The Western Cape of South Africa is known around the world for its beauty and wine region. However the attractions of the region extend further inland and to the east via the Boland and the Overberg to the relatively undiscovered Route 62, the longest wine route in the Cape and possibly the world. It connects Cape Town with Oudsthoorn and the Garden Route - and even onwards to Port Elizabeth. This is a route of contrasts with mountain ranges, breathtaking mountain passes, vineyards, streams, arid landscapes and scenic nature trails. Quaint little towns dot the route and each offers its own interpretation of the area and its history.
As you travel Route 62 you will discover that it is so much more than just another scenic route. It is packed with culture and delicious wine, fruit, home baked delicacies from farm stalls, beautiful art and hand painted ostrich eggs. Adventure activities are a little different here too. It's not everywhere that one can ride an ostrich, cage dive with crocodiles, explore limestone caverns and relax in one of the region’s hot springs all in one day.
This Cape Route shares much in common with Route 66 in the United States. The US route’s establishment in 1926 served to connect Chicago and Los Angeles and linked smaller towns with major centers. The little towns gained much from the traffic along this route but suffered economically with the completion of the national highway that replaced it.
The towns and attractions along Route 62 experienced a similar fate with the completion of the N2 highway in 1958. The natural beauty of the route, the history, charm and character of the towns and the attractions of the region have all led to its rediscovery and recognition as as one of the Cape's most attractive country routes.
The following describes the route from west (e.g. travelling from Cape Town or the Overberg) to east (to the Garden Route).
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Montagu marks the western end of Route 62 and is most directly accessed via the N1 or N2 highways out of Cape Town. Many visitors to the Cape Overberg will continue east to the Garden Route - and Route 62 offers a wonderful scenic and historic alternative to the more direct N2 option.
Montagu is a small country town with a rich South African history. When ox-wagons prevailed as the mode of transport here, the region even had its own currency. Well-preserved homes from that era can be seen in Long Street, which boasts the most national monuments in one street than any other town in the country.
Perhaps best known for its gorgeous mountain and country landscapes, historic buildings and its hot mineral springs, visitors also enjoy a visual kaleidoscope of orchards, vineyards, herb farms and wildflower gardens. There are historic homes, art galleries and museums for the art lover and 4x4 trails, hiking routes, mountain bike trails, rock climbing and a nature reserve for outdoor adventurers and bird watchers.
If you are travelling through the area on a Saturday then stop off and visit the Saturday morning market. Take a boat cruise on the Breede River or a tractor ride up into the mountains for some great views.
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Tradouw Pass and Barrydale
When travelling towards Barrydale, take a detour and discover the Tradouw Pass built by Sir Thomas Bain. He was a road engineer who was responsible for building 13 Southern Cape mountain passes in the 1800’s. The original purpose of the pass was to open a trade route for fruit farmers.
Improvements to the pass were needed and after much planning the pass was rebuilt from 1974 - 1980. Now scenically enhanced with 4,000 aloes and 2,500 indigenous trees, the pass is a beautiful yet rugged drive displaying the reds and oranges of the flowering aloes (autumn), waterfalls, rocky pools and with wildflowers adorning the roadside in Spring.
In travelling Route 62 through Barrydale, there is a stark changeover in landscape from the lush Tradouw Valley on the west to the semi-arid Klein Karoo on the east, a mere 10 km (6 miles) further on.
Located at the foot of the Langeberge (Long Montains) Barrydale offers hikers beautiful walks along paths in the Karoo and even climbs in the foothills for those looking for a more challenging hike. The wild flowers add a rainbow of color along the paths especially in Spring and Summer from around September to February. Fruit harvesting season runs from December to March, when summer fruits (peaches, apricots, plums, apples and grapes) are picked. This is a very important fruit growing region and adds to the fruit export industry of South Africa.
Hot mineral springs, antique shops, fruit picking in Summer, tractor tours on a fruit farm and vineyards for wine tasting draw the locals and international travellers alike.
