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?
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.
Sadawa Game Reserve
Established in 1992 by Ockie and Dalene Vermeulen, Sadawa aims to protect the Ceres Karoo Eco-System by creating a wilderness area of optimal size (8 500ha) where plants and animals can reproduce in a natural way, without any outside influence. We stayed in the very basic, but spacious, campsite. There is no electricity and only limited cell phone reception. There are ablutions, but hot water is fed via a donkey boiler. Although you don’t need a 4×4 to reach the campsite, a vehicle with good ground clearance is an advantage.
Sadawa offers self-drive game drives but seeing that hunting season was in full swing during our visit, this was not allowed. Instead, we enjoyed short walks and lazed around the campsite, taking in the natural beauty of the area. The days were warm, but temperatures dropped to well below freezing at night. So, much time was spent around the campfire, sipping Old Brown Sherry to ward off the cold. And every morning we would have to remove the ice from our vehicles, caravans and tents.
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 timeconsuming drive. We stopped at the famous Tankwa Padstal for coffee and burgers before tackling the next 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 to 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 is 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 up to a winter wonderland.
We spent some time enjoying the snow and building a snowman, but after breakfast we 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.
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’s 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.
Moon River Bush Camp
Our next destination was a familiar one as we had visited the Moon River Bush Camp on a previous trip. The campsite is right on the banks of the river and surrounded by two mountain ranges. It is relatively new and perfect for selfsufficient 4×4 campers.
There are only two campsites, namely the River campsite and the Sugarbush campsite, ensuring peace, quiet and relaxation for all who visit. There is no electricity or cell phone reception, and the ablutions consist of only a toilet. It might be a bit too wild for some campers, but this is exactly the way I like it.
Discovering gems like these passes, reserves and campsites makes my heart beat a little faster and it is what keeps me coming back for more.