Rocklands | Cederberg paradise for climbing, camping & highlining

The Cederberg, a rocky mountain range north of Cape Town, is one of the absolute best areas to visit from the city, and a local favourite. Most of our fantastic camping sites are nestled among the Cederberg, including Beaverlac and Jamaka!

While the whole of the expansive Cederberg is incredible, Rocklands holds a special place. This area – truly a land of rocks! – is a paradise for climbers, both sport and bouldering. Giant pockmarked boulders are strewn across the landscape, a boulderer’s dream. And rocky cliff faces can be found everywhere, already set up and graded for climbing.

In addition to the climbing (which is perfect for all skill levels, from beginners to supermen), Rocklands is an ethereal place to camp and explore. And, if you set up at De Pakhuys, you can even rig some highlines, and take to the skies!

Easter highlining festival

Every year during Easter, De Pakhuys – the best campsite in Rocklands – hosts the highlining festival. This is an absolutely awesome long weekend where highlines are rigged in the rocky mountains just above the campsite, about 10-minutes trek up. People try their hands at lines of varying lengths, braving the heights and trying to put one foot in front of the other. And then you get veterans, who can keep one foot on the line and juggle! Craziness.

In addition to the highlines, you’ll find people climbing, slacklining, swimming in the dam, firedancing, admiring views and hanging out. It’s a great deal of fun, and an experience I’m keen to repeat annually! In 2022, the highlining festival went forward only as a Whatsapp group of enthusiastic people – so let’s see what the festival looks like next year.

Climbing permit

A climbing permit for Rocklands is R80/day. It can be bought online here, or from de Pakhuys campsite,  CapeNatures’ Kliphuis Campsite, the Clanwilliam Tourism Office, or the shop at Travelers Rest.

There are also permits for a weekend, week, month, and even season! So if you’re planning a long stay, it’s definitely best to get yourself one of these.

Rocklands activities & adventures

There’s so much to enjoy at Rocklands, I’ve had friends camp here for a whole month! Thankfully, you can fit a good few of these activities into a weekend. But if you want to get the most out of the trip, including a bunch of time to relax and do nothing but admire the views, I’d recommend a week. Let’s jump into what you can do in Rocklands!

Bouldering

Rocklands is a world-renowned bouldering area, with routes set up and sustained by passionate people. There are so many giant boulders scattered across this rocky landscape, that you’ll never run out of opportunities. However, it’s best to climb pre-established routes, as these are checked for safety!

Carry a Rocklands routes book with you, join an avid Rocklands boulderer, or look out for chalky markings. Two favourite climbs near De Pakhuys are Girl on My Mind 6C and Witness the sickness 8A.

Be sure to bring a few bouldering pads and a friend to spot you to ensure safety. You can rent pads from De Pakhuys, or from Big Rig in Cape Town.

Sport climbing

Daniel Szieber on his first lead climb and first setting up of anchor ever –  on the Grade19 6a+ “Imagine**  Crags of Joy”, DePakhuys | Image by Karlos Fontana of Cape Town CLIMB

While not quite as popular as bouldering in this neighbourhood, Rocklands offers some fantastic sport climbing, too. The solid sandstone here is just so ideal for climbing, with both pockmarked and intimidatingly sheer clifffaces, and genuinely thrilling routes.

You won’t find multi-pitch climbs here, as the rock faces aren’t quite that high. But there are plenty of single-pitch routes for every skill level. Again, you’ll want to bring along a Rocklands climbing guide or a very knowledgeable friend!

Highlining

highlining while juggling sean chater(1)

Sean Chater showing off his skills – juggling, single-footed on a Rocklands highline

Rocklands – and De Pakhuys in particular – is one of the Western Cape’s best spots for highlining. Because of the annual Highline Festival, it’s already well set up for highlines of various lengths across its rocky chasms.

You’ll find bolts already safely secured in the rock, so all you need is the gear. And the know-how! Highlines, while fun to try as a novice, are not to be set up by the inexperienced – but of course, any slack/highliner reading this will know that.

Swimming

There are various rivers, dams, waterfalls and rockpools in Rocklands, despite its stark, dry appearance! So be sure to pack your swimsuits along with the hiking shoes you’ll need to get you there.

If you’re staying at De Pakhuys, they have a dam right next to the campsite (featured in the picture above). It’s the perfect place to cool off after a climb, or to wash the dust off yourself if you, like me, are the type of person who considers showers entirely unsuited to camping! This campsite also has a Waterfall Trail that will take you to some beautiful watering holes, deep enough to jump into.

