Beating the Winter Blues: A Guest’s Camping Story

Peter Field believes that life is too short for boring roads, boring destinations, and doing things in the same old way. He believes in doing things differently, exploring the unknown, and making new and unique memories. So what if it’s cold? With this in mind, Peter continues to enjoy one of life’s great passions: camping. Even when the mountainous landscape of the Western Cape is snowcapped, and waking in the morning for that first cuppa requires a beanie and thick warm socks; Peter Fields is always on the lookout for life’s next great camping adventure. This story of beating the winter blues details his adventure of travelling through the Cape’s incredible mountain passes and experiencing many fantastic campers’ paradises along the route before visiting us at Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve. In his words:

For me, the journey is as much part of the excitement as the vacation itself. As such, I don’t like to rush my travels. So, on a cold July morning, we arose early, planning to start our winter expedition before sunrise. The idea was to conquer some interesting passes to get to a few remote and fairly unknown game reserves.

On leaving Saldanha Bay, we passed the towns of Hopefield and Malmesbury before joining the R46, which would take us to Ceres via the Michell’s Pass. The latter was named for Charles Michell, a talented military engineer, who had planned the original route through the Skurweberg and Witzenberg Mountains from Tulbagh and Wolseley to Ceres.

A trio of historic passes

We stopped briefly in Ceres to top up our fuel tanks before starting the long ascent up Theronsberg Pass, one of three northbound mountain passes connecting the town with the outside world. The pass lies on the tarred R46, roughly 20km north-east of Ceres. It’s a fairly gentle drive, making it accessible for all vehicles. Interestingly, when an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter Scale hit the area in 1969, this was the only accessible road out of the town.

Next up was the Hottentotskloof Pass, after which we stopped to deflate our tyres before tackling the gravel Karoopoort Pass on the R355. The road is a typical poort, with easy gradients following the course of a riverbed through a natural gap in the mountains. These three passes were all part of an old wagon route from the Boland into the interior, before the advent of the Du Toitskloof Pass and the N1.

We turned right onto the R356 gravel road towards Sutherland before stopping for a coffee break and to await the arrival of the rest of our travelling party, who were coming from Cape Town. From here, it was a short drive to the private game reserve where we would be spending two nights.

After two days of relaxing at Sadawa, it was time to hit the road again. Our next destination was Kagga Kamma and although it wasn’t that far away, we knew that it would be a time-consuming drive. We stopped at the famous Tankwa Padstal for coffee and burgers before tackling the next pass.

Peerboomskloof Pass

The Peerboomskloof Pass (also known as Skittery Pass) was originally carved out by the local Khoi people as a cattle path. Farmers later used it as a wagon road to cross over the mountains to the Ceres Karoo. Only recently tarred and 4.5km long, it provides picture-perfect views of the rugged expanse of the Tankwa Karoo and the mountain range separating it from the Koue Bokkeveld. At the summit we took a right turn towards our next destination, stopping along the way to admire the beautiful rock formations and take some photographs of the awe-inspiring views. These are sights you will only be able to see and experience if you venture onto the roads less travelled, and it’s exactly what inspires me to keep exploring this beautiful country of ours.

Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve

Nestled against natural rock formations in the Cederberg and far away from big city lights lies Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve, a location which connects visitors of today with the soulful heritage and landscape once inhabited by the Khoi and San. It is unique in that it comprises an untouched Karoo-like wilderness, decorated in bursts of wildflowers, fascinating rock formations and an intriguing ecosystem of small creatures.

Our wild campsite was less than 10km away from the entrance to the reserve, but it took us a good hour to get there. It was well worth the effort though because Bobbejaanskrans Camp is a real treat. There’s nobody around for miles and if you’re energetic and fit enough to climb up onto the rock formations, you’ll be rewarded with an uninterrupted view of the dazzling landscape.

It started to drizzle, and we wasted no time setting up the camp. It wasn’t long before a welcoming fire was burning. After an early dinner, we huddled around its warmth, not sure if we would be able to do so again the following evening as the temperature was predicted to drop to -10 degrees.

The sun was out to warm us all up the next morning and, after a hearty breakfast, I went for a walk to get the blood circulating and just to admire nature in all its splendour. After lunchtime, we noticed some clouds forming in the distance and suddenly the temperature began to drop. Dinner that evening was a hurried affair. It was getting bitterly cold, and everyone was keen to escape to the warmth of their tents and caravans. It started snowing during the night and by the time we got up the next morning, we woke to a winter wonderland.

We spent some time enjoying the snow and building a snowman and, after breakfast, reluctantly packed up and made the slow drive back to the gate. This was a truly special campsite and we vowed to return for a longer stay. In fact, I have already made a booking for later this year.

Katbakkies Pass

Before reaching our next campsite, we had the deceptively steep Katbakkies Pass to contend with. It traces over what was once an old sheep-trekking route over the Skurweberge Mountains and links the Koue Bokkeveld with the Ceres Karoo and Tankwa Karoo. The pass was tarred in 1999 and although it is fairly short, it has a serious average gradient which could spell trouble for underpowered vehicles. It is sometimes covered in snow during the winter months as the snow line of 1 000m above sea level is well below the 1 200m maximum altitude of the pass. The road is narrow and has no markings, so it is advisable to take it slow. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the barren landscape below.

Peter Field and his companions went on to enjoy a road trip that took them to Moon River Bush Camp (they had visited Sadawa Game Reserve prior), and thoroughly enjoyed their winter expedition. Travelling in convoy through breath-taking mountain passes, over rolling hills of the Western Cape’s most incredible landscapes and finally returning home, they prove that a winter’s camping trip is sometimes all you need to beat the blues and forge new adventures to remember for a lifetime. You can read the full article as first published in Adventure Afrika Magazine, or learn more about our campsites, here.

Adapted from: Adventure Afrika Magazine, by Peter Field

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