As a South African who has rarely traveled anywhere, the mere thought of snow makes me giddy, so it’s no surprise that my Matroosberg in the Snow experience was something I absolutely adored. And yet, for other hopefuls out there hoping to dash around on a white and wet mountaintop, I’d like to add some pointers.
Local tourist: the Capetonian view on snow
So here’s the thing, for those who don’t know, Cape Town is located on the most Southern Tip of Africa (okay, so not the southernmost tip, which is actually Cape Agulhas, located approximately 220 km southeast of Cape Town). The city boasts a Mediterranean climate with wet winters and warm summers, and although we do see some snowfall on mountainous regions, it’s not quite the type of snow you can make snow angels in or build snowmen with.
For that type of snow, you need to look a bit further north and east. From my perch in Boston (a suburb in the northern region of Cape Town) it’s easy to spot the snowcapped mountaintops of the Hottentots Holland mountain range to the east.
Nevertheless, I’d never actually experienced snow… until this winter of 2018. In fact, one of my reasons for moving to Cape Town from Pretoria five years previously had been for the Cape Town winters—for the rain and mist and proximity to the coast. I’d never expected snow.
In fact, one of the best places for Capetonians (and surrounding areas) to view snow is at Matroosberg, 174 km northeast of Cape Town.
And if you want to view Matroosberg in the snow, then your window is quite small. The range sees but a few days of snowfall each year and the reserve itself has to clear the road for driving, which means that even if it does snow, you may not be able to go play around in it. So, that window falls within the winter months, anything between June and September.
Dashing through the snow… sort of… not quite
On Saturday 8 September 2018, myself, my brother and his wife decided to jet off to the Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve to see the snow, which the reserve had stated on their Facebook page was a majestic sight.
We made the journey in their Jeep 4.7, which I assume is a Cherokee (but I’m talking under correction here). I mention the car because as we later found out—this is not a trip you want to make in any weak-assed car. Oh no sir! It was a one helluva scary ride!
The reserve notes on their site that the 4×4 trail has an average level of difficulty, but let me tell you something—that does NOT apply during snowy conditions. In fact, though only cars with 4×4 capability were allowed up the mountain, you must bear in mind that this is South Africa. Hardly any vehicle is equipped for driving on sleet (save for the rangers’ vehicles which had lovely snow tyres), and very few drivers had taken on such conditions.
In fact, one of the drivers in front of us drove some sortsa fancy Merc SUV. The thing was so new you could practically smell the car salesman stench on the thing. Anyway, so the driver—with his wife and small children in tow—had no fucking idea what he was doing (neither did I, mind you, but I wasn’t driving no car).
He’d almost bliksemed off the mountain a time or twice, to the point where one of the rangers instructed us to tow his behind back on the road. The first attempt saw the cable snap, but the second was more successful.
Keep in mind that I’d broken my foot into a million pieces (exaggerating) earlier the year, and had just figured out how to walk somewhat like a person. Unfortunately the type of injury I have does not allow for any jumping, skipping or running—which was what I’d considered doing as I stood a few metres behind this precarious car-towing scenario. Not that anyone will have been able to run anyway as one’s shoes do pretty much the same on ice as car tyres.
If you don’t know snow, don’t go!
Oh, okay, that’s a bit harsh. Of course you can go if you don’t know snow, but please bear the following in mind…
If you are a hiker
Know that it is a long and steep walk
Know that you will share the road with cars
Know that most of these cars don’t have much control over where they’re driving on the ice and in the mud
Know that there are steep drops to the side, so if you need to jump out of the way for a car barreling your way, you may just jump off the mountain
Know that there is nothing but small shrubs and rocks behind which you can “vang ‘n veldtie” or take a piss. If you have a weak bladder, then you should either be okay with exhibitionism or just don’t go.
If you are a driver
For the love of all that is holy, don’t go up there if you don’t know your car
Read up on proper driving techniques for snowy conditions.
Know that all cars ascend and descend at the same time. You cannot try to ditch traffic by going early and expect to leave early as there is only one road up and down.
Know that there are basically NO spots along the way where cars can pass each other—if you get stuck or chicken out, then it’s too bad son, you are stuck there and all the drivers behind you will have to follow your lead.
For pete’s sake, take some extras with: towing ropes, driving-in-shit-weather-accessories etc.
Once you’re at the top, everyone needs to stay for a while until the all-clear is given so take some snacks and drinks with.
Still worth it!
All in all I would still say it is one heck of a fun experience. Once we reached the top, everyone was dicking around in the snow like the local tourists we are and it wasn’t a little bit of snow, there was a crapload of it. One guy even made a fire and cooked some meat. There was a great oow, aaah and hurray as new drivers slipped and slid their way up to the top with a few near-collisions.
So, if you’re up for a day expedition in the Cape Town winter and have some wheels which can trap a mountain plat, then I would highly recommend this trip. Take some extra pants for all the near “shitting yourself” or “peeing your pants”. And do us a favour… don’t google how many people have fallen of the Matroosberg, just don’t!