A great weekend trip from Cape Town to Nieuwoudtville to see the quiver tree forest (kokerboomwoud) and wildflowers near the quaint, atmospheric town.
Nieuwoudtville is about 360 km and 4 hours drive north of Cape Town, mainly on the N7. The drive is rather beautiful as you pass along the fertile valleys bordering the Cederberg mountains before heading into endless arid expanses. Finally, the Great Escarpment appears before you which you climb as you head into Northern Cape and reach Nieuwoudtville.
The Drive from Cape Town to Nieuwoudtville
We left Cape Town around 1 pm on a Thursday afternoon and headed north for a long weekend. The N7 passes Citrusdal and Clan William, with the majestic Cederberg Mountains on your right. Once we passed Klawer (about 3hr15 north on the N7), the agriculture stopped and the arid plains stretched before us.
In Vanrhynsdorp we turned right. This is the last place to buy anything apart from absolute basics, so stock up if you haven’t done so already. The SaveMor Spar has a decent choice.
As you leave Vanrhysdorp behind you, you’ll see the dramatic escarpment ahead that you’ll pass up. The road up here is called the Vanrhynsdorp Pass. It’s quite spectacular as you have unending views over the desert plains below.
There are a few viewpoints along the road and another great one at the very top of the escarpment. To get to the last one, drive a little further once you reach the top, then return towards the plateau edge along a good dirt track towards the signposted viewpoint. We were there around sunset.
Top Activities in and around Nieuwoudtville
The Quiver Tree Forest and the Nieuwoudtville Waterfall are must-sees at any time of the year. Even if the waterfall isn’t flowing, it’s just by the road on the way to the quiver trees so worth a stop for the impressive cliffs. The highlight of the year is flower season (see Flower Season Box) when Hantam Botanical Gardens and Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve spring to life. There are several private farms that also have flower drives. There are several hikes, from short strolls in the Botanical Gardens to multiday hikes in the gorgeous Oorlogskloof Reserve (see Hiking Box). Apart from that, the town itself has several historic buildings and an easy, laidback vibe.
The town of Nieuwoudtville is very small and easily walkable. The main street is paved but most of the side streets are unpaved which gives it an old-time atmosphere. There are a few pretty tin-roofed, sandstone buildings you can see as you wander around town.
The NG Church is quite impressive, standing tall by itself in the middle of a huge grassy area. I suppose this space is for all the wagons to outspan.
Apart from the few historic buildings, there’s not so much to do in the town itself apart from relaxing in the laid-back Karoo atmosphere. It’s a classic Plattelandse dorpie.
All the useful shops are on Voortrekker Steet, the main, paved road. There’s a petrol station and an ABSA and Capitec ATM. The SaveMor Spar has very limited offerings, while in contrast the renowned Nieuwoudtville Slaghuis/Butchers opposite sells local meat and fresh vegetables. The Rooibos Bookeveld Factory is on the eastern edge of town, so look out for their rooibos tea in the shops for a very local product.
There are two restaurants in town, Smidswinkel (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) and Nedersetting (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*). They both serve local cuisine, and food may need to be ordered in advance outside of flower season. There are also two restaurants on farms outside of town, at Matjiefontein and Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm. See the Flower Season box for more details.
The gardens of Nieuwoudtville are very green compared to the surrounding arid desert and this draws in many interesting birds. We watched a weaver bird build a nest and a malachite sunbird visit the flowers in our garden.
We stayed at Van Zijl Guesthouse (see accommodation box) in Piet se Guesthouse, in the centre of town. Smidswinkel Restaurant, just next door, was where we ate dinner and also had breakfast. The owner, Hendrik van Zijl, was extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the surrounding area.
Accommodation in Nieuwoudtville
Van Zijl Guesthouse (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*)
In town. Self-catering cottages for 2-8 people in restored sandstone buildings near the Smidswinkel Restaurant. Rates from 350 pp. Tel 027 218 1535.
Olive Caravan Park (Facebook Page)
In town. Caravan park and campsite with six pitchers. Power and hot showers and braai area. Part of Van Zijl Guesthouse and 500 m east of the centre of town.
Matjiesfontein Farm (Website)
14 km south of town along a good gravel road. Two rustic self-catering cottages for up to 4 or 7 people. Tel 027 218 1217 or 082 813 2805. There is also a farm stall and traditional restaurant at this farm, which is covered in flowers during the season. See Flower Season Box for more details.
Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*)
23 km south of town along a good gravel road. Six high-end restored and atmospheric self-catering stone cottages with a communal swimming pool. Free WiFi at reception. Also has a campsite set amongst beautiful scenery with hot showers and a large braai area but no power. Delicious, home-cooked dinner and breakfast meals can be ordered in advance from the farm restaurant, Die Waenhuis (open to the public 10:00-16:00 daily). There are many activities here – see Flower Season and Hikes boxes for details.
Swiss Villa Guesthouse (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*)
In town. Cosy rooms with access to a kitchen in a historic building with a freshly prepared breakfast.
Groenrivier Guest Farm (Website)
In town. Two wonderfully restored self-catering cottages for 2-4 people and 6 camping spots. Near historical ruins and surrounded by flowers in season.
Grasberg Guest Farm (Website)
14 km north of town including 10 km of good gravel road. Three self-catering cottages for 2, 3, or up to 8 people. Mountain biking and two short hiking trails on the farm. Guests are free to drive around the farm in flower season.
Gannabos Guest Farm (Website)
33 km NE of town including 11 km of good gravel road. A variety of upscale self-catering accommodation from a romantic 2-person cottage to a 10-person farmhouse. Free WiFi. Campsite with two sites, each with their own ablutions block and wood provided but no electricity.
Oudeklip Guesthouse (Website)
In town. Five units for 2 people each, all ensuite with kitchenette and braai facilities. Free WiFi.
Linda se Dop Guesthouse (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*)
Beautiful, upmarket fully equipped guesthouse with swimming pool in the middle of town. Delicious meals are available on request. Free wifi.
Nedersetting Restaurant and Guesthouse (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*)
Five upscale en-suite rooms in the main guest house with a full breakfast served, and self-catering units slightly further from town. Free Wifi. The restaurant serves traditional food with an a la carte menu and licensed bar. In flower season, there’s a buffet.
Die Blou Huis @245 (Website)
Three ensuite rooms in the main house each for two people, and a self-catering flat for up to four. Swimming pool and braai facilities. Ten camping spots are also available in a large, grassy field with well designed semi-outdoor ablutions.
Camping in Nieuwoudtville itself is available at Groenrivier Guest Farm, Olive Caravan Park and Die Blou Huis @245. See above for details.
Starwors luxury campsite (Website) is 5 km east of town. Three sites each with their own ablutions, large shade lapa, braai, power and more. Communal pool.
Further afield, Grasberg Guest Farm (13 km north), Gannabos Guest Farm (33 km north) and Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm (23 km south) all have campsites. See above for details.
The Nieuwoudtville Waterfall is just by the road five minutes north of Nieuwoudtville, on the tarred road to Loeriesfontein and on the way to the Quiver Tree Forest. From the car park it’s a few hundred metres walk to reach the viewpoint of the potential waterfall and an impressive gorge. The waterfall is often dry, though it’s still an impressive sight. It’s most likely to be flowing between April and October each year, after heavy rains.
Quiver Tree Forest / Kokerboomwoud
Further up the road to Loeriesfontein, at the northern edge of Gannabos Protected Area, lies the Quiver Tree Forest, or Kokerboomwoud in Afrikaans. To get there it’s about a 20 minute / 25 km drive north from Nieuwoudstville. After 21.5 km on the main road, there is a good dirt road on the right signed Gannabos, well-maintained and suitable for any car. Take this road. You will pass through/around some cattle gates/grids and after 3 km you will see a koppie/hill on your right covered in quiver trees. This is the quiver tree forest. There are no paths but you can wander freely among the trees.
It’s free to enter but it is on private land and in Gannabos Protected Area. This means you shouldn’t take anything from this site. You are only allowed to enter freely from 06:00-18:00. If you want to enter later or earlier than this, you have to get a permit from Gannabos Guest Farm.
Just as we were arriving at the Quiver Tree Forest, there was a loud explosion from under our car’s bonnet and steam starting billowing out of it. Oh dear.
Quiver Trees / Kokerbooms
Quiver Trees are in the aloe family and designed to survive in tough, dry conditions. They are succulents, which store water in their stems and leaves to see them through the dry season. They have yellow flowers which bloom in winter (June-July). Ancient hunter-gathers hollowed out their branches to use as a quiver to hold their arrows, hence the name.
Quiver Trees are predominantly found in the Northern Cape of South Africa and southern Namibia. These strange trees are no longer widely distributed and the best places to see them are here in Nieuwoudstville and at Keetmanshoop in Namibia.
