Alone, absolutely alone. Complete and utter solitude. Not a murmur, save for the comforting sounds of the resident birds as they swoop across the skies, of reptiles as they bask in the sun or busy themselves with the job of nocturnal feeding, and of course the gentle rustle of the fynbos as it is tossed lazily from side to side by a gentle and welcome breeze. This is Bakkrans, a remote, rugged piece of land tucked away behind the scenes in what is known as the Red Cederberg, seemingly lost in time and offering an experience far removed from the normal run-of-the-mill Cederberg.
On a road to nowhere
I first met the owner of Bakkrans, Johan van der Westhuizen, about a year ago when I was doing research into Cederberg rock climbing. I was immediately impressed by this gentle man with his burning passion for this special place and the Cederberg as a whole. A salt-of-the-earth character, Johan kept me enthralled with stories about Bakkrans and I knew then that I had to experience this place first hand. He also added that he thought he had rock on his land that could be suitable for climbing. Well, that was that we simply had to go. But it wasn’t until recently that this actually came to fruition.
We’re on the Road to Nowhere by the Talking Heads was playing relentlessly through my mind as we negotiated the narrow stony track that scratched its way for kilometres over the pristine Red Cederberg mountains, on our way to the mystical and mysterious Bakkrans.
Endless valleys, mountains and Karoo plains stretched away for an eternity as we drew closer to our destination. Finally, when we were beginning to doubt if it existed and whether we would ever get there, we rounded a corner to see a funny little stone hut with a thatched roof as thick as an elephant’s leg stretching way over the tops of the walls, giving it an almost fairy-tale appearance. I half expected Bilbo Baggins to step out, puffing away on his pipe, and invite us in for fresh bread, honey and milk. We had arrived in the Red Cederberg.
There are actually about five of these stone huts, almost unseen as they lie disguised and scattered around the rocky hills, that have been neatly renovated to accommodate two people in comfort, although they do remain fairly rustic. Outside each hut, there is also an en-suite bathroom built into the rock, complete with a proper flushing toilet and a hot shower. Further exploration revealed a communal area featuring a hut complete with a fridge and all the kitchen utilities you may need, plus some first-aid kits, thermos flasks and other handy items.
Just across the way stands a rectangular boma where all cooking, braaing and relaxing takes place. We stood for a while and gazed around at what was to be our home for the next three days, and realised that this is about as secluded as one can get without casting off on a solo mission across the Atlantic. No power, no cellphone reception, not a soul for many kilometres around us, and surrounded by the prehistoric Red Cederberg landscape.
Wasting no time, we set about exploring the area. To the west lay a deep gorge that ran for about eight kilometres, ending in an undercut waterfall in the middle of a huge overhanging amphitheatre about 70 metres high and about three hundred metres wide. We scrambled down the narrow gorge, past fresh, and disturbingly large, leopard spoor, to the lip of the dry waterfall, which in full splendour would launch itself from this last flat platform to fall unhindered to the plateau below. What an overpowering position to be in. In the other direction, the gorge cleaved through the mountains to the unknown, but that was for tomorrow’s explorations.
Fiery rocks and sun
Strolling languidly back to camp as darkness was slowly winning the battle with a huge fiery setting sun, the stress and worries of life in the city fell from our shoulders and lay forgotten on the ground as our souls underwent a welcoming metamorphosis, which went through its final stages as we sat around the fire cooking our evening meal, before retiring to our hobbit hut.
The next morning found us following a reasonable path up the gorge, with interesting rock walls on both sides of us. At one point the path rose out of the bed of the gorge to meet the foot of beautiful sweeps of black and orange sandstone that give the Red Cederberg its name. We continued up the kloof to eventually reach the top near a dilapidated old hut where we stopped for lunch.
The way back to our camp lay along an old dirt track, running around the back of the gorge and taking in magnificent views of the Cederberg’s mighty Tafelberg from the seldom-seen eastern side. After about an hour or so we reached a noticeable bend in the track, which went down to our right. There before us the earth suddenly dropped away into a vast valley that looked like it was formed by the foot of a giant.
It is indeed spectacular
It must have measured about 20 kilometres across in each direction, or so it seemed. This magical viewpoint held us like a magnet and we sat atop boulders worshipping our incredible surroundings and waiting for the sun to say farewell once again, turning the distant hills into a million shades of blue as it sank slowly into the steely grey Atlantic. Still intoxicated by the heady opiates of Mother Nature, we ambled, mesmerised, down the track towards our little thatched shelters.
That evening we went on an astronomical journey, lying on our backs outside and staring upwards at the silvery-black atmosphere. It was indeed spectacular. The inky night-sky was shimmering with infinite stars, nebulous clusters forming mysterious fuzzy clouds and satellites crisscrossing the sky high above.
They say the Red Cederberg is one of the best places in the world to view the stars and other celestial bodies, and lying there that night it was impossible to argue that fact.
Unfortunately, our time was drawing to a close and it was with palpable sadness that we packed the car early the following morning. Then, after saying our farewells to one of the most special places we had ever had the privilege of experiencing, we slowly made our way back along the road from nowhere and back to civilisation.
If you like this you may also like: Rock Climbing: Rocking the Cederberg
This article was first published in September 2010, but time stands still here and the article is as accurate now, as it was then.