The first time I camped at Driehoek farm in the Western Cape’s Cederberg mountains, a barking dog kept us awake all night. Damn dog, I cursed again and again, trying to block out the sound seeping through the tent’s thin nylon walls. That night, I was a decidedly unhappy camper.
The next morning the truth came to light: it wasn’t some yappy stoepkakker causing trouble, but rather the farm’s Anatolian Shepherd Dog keeping the flock safe from a Cape Mountain Leopard that had come a-visiting. Anatolians trace their lineage to Turkey, where their lot in life was keeping sheep safe from bears, so barking off the pretty, but petite leopards must be a bit of a doddle for these sizeable hounds.
For the Cederberg is leopard country, and the Cape Leopard Trust regularly uses the craggy valleys surrounding Driehoek in their groundbreaking monitoring programme. These endangered cats criss-cross the farm all the time, so it’s no surprise we caught a night when the lone Anatolian was kept busy.
The rocky hills around Driehoek may be wild with the growls of leopard, but the farm is an unabashedly bucolic spot. In sharp contrast to the sandstone cliffs, lush green fields are dotted with puffed-up sheep (and their Anatolian bodyguard), while an enthusiastic young Border Collie herds everything from wayward campers to the farm’s pet pot-bellied pig.
This cheerful menagerie of farmyard creatures makes Driehoek a wonderful getaway for families with small kids: the grassy yard echoes with the bleat of goats, raucous gobble of turkeys (who always seem to talk over one another... how rude) and cackle of chickens. In a field near the barn, ponies wait patiently for their next ride around the paddock. But family holidays aside, Driehoek is a spot with something for almost anyone.
I camp here before tackling cold nights on high peaks. I hang out with mates, sharing beers and tall tales. I escape here with the wife for a romantic weekend, or we load up the car with infant paraphernalia and introduce our young son to the wonders of the Cederberg.
Wonders too many to mention in just this one page, from ancient San rock art to stargazing an even more ancient Milky Way at the amateur observatory. David Nieuwoudt produces some of SA’s best wines in this cool mountain air, and the hills are littered with walking trails. The choice is yours.
So days may be spent whizzing about the valley or tramping over its rocky shoulders, but when the sun ducks its head behind the spiky rocks known as the Uilsgat needles, there’s only one place I like to rest my beer in the Cederberg; on a brick around the braai at Driehoek.
IF YOU GO…
Where it is: Slap-bang in the heart of the Cederberg conservancy, about 240-kilometres from Cape Town.
Why go there: In a valley that gets busier each year, Driehoek retains its peace and quiet. Sure, the peak holiday season means you’ll be sharing the crystal-clear rock pools and pony rides with a few others, but it’s still one of the most laid-back holiday farms in this picturesque corner of the Cape. There are well-marked day-walks to wander, rivers to swim in, tracks to bike along and a farmyard to explore.
What it offers: You’ll find superb value-for-money wherever you choose to lay your head. About 20 grassy campsites spread out under the oak trees along the river, or go a notch up and book one of the excellent wooden huts that come with basic furnishings and a small kitchenette. If you’d prefer your own castle to call home, the wide stoep and private lawns of the six-sleeper (at a push) Kothuis is a good bet for families. The nearby Groothuis is equally good, although the ‘70s architecture lacks the cottagey charm of Kothuis. Furnishings are simple, but then you’re not here for the interior décor, right?
What it's like: A peaceful mountain escape or Secret Seven adventure, depending on your age. Shady lawns beg for camp chairs and cold beers, while mountain pools and a farmyard menagerie will enthral young ones. Book mid-week out of school holidays if you’d like the place to yourself.
And the food: Well, that’s up to you... it’s self-catering all the way. The huts and cottages offer decent cooking facilities, but otherwise make sure you pack plenty of braai wood. There’s a small farm shop if you forget any essentials.
Rates: Campsites start at R120 per site (for four people), while riverside huts with basic facilities range from R230 – R330 per night for two people. The well equipped and spotlessly clean Groothuis and Kothuis cost R400 per night for two people. Bedding and towels are available at R50 per person per stay.
Getting there: From Cape Town, follow the N7 north. Roughly 27 kilometres past Citrusdal, turn right onto a gravel road signposted to the ‘Cederberg Wilderness Area’. Follow this road for 32 kilometres, past Algeria and over the Uitkyk Pass, until you reach the marked Driehoek turn-off. The farm is five kilometres further on.
First published in the Sunday Times Travel section.