It can be difficult to arrange trips with everyone’s busy schedules, so about a month before this one, we sat down and pointed at an open weekend and said “That one, keep that one open. We’re going on an adventure.” We had no clue which one, but we were committed. A large number of options came in. Each of us shared links to trips we’ve seen and wanted to do. The more we sent, the more excited we become – every possibility simply added fuel to the fire. We let the ideas simmer for a while and then one day my friend and co-adventurer Carel Chris sent a message “I’m game for this one.” Secretly, I was so glad it was the Wolfberg Arch – a trip I have been eying for quite some time and it seemed like my heart would miss a beat every time someone else did it.
Although this hike would be nothing but spectacular, we knew it would demand a lot of discomforts and venturing into the unknown. We had some hiking experience, but this would be our first night spent camping in the wilderness.
The beautiful thing about adventure and travel is that you grow long before you leave the house. Taking responsibility to plan and execute any trip will teach you many new things and this was no different. I will however share some more information at the end of this article because there was so much information that contrasted each other and might be a bit outdated.
The Wolfberg Arch is situated in the Cederberg Mountains, between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam, about 220km from Cape Town. Known for its red rocks, the Cederberg is a sight to see at any time of the day.
The hike starts inside Sanddrif Holiday Resort – with safe parking behind a gate only accessible by permit holders. The first hour of the hike is a steep climb to the Wolfberg Cracks. For those hiking with daypacks, this shouldn’t be too difficult, we had heavy hiking bags, so we took it easy. At the top, we had to decide between the wide and narrow cracks, the wide being on the left and the narrow crack on the right. The narrow crack would require some shimmying in small spaces, whereas the wide crack only has a bit of scrambling in the beginning and is the more obvious option.
We decided to opt for the wide cracks, because of our big and heavy bags, and we wanted to avoid being stuck in the narrow crack with rain approaching. After a bit of climbing and scrambling, we reached a plateau with a beautiful viewpoint over the valley. Hereafter it only got better. Mind-blowing rock formations welcomed us as we walked through a dense bushed path with walls towering at our sides.
At the top, we were surrounded by more mountains, with the Cederberg rocks stretching across the horizon. We followed the path until it became solid rock, and we had to follow the little piles of rocks all the way to the Arch. The section from the top of the cracks to the Arch took us about two and a half hours, this included our lunch with some very dry boerewors rolls (remember the tomato sauce next time guys). As we descended through the valley of the Red Gods, the arch suddenly appeared in sight and I was not prepared for it. It is a breathtaking sight and I became giddy with excitement.
To access the arch, we followed a trail on the left of it and it took us to the back of the arch where we set up camp. There were a few open spots, but the icy wind was howling so we found a spot in front of a large rock to protect ourselves as much as possible. I won’t complain about the view – it is probably the best spot to pitch a tent south of Kilimanjaro.
With a beer in hand, we simply stared as the sun set over the rolling mountains. We passed time with a card game and then made food and a steaming cup of coffee (it did not stay hot very long, so bring those insulated flasks).
When it got dark, I peeked out of the tent, switched off my light and looked up.
I remember I had to blink a few times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Looking up, it seemed as if a cannon had shot an infinite amount of stars right above us. We were hoping for a clear night sky, but the looming bad weather we had most of the day diminished our hopes. To be out there, far away, with friends is incredible enough. To see the heavens in all its glory will truly fill your soul.
The next morning, we woke up early to watch the sunrise. If you do this trip, You are not allowed to miss it. To see the sun rising over those red rocks is a very special moment.
I remember clearly how the alarm went off and Carel Chris reluctantly asked “are we still getting up for sunrise?”. I replied “Yes!” before I realized how difficult it was to keep my eyes open. We remained still for a minute or so, clinging to the warmth of our sleeping bags. “I’m getting up or I’ll fall asleep again” I announced, probably to the disgust of the others. I climbed my way over a handful of half-asleep brothers and opened the tent. A warm glow burst through the arch, quite the contrast to the chilly air I suddenly breathed in. The others quickly started moving as I (perhaps a little extra loudly) gasped “WOW”.
With all the layers we had, including our sleeping bags, we huddled together under the arch as we waited for the sun to appear. With eyes red and heavy, we were yet again left in awe by the many wonders of this place. No matter how much you read up about the Cederberg sunrise, it doesn’t prepare you for the full experience. We were tired and cold, but we wouldn’t trade that moment for anything in the world.
Vibrant colours filled the sky, then the warmth of the sun reached us. Jaco provided us with some desperately needed coffee and we soaked in every bit of sun we could. We sat mostly in silence, mainly because we were tired, but maybe more so because we knew it wasn’t long until we had to leave behind the quiet valleys of the Cederberg and head back into the noise.
The hike back went smoothly, the sun basking on us, a welcoming feeling. It was a sad moment to leave behind these ancient mountains, but to be completely honest, we were all very eager for the warmth and comfort of our homes. In the end, that’s the beauty of life, we need the noise to appreciate the silence and the icy Cederberg winds to remind us to be grateful for a warm bed at home.
Thank you, Jaco, CC, and Darryl for having the courage to sojourn with me, your stoke is contagious.
Here are some more details:
We wanted to go the day before so we camped at the Algeria campsite about 30 minutes away. The hike starts from Sanddrif Holiday Resort and they have amazing camping facilities as well, however they have a rule that you have to book for two nights over the weekend. So you’d technically pay for an extra night and not sleep there unless you hike up and back down on the same day, but I’d say sleeping at the arch is the best experience.
The hike itself is 8 kilometers to the arch.
I’d recommend waiting for a sunny weekend because it gets very cold there. If you have the proper layers and sleeping bags you’ll be fine, but if you want to save some money I’d say wait a bit. Of course, you can’t control the weather so don’t let it stop you from going.
Email Cape Nature for a hiking permit that will allow you to sleep at the arch. You will also book the Algeria campsite through them.
What you pay:
Camping at Algeria: R180 (for 4)
Conservation fees: R320 (for 4)
In total, we paid R1060 for permits and camping there for four people. Then when you get to Sanddrif you have to pay R100pp at the reception for a permit to hike as well. If you want to camp at Sanddrif it costs R320.00 per site per night for 4 persons PLUS R80.00 per extra person. (Max 8 persons per site). They also have cottages.
You can download our checklist here.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a dm on Instagram.