If you haven’t yet stepped foot in the orange mecca of Rocklands, my goodness are you in for a treat. This special place has long been considered one of the world’s best bouldering areas, not only for its abundance of gorgeous lines, but also for the vibrant community and culture surrounding it. Rocklands welcomes all those with a love for adventure – all it asks for in return is respect, and a promise to keep its delicate environment as nature intended.
Here is a quick guide to everything you need to know about venturing into Rocklands and becoming a valuable member of its precious community:
Rocklands rock is classic Cederberg sandstone – rough and sharp, meaning the friction is absolutely phenomenal, but you’re going to need to take rest days purely to give your shredded skin time to recover. Bring tape – lots of it. The rock is beautiful in a multitude of ways, partly due to the unique and oh-so-climbable formations, in addition to its striking colour palette of reds, oranges, greys and blacks.
There are a number of diverse (yet equally) wonderful accommodation options in the area:
Offering cabins, chalets and good ol’ fashioned camping, De Pakhuys is a great choice for a casual and lively Rocklands adventure. There is a well-equipped kitchen with multiple fridges, gas burners, a kettle, decent counter space and sinks for washing up. If you want to keep food in the fridge, pack it in a plastic bag and mark it with your name; most importantly, be mindful of other campers – take up as little space as possible, remove your leftovers from the fridge when you leave, and clean up the kitchen after using it. Take turns, share generously, and, for goodness’ sake, if someone has put the kettle on to boil, don’t steal their precious hot water for your morning cuppa.
Please note that, as of October 2021, De Pakhuys is a TRASH–FREE campsite, i.e. there are NO BINS on site. All of the trash you bring in must be carried out with you, so plan accordingly and consider grabbing your meals from local businesses to cut down on your waste.
There are ablution blocks for both men and women, with toilet stalls, showers and some changing space. Thanks to a hard-working donkey behind the ablutions, you can enjoy a nice hot shower. Bonus points if you’re the hero who starts the fire in the morning (minus one million points if someone else starts the fire and you steal all the hot water).
The shining star of De Pak is almost definitely the bar & lapa: a delightfully rustic and cosy haven that has seen many a raucous night and given countless travellers memories to be cherished for a lifetime. The bar has (unsurprisingly) a fully stocked bar, free Wi-Fi, and a toasty central fire pit for keeping warm and cooking up some delicious kos. There are also stone benches (often topped with boulder pads), a couple of hangboards, and plenty of space for a lekker sokkie.
Check out De Pakhuys’ website and book here.
Alpha Excelsior is a working guest farm right next to De Pak. Run by James and Becky Cooper, along with their assortment of children and snuggly dogs, this special spot makes you feel right at home from the get-go.
Alpha Excelsior has mountain views, free WiFi and free private parking. Accommodation options include two delightful secluded cottages, the Cape Dutch homestead and old farm house (great for large groups), and the Donkey Camp with seven fully equipped retro caravans. There is also a kitchenette equipped with a fridge and stovetop, along with a children’s playground, swimming pool, gorgeous island, and an absolutely delightful coffee shop called the Hen House (more on that later). The working farm has a winery and 6.5 hectare olive orchard, with tasting and tours available. Alpha is the perfect spot to enjoy a welcoming and homey stay, with great access to the boulders, a gorgeous view of the valley, a stunning garden, and braai facilities.
Check out Alpha Excelsior’s website and book here.
If you’re looking for a properly luxurious stay (and hoping to ‘bump’ into some famous international senders), Traveller’s Rest is the spot for you. It has a large selection of cosy self-catering cottages and a great restaurant serving up some lekker meals. Permits and guidebooks are available at reception, where you will also be able to find information on the famous Sevilla Rock Art Trail; the trail is clearly marked and spans 5km, with nine sites to visit. Traveller’s
Traveller’s is nice and close to Sassies, Eight Day Rain, Danger Zone and Eland Camp.
Check out Traveller’s Rest’s website and book here.
Kliphuis is the perfect spot for those wanting a quiet, peaceful stay away from the crowds. Situated about 10 minutes from the parking lot of the Pass, Kliphuis is a stone’s throw from numerous bouldering areas and offers 14 camping sites (with a maximum of 6 people and 2 cars per site) and braai facilities. The amenities are more on the rustic side, with no electricity or plug points available (there is hot water, luckily) – perfect for an all-nature, zero-tech retreat.
The campsite is operated by Cape Nature and thus you can find a Cape Nature office on site where you can grab climbing permits.
