After spending a fantastic day exploring Tsitsikamma my family hopped in our SUV at the beach in Wilderness and drove north to Oudtshooorn. The town was established in 1847 at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains, to cater to the needs of the little Karoo’s growing farming population. It gained prosperity when the demand for ostrich feathers – to support Victorian, and later Edwardian fashion trends – created a sharp rise in the industry in 1870-1880.
The Karoo’s hot, dry climate proved suitable for big-scale ostrich farming – the loamy soils yielded extensive crops of lucerne, which forms a major part of the big bird’ diet, and the ground was strewn with the small pebbles that are vital aid to their somewhat unusual digestive process. Oudtshoorn’s importance as an ostrich-farming centre continued and the town became renowned for its sandstone mansions, built by wealthy ostrich barons. Today, ostrich products include eggs and leather, meat and bonemeal.
Our first stop as we zoomed through an Arizona’esque landscape was the regions famed Cango Caves. Deep in the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains lies an underground network of chambers and passages, where dissolved minerals have crystallized to form stalactites, stalagmites, and dripstone formations that resemble fluted columns and delicate ruffled drapes. The complex was first explored by Jacobus van Zyl after his herdsman stumbled upon the cave opening in 1780, but rock paintings and stone implements discovered near the entrance indicate that the site was occupied as early as 80,000 years ago.
We joined an hour long tour which took us through the first six chambers of the cave system. The interior really is a majestic site and reminded me of my visit to a similar cave system I adventured through during my visit to the island of Jeju in South Korea.
Emerging from the dark and acclimatizing my eyes to the sunny day took only a few moments. After enduring the blur we soon found ourselves on a tour of the Cango Ostrich Farm. The tour started in a wee theatre where our guide passed around a few feather and leather samples so we could become more acquainted with the two products that make these birds so valuable. He then took us out back to the farm where we had the opportunity to take pictures of wee chicks, proud mom and dad and flock upon flock of curious big birds. We were then ushered to a set of bleachers where my sister hilariously attempted to ride an ostrich.
After taking a quick tour of the gift shop I picked up two bottles of local wine for the family to enjoy that evening. The farm also features a restaurant where you can sample an ostrich centric menu. We had bigger and better plans for dinner that evening so opted to check into Die Fonteine Guesthouse where we would be spending the evening. We spent the late afternoon relaxing on the porch while sipping on a bottle of cool and crisp white wine.
We would spend our evening enjoying dinner at the dreamy Kalinka Restaurant whose motto is “Russian by name, Karoo by nature.” The restaurant is run by a Russian expat but celebrates the local tastes and flavours of the region. The property is a little jaw dropping romantic. An old stone house has been refurbished and glass box dining room has been added as a modern extension to the space. The entrance features a full bloom of roses which smell as sweet as they look.
Karoo Lamb Monti the Russian way
steamed dumplings, sour cream tomato herb sauce
beetroot, soft goats cheese, spiced onion marmalade, smoked kudu carpaccio, rocket
honey soya sauce, butternut mash, rice
potato gratin, ratatouille, sherry mustard sauce
springbok, kudu and ostrich steaks with vegetables, potatoes and plum sauce
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Chocolate Brownie with Belgian Chocolate Ice Cream
The following morning we hit the road early for one of our longer driving days that would have us arriving in Hermanus in the mid afternoon. Along the way we stopped for a picnic at The Country Pumpkin dubbed as “the most famous lunch spot on route 62.” The scenery along this drive is really stunning as you cross mountain valleys and lurch along rushing rivers and steep cliffs.
Originally established as a farming community by Hermanus Pieters, this self titled town became a fashionable holiday and retirement destination due to the sunny climate and attractive location. Today the town is famous for its superb whale-watching sites. Every year, southern right whales migrate from the sub-Antarctic to calve in the shelter of Walker Bay.
We arrived at the stunning House on Westcliff which sits a few steps from the sea. Once we had checked into our respective rooms we strapped on our walking shoes and spent the next hour or so exploring the rugged coastline in search of whales. It really is amazing how many can be found from the shore. We spotted several fins and tales popping up above the surf. After a sunny walk filled with the gust of fresh ocean air we headed to the harbour where we sat down for dinner at LemonButta which offers great ocean views. We spent the next two hours sipping on wine and feasting on sushi, fried fish and steak covered in gorgonzola cream and crispy onion rings.
The following morning we drove to Betty’s Bay a few minutes down the coast where a penguin reserve at Stoney Point protects a small breeding colony of African penguins. The smell was rather vulgar but the little guys really are cute as they splash on the shore, waddle on the sand and pass out for an early morning sun tan.