite overwhelmed. Yes, we were reluctant to leave De Hoop, so perhaps drove into Kokerboomkloof with a meagre attitude after realising 3 hours later that nobody would have noticed if we’d stayed. But that’s not the real reason. Realistically it was because we were not quite prepared for the very thing we both wanted.

At De Hoop we had specifically said that we wished that we were the only people around (much like our experience at Gifberg). Initially at Kokerboomkloof we were. It was silent, abandoned, strange and exposed. Being the only people around for miles is something quite confrontational despite being something so desired. I laugh awkwardly at the fact that we both looked at each other and scoffed at the scenario, forgetting our rare greeting by an African Wild Cat and not recalling that this was the very reason we travelled so far for 6 days.


Contemplation aside. It’s a great destination if you seriously wish for silence. And in some ways it exemplifies my idea of the Richtersveld- an ancient landscape that feels like it knows a million stories and harbours a million secrets. I feel ashamed that the arrival of neighbours and a couple random people wandering around at sunset felt remarkably reassuring.


Easter Part 2: De Hoop, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape

Closest (significant) Town: Alexander Bay? (roughly 120km)
Facilities: Riverbank with basic ablution facilities, cold water showers, no drinking water
Water: On the Orange (or !ariep) River
Surroundings: Rugged and dry Richtersveld Mountain Desert
Turf: Sandy, find-a-spot-on-the-river-bank-and –camp, First come first served trees for shade
Distance from CT: About 842km
Privacy: The river bank and apparent camping area is quite large, so if everyone honours their bookings, you should have no more than 11 other campsites in your vicinity. You can’t really hide though
Highlight: Uninterrupted mountain and river views, a fish sucking my bum, the river
Cost: R155 per campsite per night (includes 6 people), R45 per day conservation fee (2011)
GPS Coordinates: -28.175533,17.177811
Road to De Hoop
De Hoop Camp

View from above De Hoop
This is what I was looking for. A campsite that evoked all fond memories of my 2007 Orange River trip: disorganised, rustic camping, an extensive and open river bank, a semi-flooding river, pink landscapes at sunset, and the ability to eradicate all coherent thoughts in one’s head.
Admittedly, on arrival, I immediately felt distraught that we hadn’t pushed on through on the Thursday night at the start of Easter to camp in Springbok rather than settling down at Bulshoek Dam at 7pm. I regretted thinking our ‘shortcut’ through Eksteenfontein was a shortcut, and I was remorseful that we didn’t disobey the rules and drive the 3 hours to De Hoop at dusk the previous evening.
It’s one of those places where you try and get as far away from neighbours as possible. Because you can. Because you want to.
Our campsite on the Orange River
We found one of the few available trees, set up camp in a record time of like 15 minutes and sat. And stared. When we wanted a break from sitting and staring at the extravagant view, we sat and stared at all the late newcomers sending out a male contingent to scout for campsites, while the ladies fanned themselves and sat pondering the distance of their camp-to-be to the single rustic ablution block.
Good times 🙂

Orange River, Richtersveld
View from our campsite