My Cederberg Life
I've been a visitor to the Cederberg since 1982. I'm passionate about this area and its people, who live a fascinating lifestyle, many off the grid. I'm privileged to be called a friend, a virtual 'member of the family' by some of the people. This blog is my personal record of more than 35 years visiting this fantastic, rugged and mountainous region of the Western Cape, South Africa. The photo above shows the house that C Louis Leipoldt's family occupied. Now used as guest accommodation.
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Freakish weather resulted in a short electric storm without any rain, but lightning started a fire north west of the Uitkyk Pass. This photo was taken an hour after dark and shows the reflection of the mountain fire off the clouds in the west - note also the stars in the night sky.
Here, the Waitrose Shiraz was being labeled to get ready for the UK market.
But there is much more to this arrangement than a simple business transaction. Waitrose, in conjunction with the farm owners, pass on a proportion of profits into a trust to pay for educational, social and healthcare projects chosen by the farm's workers.
A truly winning relationship made famous by the stunning people of the Cederberg.
During my recent trip I had the privilege of tasting some of David Nieuwoudt's latest vintages, ably assisted by Alex and Tammy Nel. What a blast.
Here are my great friends, Julian and Simone Ardagh, enjoying a late afternoon tasting with Alex. Alex is responsible for the white wines from Cederberg, Ghost Corner in Elim and also assists with Longavi Wines, which come from vineyards near Santiago in Chili.
Lappies (below) is Cisca Nieuwoudt's (really) big farm dog, known for his keen nose in selecting which Cabernet Sauvignon should go into the famous Five Generations Cabernet. Here he looks keenly in the direction of the vineyard, from where opportunity calls.
Here's a review of my current favourite: Ghost Corner Pinot Noir 2015. (click on name).
I'll cover the latest developments at the winery and also the brewery in the next post.
All in all, the landscape remains dry, scorched and grey. Here and there, a sign of new life, for example at the top of the Driehoek River Valley, where the fire blazed down to from its origins higher up.
At the Sanddrif campsite, the hardworking Nieuwoudt family have made the best of the situation by clearing all the burned vegetation along the river bank and creating a wonderful recreation area, which gives the resort a new feeling of openness.
However, walking in the direction of the Maalgat trail, the devastation of the fire is noticeable in the North-east, below the Valley of the Red Gods.
THE STORY OF THE FIRE
It started as a puff of smoke in the North, above and behind Tafelberg.
This was a fynbos (veld) fire that burned hot and steadily for several days from 16th December and eventually spewed its wrath on the historical holiday farm of Sanddrif, part of the Dwarsrivier / Cederberg Vineyards complex, owned by the Nieuwoudt family. Passing Sanddrif on 20 December 2016, the fire was heading south of east full tilt in the direction of Matjiesrivier.
There were some narrow escapes for a number of people and infrastructure.
The fire burned in their direction on Monday evening and looked as if it was going to head upwards over Gabriel's Pass. We were later to find out that the fire was to break away and head straight down the river instead.
Fortunately the fire missed the scout encampment at Kliphuis, although a large detachment of scouts stood by all night to evacuate.
The next morning, the entire mountain range was smouldering, the fire having been reported as heading up Gabriel's Pass to the upper reaches of the Wolfberg.
Fortunately, the scout camp at the Kliphuis campsite was spared from the fire.
At this stage, the Working on Fire team responded to the emergency call and dispatched two helicopters accompanied by the fixed wind spotter plane. Fantastic assistance also came from the neighbouring farms, notably Driehoek, all members of the Cederberg Conservancy. Cape Nature was also supporting the fire fighters.
One front continued to burn up the Wolfberg and engulfed the world famous Wolfberg Cracks at lighting pace.
Another front burned along the Jeep Track, passing the Shale Band and converging with the third front near the Valley of the Red Gods.
The third front burned along the Driehoek River, crossing the river with impunity near to the former Landsdiens Camp, now called Rietgat.
At this stage, guests at Sanddrif started to evacuate.
The fire on the north side of the river swept through Jassie campsite, where my old caravan stands. Fortunately I had evacuated the caravan with about 3 minutes to spare. But one of the lovely old oak trees on the site was destroyed. Rietgat (formerly, the Landsdiens Kamp) was rescued, I assume, by the helicopters.
After Jassie, the fire moved on to the main camp site. Site 1 was gutted and part of the adjoining site. Thankfully, the rest of the campsite was okay and the fire returned to the course of the river, causing extensive damage to the riverine vegetation.
Meantime, the fire also continued above the main campsite, threatening accommodation units Ons Huisie (cultural history treasure), Groothuis, Die Stal and Waenhuis. These buildings were all saved, thanks to fire saving interventions, significantly Ons Huisie, which has a thatch roof. However, the vegetation above was cleaned out.
On the southern bank of the river, the fire crossed the river a few times and arrived at the 5 accommodation units called the Planets. Both Mars and Venus were near misses, saved only by water bombing by helicopters of Working on Fire and also the intervention of farm workers who harnessed whatever water tenders they could with hand pumps to fight the flames. But the fire rages down the river and destroyed the beloved Lapa campsite, which was fully occupied.
Significantly, most of the tall trees, including ancient stone pines, withstood the fire. It was the brush wood and fynbos that had burned, close to the ground and along the river.
The staff were fantastic and within an hour were on site to help campers and guests with recovery and the clean up.
A number of people headed up the the main farm at Dwarsrivier, where the winery staff kept everybody happy in the way they knew best.
The Nieuwoudt family were fantastic and most guests returned to their accommodation or campsite for the night.