Archive | May 2011

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

Easter Part 1: Potjiespram, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape

Place: Potjiespram, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Closest (significant) Town: Hmm…Alexander Bay? (110km)
Facilities: Rustic campsites with basic ablution facilities, cold water showers, no drinking water

Water: On the Orange (or !ariep) River (but cannot see it from the campsites) 

Surroundings: Rugged and dry Richtersveld Mountain Desert 

Turf: Dusty & sandy with most campsites nestled in the river bushes/trees for ample shade 

Distance from CT: About 898km 

Privacy: Considering the campsite layout, you can mostly find a secluded spot, but within the general vicinity of neighbours 

Highlights: Goats that roam, a potential hyaena roaming the river bank 

Cost: R155 per campsite per night (includes 6 people), R45 per day conservation fee (2011) 


GPS Coordinates: -28.076827,16.953278 

Orange River
Our campsite at Potjiespram

Our campsite at Potjiespram

Our campsite at Potjiespram,16.918945&spn=0.845865,1.167297&z=9&output=embed
View Potjiespram Camp, Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cap in a larger map

Of the three camps we stayed at in the Richtersveld, I think this was my least favourite. This is why:

I didn’t like its proximity to Sendelingsdif (the official entrance to the park/border crossing/mining town) and the ugly Alexkor mine operations- a reminder that this remote landscape is not so remote, free and liberated from capitalist greed. I was secretly disgruntled that the road that continues along the river from Potjiespram is a no-go zone because of mining- another insult to a landscape that exudes freedom. I didn’t like that all the camps are nestled in the trees and bushes when a few metres away is the spectacular !ariep/ Orange River with a brilliant desert mountain backdrop. And admittedly, I got frustrated when those reliable evening winds blew all that fine dust into my everything.

But then, I’m particular. And have a confession.

In summer, those shady bush caves must be a godsend and at any time of the year they function as pretty damn good neighbour-proofing, not to mention their effectiveness at protecting eyes, ears, noses, tents, food, hair, water, beers, wine, everything from the dusty gusts of wind at dusk.

Sunset on the Orange River

Second, and in fairness, it’s just a short walk or drive to open river where you can set up day camp and stare, swim, absorb, feel, see and experience the very essence of the Richtersveld.

Our Campsite
My confession is that we chose the most open campsite precisely because it had the only access to a pristine spot on the river bank with uninterrupted views of everything I had gone there for, but which naturally made it slightly more vulnerable to dust showers.

It’s also convenient if you can’t decide whether to go left or right in Eksteenfontein, which results in an eventual arrival at a time of day not conducive to the 3-hour drive to your desired camp.

The Richtersveld: |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

Richtersveld National Park
We decided to head north after leaving an Easter weekend booking a tad late and refusing to be part of the weekend camping masses closer to town at places still available. We managed to book camping for 5 nights across the Richtersveld National Park. We didn’t really have a choice of campsites and didn’t quite know what we were in for, so settled for a variety, which would require ample travelling in between.
The Richtersveld
The Richtersveld is splendid. Its dry ruggedness and rustic camping spots certainly wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea and it is only accessible to vehicles with a high ground clearance or off road capability. The benefit of this, however, is an escape guaranteed to be sparsely populated and that still retains a sense of forgotten-ness and isolation.
The drive from Cape Town was longer than we anticipated (12 hours getting there), considering our maps omitted a good 130km on dirt road before reaching the park, after spending too much time buying Hanne Louw’s Tamatie Blatjang and rusks in Garies and ice and over-priced wood in Springbok, and then deciding to take a short cut that wasn’t shorter and included several drives through the tiny town of Eksteenfontein to figure out which was the right dodgy-looking dirt road to go on.
De Hoop Camp, Richtersveld
We got there eventually, but without enough time to get to our first campsite, De Hoop, so we were obliged to stay at Potjiespram for the first night. The next few entries give a rundown of each campsite we visited.