Hiking

Rocklands is an exquisite place to hike, surrounded by an almost alien landscape. There are plenty of moderate to difficult trails, ranging from an hour-long to a full-day hike. You can follow the curves of the Brandewyn river, taking dips to cool off and filling your bottle at the various waterfalls. Or you can trek across the rocky plateaus, taking care to bring lots of water with you.

In summer, Rocklands can get extremely hot, so if you’re planning to do a fair bit of hiking, it’s best to avoid the December to February period. Spring might be best of all, as the veld flowers fill whole valleys with colour!

Trail running and mountain biking

Rocklands, it’ll come as no surprise, is also a great place for trail running. The narrow paths are complex enough to keep you on your toes, and you’ll have so much to see and enjoy. I’d especially recommend an early morning run here, as it’s cooler, and the many birds are just waking up and making themselves heard.

It’s also a brilliant place for mountain biking. However, since not all routes are bike-friendly, you’ll want to ask the reception desk at your accommodation for some mountain biking route recommendations. They’re sure to have some fantastic ones. And considering how much further you can explore on a bike, you’ll get to see even more of the unique Rocklands landscape!

Birding

rockjumpers south africa

A pair of Rockjumpers, which can be found here in Rocklands (these were photographed by Callum Evans on his Rooeils to Kleinmond roadtrip)  

A less high-energy activity, birding is another of the things you can enjoy in the vast stretches of Rocklands. Whether you need a day to rest sore hands and a tired body, or you’re just keen to see the birds, birding here is a wonderful time.

You’ll find various eagles and hawks (that is, if you’re keeping your eyes peeled and you’ve got some luck on your side). Keep an eye out for local favourites too, like the Rockjumper, Cape Siskin, Karoo Lark and my favourite, the sweet chubby Cape Robin-Chat. You can find out more about the local birding here!

Camping spots – where to stay in Rocklands

Now that you know everything there is to do in Rocklands, let’s jump into where to stay! If you’re visiting during climbing season (winter, June – September) be sure to book your accommodation in advance.

De Pakhuys

De Pakhuys is a big favourite in Rocklands, not least because it plays host to both the Rocklands Rally (not happening in 2022) and the Highline Festival. So climbers and highliners both consider Rocklands and De Pakhuys to be different names for the same thing!

De Pakhuys has camping spots and cabins – both pet-friendly. They also have a kitchen, braai (BBQ) facilities, an outdoor pizza oven, and even a bar! So, while you can simply braai at your campsite and pee in the bushes, you don’t have to.

Traveller’s Rest

Traveller’s Rest has 29 authentic local cottages, spaced across a large open property. If you’re looking to cover the creature comforts while you explore Rocklands, they’re ideal. This farm, located along a river, has been a place of rest to travellers braving the Pakhuis Pass since the days of ox-drawn carriages! Do note, the cottages aren’t pet friendly.

Kliphuis

Kliphuis is another lovely option with both campsites and cottages. It’s quiet and peaceful, and situated within the Cape Nature conservation area. Be sure to bring everything you need, as there’s no shop or WiFi – but there is firewood! Do note, though, that while this is a great place for climbers and adventurers, pets and music are not allowed.

Alpha Excelsior Farm

Your fourth and final accommodation option in Rocklands is the working farm, Alpha Excelsior. Here, they have olive groves, vineyards, and hectares of rooibos. Among these orchards are various accommodation options – two large farmhouses, two romantically secluded cottages, and seven retro caravans! For all options, you can bring your dog along if you let them know beforehand.

How to get there

The only way to reach Rocklands is by car. You’ll drive to the small town of Clanwilliam (following the N7 if you’re driving from Cape Town centre). Follow the R364 over Pakhuis Pass. This pass, while relatively steep, is well-paved, pothole-free and safe.

The trip is approximately 250km (depending on your accommodation option) and takes about 3 hours to complete from Cape Town.

Last thoughts on Rocklands

Rocklands is such an exquisitely beautiful place, filled with so many adventure activities that you really could spend months here. And during climbing season, many people do!

It’s a perfect place to explore solo, isolated and surrounded by nothing but nature. It’s also a fantastic place to meet likeminded people, climbers and explorers, during climbing season or one of the annual events that take place here.

However you choose to experience Rocklands, you’re bound to leave knowing you’ll return as soon as you can. I, personally, am counting down the days.

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