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We join the tour bus masses at caves, wineries, and an ostrich farm around Oudtshoorn and Route 62 on Day 12 of our Johannesburg to Cape Town road trip, the Hectic Route.
Escape Embrace the Ordinary?
So far in our hectic—the South African definition of “hectic”—road trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town, we’ve lived up to The Unconventional Route’s motto and escaped the ordinary to experience the extraordinary.
But today, as we approached Oudtshoorn and Route 6, we did the opposite.
This is Garden Route territory, where mega hordes of tourists are everywhere and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to escape the ordinary.
So we gave in.
We decided to escape the extraordinary and embrace the ordinary just for a day and see how it’d go.
The Dangerous Road to Convention
The road to Outdshoorn and Route 62 from Prince Albert, where we finished yesterday’s Karoo-se, is unforgettable.
There’s no way something like it would be permitted in Canada.
It’s called the Swartberg Pass, a 27-kilometer gravel road that climbs way up to 1,588 meters above sea level then back down again. The entire one-lane-but-two-direction road is non-stop switchbacks and blind turns along sheer cliff edges. If you lose focus for a couple seconds, or round a bend at the exact time as someone coming from the other direction, you’re toast.
On the bright side, the views are amazing.
We played it extra safe and took an hour and a half to make it through. Fortunately for us, we didn’t face any oncoming vehicles.
At the base of the mountain at the Outdshoorn end of the pass, we stopped to catch our breath and eat a traditional hearty Afrikaans breakfast at Kobus Se Gat.
The Cango Caves
The Cango Caves are such a huge tourist attraction that the entrance building resembles an airport terminal. It has crappy gift shops, overpriced restaurants, an information kiosk, and even a currency exchange booth.
Upon seeing this, the busloads of tourists, and the price (180 rands, which is about $13 US each for the Adventure Tour), we seriously questioned whether the caves were worth it.
And, you know what, it was worth it!
The caves were neat see and fun to slide, crawl, and climb through. We were also fortunate to only have two others with us in our group and to have Leslie as our guide. Leslie kept us entertained the whole time with funny answers to our questions.
For example, when I asked him if there were spiders in the caves, he said yes, an endangered species lives here, but that if he saw one he would squash it immediately because, while they may be endangered, there’s only one Leslie.
The Adventure Tour turned out to be more physically challenging than we expected, with extremely tight squeezes and difficult (but short) shafts to climb.
When I asked if anyone ever got stuck, Leslie told us a few years ago a “well-fed” lady ignored her guide’s instruction to stay back and tried to follow her group through the 30 cm-wide Tunnel of Love. The “hugs” from the cave walls became a squeeze and she got stuck. It took eleven hours for a doctor to come from George, 100 kilometers away, and tranquilize her so she’d relax and be able to be hauled out by a team of guys.
We only took an hour.
Seeing Ostriches in Outdshoorn
If the Cango Caves aren’t the number one tourist attraction in touristy Outdshoorn, then ostrich farms hold the title. And since today was our day of convention, we had to check the box.
In any case, ostriches are our favorite animals to see on safari (along with giraffes), so we were excited to see them up close.
We had initially hoped to ride some ostriches, but apparently there are ethical concerns about how doing so can damage their health, so we stuck to feeding them, petting them, and standing on their eggs.
It’s just too bad Leslie wasn’t there to be our guide.
The guy who led our tour was not entertaining in the slightest. While he had plenty of fun facts about ostriches—did you know what looks to be their knee is actually their ankle and they have the second-strongest leather in the world, after kangaroos?—he may as well have been a robot reciting a script.
Nonetheless, we were content to have accomplished our goal of getting closely acquainted with the prehistoric birds.
Eating Ostriches in Oudtshoorn
Next on our conventional day’s docket was to eat the animals we’d just petted and fed.
To get our taste of ostrich meat, another Oudtshoorn “must-do,” we went to a restaurant called Die Boer en Vark in town.
Both of our choices, the bobotie ostrich burger for me (bobotie is a traditional South African way of spicing ground meat) and the Banting burger for Kim (Banting is a high-fat, low-carb diet popular these days in South Africa, so instead of a bun she had two big mushrooms as patties), were delicious.
So delicious that we weren’t sure whether we preferred ostriches alive or dead.
Wine-ing and Winding Along Route 62
Next up on our conventional route was Route 62, which many tourists follow back to down to Cape Town after coming up the Garden Route.
Route 62 is particularly famous for its wineries so we stopped at Boplaas in Calitzdorp to join the action.
In addition to wine, Boplaas makes port, brandy, whiskey, gin, and, soon, rum, so a full tasting there can really do a number on your liver. Since today was my turn to drive, I held back. We bought a bunch of bottles to drink later instead.
We had hoped to put a cap on our conventional route with a stop Ronnie’s Sex Shop, a “legendary” roadside bar in the middle of nowhere on Route 62, but it was inexplicably closed. Dejectedly, we continued on to our destination for the day, Barrydale.
Barrydale is a funky little village of about 4,000 inhabitants. People tell us it’s on its way to becoming gentrified and touristy like the other towns along Route 62, but that it’s not yet fully there. Slowing its development, we were told on multiple occasions, is that there is no hospital or pharmacy in town, which keeps the wealthy older Capetonians from migrating.
All the better for us.
While we’d had a delightful day embracing the ordinary on the conventional route, we’d had enough.
Oudtshoorn and Route 62 Tips:
- Hit the Swartberg Pass early. That way you’re less likely to run into other cars.
- Give yourself at least an hour and a half to drive the Swartberg Pass. It’s not a road you want to drive in a hurry. You’ll want to stop and take photos and to drive very carefully to avoid crashing head-on with a car coming the other direction.
- Oudtshoorn is (more-or-less) pronounced oats-warren.
- We wouldn’t recommend staying in Oudtshoorn. It’s spread-out and doesn’t have as much charm as other smaller towns nearby.
- Stay in Barrydale if you need to stay in a town along this part of Route 62.
- Don’t do the Cango Caves Heritage Tour. It’s the shorter alternative to the Adventure Tour we did. Even the guides who work there say it’s boring and not worth it.
- Call the Cango Caves in advance to ask how busy it is. If there are 40 people doing the Adventure Tour, it’s not worth going because you’ll spend the whole time waiting for the rest of your group. If it’s not too busy (10 or fewer people), reserve a spot in advance.
- Go to whichever ostrich farm you want. They’re all pretty much the same. We chose Cango Ostrich Farm because it was on the way and a bit cheaper (110 rands each) than the other, bigger farms.
Next Up (Hectic Route Day 13):
A Day of Indulgence in the Robertson Wine Valley
How to Have an Even Better South Africa Road Trip than Ours
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