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Siturated on Route 62 north east of Barrydale, Ladismith sits at the foot of the Klein Swartberg (Small Black Mountain) range. The town was named after Lady Juana Smith in 1852. She was the wife of the Governor of the Cape, Sir Harry Smith. The original name was Ladysmith but to avoid confusion with a town of the same name in Kwazulu Natal, it was changed to Ladismith in 1879.
A striking attraction of Ladismith is Towerkop mountain, providing a backdrop to the town. Legend tells the story of an angry witch who flew over the mountain, striking it with her wand and splitting the mountain in two. Now bewitched, Towerkop takes on a different appearance when viewed from different perspectives. If you dare you may climb the mountain!
For lovers of architecture, Ladismith still has a number of Old Dutch, neo-Gothic and Victorian buildings and houses as well as a number older churches. A beautiful Lutheran church and a Dutch Reformed church are worth visiting.
Ladismith produces a third of South Africa’s apricots, as well as grapes, peaches, nectarines and plums. Travelling just outside town through the Hoeko Valley, look out for picturesque views of old farm houses, orchards and vineyards. In Spring (September and October), the flowers are simply breathtaking and Fall colors are spectacular.
For foodies, two cheese factories are located here (Parmalat and Ladismith Cheese Factory) and the Towerkop winery offers wine tasting.
Route 62 will definitely not disappoint anyone looking to enjoy the great outdoors. Ladismith is another of the towns that offers a base for mountain biking, hiking or exploring by 4x4. A "must" to explore is the Seweweekspoort (Seven Week Pass), a 17km (10 miles) long pass through the mountains.
Seweweekspoort is possibly one of the most spectacular of all the mountain ravines in the country. Strange and beautiful rock formations show contorted vertical folding in the cliffs that tower above both sides of the road. These are the same mountains that will be crossed again on this route via Swartberg Pass and Meiringspoort, but each pass provides a unique and unforgettable experience.
If you are looking for a little more adventure you can travel a short distance from Ladismith to Buffelspoort where you can add canoeing, kloof swimming and abseiling to the adventure menu.
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Another small town forgotten by time, but well worth rediscovering, Calitzdorp started growing into a town around 1845 when hunting was good in the area. Today’s attractions include a thriving Port Wine industry, art and nature.
Calitzdorp is a quiet little country town, historic and beautiful. Its hot, dry climate and poor but well drained soil is similar to the Douro Valley in Portugal, perfect for port grape growing - and Calitzdorp is famous for it.
There are a number of wine cellars in the area that provide tasting facilities for red, white and dessert wines and of course the delicious port. Boplaas, Die Krans, Calitzdorp Winery, Axe Hill and Withoek are all open to visitors.
A stroll down Queen street is where you will find wonderful examples of Edwardian and Victoria architecture, a stone church, two art galleries and a small museum.
A very important event on the Calitzdorp calendar is the Port and Wine Festival held in June. This is a chance to meet the wine and port makers and to learn about the fauna and flora of the region from local experts at a large exhibition displaying succulants and other indigenous vegetation. They will also tell about the Cape Leopard found in the region, the Karoo butterflies and the Gamkas Nature Reserve, where a new protea (the Golden Mimetese) has been discovered. Meet the guides of the Donkey Trail, a four-day adventure activity to Die Hel (The Hell), a secret valley in the Swartberg Nature Reserve not far from Calitzdorp.
Another attraction is cheese and wine or chocolate and wine tasting and various port styles can be explored.
If time permits, explore the Huisriver and Rooiberg Passes and the little Karoo town called Amalienstein with its lovely 150 year old Lutheran church and white washed buildings, located on the R323, 27 km (17 miles) on the Ladismith side of town
Walking and hiking are very popular pastimes in the Klein Karoo and a number of routes and trails are available, ranging in length from a few hours to a few days.
