Right, you’ve heard of Rocklands? Climbers paradise and all? It gets all the hype but is it really that good?
In fact, even without the climbing, I believe my trips to Rocklands are still probably the best trips I’ve ever been on.
And then you get to add world-class bouldering onto this as well. Honestly, I don’t think I could ever find something better to do with my summer so long as I live.
I’m not kidding or bigging this up for the sake of an article. In my opinion, Rocklands is as good as it gets.
But most likely Rocklands is pretty damn far away from you.
(Quickly checks on Google Maps…)
So if your initial thoughts are anything like mine, you’re thinking: I’d need so much money to make a trip all the way down to South Africa, it would never happen!
That’s where you’re wrong. Here I’m going to tell you how to do Rocklands on a budget.
How the money works
In South Africa, they use the South African Rand (ZAR). Due to the country’s unfortunate economic climate, us folks in the Northern Hemisphere tend to get pretty good rates on this currency. You will quickly notice that most things don’t cost as much as they should.
Throughout this article, I’m going to quote things in ZAR (R) as the exchange rate is fluctuating quite a bit at the moment. At current trends, it looks like things are gonna be pretty cheap for next season.
If you’ve got a credit card that has excellent exchange rates then don’t feel like you need to hide it away while you’re out there. South Africa is actually pretty good with card payments and most places will take it without a minimum charge.
That said, most ATMs like to charge you a fee for taking out cash so taking out a lot of cash at home to take with you is a good idea. Or, if you’re in the US, you can open a Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account which offers unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide and has no service fees or account minimums.
How visas work
So this is the case for MANY countries entering South Africa but please double check before booking anything. The last thing you want is to be turned around at the arrival gate.
Climbers entering South Africa can obtain a tourist visa lasting 90 days (the exact length of Rocklands season) without any prior arrangements. All you need to provide is a valid passport with 2 blank pages for stamps and proof of a return flight. US citizens can see full travel information on the State Department’s travel site.
This hasn’t happened to me before but in theory, you are supposed to be able to display a booking of your return flight to passport control upon arrival. Have a copy of this printed when you fly to make sure you can enter the country without a hitch.
When to go
The Rocklands season is over the South African winter. This is anytime between June and September with most people visiting over July.
The fact the season is over these months is a bonus in terms of budgeting as it’s the rest of the country’s off-season for tourism. Travel-related expenses such as eating out and renting accommodation are much cheaper during this part of the year.
Due to the distance, I recommend staying at least a month to make the most of your trip. The flights are by far the biggest expense and everything is pretty affordable when you’re out there.
All this makes the length of the trip not much of an issue and trust me, you’re probably not going to be ready to leave by the end of a month.
Getting there for cheap
You need to get yourself to Cape Town, South Africa and there a few useful tools you can use to find the cheapest flights.
Climbcation is an awesome little website you can use to plan flights to many climbing areas around the world.
I personally like to thoroughly browse flights via Google Flights.
Here you can check the prices of different times and different routes pretty easily and you may notice some trends.
For example, flights may be consistently cheaper on certain days of the week (mine were always cheaper on Tuesdays and Wednesdays).
Also, certain routes and departure airports can be priced completely differently. I was about to buy a flight from Dublin direct to Cape Town once. I later noticed I could fly from Dublin to London and then get on that same plane for almost $800 cheaper. Keep an eye out!
When I’m booking flights from the UK, I would expect to get a round-trip flight for around $600-$700.
Those of you off in America will have to pay a bit more (normally between $1400 and $1800) depending on your location. However after only 2 minutes of hunting, I found a round-trip flight for $997.
Accommodation in Cape Town and Rocklands
If your flight arrives late in the day there are many cheap hostels you can crash at in Cape Town. I personally always stay at Once In Cape Town. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s an exceptional hostel with one of the liveliest bars in town. 😉
Both of these can provide cabins or cottages to stay in, but if this is what you’re interested in then you best get a move on! Most of Rocklands accommodation during the season is booked by November – December the year before. People who’ve been before know that they’re coming back!
