Central Cederberg Circuit

Algeria - Wolfberg - Sneeuberg

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The Cederberg is an open wilderness area with a network of trails where one can wander at will in a wondrous landscape. This route explores some of the most iconic places in the Cederberg and is one of the best 5-day hikes I have done anywhere. It takes you past Crystal Pools, Welbedacht Cave, the Wolfberg Arch and Wolfberg Cracks, the Maltese Cross and Sneeuberg. It can take anything from 4 to 7 days, depending on how many of the side trips one undertakes. The standard 5-day route is a 72km circuit and can be done as suggested here or in reverse. One can also do shorter variations, incorporating sections of this route.

Beauty: 5/5
Difficulty: 7/10 (excluding side trips)
Technical rating: Standard trail walking interspersed with rocky sections and some steep ascents/descents. During rainy season there will be some small stream crossings.
Distance: 72km/78km

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Views from Sleeppad Hut.

Note: At the time of writing, the entire area from Algeria to Wolfberg is closed to hiking due to devastating wildfires in 2016/2017. Expected to be open again in 2019 – keep an eye on the Cape Nature website for news regarding access.

What you need

Please read our article Introduction to hiking in the Cederberg for more information regarding route planning, navigation, the equipment needed and permits/bookings.  You will have to be fully self-sufficient and carry tents for shelter. 

It is essential to have the Slingsby Hike the Cederberg maps and be able to navigate with it. All trail references and distances shown here are taken from the maps. 

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Big Boulder campsite near Crystal Pools.

Start of the route: Algeria campsite

The hike starts at the Algeria campsite, on the banks of the Uitkyk River. The drive takes approximately 2.5 to 3 hours from Cape Town via the N7 and incorporates about 18km of dirt road of which the conditions will vary during the year. Generally it will be fine to drive with a normal vehicle.

The campsite and cottages are managed by Cape Nature and bookings can be made here:  http://www.capenature.co.za/reserves/cederberg-wilderness-area/

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Crossing the stream at Algeria the day after a major winter storm.

Algeria to Crystal Pools

(12.8km; 7-hours)

From the Algeria campsite, cross the footbridge and head in a north-easterly direction up the mountain on the clear trail to the right of Helsekloof. The trail zig-zags up the steep mountainside to keep the incline manageable, but the 650m vertical gain to Middelberg hut is a stiff start to the hike. Keep an eye out for the many small cedar trees in the nursery areas planted towards the top of the kloof.

After crossing the apex into Middelberg vlakte, the trail turns right in a south westerly direction past Middelberg hut at 3.8km. There is a clear pool, under some oak trees nearby, where one can fill up water bottles.

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Enjoy the classic Cederberg scenery of rocky outcrops, sculpted boulders and groves of cedar trees as you walk past Pyramid Peak, Middelberg Central and finally taking the gap between Jurie-se-Berg and Grootlandskop. You will walk on some stretches of hand-built stone trails as part of the conservation efforts to protect the sandy, sparsely vegetated soils.

From Jurie-se-Berg the trail drops to the Grootlandsvlakte, with the picturesque and aptly named Eenboomkamp (“Lone tree camp”) at 8.8km. There is a clear split in the trail after Eenboomkamp and the route to Crystal Pools keeps to the left in a north-easterly direction. Taking the right-hand trail at this point takes one straight to the Sleeppad hut, from which one can reach Welbedacht cave for a 4-day circuit.

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The trail continues to the Wildehoutdrif River, where it turns left in a north-westerly direction along the steep banks of Bo (“upper”) Boskloof. The trail becomes more challenging and overgrown in this section, but is still easy to follow until it turns north to exit the kloof up Groot Hartseer (“Great Heartache”) – the trail is no less clear, but it is a steep and unforgiving 130m climb. From here the trail plateaus at Horsey Rock, giving a very pleasant and scenic walk on a curving trail to Crystal Pools (12.8km) and Big Boulder Camp – a magical campsite.

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Crystal Pools is often visited and unfortunately some groups leave litter and use some of the tent-sites as toilet areas. There’s also the remains of campfires on the banks of the pools. Please clean up all litter and be sure to do toilet duties well away from the stream and campsites. More importantly: no fires should be made under any circumstances and toilet paper should be buried or carried out (never burned).

