Farm stalls, ostrich palaces, impressive museums and steepled churches; award winning distilleries, flocks of sheep and the occasional lonely donkey. Cliff overhangs and grey-green hills. Sun drying fruit, aloe and sisal hedges, big open skies, wispy clouds and the wide-open road. By Dawn Jorgensen.
We don’t need to travel far to encounter the untold attractions that driving the heart of Route 62 offers. Officially running between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, Route 62 is a welcome alternative to the N2 highway and one of South Africa’s best road trip routes. From Cape Town to Paarl, even including Wellington and Tulbagh at a geographical stretch, it’s the area between Robertson and Oudtshoorn where the route truly comes into itself.
Sparse vegetation and Klein Karoo landscapes, windmills with cement dams, road signs marking accommodations, estates, stalls and attractions all become welcome common play. The town is rich in history, untouched in character and testament to an agricultural economy fuelled by the ever-enduring South African farmer.
Robertson is best known for its wineries, impressive co-operatives, art galleries, delis, restaurants and fine accommodation. Also for their collection of annual events such as the Hand-on Harvest, Whacky Wine Weekend, Robertson Slow and Wine on the River which draw thousands of enthusiastic oenophiles, amateur and other, to the Valley. Bubbly lovers should not pass Graham Beck by! In the area Mo and Rose at Soekershof and the Robertson Small Hotel have stolen the hearts of the treat seekers, with Pat Busch Private Nature Reserve doing the same for nature lovers. For a different perspective take a picnic at Viljoensdrift River Cruise or onboard the Breede River Goose is recommended, as is a meander around the largest hedge maze in the world and exploring the cacti and succulent garden at Sheilan.
Next comes Ashton, a small town set amongst terraced vineyards and fruit farms, where pride of place is given to a class 14CRB 2010 locomotive which can be visited at the Platform 62 Tourism Centre. The locomotive was commissioned in 1919 and used on the Worcester-Mossel Bay rail section until 1983. The centre now offers an art gallery, the Shed Restaurant, wedding venue and impressive collection in the wine boutique.
Continue towards the Cogman’s Pass to Montagu, driving trough the Hole in the Rock, known locally as the gateway to the Klein Karoo. Rocks are folds of orange and rust. You will see an old English fort dating back to 1899 and the Anglo Boer War hanging from a cliff. It’s worth the climb to the top to photograph the view, as well as imagine the soldiers once stationed here.
The town of Montagu with its Victorian architecture, farm stalls and numerous guesthouses, greets us next. There are historic walking tours on offer, museums and the Francois Krige Studio to visit. For the adrenaline seeker, there’s hiking, mountain biking, kloofing, abseiling and paragliding. This is a rock climber’s paradise with numerous graded routes, all within walking distance of De Bos. Bulk up on padkos at Montagu Dried Fruit and Nuts. In summer you will even see the wooden racks lying laden with tomatoes, apricots and peaches. If photography is a keen interest, the Through the Lens workshops offered at Ravenna Mountain Retreat, together with their mountain bike trails and comfortable accommodation will hit the spot.
Following the Langeberg Mountains, Barrydale is next, a place that appears to constantly evolve with ever growing character. Jam Tarts and Clarke of the Karoo are favourites for a coffee stop and some retail therapy, whilst brandy lovers should not miss the opportunity to stock up on the country’s finest award winning Potstill Brandy from Barrydale Wines. For accommodation try the Barrydale Karoo Hotel – quite the institution.
On the outskirts are meditational walks in the Labyrinth and Peace Pagoda, a Donkey Sanctuary at Dove Cottage, 4×4 trails and the rather infamous Ronnie’s Sex Shop, a place that needs to be appreciated at face value.
Ladismith appears more humble on approach, yet if you step back from the main road, the extravagant Ostrich Palaces speak of a bygone opulent era. Yet dairy farmers still prosper with the Ladismith Cheese Company offering tours, good produce and probably the best butter in the Cape.
The Seweweekspoort Pass just beyond Ladismith is one of the more impressive passes you can drive in the country. Used by early farmers to penetrate the Great Karoo, it is 17-kilometres long with wild slopes and a narrow road just broad enough to pass, towering walls on either side, overwhelming in its natural beauty. Look out for their annual Mountain Bike Challenge.
Zoar, Calitzdorp and onwards to Oudtshoorn, the historic Ostrich farming capital of the world and home to the famous Cango Caves. At least two full days are required to do the area justice with a visit to a working ostrich farm a must. Restaurants like Jemima’s and accommodation the likes of Rosenhof Country House and Altes Landhaus have set the standard for luxury living, yet there are excellent options for self-catering and working farm stays that will more than satisfy.
Activities are innumerable, and these are just some of the highlights: the Cango Caves, Meerkat Adventure Tours, hot air ballooning, Wilgewandel Holiday Farm, game drives and elephant interaction at Buffelsdrift Game Reserve, the Cango Wildlife Ranch, TBI adventures and the historic CP Nel Museum.
From Oudtshoorn the R62 follows the Outeniqua Mountains towards Joubertina, the N2 highway, Port Elizabeth, Addo National Park and the many game reserves the region is home to. Many road trippers, well sated by the Route 62 offerings, opt for the coast and Knysna from this point.
The saying “focus on the journey, not the destination”, is an important reminder when embarking on a road much travelled. It’s good to remember that even on the beaten path, there is always more to discover, as Route 62 so clearly demonstrates.
Dawn Jorgensen is a travel writer who contributes to Drive South Africa. Follow her travels on her blog, The Incidental Tourist.