A Breathtaking trip through Cederberg history

by CapeNature

Tucked away in the majestic Cederberg mountains lie a pair of historical landmarks.

Lying just a few hours north of Cape Town, the Cederberg Wilderness Area feels like a different world. After turning off the N7 towards CapeNature’s Algeria campsite, you know that you’re entering a special part of the country.

Matjiesrivier Elephant rock art 2 near Cederberg Wilderness Area

The site of the Elephant Paintings Rock Art

The rock configurations are something to behold, with their orange colour (caused by iron oxide) and unique formations, including the Maltese Cross and Wolfberg Arch, causing you to pause and wonder at the sheer beauty of it all. The hikes to those well-known landmarks are legendary and well worth undertaking, but if you’re not feeling too energetic, or you’ve already undertaken those trails, there are other attractions in the area, just a short drive away, that are no less spectacular.

Up the Uitkyk Pass, only 45km along the dirt road from Algeria campsite, is the turn-off to the Stadsaal caves and the Elephant Paintings rock art site, a pair of historic landmarks, each notable for different reasons.

The first stop after you turn off the main road is the site of the Elephant rock art (pictured above). Estimated to be at least 1 000 years old (the San began the practice of painting on rocks and in caves around 5 000 years ago), the paintings depict three groups of people and a herd of elephants (below).

Matjiesrivier Elephant rock painting near Cederberg Wilderness Area

The Khoisan rock art

Painted with materials made from ochre rock (which makes the orange, red and yellow paint), as well as charcoal and white clay (for the now faded black and white paint), the paintings are remarkably well-preserved. This is thanks to the staying power of the orange ochre ‘paint’, as well as more recent conservation efforts, though you’ll notice the humans look ‘headless’ due to the fact that the black paint used for their heads has faded over time. It is truly a privilege to be able to stand in the presence of such ancient artwork and know that the Khoisan people also stood at this very spot, over a millennium ago.

It brings into perspective the age of the area, and the importance of the conservation work being done across the Cederberg, and Western Cape in general.

Just a few hundred feet from the rock art site is another landmark, though this one has more recent ties to South African history. Called Stadsaal (Afrikaans for City Hall), this cavernous dome has been carved out of the rock by thousands of years of wind erosion and other weather factors.

Stadsaal Caves - Matjiesrivier and Cederberg Wilderness Area

View of the stadsaal cave

The name Stadsaal was officially given to the cave after the National Party’s head honchos held a planning meeting there just before coming to power in 1948. However, it was used as a community meeting place well before that. There is historically significant graffiti preserved in the cave featuring some famous political names, including that of DF Malan, dating back to the late 1800s.

Besides the main cavern area, there are many smaller openings and unique formations to be witnessed, all of which are accessible thanks to a trail that goes around the entire rock formation, starting and ending at the parking area. It takes about 30 minutes to walk around at a leisurely pace, though you might find yourself taking much longer to absorb and appreciate the wonder of these unique sandstone formations.

The next time you’re out in the Cederberg, make sure to put these two attractions on your list of must-do activities.

*A permit is required to visit these attractions, available for purchase from CapeNature’s Algeria office. 

One Comment

  • Exploring the Stadsaal Caves in the Cederberg, South Africa | eyehearttravel

    April 13, 2015 8:50 pm

    […] Cape Town, are some of the Cape’s most understated gems. This, in addition to the nearby Khoisan Rock Art known as the ‘Elephant paintings’, makes this area of the Cederberg Wilderness one of […]


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