Visiting Rocklands, South Africa (as a non-climber)

The impetus for our trip to South Africa (as it often is) was, besides a long-standing desire of mine to visit it, a world-class bouldering site called Rocklands three hours north of Cape Town, in the Cederberg Wilderness Area.

Rocklands map

Rocklands is the northwest corner of the Cederberg Wilderness Area, which is not marked here because it’s a purely rock-climbing map

Unfortunately this is the fourth world-class bouldering site we’ve done without me being able to climb: Hueco Tanks, Texas (foot operation #1), Albarracin, Spain (knee accident), and Squamish, BC (knee accident), being the other three. I tried a little indoor bouldering back in May and it was clear that the knee wasn’t ready and also that not being able to let myself fall because of the baby interfered too much with climbing.

We had somewhat of a hard time finding a place to stay near the rock-climbing site, but were happy in the end with the choice we found, which was a collection of cottages 10 minutes outside Clanwilliam, Clanwilliam being the main city near this part of the Cederberg Mountains.  The place we stayed was not known by rock-climbers, who tend to stay at places higher up in the mountains and closer to the climbing, but farther from things like groceries, cafes, and bars.

Our cottages were on the edge of a marsh filled with birds and next to a gigantic rocky hill in the style of the Cederberg Mountains.


We rented two cottages: this was our friends’, where we ate and hung out.


The marsh in the afternoon


The hill in the afternoon


The bilingual Afrikaans/English Bible in our cottage (in this area we heard almost exclusively Afrikaans rather than English between white people and in black-white interactions)


The marsh before sunet


The marsh just before sunset


The hill during sunset


Sunset over the marsh


The dirt road we drove down for ten minutes every day to get to the cottages

The first days in South Africa were cloudy and chilly but the weather quickly improved. It did freeze one night, and since there was no heating in the cottages we were QUITE cold. Fortunately it warmed up afterward.

Clanwilliam was quite convenient with a Spar supermarket (with well-marked toilets), liquor store (liquor stores are separate and just outside the supermarket), banks (it was interesting to see everyone lined up by the banks on Friday evenings), an off-brand cash-only clothing shop where the boys bought coats, and a few tea rooms. Rooibos is from this part of South Africa, so everyone but me (too much peeing) drank their fill, and we also tasted some Rooibos flavored deserts at Nancy’s Tea Room. There’s a Rooibos factory that you can visit but we never got around to it.

The boulders in Rocklands have a very aggressive grain and my climbing companions found themselves in need of a lot of rest days. So besides eating at Nancy’s Tea Room, we also went to Lambert’s Bay on the Atlantic coast twice. The first time, we visited Bird Island:


Masses of Cape Gannets on their breeding ground




Cape gannet

We returned to Lambert’s Bay another day for a massive seafood buffet at a restaurant on a dirt road on the beach.


The restaurant before the buffet


Preparing the food




The beach outside the restaurant


Our beach booty

Rocklands itself was also beautiful, and I enjoyed the warmer days sitting around reading and watching the others climb.

One of the rock-climbing spots was located around the local campsite, and accessing it involved doing this:


After a day of rain

It did not motivate us to stay at the campsite for any future trips.

The car clearly got quite dusty during this part of the trip but not as dusty as these that were parked at the campground:


After a day of rain

Visiting the Cederberg requires buying a permit, and it took us a day or two to figure out where to buy one, but the best turned out to be at the official park entry cabin… we just hadn’t seen it. It cost about 30 euros for two weeks. And they do patrol the park and ask to see your permit.

While this area was less touristy than the others we visited, visitors were clearly not unexpected. In a future trip we would get started on the accommodation search a bit earlier and try to find something with actual heating (rather than just fireplaces), but overall we were very happy with where we stayed.

One final picture from this part of the trip:


Caterpillar in front of our cottage


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