Check out Kliphuis’ website and book here.
Kleinfontein is not only a bouldering area in Rocklands, but also a cosy, comfy self-catering guest farm. Choose between units complete with bathroom and kitchen facilities, or set yourself up in the gorgeous campsite. Kleinfontein doesn’t have electricity in the campsite or units, but there is Wi–Fi available and some great braai facilities.
Check out Kleinfontein’s website and book here.
These are just five of Rocklands’ most popular accommodation options – click here to check out what else is in the area, and get out there and explore – you never know what treasures you’ll find!
Facilities & Food
The closest town to Rocklands is Clanwilliam. There is a Pick n Pay, SuperSpar, Tops, Pep, and a few other stores where you can stock up on all the essentials. Also in town are a number of restaurants, including De Kelder – a local favourite.
For basic toiletries and climbing supplies you can pop into the shops at De Pakhuys, Alpha Excelsior and Traveller’s Rest.
The Traveller’s Rest restaurant has some delicious homestyle meals (the pizza is particularly scrumptious), and a small gift shop for souvenirs, drinks and snacks. The restaurant is open from 08:00 till 17:00. In bouldering season, the restaurant at the farm stall is open from 08:00 until 22:00 to accommodate the hoards of hungry pebble-wrestlers.
The Hen House is a seasonal coffee shop and local watering hole at Alpha Excelsior; it’s open all the way through season, from the end of May until the end of September. The Hen House has become an integral part of Rocklands’ social life over the past two years. They offer great coffee, WiFi, and delicious meals (try the now-famous Rhino breakfast!), as well as tasty treats (Fiennie’s carrot cake and lemon bars are sensational) and a space to interact and chill out amongst like-minded people from all over the world.
The small shop offers a selection of locally made products – perfect for a special souvenir or gifts for your poor loved ones who are stuck back in civilisation. Opening hours are 8:30am – 5pm from Tuesday to Saturday, and 8:30 am – 1 pm on Sundays (plus Sunday pizza nights). They’re closed on Mondays so that the staff can get some well-deserved rest.
The majority of Rocklands has little to no cell reception, but MTN does have coverage in selected areas. WiFi is available at the De Pakhuys bar/lapa, and both the Hen House and Traveller’s Rest have free WiFi for seated guests.
How to Get There
Rocklands is a massive, semi-desert area surrounding the Pakhuis Pass in the northern Cederberg. It’s roughly 250km north of Cape Town, reachable by a scenic 3-hour drive. As the area spreads over approximately 200km2, you won’t have any luck finding a “Rocklands” pin on the maps (if you do, you’re most likely looking at the suburb of Rocklands in Mitchell’s Plain). If you would like a pin/landmark to plug into your GPS, try:
* Rocklands Bouldering (this will direct you to the parking lot of The Pass, one of the most extensive bouldering areas)
To get to Rocklands from Cape Town:
* Get on the N1 towards Paarl and take the N7 turnoff towards Malmesbury.
* Follow the N7 north for approximately 200km; you will see a large dam, after which you need to take the R364 turnoff towards Clanwilliam.
* Turn right at the T-junction and continue straight past the town and up a small pass.
* You’ll reach a dirt road which you follow for about 16km until you hit another tar road.
* Take the tar road to the top off the pass where you’ll spot a large dirt parking lot on the side of the road. This is the parking lot for the Pass; you can stop here and head out into the boulders on foot, or keep going past the parking lot and down into the valley to reach the above mentioned accomodation and Rocklands’ other bouldering areas.
When to Go
While you can climb all year round, the bouldering season starts end of May and ends at the end of September (so it spans the coldest months of the year). This time frame takes advantage of the winter conditions – low temperatures means high friction means greater chances of sending your project. Do take note, however, that winter is the Western Cape’s rainy season, so expect to enjoy some time tucked away from the downpour (i.e. bring some cards, books, art supplies, or your best nap-time pillow) and/or plenty of cave climbing.
The nights can get extremely cold (we’re talking frost-on-the-outside-of-your-tent cold), so make sure to bring your warmest sleeping bag and enough blankets to keep you cosy enough to get some proper sleep (top tip: try to put as much padding between you and the ground as possible). Common beta is popping into the Pep to stock up on some cheap blankets for your stay. In summer, Rocklands is extremely hot with sparse rainfall. There are often sudden weather changes in the area, so always bring some warm clothing (even in summer), and remember to wear sunscreen even if it’s overcast because UV rays don’t play around.
