Just three hours by car from Cape Town, the Cederberg Wilderness Area is the perfect place to spend a weekend away. Wild journalist Rebekah Funk recently spent some time exploring the area, including a visit to the Stadsaal Caves. Want an autumn activity that will take you back in time?

There’s nothing quite like the Cederberg Wilderness Area, a place you can explore for hours without seeing another living soul. The reserve gives you the feeling you’ve travelled back in time to an era without wifi, cellphones, highrises or modern trappings. It’s wild, desolate and – in some ways – stunningly prehistoric.

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With towering and twisted rock formations, hidden caves, and thousands of ancient cave paintings scattered throughout the reserve, parts of the Cederberg often feel like a scene in The Flintstones. As I make my way through the park I can’t help but think of Fred, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm walking along beside me wielding clubs and wearing animal skins. A crude mental picture, perhaps, but one that somehow fits.

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One late afternoon, I decided to venture out to the Stadsaal Caves on the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve. The weather had been gorgeous all day: a simmering 34 degrees that had now cooled to a comfortable temperature. I headed straight to the Elephant Rock Painting, perhaps the most famous of the Cederberg’s ancient art.

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Signs from CapeNature say the paintings could be at least a thousand years old, though experts have been unable to put a finger on the exact date for the art. Their estimates are based on what’s not found in the painting, rather than what is: the paintings lack sheep, cattle, horse or gun imagery which indicates they were made before European settlers came to the area 350 years ago.

The paint has fared surprisingly well over the years. It’s made from a soft rock called ochre that’s coloured red, maroon or yellow. The San who inhabited the area (for more than 500,000 years) used two stones to grind ochre into a fine powder that was then mixed with water, blood or plant juices. They also made black paint using charcoal, and white from a fine white clay. Using animal hair, feathers and reeds, the artists fashioned brushes and other painting tools. Quite amazing!

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The rock formations themselves looked like art, reminiscent of some of the outlandish creations you might see by Spanish artist Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona. As I walked among the towering rock cathedrals and warped pillars – alone apart from my co-worker Candi who’d accompanied me on the trip – I couldn’t help but be amazed and so thankful that I’d not passed up the opportunity to see the site before I returned to Cape Town.

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The Stadsaal Caves (and the rest of the Cederberg for that matter) are a fantastic place to visit in the autumn. For more examples of what to do on a weekend away, visit CapeNature‘s website.