Conservation areas and reserves
The Cederberg Conservancy was constituted in 1997 as a voluntary agreement between landowners to manage the environment in a sustainable manner. It consolidates 19 properties in the central Cederberg as one of the core corridors of the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor and is active through quarterly meetings and awareness days.
The isolated and relatively underdeveloped area of about 182 000 ha is safe to visit and explore. Visitors can engage in bird watching or easy hikes to the Stadsaal Caves and other rock art sites. For the more adventurous visitor, the Conservancy offers mountain bike and trail running trails or overnight hiking trails that vary from 1 to 5 nights, depending on your level of fitness and ability. A CapeNature permit is required for all overnight trails.
The conservancy is the proud custodian of the Clanwilliam cedar tree (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis) and offers refuge to the rare Cape Leopard.
MATJIESRIVIER NATURE RESERVE
Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve is home to the Cape Leopard Trust and CapeNature. There is no accommodation in the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve.
CEDERBERG WILDERNESS AREA
The Cederberg Wilderness Area gets its name from the majestic Cederberg, a mountain range roughly 100 km long, which is known for its jagged orange sandstone rich in iron oxides, curious rock formations and Khoisan rock art. Forming part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, a World Heritage Site, most of the Cederberg is also a designated wilderness area. This area is nestled between conservancies – land owned by farmers conserved in its natural state – such as the Cederberg Conservancy, the Pakhuis Conservancy and Nardouwsberg Conservancy. This means that the Cederberg Wilderness Area is effectively close to 180 000 ha in size, making it one of the largest undisturbed natural areas in South Africa.
The Cederberg Wilderness Area is controlled by CapeNature, which issues permits for entering the area. These CapeNature permits can be obtained from the private landowner on whose property you are going to start your hike. The permits for Stadsaal are available from Algeria Forest station as well as all the Reception offices in the Cederberg.. Please note that there are no food shops in the wilderness area. Visitors must therefore bring all their own provisions.
Learn more about the Cederberg Wilderness Area: http://www.capenature.co.za/reserves/cederberg-wilderness-area
Learn more about CapeNature: http://www.capenature.co.za
The Cederberg Wilderness Area is famous for its spectacular rock formations, sculpted by wind and water over many millions of years. Most of the area consists of sedimentary rock, sandstone and shale.
Geologically, the Cederberg comprises the Cape Supergroup (Table Mountain Group, Bokkeveld Group and Witteberg Group) and the Karoo Supergroup (Dwyka Group, Ecca Group and Beaufort Group). The Cape Supergroup was formed about 700–600 million years (Ma) ago by a succession of sandstone sedimentation (silt, mud and sand). The distinct reddish colour of the rocks is due to the presence of minerals such as iron and manganese in the sediments.
About 330 Ma ago, climatic change set in and the rapid growth of the continental ice sheets resulted in a drop in sea level, exposing the upper Witteberg Group sediments and causing erosion. The scouring action of large continental glaciers moving over the exposed layers increased the erosion. The moving glaciers played a big role in forming the landscape of high mountains and deep valleys of the Cederberg mountains as we know them today.
About 310 Ma ago, the icy conditions subsided and the first layer of the Karoo Supergroup was deposited over the Cape Supergroup. Then about 300 Ma ago, intercontinental movement and forces caused the eastward-dipping of strata of the Cape Supergroup overlain by the Karoo Supergroup. This is clearly visible in the ridges (Afr ‘riffels’) east of the road between Mount Ceder and Wupperthal.
The Cederberg area is known for some of the finest and most diverse wild flowers in the world, many species of which are unique to the area. The flowers can be enjoyed in many different ways, including going on a self-drive tour or taking flower tours. Clanwilliam is famous for hosting an annual flower show every August, and some of the flowers on show include the Geel Perdekop, Blou Bergaster, Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), Geel Botterblom, Boegoe (Rutaceae), Pienk Handjie, ridderspoor (Brachy-capaea juncea) and Clanwilliam daisies/harpuisbos (Euryops speciossimus).
Rainfall in the Cederberg is quite sparse but after the winter rains the area becomes covered in colourful oceans of marigolds and vygies, peaking in August. The spring flower season begins around late July and lasts through September. Some of the species unique to the Cederberg include the yellow Leucospermum reflexum, the Snow Protea (Protea cryophylla), blue Lachanaea filamentosa, yellow sparaxis, pink Cyanella alba and the Clanwilliam cedar (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis), which is one of 3 indigenous South African species of cedar. This tree, after which the Cederberg was named, grows along cliffs and rocky areas at between 1 200 and 1 700 m above sea level. Like the true cedars (such as the Lebanon Cedar), the Clanwilliam Cedar’s wood is fragrant and durable, which is why it has been exploited to the point of endangerment. The Namaqua fig tree (Ficus cordata) grows flattened against rock faces in the area.
The Cederberg Conservancy consists of 2 of the 5 biomes of the Cape Floral Kingdom, namely Sandstone Fynbos and Succulent Karoo. The Cederberg Sandstone Fynbos biome is divided into 2 distinct vegetation groups, namely Fynbos and Renosterveld. Both thrive on well-leached, infertile soils derived from Table Mountain sandstone.
