Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve is a World Heritage Site, located in the transitional zone where fynbos and lowland succulent Karoo vegetation overlap
Proclaimed as a nature reserve in 2000, and a World Heritage Site in 2014, Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve occupies a very special part of the Western Cape. The 12 800 hectare nature reserve is located in the transitional zone where fynbos and lowland succulent Karoo vegetation overlap. The diversity of fauna and flora found on the reserve thus offers visitors representations of both biomes.
This semi-arid nature reserve also contains some excellent examples of the region’s geological and archaeological heritage, including the imposing Stadsaal cave, rare San rock art depicting elephants, and the newly opened Truitjieskraal interpretive trail. A permit is required to visit these attractions and is available for purchase at the CapeNature offices or at any private tourism offices in the Cederberg area.
Watch some beautiful timelapses of the nature reserve, filmed on the Truitjieskraal interpretive trail, below.
Video shot and provided by Liesel Kershoff. View her work on her website here: lieselkershoff.com
How to get there
From Cape Town: Take the N7 highway north from Cape Town. Stay on the N7 past Citrusdal, after 28km take the Cederberg/Algeria turn-off to the right. Follow this main gravel road for 17km and you will come to the Algeria office. From this office, carry on the dirt road for another 46km, over the Uitkyk pass, past the turn off to Krom Rivier (take the left fork in the road, following the sign for ‘Ceres’). The Stadsaal caves are just a few kilometres into the reserve, while the office complex and Truitjieskraal turn-off are further along. This is a 300km drive, but will take you at least four hours due to the long stretch of gravel road along the last 80km.
Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve contact information
Reserve office hours: 07h30 – 16h00, Monday to Friday
Reserve office phone number: +27 27 482 9922
Permits can be obtained at any tourism office in the Cederberg Area or at Algeria or Matjiesrivier during office hours.
Cellphone reception: No reception, last reception point is the Algeria section of the Cederberg.
GPS: 32° 30’ 0.5’’ S 19° 20’ 10.0’’ E
The rock formations at Truitjieskraal are ideal for sport climbing and the Mountain Club of South Africa has developed approximately 37 routes in this area.
Permanent raw bolts have been placed for safety along these routes but should only be used by experienced climbers.
Additional types of rock climbing, such as bouldering and traditional climbing, are practised in other areas of the Cederberg.
This part of Matjiesrivier has arguably the most impressive Sandstone formations and is highly recommended by rock climbers practicing their sport and love for the area.
Follow the path through Truitjieskraal and read the information boards along the way while immersing yourself in stories of great history depicting the lives of the Khoi and San living in the area about 5000 – 300 years ago.
*A permit is required to visit this attraction, available for purchase from CapeNature’s Matjiesrivier office.
Located in the Matjiesriver Nature Reserve, 45km up the road from Algeria camp in the Cederberg Wilderness Area, the Stadsaal Cave is a unique and special part of South African history.
Just a few hundred feet from the Elephant Paintings 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.
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 rock 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 this attraction, available for purchase from CapeNature’s Algeria office.
Step back in time and visit some of the Cederberg’s remarkable examples of San and Khoi rock art. These paintings, found in rocky overhangs and caves, vary between 300 and 6 000 years old. They are an integral part of the wilderness area’s value. More than 2 500 sites have been found, and many of them are easily accessible.
Up the Uitkyk Pass, only 45km along the dirt road from Algeria campsite, lies the famous Elephant Paintings site.
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).
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.
Rock art is protected by the National Monuments Act (1969) and vandals who deface rock paintings face fines of up to R10 000 and/or two years imprisonment.
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