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First day in the Cederberg... and saving the Clanwilliam Yellow

By Scott Ramsay | Book Accommodation

 The view of the Uitkyk Pass - Cederberg

The view of the Uitkyk Pass - Cederberg

We arrived in the Cederberg yesterday evening…it’s the middle of the Cape winter, and there is snow on Sneeuberg, which is the highest peak in the mountain range at just over 2 000 metres! But its been sunny and clear skies the whole of today. The first spring flowers are starting to come out…the air is clear, clean and fresh.

The rivers are flowing strongly. The camp site at the small hamlet of Algeria is empty of people, so it feels like we’ve got the entire place to ourselves. We’re staying in an old stone cottage called Rietdak, which is well positioned overlooking the Rondegat River, which flows through the valley.

Rietdak Cottage at Algeria - Cederberg

Rietdak Cottage at Algeria - Cederberg

This incredibly scenic mountainous wilderness area of 66 000 hectares, managed by CapeNature, is only two hours north of Cape Town, between the towns of Citrusdal and Clanwilliam. I spent the day with Patrick Lane, who is the manager of the Cederberg Wilderness Area. Patrick has spent most of his career in Namibia, managing such diverse areas as Caprivi, Etosha National Park and the famous desert wilderness area of Sperrgebiet. He’s been in the Cederberg for 18 months, and he’s loving the big change of scenery.

“The Cederberg is like a lovely disease,” Patrick said, as we drove to a section of the Rondegat River which is about to be rehabilitated. “It gets deep into your bones after a while.”

Patrick explained how most of the arable land around the mountains of the Cederberg has been used for farming, but the catchment areas have been left alone.

“Even though the word ‘Wilderness’ in the South African context is a different experience, because it’s often surrounded by farmlands or communities, the CapeNature Wilderness Area of the Cederberg is truly pristine and natural. The mountain catchment areas have been like this for millenia – it’s absolutely untouched.”

After a short drive along the m Algeria, we met Dean Impson, the freshwater fish ecologist for CapeNature downstream. This part of the river has been recently cleared of alien trees and vegetation. “It’s amazing,” Patrick said, as we hiked a few kays up river. “Last time I was here, you couldn’t see the river because of the alien thicket.”

Rondegat River

Patrick Lane and Dean Impson of CapeNature surveying the cleared alien vegetation on the Rondegat River - Cederberg

Dean explained that this part of the river is now going to be used as a pilot project to get rid of the small-mouth bass, which is an alien, invasive species of fish. It’s played a big part in threatening the survival of indigenous fish like the Clanwilliam Yellow Fish, Rock Catlet and Fiery Redfin.

“This river system in the Cederberg is unique in South Africa,” Dean emphasised. “Eight out of the ten fish species are endemic to the area, and are found nowhere else in the world. All are endangered because of invasive, alien fish like the bass.”

It’s a somewhat intricate and complicated story, but essentially Dean and an independent team of biologists will be implementing a plan to get rid of the bass by the use of a chemical called Rotenone. It will take between one and three years to restore the river to it’s pristine state – which will allow the indigenous fish to make a comeback.

“This river could be one of the finest indigenous fresh water angling rivers in the country,” Dean said. “The Yellowfish could get up to 5ocm long and about 2kg.”

Patrick and Dean and the CapeNature staff are managing a huge, inaccessible area, and the health of the river systems can’t be emphasised enough. “One of our main priorities is making sure that the mountain catchment areas in the Cederberg are kept pristine and clear of alien vegetation. Fresh, clean water is going to be South Africa’s scarcest and most valuable resource one day, and these mountains supply most of the water to this region.”

This evening, we had a braai of lamb chops, fresh veg and a good bottle of red wine, thanks toThandi’s sister Bisty and her boyfriend Peter. Thanks guys! Now it’s off to bed, cos tomorrow we’re hiking with Megan Murgatroyd of the Black Eagle Project, and we’re hoping to find some of these rare and endangered raptors!