Gamkaberg Nature Reserve - 23.5km (14.5 miles)
Redstone Hills - 12km (7.5 miles)
Matjiesvlei - 13km to 15km (8 to 9 miles)
Retreat at Groenfontein - 2 to 10km (1 to 6 miles)
Jakkalskop - 1km from town (0.6 miles)
Other activities in the area include :
- Birding which is best after the rains in spring and summer.
- Horse riding and horse trails are available in the nearby Red Stone Hills.
- Mountain biking trails are found in Kruisrivier, Matjiesvlei and Red Stone Hills
- Canoeing and Fishing is popular at the Nelsrivier Dam, Gamkarivier and Matjiesvlei
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Access to Oudtshoorn, no matter from which direction, is going to be through a mountain pass. The town is surrounded by mountains that provide opportunity for drives through scenic landscapes, dramatic rock formations and past secret waterfalls. Oudtshoorn marks the eastern end of Route 62.
As with each of the towns along Route 62, Oudtshoorn has its own unique attractions. Ostriches are synonymous with Oudsthoorn, which has the ideal climate for these great birds. Oudtshoorn achieved fame during the lucrative boom of the ostrich feather industry in the 1800s. The region has provided feathers, leather products, meat and eggs for crafting for generations.
With the growth of tourism to the region, attractions now include ostrich races. Any brave soul can now visit any one of a number of ostrich farms and challenge themselves to riding this giant bird. Let’s just say this is easier said than done. If this is a little too much of an adrenalin rush for you, then demonstrations and daily tours are also available, explaining the history of the industry, the life cycle of the birds and how they are farmed. Many shops and roadside stalls in town, on the farms and along this country route sell a variety of ostrich products and crafts.
Naturally as the town grew so new activities and farming developed. Today Oudsthoorn is part of the Route 62 wine growing region and up to seventeen local wineries are open to the public for wine, port and sherry tastings.
A new cheese, chocolate and liqueur route has been introduced called the ART Route, taking in the local art galleries. The Moooi gallery is an abandoned dairy. Goat cheese, delicious yoghurt, ice cream and other dairy products add to the culinary experience in the Klein Karoo. Savor custom made chocolates with liqueurs, muskadel, port, witblitz and potstill brandy from Grundheim wines, for a complete taste sensation.
Meerkat Magic – Meerkat Magic Conservation Project and the Meerkat Valley, located close to Oudsthoorn, is an adventure for folk of all ages. Accompany guide Grant M. McIlrath (also known as the Meerkat Man) to view untamed meerkat in their natural habitat. Grant has been working with these little critters since 1993. He devotes his time to research and conservation and has published his findings to an international audience. He is funded primarily through his tours and donations.
Other activities in the vicinity of Oudtshoorn include a Xhosa cultural experience, cage diving with crocodiles and a visit to a cheetah sanctuary. There need never be a dull moment spent in this town.
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Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn
29km (18 miles) north of Oudtshoorn and en route to the Swartberg Pass lies the Cango Valley and the limestone caverns of the Cango Caves. The Cango cave complex consists of 3 systems of limestone caverns; all filled with a fairy land of stalactites, stalagmites and helictites and providing one of the oldest attractions in the Klein Karoo. To protect these delicate natural caverns, only the first system (Cango One) is open to the public.
The Cango Caves have been visited by man since the Early Stone Age and has been a tourist attraction since the end of the 18th century.
Two guided tours are available. A one hour standard tour takes you on a journey through the first six chambers. A 90 minute adventure tour follows a 1200 meter route through the mountain. The adventure tour is definitely only for the physically fit.
All tours are conducted by well seasoned and accredited Cave Guides. Tours are provided in English, Afrikaans, German or French. If you prefer one of these languages on your tour you must book ahead. Cango Caves is the only show cave in South Africa.
A wheelchair accessible museum, interpretation center and restaurant is located in the main building. The tours however are not wheelchair accessible. People with claustrophobia, back problems, high blood pressure or pregnant women are advised to check with their doctor before visiting the caverns.