Climate change is slowly killing these majestic trees off. Prolonged drought had led to a visible decline in the condition of the trees near Nieuwoudstville, and if drought becomes the new norm then these trees may not be with us for much longer. See them while you can.
Worried about our car, we looked around the trees anyway, and they were super cool. I’d recommend anyone in the area to visit the quiver trees as they are a beautiful, out of this world sight. The backdrop of these fantastically shaped trees is spectacular against the dry, rugged flat-topped mountains in the background.
Hikes near Nieuwoudtville
Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve
Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve lies southwest of Nieuwoudtville. To get here, head 6 km west from town along the main road and then 10 km south on a good gravel road. There are two multiday hikes and two day trails available. There’s safe parking where the hikes start at Groot Tuin, and there’s also a hut here for your first night if needed.
Flower season (August – October) is the best season for these hikes, especially the longer ones. At this time of year, the flowers will be blooming, it won’t be too hot and the streams will still contain water. Earlier, in June and July, there can be bad, rainy weather which makes the trails very slippery.
The Rock Pigeon (open but in need of some maintenance) and Rameron Pigeon (now permanently(?) closed for maintenance) trails are both about 50 km and 4 nights. The Leopard Trap and Rietvlei trails are 15 and 18 km respectively. These day trails both have great viewpoints and the latter visits the Oorlogskloof River where swimming is an option.
The overnight hikes need to be booked in advance. Contact 027 218 1159 or email@example.com (email sometimes not checked for long periods) for details and to make a reservation. It’s R550 pp for four nights. Collect permits and a map in Nieuwoudtville.
Hantam National Botanical Gardens
The Garden contains several different hiking trails from 450 m to 8 km. Apart from the flowers, look out for steenboks, porcupines, butterflies and cool dolerite rock formations. See the ‘Flower Season’ box for more details about these gardens.
Several private nearby farms offer hiking. Papkuilsfontein Farm has a variety of hikes from 6 to 27 km, including a 12 km round trip to an impressive waterfall (winter) and canyon. Grasberg Guest Farm has two short hiking trails.
After limping back to the main road, our car emitted a groan of death and we could continue no further. There was no phone reception, but as luck would have it, five minutes later some guys with a towrope dragged us back to town. Our hotel owner (Hendrik van Zijl) was extremely helpful and after ordering us some tea called his friend in town who does car repairs. The friend assessed our problem – we needed a new radiator and the top gasket was wrong so the engine had to be skimmed- which was done all the way in Vredendal (Hendrik very kindly took it down and back up for us).
Flower Season in Nieuwoudtville
Nieuwoudtville has very diverse geology, which creates many different types of soils suitable for varying species of plants and flowers. The town is also situated in a small region that receives both winter rainfall and heavy summer rain showers. This unique environment means Nieuwoudtville has some of the best, most diverse wildflowers and it is also the bulb capital of the world.
During flower season, up to date information about the state of the flower blooms can be found by contacting the Nieuwoudtville Publicity Association: Tel +27 (0)27 218-1336 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A visit to Hantam National Botanical Garden is a must, along with the Nieuwoudtville Wild Flower Reserve. Additionally, several farms in the area have their own flower drives and hikes.
These gardens are open 7:30-16:30 weekdays only Oct-Jul, 8:00-17:00 every day Aug-Sep (flower season). R25 adult, R20 pensioner, R15 student, R12 child. Dogs are not allowed in the gardens. Picnics welcome, but no braais. Hiking trails in the garden range from 450 m to 8 km.
Apart from the Spring flower season, there is an additional ‘secret season’ at Hantam in autumn (often mid-late March but unpredictable) when spectacular pink lilies flower, covering the desert in a sea of colour.
In flower season there are daily garden tours departing at 2 pm (weather dependent). Call Colleen Rust to book: Tel: +27 (0)27 218 1200. R150 pp, at least five people per tour needed. A safari vehicle is used for the tour so very little walking is required. If you have not booked, check at the office on arrival in case there are any vacancies on the tour. Tours last about 2.5 hours.
Nieuwoudtville Wild Flower Reserve
Nieuwoudtville Wild Flower Reserve (Veldblomreservaat) lies 3 km east of town. You can drive close to the flowers and also go on a short hike between the koppies. Tel +27 (0)27 218 1316 for more information.