Our highlights:
·         An ostrich chasing a springbok for almost a kilometre
·         What sounded like a roaming Hyaena not far from our campsite at potjiespram
·         The African Wild Cat at our campsite in Kokerboomkloof
·         Incredible, ancient and vast landscapes
·         De Hoop campsite on the river
·         Watching people ponder and scout for the best campsites
·         A pretty relaxed camping policy
What to watch out for:
·         If your first night isn’t spent at Sendelingsdrif or Potjiespram, then aim to arrive at least 3 hours before dark, so you’re allowed to travel on to the camps further away (Kokerboomkloof closer to 4 hours)
·         Bring plenty water
·         It’s survival of the fittest- the earlier you leave, the earlier you get to a camp for a better choice
·         The loud people from Joburg we encountered at Sendelingsdrif
·         The Pontoon for entry into Namibia may not be open at Sendelingsdrif if the river has been flooding- check this if needed
I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

Kokerboomkloof, Richtersveld

To find out more about the park visit: SANParks
To find out more about the area and the local inhabitants, visit: Explore the Richtersveld

Bulshoek Dam Resort, Bulshoek Dam, Western Cape

Place: Bulshoek Dam Resort, Bulshoek Dam, Western Cape

Closest Town: Clanwilliam (19.4km)
Facilities: First come first served campsites, fully equipped single ablution block with hot water
Water: On the Bulshoek Dam
Surroundings: Dam, small Cederberg Mountains
Turf: Ample shade. Mostly grass, unless you decide to avoid the masses like us and head for the only quiet spot under a tree, which happened to be sandy
Distance from CT: 247km
Privacy: Granted it was the start of Easter weekend, but this looked more like a music festival
Highlight: Being told we don’t have to pay because of arriving late and leaving early
Cost: It’s hard to say, really (didn’t give us a price on the phone either)
Contact: Website, Landline: 027 482 2635 Cell: 072 124 7747, Email
GPS Coordinates: –32.036675,18.820267

Bulshoek Dam Resort Campsite
Bulshoek Dam Resort Campsite

Our site

Resort = Caravan = Prejudice

I have to be honest, it’s difficult to give an accurate account of this campsite when the criteria for camping here was straightforward. As an overnight stop before heading to the Richtersveld, we needed a spot close to the N7 that was a decent distance out of Cape Town.
Next, I have a confession: I find that the word, resort, immediately makes me prejudice. Resort connotes all sorts of terrifying things that one really doesn’t want to have to confront while camping.
Easter Weekend Campers

I also have a newish policy: never go camping close-ish to town over Easter weekend. Everybody else does. And Bulshoek Dam Resort was no exception. Unfortunately, we had little choice and didn’t want to waste money at some random B&B or dodgy hotel in one of those strange towns after Vanrhynsdorp. On Thursday night at 7pm, Bulshoek Dam Resort was already packed and buzzing to the sounds of mattress and boat pumps, children screaming, peg hammering and caravan reversing…and to the sight of blindening spotlights, family wagons, trailers, blow-up water toys and a city of tents all competing for territory closest to the dam.

Our semi-secluded spot
Luckily instinct had suggested we turn left to find a deserted spot under a tree- a spot away from the dam and holiday fest, but ironically, the closest to the ablutions.  For what it was, it was perfect.

I’d likely not return, particularly on a long weekend. Admittedly though, I can imagine this would be a great spot on a normal weekend if you wanted a pleasant grassy campsite and some shade near a dam, especially if you have a boat.
Besides a brilliant shower, I guess the highlight would have to be having the farmer refuse our payment because of our fleeting stay.

Kromrivier, Cederberg Conservancy, Western Cape

Place: Kromrivier, Cederberg Conservancy
Closest Town: Towns are not close (Op-die-Berg, 74km)
Facilities: Standard fully equipped ablutions (toilets could cope better on an Easter weekend), cottages available
Water: On a trickling, stagnant river (end of summer), a little dam
Surroundings: Slight mountain plateau, typical rugged Cederberg scenery
Turf: Few shady spots, dry grass
Distance from CT: Roughly 210km
Privacy: Limited campsites, but fairly close proximity to neighbours
Highlight: the area, rather than the campsite
Contact: Rinda, E-mail:, Tel/ Fax: (0)27 482 2807
GPS Coordinates: -32.536683,19.285984

Our campsite
Sunset on Kromrivier Farm

Sunset on the farm

Walk to Disa Pool

Disa Pool

The Kromrivier campsite left little impression on me except for the super-powered homemade farm bread, the fact that a resident cat had recently produced a proud litter of kittens and the owners fully support the Cape Leopard Trust. We found that there wasn’t too much to do around the actual campsite, the river was stagnant and suffering from summer dehydration and the dam just didn’t quite invite us for those swims that other flowing and moving bodies of water in the mountains so often do.

The recommendation: Get out of the campsite. It’s in reasonably close proximity to the highlights of the Cederberg Wilderness Area (Stadsaal Caves, Wolberg Cracks, Wolfberg Arch), which are certainly worth a visit. Also, it’s the base for a great walk to the pleasant Disa Pool along a very comfortable path for those with an aversion to too much effort.