Sandstone Fynbos is distinguishable by the presence of reeds (Restionaceae), ericas (Ericaceae) and different types of Proteaceae such as sugarbush proteas (which grow in the cracks of large rock platforms), pincushions, cone bushes and spiderheads. The area is prone to fires, especially in the dry summer season. Plants typically found at lower altitudes are the spinning top/tolletjiebos (Leucadendron rubrum), the grey-leaved sugarbush/suikerkan (Protea laurifolia) and the common sunshine conebush/stompieknopbos (Leucadendron salignum). On the lower slopes one finds the fire-resistant wagon tree/waboom (Protea nitida). On dry slopes and around rocky outcrops, woody thickets are formed by wild olive trees (Olea europaea subsp. africana), rockwood (Heeria argentea) and rock candlewood (Maytenus oleoides).
The valley along which the Wupperthal–Ceres road passes is where the biomes transition from Sandstone Fynbos to Succulent Karoo. Although the vegetation in the Succulent Karoo is sparser than that of the Fynbos biome, it has exceptionally high biodiversity. It is characterised by an abundance of mostly vygies (Mesembryanthemaceae), Crassulacaea and daisies (Asteraceae), which bloom after the rainy season. A prominent feature of the area is large, round mounds of earth and vegetation. The Succulent Karoo hardly, if ever, burns.
Baboons, dassies, grey rheboks, klipspringers, duikers and grysboks are fairly common. Rarer animals include porcupines, honey badgers, Cape clawless otters and aardvarks. The leopard is the Cederberg’s largest predator and is fairly common, although very shy. Smaller predators include African wild cats, caracals, bat-eared foxes, aardwolves, Cape foxes, grey mongooses and striped polecats. There are many species of rodents, including the spectacled dormouse.
THE CAPE LEOPARD TRUST
The Cape Leopard Trust is a project that originated in the Cederberg Conservancy to better understand the biology and behaviour of the Cape mountain leopard. The project was initiated by Quinton Martins, who is regarded as a pioneer in research about the Cape mountain leopard. The project has been successful and has grown to include areas such as the Gamkaberg area, Kammieskroon and Namaqualand. It is believed that it will help to manage and minimise the conflict between stock farming and conservation.
Learn more about the Cape Leopard Trust: http://www.capeleopard.org.za
The Cederberg is home to more than 100 bird species, with the black (Verreaux’s) eagle, rock kestrel and jackal buzzard as the most common raptors.
The rivers in the Cederberg are home to 8 endemic fish species. All these species are threatened and include the Clanwilliam yellow fish, Clanwilliam redfin minnow and fiery redfin minnow.
The armadillo lizard is one of the endemic reptiles to be found in the Cederberg. The area is also home to the southern speckled padloper tortoise and about 16 snake species, the most common being the berg adder, puff adder and black spitting cobra. Snake bites rarely occur in the area. Unless threatened, snakes generally move away from people and will not bite without warning.
Various frogs are found in rivers and vlei areas in the Cederberg Conservancy. These include the banded stream frog, Delalande’s sand frog, Karoo toad, raucous toad, platanna and Tradouw mountain toad.
INSECTS & ARTHROPODS
A variety of butterflies, moths, locusts and many more insects occur in the Cederberg. The Cederberg Conservancy is a malaria-free area, although there are mosquitoes. There are also spiders and scorpions in the area. If left undisturbed, they pose no threat to visitors.
The Cederberg area used to be inhabited by the San people, who left behind a rich legacy of rock art before European settlers began stock farming in the Cederberg in the 18th century. The Cederberg has the highest number of ancient rock art sites in the world, with over 2 500 discovered sites, many of which are easily accessible.
Southern African rock art has been dated to be as old as 28 000 years, with the age of the Cederberg paintings ranging from 100 to 8 000 years old. The paintings most commonly depict animal scenes, and it is thought that particular animals such as the eland had an important symbolic religious meanings.
Another common subject of the paintings is humans, often depicted in procession, hunting or gathering food. Other types of paintings show therianthropes (half-animal, half-human figures) and entoptic shapes, probably of important religious meaning.
Rock art sites in the Cederberg Conservancy that are open to the public are the Stadsaal Caves, Truitjieskraal, Southern Arch and Varkkloof.
The Wits University website gives these important rules of etiquette when visiting a rock art site:
- Get a permit or permission from the landowner or relevant authorities before visiting the site.
- Treat the art as you would a picture in your house or in a gallery.
- Never throw water or any liquid on the images or chalk the outlines of engravings to highlight them.
- Never place graffiti on a rock art site; it is often impossible to remove. These illegal practices obscure and damage the art.
- Look closely at the art so you can see fine details, but do not touch or lean on painted or engraved images. Fats and oils from the hands lead to the decay of the art and contaminate it for any future dating or chemical analysis.
- Never remove stone tools or other archaeological artefacts from rock art sites. Even a single artefact can jeopardise further research and lead to the destruction of the site.
- Avoid stirring up dust from the floors at rock art sites. Dust settles on the art and, in time, hardens to form a dark crust over the paintings.
- Never attempt any tracing or rubbing of the art since it is easily damaged. Take only photographs (flash photography will not damage the art).
- Follow the wilderness motto: Leave nothing but your footprints behind. Litter spoils the experience for the next visitor.
Learn more about rock art in the Cederberg area: http://www.bushmanskloof.co.za/
Learn more about rock art in South Africa: http://www.wits.ac.za/academic/science/geography/rock%20art/aboutrockart/14759/rock_art_of_southern_africa.html or http://www.sarada.co.za