Some points to remember:
The caves are open every day of the year except December 25th
The temperature in the cave stays constant at 18 degrees Celcius (67 degrees Farhenheit)
There are no ATM’s or gas stations at the caves
Opening hours – 9:30am to 3:30pm Monday through Sunday
The cave has an increased humidity
Some bats still make the cave their home and if you smell a musty odor then it’s the bats you can detect.
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Swartberg Pass, Prince Albert and Meiringspoort
Travel Tip: Check local weather conditions before driving to Swartberg Pass. Snow and heavy rain will cause the closure of the pass.
The 17 mile (27 km) long Swartberg Pass is a spectacular gravel road mountain pass that crosses the 5,000 foot (1583 m) summit in a series of sharp switch-backs. This engineering masterpiece of Thomas Bain was built between 1881 and 1888 . The pass is carefully preserved and is a national monument. Take the time to look at the dry stone packed retaining walls and the contorted folds and swirls of the exposed rock face - and to catch your breath at the stunning views. Hiking routes are available on the mountain (permit required), with spots to pull off for a picnic along a tranquil river flowing at the foot of the pass on the northern side.
Swartberg pass descends into the quaint Karoo town of Prince Albert, offering accommodation, refreshments and meals. If you are looking for a base for exploring the various mountain passes, Gamkaskloof (The Hell) or for experiencing some of the fantastic birding, mountain biking and hiking, then Prince Albert is definitely a place to unpack your bags for a few days.
The town was established around 1762 with orchards, vineyards and wheat as the primary products. Fertile soil and the mountain stream encouraged further settlement, bringing sheep, ostriches and cattle to the area. Prince Albert became an important stop over for weary travelers who had crossed the vast arid Karoo landscape.
The town was first named Albertsberg but was renamed Prince Albert in 1845 in honor of Queen Victoria’s husband. Prince Albert continued to boom with the discovery of gold in 1891 and the growing popularity of the lucrative European ostrich feather market of that era.
There are a number of attractions to look out for in town including twelve National Monuments. Included are the Dutch Reformed Church and Hall, Albert’s Mill and the Swartberg Hotel building (above). Some of the original residents of the region were the Bushmen and some of their cultural influences can still be seen.
Prince Albert is now known for its dried fruit, Karoo lamb, olives, olive oil and homemade cheeses, so be sure to pop into one of the local restaurants to sample the local cuisine and to enjoy a cheese and dairy tour, wine tasting or olive tasting.
As with most little Karoo towns, there are local secrets to uncover. Walk Prince Albert at night with the Story Weaver as she tells about previous residents who have passed on (or maybe they are still around)! Take a tour to visit the sights where fossilized prehistoric reptile footprints can be seen, go on guided nature walks, or visit the local art galleries.
We've heard of Africa’s Big 5 wildlife and perhaps even of the Little 5 but what of the Celestial 5 ? Join a tour of the heavenly 5 on an Astronomy tour with Astro Tours in Prince Albert. The clear desert skies are far from city lights and are perfect for star gazing. Weather permitting, see the brightest star, the closest star, the largest globular cluster, the most beautiful open cluster and the closest galaxies.
This varied and memorable country route loops back across the mountains to the Klein Karoo via Meiringspoort (Meiring's Pass). This is another breathtaking and very different mountain pass that follows a route through (rather than over) the Swartberg Mountain range.
The first road through the "poort" was completed in 1858 and was the first route to provide access for Prince Albert and vicinity to the south and the ocean. Meiringspoort has been flooded several times in its 140-year history - so the high road over the mountains (the Swartberg Pass) was opened in 1888.
The route winds between soaring cliffs and spectacular rock formations as it follows the 15 mile (25 km) road built along the floor of the Groot River gorge. The road crosses the river 25 times, each with it's own name and story. Pause at the Waterfall and information site to learn about the history of the pass. Take the short walk beneath the cliffside to view the falls. Take care where you step - some of the rock surfaces are slippery when wet, having been polished smooth by the flow of water over countless centuries.
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