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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.


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

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.

Gifberg Holiday Farm, unofficial river campsite, Western Cape

Place: Gifberg Holiday Farm, unofficial river campsite
Closest Town: Vanrhynsdorp (though let this not determine your judgement)
Facilities: Nature all the way, baby
Water: A flowing river- the Doring
Surroundings: Rugged rocks and mountains typical of the Northern Cederberg
Turf: Sandy river bank
Distance from CT: Roughly 300km
Privacy: this is where the word originated
Highlight: You realise that time is an invention
Cost: R80 pppn and R50 vehicle fee
Contact: 027 219 1555,
GPS Coordinates: -31.866478,18.820696

Doring River
Superior Chilling
Our Rustic Camp

Find a spot, and settle

Early Morning on the Doring
On the way down to the river

The road to the river
This one’s slightly different. You don’t venture 4 hours out of Cape Town on a standard 2-day weekend, over a dramatic pass and eventually down a fairly taxing farm road and arrive at lush green pastures with scattered trees overlooking  a pretty river. And you don’t neatly unpack your camping gear and then have a hot shower before settling down in front of your campfire in its designated spot. No. 

It’s better.
Instead, it’s really what camping should be. It has nothing. Access is 4X4 only. It takes a few double trips down to the river from where you can park your car to offload your bits and pieces. It’s sandy. It lacks trees. It has no plug points. No ablutions. Nothing, really. And no one. Obviously, that’s the brilliance.
Unconventional hair wash
It’s just you, your company, the Doring River, and nothing else.

Admittedly, it’s quite a drive from Cape Town, but in a place where time is defied, worrying about and accounting for every minute of your planned weekend becomes irrelevant .

Suikerbossie Guest Farm, Koue Bokkeveld, Western Cape

Place: Suikerbossie, Kouebokkeveld

Closest Town: Citrusdal (30km, but not easily), Ceres (90km)
Facilities: Rustic, eco-friendly ablutions, basic camps, some fully equipped
Water: Situated right on the a river
Surroundings: Spectacular Koue Bokkeveld
Turf: Mostly lush grass, sandy at Waterfall Camp and Kuil Camp
Distance from CT: 209 km
Privacy: Limited campsites, fairly close proximity to neighbours, but not destructively so
Highlight: The setting, peach-picking in March, lounging on tubes/butterflies/explorers on the river, the nibbling fish
Cost: Varies per camp (have requested rates for September 2011)
Contact: Karin 0229213537
GPS Coordinates: -32.657876, 19.256973

Walking on the Farm
Afternoon mission

Rustic shower with a brilliant view!

Ghoeboontjie Camp

Grass behind Ghoeboontjie Camp

View of the Koue Bokkeveld

Suikerbossie ‘Canyon’

Lounging on the river

Suikerbossie is spectacular! While it’s a slight mission to get to via Citrusdal without a decent set of wheels, the alternative 3 and a half hour drive via Ceres is well worth the effort, especially for a long weekend.
Picking Peaches
Not only is the setting beautiful, the campsites are varied and particularly well kept. Rustic shelters are provided at all sites, with some a little better equipped than others. The camp we stayed at, Ghoeboontjie, could be considered a slight cheat- it comes with a caravan and outdoor kitchen which is fully equipped. We did however still sleep in tents, so consider it facilitated camping. The advantage: forget that frantic packing.
The whole experience felt slightly surreal the first time a group of us visited. It was picture-perfect – a little like being on the set of a motivational lifestyle AV for a Nivea ad campaign or on the South African version of Dawson’s Creek. We spent hours innocently lounging on tubes or floating toys, playing cricket on the lush grass and telling ghost stories around the fire as the sun sank below the mountains.
Tarzan Swing
The second time we visited was slightly different. It was still cheesy and pretty and liberated, except that a couple new permanent camps had been erected, one of which was on our chosen camping spot from last time. Also, two camps down, a large and eccentric Gay and Lesbian army had settled, spilling out of their camp’s corner and taking over most of the riverfront and cricket pitch with parked cars and a dedicated shrine honouring  a horny adult version of a Ken doll. We had fun and quickly got over the shouted ratings  every time we launched ourselves off the Tarzan Swing into the water, joined in the festive late-night song singing and tolerated some very unashamed perving. Admittedly though, the campsite wasn’t quite as tranquil as it had been before.
To be honest, I’d limit the number of people per camp to maintain a very unique vibe, but all in all, I’d still go back. You know you’ve found a perfect spot when you head home and feel like you’ve been away for ages…even if you did spend Saturday night singing Mika’s Billy Brown as an initiation in to the neighbour’s Crazy Camp.