Matjiesfontein Farm, 14 km south: In flower season there is a 7 km drive through the wildflowers, R10/25 pp. There are also tractor and wagon tours of the farm. It’s signed from the centre of Nieuwoudtville. The farm stall and restaurant offer traditional food while surrounded by flowers (open 09:00-17:00 daily).
Papkuilsfontein Farm, 23 km south: In flower season there are two short (4 and 5 km) flower drives around the farm, R10 pp. There’s a farm shop and Die Waenhuis Restaurant (10:00-16:00 daily) that serves food or you can pre-book a picnic basket to take with you into the flowers. There are also several hikes on the reserve which visit a spectacular waterfall (flowing in winter or after heavy summer rains) and majestic canyon. Overnight guests can drive to the waterfall. There are also mountain bikes for hire and several trails available.
Farm tours (2.5hr) take place all year round. Tours take in the waterfall and canyon, geology, conservation, San rock art and wildflowers when in season.
Avontuur Nature Reserve, 15 km north: Only open in flower season, 11-17 Thu-Sun. Permits R100 pp. Set in a beautiful landscape with fynbos and renosterveld. Guided walks on Saturdays at 14hr.
The Glacial Pavement
The glacial pavement is roughly 8 km south of town along a good gravel road, and well-signed with parking in a small pull-off on the road. A few metres from the car park is exposed rock in which you can see undulations and scrapes on its surface. These grooves and the smoothness of the rock were formed by glaciers moving in the region roughly 300 million years ago. It’s worth popping by if you’re heading further south, perhaps to the farms of Matjiesfontein or Papkuilsfontein.
Geology near Nieuwoudtville
The Great Escarpment
Once you get to Vanrhynsdorp, you head eastward, inland, and up the Great Escarpment into the high interior of South Africa. The Great Escarpment is the divide between the low coastal region and higher inland plateau of southern Africa, stretching all the way from the Drakensberg to Angola.
180 million years ago, all the southern continents were together in a supercontinent called Gondwana, but a large hot up-welling mantle plume cause Gondwana to rise upwards, and then break apart. Southern Africa and South America split apart, forming the Southern Atlantic Ocean, and the Great Escarpment was the edge of the rift.
20 million years ago, southern Africa got uplifted further, and the subsequent erosion of the high plateau moved the Great Escarpment further inland, away from the coast.
The flat top of the plateau is formed by hard, resistant sandstone, which can be seen as a cliff at the top of the escarpment. Below it is softer, more erodible shale, which doesn’t form steep slopes, but gentle slopes that can become covered by grass.
As the plateau rose, rivers cut down into it, eroding the rock and forming canyons, such as the one at the Nieuwoudtville Waterfall. Every year a bit more of the cliff is eroded by the powerful river water, so the canyon will get longer and longer.
Driving back from Nieuwoudtville to Cape Town
We returned the same way back from Nieuwoudtvilel to Cape Town. Down the escarpment, through the arid emptiness, into the lush valley of Citrusdal and over into the wheat-producing plains before Cape Town.
If you have a 4×4, an exciting alternative route would be via Doringbos. Head south from Nieuwoudtville along the gravel road. There are two routes to Doringbos and the R364 from here. The western, longer route on smaller roads, or the route straight to the R364. Both roads are a bit rough and rocky in places. The quicker, straight route involves 95 km on dirt roads while the lesser-used western one involves 115 km on unpaved road.
Soon we were back from our great weekend in Nieuwoudtville, and wanting to go again for more hiking and to see more flowers, especially the pink lilies in the autumn.
FAQS – Nieuwoudtville
Nieuwoudtville is a small town located in the Northern Cape of South Africa, roughly four hours north of Cape Town. It sits near the top of the Great Escarpment on a plateau and has a unique flora due to the interesting local climate and geology.
The drive from Cape Town to Nieuwoudtville is roughly four hours, mainly along the N7. The drive is scenic as you pass the Cederberg Mountains then head north into the desert and up the Great Escarpment via the Vanrhyns Pass.
The quiver tree forest / kokerboomwoud is about 25 km (18 minutes) drive north of Nieuwoudtville. The last 3 km are along a good gravel road, well signposted off the main road.
The best time of year to visit Nieuwoudtville is in flower season (Aug & Sep) when the wildflowers are in bloom. There is a ‘secret’ flower season in mid-late March when pink lilies burst out of the dry ground and it looks spectacular. The timing of this varies from year to year.
Why not find out more about things to do in South Africa?