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Crystal Pools to Welbedacht Cave

(11km; 6-hours)

From Crystal Pools the trail ambles uphill in a north easterly direction past Crystal Pool hut (a rudimentary shelter which is at best a refuge in inclement weather). At the hut there is a trail turning left to Vogelgesangvallei (“Bird song valley”), and gives one the option of a side-trip to various swimming pools (indicated as “swemgat” on the map). Our route, however, turns south-east after the hut, going up Engelsmanskloof. The kloof is picturesque with numerous rock formations and rockwalls, as well as cedar and other trees (which one can only hope survived the 2016 fire).

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At approximately 2.8km one reaches the contour path, traversing the foot of Sneeukop, where you turn right; heading in a southerly direction for a level and fast 3km hike (mostly on a jeep track) to Sleeppad hut at 5.7km. Since the day is relatively short, it is recommended to spend some time here and enjoy the magnificent views from this shelter perched on the edge of a cliff-lined ravine.

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From Sleeppad hut, one stays on the jeep track, traversing the foot of Shadow Peak and Langeberg – take time to enjoy the ever-unfolding panorama of Tafelberg, the Driehoek River Valley and Sneeuwberg in the distance. It is an easy, descending walk to the top of Welbedachtkloof (11km). Find the trail that heads down the kloof, and stay left at the split to find the impressive gaping mouth of Welbedacht Cave.

Although the cave is large, it is quite easy to miss amongst the rock mazes, so be careful not to walk too far down the kloof. If the cave is occupied one can camp at the top of the kloof.

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Welbedacht Cave is a perfect natural shelter: deep, the mouth not too high and facing away from the wind-direction that brings winter rains, with flat rock-slabs for a floor. After good rain, there will be a stream running past the cave; in drier times one may have to go a few hundred metres down Welbedachtkloof to find water.

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Enjoying a jaw-dropping chemi-color sunset at Welbedacht Cave.

Welbedacht Cave to Wolfberg Cracks/Sanddrif Campsite

(14/17.5km; 7-hours)

Be sure to get an early start as you will want to spend time at some of the Cederberg’s most spectacular features today. From Welbedacht Cave make your way back up to the jeeptrack – there’s a trail leading out to the right from Welbedacht Cave (as you face the mountain) which connects with the jeep track some 500m down from the top of Welbedachtkloof. Stay on the jeep track, going past Consolation Peak and Corridor Peak, until you reach the base of Gabriel’s Pass at 6.5km.

The pass will lead you in a north-easterly direction, gaining approximately 215m in altitude until you reach the turn-off to Wolfberg Arch at 7.9km. Be careful not to miss the trail splitting off to the right, heading in a south easterly direction through the rocky mazes. There is a swimming spot a few hundred meters past the turnoff to cool down on a hot day.

In inclement weather one can stay on the jeeptrack for an easy 8km downhill walk to Sanddrif campsite.

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The trail continues to climb slowly for another 100m vertical gain before reaching the plateau and an easy final stretch to the magnificent Wolfberg Arch at 10.1km. This is our recommended lunch spot and offers great photo opportunities. Take note, however, that there is no water at the Arch so be sure to fill up at Gabriel’s Pass.

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Find the trail that heads southeast from the arch, making its way across grassy plains and through mazes of large boulders (keep an eye out for cairns where the trail disappears on rocky sections) to the top of the Wolfberg Cracks at approximately 14km.

There are some sandy spots to camp at the top of the cracks, or on a clear evening one can find some level ground in the main crack to sleep under the stars with magnificent rock walls towering overhead.

There is no water at the cracks, but there is a perennial drip and pool under a big white boulder a few hundred meters down the trail from where it exits the main crack – approximately 20mins walking to get there. The drip is indicated on the map.

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The caramel and lava-coloured cliffs of Wolfberg’s south-east face, with the 100m high Energy Crisis prow towering on the right.

Exploring the Wolfberg Narrow Crack is a must-do if you have the time (around 2 to 3 hours). It’s best treated as a side-trip and one should not attempt it with a large/heavy backpack as it requires some crawl-throughs and technical scrambles.

In bad weather the option remains to descend to Sanddrif campsite at 17.5km for a sheltered camping spot and a hot shower. Be sure to pay your camping fees at the Cederberg Cellars (Dwars River office) the next day and be careful to not camp on pre-booked camp sites.

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The wonderworld of sheer walls and blocky towers in the Wolfberg Main Crack.

Wolfberg Cracks to Sneeuberg Hut

(19.8km; 9-hours)

From Wolfberg descend to the car park (2km) and from there follow the trail/dirt road cutting through The Valley of the Red Gods to Sanddrif Campsite (3.5km). Sandrif is a sprawling campsite on the banks of the Sand River with beautiful lawns and lush trees. It will be tempting to spend time there and go for a swim at the bridge (“drif”) where white sands form a beautiful riverine beach. This is a long day though, and it is recommended that you do not spend too much time at the campsite.

