By Ralph Kratzer
What the legendary Route 66, “the Mother of Roads”, means to Americans, is Route 62 for the South Africans, especially the inhabitants of the Cape provinces. This scenic road starts in Cape Town and winds its way through some breathtaking scenery, either bendy over high mountains or then in contrast straight as a ruler for miles and miles through vast plains. Parts of Route 62 are the “Wine Route“, the route through the semi-desert of the “Klein Karoo” (Little Karoo) and the “Garden Route“. After 850 kilometres the famous road ends in Port Elizabeth. Route 62 is popular both for locals (specifically motorcyclists) and tourists who are able to see and experience a lot of different things along the picturesque route.
After driving on the Wine Route, which we had already partially enjoyed on our trip to Stellenbosch (see last part of my travelogue), the landscape changes almost instantly when the Klein Karoo begins. What was in “The Winelands” predominantly lush green vegetation, now becomes the admirable rough beauty of a semi-desert. Rugged mountain landscapes alternate with the sparse vegetation of seemingly endless plains. Until we finally arrived in Oudtshoorn we hardly saw human settlements in this region.
With its 60,000 inhabitants Oudtshoorn is the largest city in the Klein Karoo. The citizens live mainly on ostrich farming and nowadays more and more on tourism.
That´s mainly because apart from the ostriches there is another frequently visited tourist attraction here, the Cango Caves at the foot of the “Swartberg” range.
The complex cave system extends over a length of four kilometres, but only a quarter of the whole labyrinth is open to visitors, who can admire this natural wonder on guided tours.
On the day after arriving in Oudtshoorn a visit to the caves was the first item on the agenda.
We then made our way to one of the many ostrich farms in the region.
We learned that Oudtshoorn became econonically important for the first time when the fashion for women demanded a plethora of ostrich feathers in the late 19th and early 20th Century. According to the explanations of our tour guide on the farm the animals were not killed, but the feathers were cut off and grew back again.
Nowadays ostrich feathers and leather are only by-products, because the global demand for ostrich meat increases more and more, as it has the reputation of being low in fat and cholesterol and also very tasty.
After the tour through the farm and the opportunity to ride on one of the mighty birds (not for me, the weight limit for ostrich riders is 70 kg), we were able to decide for ourselves on the quality of ostrich steaks at a late lunch. Now some readers will scream “how dare you, poor birds!”, but I can only reply: “Unlike in chicken and turkey farms, the rearing of ostriches can almost be described as appropriate to the species. The animals are born on the farm, they do not have to spend their lives in cages in confined spaces, but have a lot of outdoor exercise and care.”
After this experience, the final goal of the day was the coastal city of Knysna on the shore of the Indian Ocean.
Southbound we crossed the Outeniqua Mountains, which represent the beginning of the so-called “Garden Route”. The appearance of the landscape changed again very quickly from the harshness of the Klein Karoo to lush vegetation and greenery.
After we had passed George, largest of the Garden Route towns and gateway to the region, we drove through Wilderness, an enchanting little seaside village, set around a lagoon which is the first in a chain of “lakes” where you can see ospreys, herons, kingfishers and 260 other species of bird, including 80 different species of waterfowl. The whole region around Wilderness is a paradise for hikers, birdwatchers and anglers.
Picturesque Knysna is known for its superb location on the banks of a lagoon of the same name, surrounded by forested hills. The lagoon connects with the ocean at the sandstone cliffs of the Knysna Heads, which became the final fate for many sailing ships in earlier times.
In the next and last part of my travel report I will lead you on the “Garden Route” along the coast towards Port Elizabeth, the capital of the Eastern Cape province, with a stopover at Tsitsikamma National Park and the final termination our trip to South Africa with a highlight, the Kuzuko Game Lodge in the Addo Elephant National Park.
Note: As always in my travelogues you can learn more about an issue mentioned in the article by clicking the bold links.