If you really want to treat yourself, take a trip in August to see the the incredible wild flower bloom which spreads down from Namaqualand in the Northern Cape. This sea of flowers is a site to behold and highly recommended.
What to Pack
Number one – gather up your gear! That means climbing shoes, boulder pad(s), lots of chalk and a boulder brush. Boulder pads can be rented or purchased from CityROCK, and you can also rent pads from De Pakhuys and Alpha Excelsior (although those go like hot cakes). Remember to pack your rack if you’re looking to explore some of the area’s trad and sport climbing. And, as mentioned before, prepare for it to get chilly!
We recommend grabbing a Rocklands guidebook or downloading the 27 Crags app before your trip (make sure to download the topos for offline viewing for those no-signal spots). And, of course, you can find comprehensive route guides on The Crag.
As always, aim to leave no trace – bring along plenty of rubbish bags for your waste and anything you find out in the crags, and make sure you have everything you need for bush bathroom stops. You can find out more about eco-friendly adventuring in our Leave No Trace guide.
Where to Boulder
There are dozens of diverse climbing areas and THOUSANDS of boulder problems in Rocklands, ranging from fun beginner classics to hardcore projects with just a handful of ascents. Key climbing areas include:
You can check out all of Rocklands’ bouldering areas by clicking here.
The Rocklands guidebook lists a classic problems for each area, and you can find a condensed list of some fan-favourites from 27Crags here. Of course, there are just so many problems (and more popping up every season) that new classics are sure to emerge! Click the below links to view the list of boulders for each grade range:
Cape Nature permits are required for all areas and can be purchased at:
* Kliphuis Campground
* De Pakhuys
* Traveller’s Rest
How to Be a Good Rocklander:
* Brush your holds and remove your tick marks
* Leave no trace (if you’re not sure how to do that, check out our LNT guide)
* Keep it quiet in the late nights and early mornings
* Take care of the vegetation – this is a precious ecosystem and it doesn’t like to be squished by feet, gear or pads
* Don’t hog routes
* Keep it neat, both at your accommodation and out in the boulders
* If you’re using a communal kitchen, keep your things organised and out of the way and ALWAYS clean up after yourself
* Respect everyone’s experience
* If you’re going to be a delinquent, make sure you’re in the right company
* Pay for your camping (especially at De Pakhuys – they work on an honesty system and deserve to be compensated for the exceptional service they offer)
* Support local – check out the small stores around the area and at the various accommodation options
* Play music considerately
* Dispose of your waste properly, i.e., do your business where someone else is unlikely to encounter it, and make sure to pack out or bury your toilet paper (you can find a more detailed guide in the Leave No Trace article linked above)
* Learn how to spot properly – that means learning how to move pads effectively and how to position yourself so that you can protect your buddies’ precious noggins
Waterfall Trail (<1 hour round trip)
Start at Close Plateau and look for a sign post pointing to the waterfall. Follow the cairns amidst the spectacular rock formations and vistas, and you’ll be rewarded with a refreshing swim in a gorgeous mini waterfall. The view is (unsurprisingly) stunning, and it’s a great way to cool off after a hard day on the boulders.
The Sevilla Rock Art Trail (2-3 hours round trip)
Starts from Travellers’ Rest Farm Stall – 5km from Alpha Excelsior. This trail winds along the Brandewyn river and visits nine sites of rock art paintings left behind by the Khoe-Sān people, who inhabited the area for thousands of years. Grab your permit from the farm stall. It’s R40 for adults, and children under 12 can enjoy it free of charge.
Heuningvlei Trail (22 – 30km round trip)
This trail follows the donkey cart track from the top of the Pakhuis Pass to the historic village of Heuningvlei, and is described as one of the most scenic walks in the Western Cape. A Cederberg Wilderness Permit is required – these are available from Kliphuis Campsite. Donkey cart rides can be arranged via the Heuningvlei Tourist office for an exciting and adorable highlight to your trip.
Pakhuis Day Hike (13km)
This trail, which starts and ends at the Kliphuis campsite, is spectacular and offers breathtaking views of the Pakhuis Pass and Faith, Hope & Charity buttresses. Once again, a Cederberg Wilderness Permit is required and can be obtained at the Kliphuis campsite.
And that’s about all we can tell you folks – for more you’ll have to take a drive and find out for yourself! In the meantime, you can check out the abundance of YouTube videos documenting epic sends in this boulder wonderland, starting with this handy list of Rocklands essentials from Nate Murphy: