The first time I saw the Cederberg I was hooked. True, we were woefully unprepared for the weather. We had bought a tent on GumTree – a tent whose former owners were eight years old and used to use it to play-camp in their garden on sunny afternoons. After one pretty miserable night we upgraded to a chalet and began to really enjoy what the area has to offer: craggy orange mountains in a variety of weird shapes and of course, that sky. By day, it’s the kind of crisp, vivid blue that you normally only see on a high-def screen saver. By night, the stars are so spectacular that they must make visitors from northern hemisphere cities weep. The region is both a blessing and a curse for Instagrammers: infinitely photographable but rendering every available filter completely redundant.
We’ve been back many times since and despite the absence of any typical kids’ attractions (petting farms, jungle gyms, hands-on museums and the like), it is the perfect place to take your children. We seem to spend a lot of time trying to find activities to entertain our little one and forget that kids need little more than a pile of rocks and a heap of sand to have fun. Here are eight of our favourite things to do in the Cederberg – and some ideas on how to make them even more appealing to the little ones.
1. Explore the Stadsaal Caves
The Cederberg is magnificent, but the crowning glory has to be the Stadsaal Caves. The story goes that National Party leaders held a meeting here in 1948 and gave the caves the name Stadsaal (City Hall) and graffiti inside the caves shows the name DF Malan alongside names etched in the 1880s. Use it as a teaching tool for your kids – defacing, well, pretty much anything, but especially a natural, historical site such as this, is plain vandalism. Kids adore the caves, with their cubby holes and crawl spaces and it’s just a remarkably beautiful place. Come in the early morning for utter tranquility, or bring along a snack and a tipple for golden hour sundowners. For permits (adult/child R40/20) head to Cape Nature’s Algeria office or Sanddrif Resort – you’ll also find accommodation at both places.
Make it kid-friendly: I explained to Kai that people used to live in the caves and as we wandered around he chose places for the kitchen, lounge and allocated bedrooms for us all. It’s also a great place to give a kid a camera and ask them to take photos of their favourite parts.
2. Go for a hike
You can hike for minutes, hours or days in the Cederberg. Intense hikes like the Wolfberg Cracks and Arch are definitely not recommended with small kids, though teens will probably enjoy the adventurous aspects – scrambling over rocks and squeezing through gaps. But there are plenty of hikes for little legs. We tackled the three-hour round-trip walk to the Middelberg Waterfall from Algeria. It took considerably longer than three hours with a four-year-old, and he never quite made it to the top but gave it a good bash. There are also plenty of short strolls, including the trail to Malgaat from Sanddrif or the quick path to Lot’s Wife from the road.
Make it kid-friendly: Although Kai was super keen to be hiking in the mountains, I knew he’d quickly lose interest so I made a scavenger hunt for him to do along the way. Some he had to check off, others he could collect (like rocks), which also gave a chance to teach him not to pick wildflowers.
3. Read up on rock art
The Cederberg is rich in Khoisan rock paintings, some of which date back thousands of years. One of the most accessible sites is the Sevilla Rock Art Trail, a 5km path with nine rock art sites along the way. You’ll find it 35km from Clanwilliam, just off the R364. If you’re in the central Cederberg (this is the area we most often visit), you’ll find an impressive site close to the Stadsaal Caves (included in the entrance fee for the caves). These sites all have information panels so you can learn a little about why and how the paintings were made.
Make it kid-friendly: Our effort wasn’t great, but I had this idea to get the whole family together to paint their own versions of the rock art once we were back at the chalet (either on paper or you could find a small rock to paint on).
4. Take time out for a tipple
The central Cederberg is home to two microbreweries and one magnificent winery. Nieuw Brew is based at Kromrivier, a family farm with rustic self-catering accommodation. It’s spectacularly scenic and wonderful for kids of all ages, with horse riding, a petting farm, mountain biking trails, rock climbing and a small restaurant where you can taste the beers. On the “main road”, you’ll find Dwarsrivier, home to both the Cederberg Winery and Cederberg Brewery. There’s a swanky tasting room for the wines, while a taproom for beer tasting is currently in progress. You can also arrange accommodation (chalets or campsites) and get permits for surrounding hikes here.
Make it kid-friendly: Bring them a colouring book and some crayons – sometimes it should be all about mom and dad!!
5. Admire the stars
We recently revisted the region with a friend visiting from Canada. When I told him about the Cederberg’s spectacular stars, he mentioned having just visited some Canadian park and seeing some impressive celestial bodies. Then he stepped out of our mountain chalet on a clear Cederberg evening and his jaw hit the floor. The stargazing here is simply world class. I sometimes feel like the stars are so bright you could actually sit out and read by their light. If you want to know more about what you’re seeing, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Cederberg Observatory, run by local amateur astronomers on certain Saturdays (check their website to see when they’re operating).
Make it kid-friendly: Learn a little about what you’re looking at and simply pass on that knowledge – kids of all ages are amazed when they realise they can see Venus or Mars without using a telescope.
6. Camp out
Kids love camping. Or at least they love the idea of it. There’s something about sleeping in a tent that appeals to little kids and it can be a great way to bond as a family. When it comes to grown-ups, some people are camping folks and some simply are not. We fall into the latter category (a four-month camping trip through Africa a decade and a bit ago just whacked any urge to sleep under canvas out of us for the rest of our days). So we combine all of our favourite bits of camping – stargazing, braaing, sitting outside and telling stories around the fire – with all our favourite things about sleeping – comfy beds and an en suite loo for midnight trips! Pretty much all of the accommodation options in the Cedeberg offer campsites and self-catering chalets. Just remember that it gets bone-chillingly cold hereabouts in winter (and pretty cold in autumn and spring too) so come very well prepared.
Make it kid-friendly: You probably won’t have any trouble getting kids excited about camping. Just bring plenty of warm stuff and torches.
7. Cook over coals
There is only one restaurant in the central Cederberg. This is a place for those who like to cook outdoors, over a fire. Just be sure to shop before you head into the mountains. Most accommodation options have a simple shop, but they tend to sell the absolute basics – bring meat, bread and veg with you.
Make it kid-friendly: The most difficult part is getting them to steer clear of the fire – kids are like moths when it comes to flames! We let Kai pile up the logs before it’s lit…and then he’s always in charge of the post-braai marshmallows. A must in the mountains (or indeed, anywhere).
8. Spend time away from the screen
Perhaps one of the best things of all about the Cederberg is its remoteness. It’s less than three hours from Cape Town but once you get up into the mountains, you kind of forget that cities even exist. To my knowledge and I haven’t stayed everywhere of course – none of the accommodation in the area comes equipped with a TV. and once you pass Algeria, cell phone reception wavers between crap, patchy and non-existent. With all the best parenting intentions in the world, most of us resort to Paw Patrol or Peppa Pig or, god help us, that woman playing with toys on YouTube from time to time so it’s nice to get away from screens of all sizes and instead spend the evenings counting shooting stars or singing campfire songs.
Make it kid-friendly: If TV is a part of the daily routine, try using the old ‘you get to stay up late with the grown ups card. The grownups will likely be going to bed early, but the kids won’t know that!
Getting there: The central Cederberg is accessible from east or west. From the west, head up the N7 to Citrusdal. About 27km past Citrusdal, look out for the turn off to Algeria on the right. From here it’s a gravel road all the way but it’s generally in good condition. There are a couple of passes to tackle. From the east, head for Ceres, then take the R303 north towards Prince Alfred Hamlet. The gravel road starts after the Citrusal turn off (about 50km from Ceres). The road is less vertiginous from this side, but generally more rutted.