Now if you’re on a budget then your best option is camping at De Pakhuys. This is the cheapest accommodation available but also happens to be the friendliest area in Rocklands. The campground has a great community vibe and it’s genuinely hard not to make new friends there. Also, you don’t have to worry about booking ahead!
The campground has good quality showers and toilets, a kitchen with fridges and ‘braai’ facilities at each site — that means barbeque to you and me and you’ll quickly come to learn it’s a way of life in South Africa.
On top of this, it’s got the craziest bar in Rocklands and happens to be the parking for one of the biggest climbing areas. You’re pretty well set in the campground for R90 per night.
Car rental in Cape Town
Now we’re really getting into budgeting territory.
South Africa has the normal tourist car rental services that you’ll find at the airport and these are all solid options.
But climbers, being the beings they are, have discovered a few cheaper options. If you’re not worried about the quality of the car (like at all) then you can look into these 2 rental services for better prices.
Penny K’s is lesser known company but you’ll definitely see a few of these scooting around Rocklands. (Here’s me doing a handstand on top of one.)
Rent-A-Cheapie is the better known of the ‘megabudget’ car rental services and offers slightly better service.
Off-season Rent-A-Cheapie rates can be as low as R109 per day. That’s less than $8 and is currently getting cheaper with the exchange rate!
Now imagine you’re splitting this between 3 or 4 people. You’re saving big time!
Don’t worry about having room for pads. The trick on any budget climbing trip is to save on car rental and strap your pads to the roof!
How to get your crash pads to South Africa for free
Pad hire is possible in Rocklands, but if you’re trying to save money then you should definitely be bringing your own on the plane. If you don’t already know about this then you should be doing this little trick on all of your climbing trips abroad.
Every long-haul flight should allow you a bag or two in the hold and this is where your boulder pad will go.
The trick is to pack up your normal suitcase and then close the pad around it. Obviously, make sure the two combined are within the weight limits of a single bag allowance on the airline.
Once packed, you want to wrap your pad in a full roll of cling film.
Firstly this will stop any of your luggage falling out but it also makes your pad no longer recognisable as possible sporting equipment (which some airlines like to put an extra price tag on for).
As you stroll up to the check-in desk with this humongous shining rectangle on your back you’ll see the face of the check-in tenant drop with despair as they prepare for a check-in that is not going to go smoothly.
Then once you drop the pad on the weighing machine you’ll see them light up again as they realise everything is alright and within the weight limits. They happily get you sorted and send you across to oversize baggage to drop off your cuboid of confusion. You bring your pads for free.
If they ask what it is, just say it’s a sleeping mat. No need for any confusion…or extra fees.
Another thing to think about if you’re psyched for saving cost: if your pad is in decent condition it would be very possible to sell it on after your trip to make back some expense. It’s not easy getting pads down to South Africa so it won’t be hard to come by someone willing to buy yours.
Where to buy food
The nearest and best shop to get your groceries is Superspar in Clanwilliam (the nearest town to Rocklands).
Here you will be able to get everything you need and more at a good price, but if you’re inclined towards a wider range of meats there is also a butcher shop further into town.
Trying your best to budget, you should be able to get away with R150 per person per day making shared meals. Maybe even less.
One of the coolest things about South Africa is that eating out is actually very affordable. Most restaurants will only set you back around R100 for a dinner.
Within Rocklands itself, the best place to go to is Traveller’s Rest Farm Stall for a good dinner.
They also make a great lunch here but another very worthwhile place to hang during the day is at The Hen House. Here you’ll find a lovely chilled vibe with some amazing food on offer.
Get yourself a Rhino at The Hen House. That’s all.
There are also another couple of eating experiences in Rocklands you should be aware of.
In Clanwilliam, a very special bar known as De Kelder hosts a 2 for 1 burger night once a week. The bar is currently undergoing massive renovations and so I don’t want to predict that the night of burgers shall be the same once the new bar is complete, but I am confident that the burger night tradition shall carry on.
Probably the most unique eating experience in Rocklands is an evening at Muisbosskerm.
