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Walk along CapeNature’s Truitjieskraal Interpretive Trail and you’ll feel like you’re stepping back into the distant past. By Arnold Ras

It was a cold Cederberg autumn morning when my partner and I arrived at the 12,800 hectare Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve, proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 2014. Here we laced up our brand new hiking boots (don’t call me unprepared), ready for the morning’s adventure – the launch of CapeNature’s improved Truitjieskraal Interpretive Trail. Not only would this be my first time in the Cederberg Wilderness Area, but also my first opportunity to come face to face with ancient San and Khoekhoe (pronounced Kwekwe) rock paintings.

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More than 2,500 rock art sites have been discovered in the greater Cederberg region. Some 200 of these paintings can be seen at Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve, about 243km from Cape Town via the N7.

If you are planning on heading to the Truitjieskraal heritage rock art site with a normal sedan, think again. Although the gravel road from the N7 to Matjiesrivier is not too shabby, the 10-minute drive from here to Truitjieskraal is quite bumpy and a 4×4 vehicle is a more sensible option.

What makes a visit to Truitjieskraal so special – aside from the area’s magnificent sandstone formations and rock art dating back 5,000 years – is its educational appeal. From beginning to end (about 1,4km), the trail is dotted with interpretation boards highlighting the lifestyle of the San and Khoekhoe people, aspects of the landscape, and the plants and animals found here. For the duration of the trail it’s as if, for just a while, you are journeying back in time and following in the footsteps of those who lived here hundreds of thousands of years ago.

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Seeing these ancient paintings is an unforgettable experience. Visitors are not allowed to touch the paintings as the natural oil on hands can influence the art’s longevity.

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See that plant hanging from the rocks? It’s a fynbos species called bobbejaantou or baboon rope (Secamone alpine) and is strong enough to carry the weight of an adult.

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Willem Titus from CapeNature telling us more about the snakes and lizards found in the area. Don’t be alarmed – snakes will most likely move away the minute they sense the vibrations of hikers. The information boards along the route are easy to understand, making Truitjieskraal a perfect destination and learning experience for the whole family.

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Make sure you read all the information boards for fascinating facts like this one: The sand that formed these rock formations originates from primary rocks that were eroded by rivers more than 500 million years ago.

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Believe it or not, but this cave was once a beach – hundreds of millions of years ago!

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Grab your binoculars and try spotting the Maltese Cross, a 30-metre tall rock formation at the foot of the Sneeuberg Mountain.

For the more adventurous at heart, Truitjieskraal is also the ideal playground for sport climbing. With about 37 routes to choose from, rock climbing enthusiasts will be in their element.

With my not-so-new anymore and very dirty hiking boots, I left Truitjieskraal and the Cederberg not only enlightened, but also privileged to have experienced true natural wonders. I can finally tick one of my bucket list items: a selfie with South Africa’s beautiful rock paintings.

Did you know?

Truitjie is an abbreviation of the girl’s name Gertruida. It is believed Truitjieskraal was an overnight-stop named after a shepherd’s wife or girlfriend.

Rates

R40 an adult, R20 a child. Wild Card members enter free. Permits must be bought in advance at CapeNature’s Matjiesrivier or Algeria office, or any other private tourism office in the Cederberg.