Two hundred and thirty kilometres north of Cape Town, and an easy two-hour drive up the N7, its huge dam and scenic position beside the beautiful Cederberg mountains offer a compelling array of outdoor activities from water-skiing and kayaking to rock climbing and bouldering in the wild, rugged landscapes.
“The very first thing that intrigued us was the rocks,” says Tracy du Plessis of her first visit which inspired her family’s move here from Joburg. “The Pakhuis formation, east of Clanwilliam, is a fascinating landscape of huge, largely sandstone, boulders. It felt like a kind of alien landscape.” Famous for the brilliant show of spring flowers which attracts visitors from all over the world, the Cederberg’s incredible biodiversity includes a wealth of useful and medicinal plants that have since become Tracy’s passion and her work, rediscovering the ancient knowledge of the Khoi and San people, whose legacy remains close to the surface here in rock paintings and the local tradition of riel dancing.
While weekenders and boating enthusiasts tend to base themselves on the shores of the dam, the town itself has an active community of residents and puts on an impressive number of annual events, many organised by local volunteers. There is a Model C school and three government schools, including Elizabethfontein Primary, a farm school whose riel dancers have danced at the opening of parliament.
The lack of malls, cinemas and department stores is part of Clanwilliam’s appeal for many, but the town offers the essentials and more. “Clanwilliam has a great public hospital – very clean, well-run and competent,” says Tracy. “There is a golf course, a small gym, a bowling green and a pharmacy. It has a small-community-oriented feel, but is large enough for a good variety of shops and grocery stores.”
Clanwilliam is a beautiful place, with a lot of opportunity for outdoor sport and exploring the landscape. The Clanwilliam Dam offers plenty of water sports, and all bodies of water are popular in our hot summer. The closest movie theatre is in Cape Town, but there are entertaining and sociable things going on all year.
Resident, Tracy du Plessis, The Storytellers
Where to eat:
- Reinhold’s restaurant: for elegant dining and old-world atmosphere
- De Kelder: for steaks and burgers
- The Dam Bistro: for simple bistro fare and pizzas
- Michaels on Park: for home-cooked meals
- Traveller’s Rest Farmstall: for traditional South African dishes
- Nancy’s Tearoom: for light meals and teas in the garden
- The Flower Festival in August
- The Bass Classic in August and October
- The Lantern Festival in early September
- The Kunstefees in October
- The Freshpak Fitness Festival in October
- Riel Dance Championships through the year
Things to do:
- Rock climbing and bouldering in winter
- Hiking all year
- Water sports on the dam in summer
- Golf at Clanwilliam Golf Club
- Lawn bowls at Clanwilliam Bowls Club
- Sevilla Rock Art trail
Estate agent Q&A on Clanwilliam
What do you love about the Clanwilliam area?
Well, there is the beautiful Clanwilliam Dam with activities like water sports and fishing. There are the Cederberg mountains with hiking trails, mountain biking, 4x4 trails and mountain climbing. There are nice campsites all along the Clanwilliam Dam and in the mountains where nature lovers can express themselves. We also have the most colourful flowers in the world attracting tourists from all over the world. It is a small and caring town where we look out for one another. Cederberg Wynkelder has won many awards for its exceptional wine and craft beer. Once you’ve stayed for a month, you never want to leave.
Manus van Zyl: Aida West Coast
Best things for families on holiday in Clanwilliam?
Family times around the braai or pool in the comfort of your holiday home in the evening, often with friends. On the dam during the day, boating, skiing and chilling. And in winter, red wine and fires in the evening, and hiking the rock art trail or visiting the rock formations, and 4x4 challenges for those who enjoy. And then there’s flower season, so the year fills up quickly with plenty of important memories. Ask those who have been coming back for decades. Clanwilliam is a link-up place, and with the new N7 and soon-to-be-raised dam wall, it’s a possible hot spot in the Western Cape.
Dr WH Willies: Waterman Solutions
How would you spend a free weekend in the area?
I would definitely camp at Algeria Forest Station and use the many wonderful hiking trails in the vicinity of the forest station. Algeria, with its pristine clean and cold mountain water, provides an ideal combination together with the breathtaking sandstone formations of the Cederberg. If the hiking trails should prove too taxing on your body, there is always the option to rejuvenate body and soul with a wine tasting at nearby Cederberg Wines. Any city dweller can rest assured that he or she will return inspired and refreshed after a weekend in the Cederberg.
This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.