This is an amazing open-air buffet venue right on the coast at Lambert’s Bay. The food is divine and there is a lot of it. Like really a lot. Like it’s actually a bit of a stressful experience. The food is so good you desperately want more but you’re so full you don’t know if you can handle it.
The restaurant is organised in a very communal way. Muisbosskerm will only open if they have over 10 people booked. Often, a group will pick a date and then word spreads organically throughout Rocklands that this is the day to go. You can then let one of the accommodation providers know that you’d like to come that evening.
Here is an Instagram gallery of the restaurant and surrounding area.
How permits work
So guys, there’s no way around this, unfortunately. Rocklands is a delicate area and access is in no way a given thing. The permit prices currently are as follows:
- Day permit (1 day) – R80
- Weekend Permit (2 days) – R130
- Week Permit (7 days) – R260
- Month Permit (30 days) – R950
- 3 Month Permit (90 days) – R2,250
These prices are likely to be changed for next season but this hasn’t been organised yet.
You can buy them from your accommodation provider just before you head out climbing on your first day and make sure you carry them with you whenever you’re out bouldering.
Please make sure you get your permits. They hold the climbing at Rocklands together and everyone there knows it. Climbing without a permit in Rocklands is heavily frowned upon by the whole climbing community there.
If you’re someone who needs internet for their life to function then here are your options:
The Hen House has free internet. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not but it is free.
The campground at De Pakhuys has internet you can pay for. The rates will probably be different for next season so I suggest just checking at the reception when you get there.
Traveller’s Rest used to charge per MB for slightly better quality internet but my inside scoop says that this is going to change next season. They’re buying a new router for their WiFi and no longer charging customers.
The next option, for those of us who’ve been around the Rocklands block a few times, is to buy a local sim card and load it with a data bundle.
If you’re planning on doing this then you can buy a sim card from most convenience stores and petrol stations. Make sure you get a sim on the MTN network as these are the guys who’ve got signal over the pass.
Once you get the sim then the same vendor will likely sell you a data bundle too. The prices for MTN currently are as follows:
- 50 MB – R25.00
- 100 MB – R35.00
- 300 MB – R85.00
- 500 MB – R105.00
- 1 GB – R160.00
- 2 GB – R260.00
- 3 GB – R330.00
- 5 GB – R430.00
- 10 GB – R650.00
- 20 GB – R1250.00
Having data gives you a bit of freedom. The signal in the valley is improving every year so it will probably be better than whatever WiFi is on offer and it works in most places.
Summary: How much does everything cost?
Let’s sum this up. Imagine you’re travelling as a group of 3. How much is this all gonna cost? Here is a rough estimate.
- Round-trip flight from US: $1400
- Camping (30 days): R2700 ($194)
- Car rental per person (30 days): R1600 ($115)
- Food per person (30 days): R4500 ($323)
- 30-day permit: R950 ($68)
- Visa: Free
- Pads: Free
Total: $2100, or just $70 per day
At the time of writing the exchange rate (ZAR to USD) is hovering around 14:1 so that’s the rate I used in my calculations. You can find the current exchange rate here.
It appears to be on its way up, so these estimates could end up even cheaper when you go. Also, if you get a 4th person involved then food and car rental costs will be split again.
Obviously, you’ve always got the possibility of something going wrong so having a spare fund is an important thing on most trips.
In addition, I haven’t touched at all upon travel insurance here. Sprained ankles are not uncommon in Rocklands. There was one about once a week last season.
You’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not to buy travel insurance. If you do, make sure to buy a plan that covers outdoor bouldering — you usually have to buy a more expensive plan for extreme sports or outdoor recreation.
There you have it
The bare essentials of a month-long Rocklands trip for around $2100, or $70 a day.
Africa itself is an amazing cultural experience. While I didn’t touch on them here, I highly recommend taking the time to do a couple of the touristy things around Cape Town and experiencing their amazing culture and cuisine.
If you’re a surfer, you’re right by some of the best surf spots in the world.
I promise, going to Rocklands is going to be one of the most amazing experiences you’ll get to have. Jump in and make the most of it!