From Sanddrif one can either take the dirt road heading south and west, or find the trail (shortcut) that takes you to the Cederberg Cellars and Dwars River office (5,8km), where one can stock up on basic supplies and snacks, or buy a bottle of the award-winning Cederberg wines made from the fruit of the highest vineyards in the Southern hemisphere.

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From Cederberg Cellars, stay on the main road, heading northwest for a short bit and then take the turn-off (6.2km) onto the road that runs past the Cederberg Observatory. Stay on the jeep track, making quick ground on the relatively flat lands and enjoy unobstructed views of the Pup, until you reach the car park at the base of Klipbokkloof (11.8km). From here, find the trail heading up the mountain towards the Maltese Cross.

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A 400m vertical ascent will follow, at first zig-zagging up the hillside and finally converging with Klipbokkloof near the top. The kloof is lush compared to the surrounding sun-scorched north-facing mountain sides and during rainy season one has to take care on some slippery sections.

The Maltese Cross (15.2km) is another Cederberg icon and a good spot for a break. The weather-beaten sandstone pillar is much more imposing than what it seems like from a distance and offers good photo opportunities.

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From the Maltese Cross continue along the footpath heading west, until it intersects the trail traversing along the foot of Sneeuwberg (16.1km). Avoid the temptation to take the bee-line across Kok-se-vlei (Kok’s marsh), especially in winter – it starts off easily enough, but turns into a great bog of sloppy mud and pools, hidden from sight by the large tufts of grass. The remainder of the walk is pleasant and scenic and one can amble the last 3.5km to Sneeuwberg hut (19.8km), savouring the magnificent Cederberg landscape as dusk settles on the land.

Sneeuwberg hut is a rudimentary shelter with a leaking roof and a cement floor covered with cut grass. It offers a good night’s rest in dry weather, but beware the mice that have made it their home – best to hang food out of reach. There are also many good spots to pitch a tent around the hut, and a small stream nearby.

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Sneeuberg radiant with the day’s first sunrays.
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Early-morning light pouring into Sneeuuberg hut.

Sneeuwberg Hut to Uitkyk Pass/Algeria

(14km/20km; 7-hours)

From the hut, take the trail heading west past the stunning landscapes offered by Frikkie-se-vlakte (Frikkie’s plain) and Hoogvertoorn. The trail walks easy and one can make good time to reach the Noordpoort (North gate) between Sneeuwberg and the Koerasieberg.

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The trail traverses the foot of Koerasieberg, high above Duiwelsgatkloof. This valley still shelters some old, gnarly Cedar trees growing on rocky outcrops and cliffs, the only safe spaces from fires. Passing the old site of Sederhoutstasie at 7.4km the path crests between Wegwaai (“Blown away”) and the Koerasieberg, to drop down to Klein Duiwelsgat pools and then the main dirt road at Uitkyk Pass (14km).

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Looking back at Sneeuberg in the distance.

One can hike the last 6km back to Algeria on the road, or find the trails below the road on the river banks at the bottom of the pass. We have been in the habit, however, to finish at Uitkyk pass and send a delegation to hitchhike back to Algeria and fetch some vehicles – somehow it feels like the appropriate spot to end this world class hike.

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Side-trips

Some of the side trips one can incorporate with this hike (amongst others): 

  • Tafelberg and Spout Cave – from Welbedacht Cave (7km round trip; +1-day). This can also be incorporated as part of day 2 and 3.
  • Wolfberg Narrow Crack (+2 to 3-hours).
  • Sneeuwberg Peak – from Sneeuwberg Hut (10.5km round trip; +1-day). To reach the summit of Sneeuberg one might have to navigate some vertical/dangerous terrain. Do not attempt technical terrain without the appropriate equipment; rather stop short and stay safe!

For more detailed information on these, read our article Four Amazing Cederberg Peaks.

Bookings and permits

Contact Cape Nature at +27 21 483 0190

 

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About Willem Boshoff 19 Articles
Willem is an actuary by profession and an adventurer at heart. He spends as much time as possible outdoors - camping, hiking, mountain biking, surfing and rock climbing are his activities of choice – and he enjoys reading and writing. He has hiked and trekked in the Himalayas, Andes, Patagonia, Alps, Corsica and done the Camino Portugues, and thinks locally the Cederberg and Drakensberg offers some of the best wilderness-hiking experiences in the world. He is also passionate about conservation and sustainability. He lives in Cape Town.

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