Bespoke tour operating company Eye See Africa, asked me to write a guide to Route 62, highlighting the many things on offer.
Find the article as first published here, and for your convenience as below.
There is much to see and savour in Cape Town and her Winelands, but don’t disappear once your appetite for the cosmopolitan and culinary mix is sated. Rather head beyond the city into the interior on Route 62, a road that guarantees a look at authentic farm living in smaller towns and settlements, all heavy with attractions.
Farm stalls, ostrich palaces, impressive museums and steepled churches; award winning distilleries, craft breweries, flocks of sheep and the occasional lonely looking donkey. Cliff overhangs and grey-green hills. Sun drying fruit, aloe and sisal hedges, big open skies, wispy clouds and the sparse vegetation of the Klein Karoo, interspersed with windmills and cement dams, road signs marking accommodations, estates and attractions all become common play.
The towns are rich in history, mostly untouched in character and bear strong testament to an agricultural economy fuelled by resilient South African farmers.
An alternate to the N2 highway, Route 62 officially runs between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn, following the Langkloof towards Port Elizabeth. Even including Wellington, Tulbagh and Ceres at a geographical stretch, yet it’s the area between Robertson and Oudtshoorn where the heart of the route truly comes into play and that is the area this will guide you through.
Robertson is best known for its wineries, impressive co-operatives, art galleries, delis, restaurants and fine accommodation. Also for their collection of annual events you’ll ant to look out for, 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 each year. ( Bubbly lovers should not pass Graham Beck by, where a tasting and tour of the winery are a restorative break and you can stock up at cellar door prices.
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 with their hiking trails and dams to paddle and play in.
For a different perspective visit the deli or book a picnic at Viljoensdrift River Cruise or take a cruise onboard the Breede River Goos. Walk through around the largest hedge maze in the world and explore the Sheilam Cactus Garden and Succulent Nursery.
Also in the area, find the Saggy Stone Brewing Company, a microbrewery and weekend rustic style pub popular for Sunday lunches and their assorted beers.
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. Now offering 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. The mountains and rocks are folds of orange and rust, especially in the evening light. Here you will see hanging from a cliff, an Old English Fort dating back to 1899 and the Anglo Boer War. Its 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 greet you next. There are historic walking tours on offer, museums and the Francois Krige Studio to visit. Even if you’re just passing through I highly recommend a walk in the Montagu Nature Garden.
For the adrenaline seeker, there’s hiking, mountain biking, kloofing, abseiling and paragliding in the area. This is a rock climber’s paradise with over 500 climbing routes, which cater for all levels of experience, all can be accessed from 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.
Following the Langeberg Mountains, Barrydale is next, a place that appears to constantly evolve with ever growing character. Clarke of the Karoo with its mix of Karoo cuisine and Mediterranean dishes, Karoo Oysters and legendary Karoo lamb, is a good stop.
There are coffee stops where you find a chat with the locals and some excellent 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, the recently rebranded Barrydale Art Hotel, recently rebranded, where Art and design are celebrated. Every room in the hotel is individually decorated, part of it by internationally renowned design collective, Magpie Collective.
On the outskirts meditational walks in the Labyrinth and a visit to the Peace Pagoda, 4×4 trails and the rather infamous Ronnie’s Sex Shop, a place that needs to be appreciated in person. Their Road Kill Café serves light meals and there’s a plunge pool out back you might want to jump into.
Ladismith appears more humble on approach, yet if you step back from the main road, the extravagant Ostrich Palaces speak of the once opulent life enjoyed here in the ostrich feather boom, giving it the name ‘Lady of the Karoo’. Today 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 could drive. Used by early farmers to penetrate the Great Karoo, 17 km long with wild slopes and a narrow road just broad enough to pass, towering walls on either side, it is overwhelming in its natural beauty.
Then it’s Zoar, Calitzdorp with its renowned Axe Hill Port 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.
Restaurants like Jemima’s and 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 around Oudtshoorn are innumerable with the following highlighted. The Cango Caves, the delightful Meerkat Adventure Tours, Wilgewandel Family Farm and the ostrich show farms that are dotted around the area. The town centre of Oudtshoorn is easily walkable, with myriad art galleries, small jewelry stores, designer stalls, deli-type eateries and small bars right off the main street.
From Oudtshoorn the R62 follows the Outeniqua Mountains towards Joubertina and on towards Port Elizabeth where Addo National Park and the many game reserves of the region are found.
To assist with planning, from Oudtshoorn it’s an easy drive to Knysna, where you can extend your trip with time at the coast. From there complete the circular route by taking the N2 highway back to Cape Town, stopping in Stanford and Hermanus on route. Alternately if time is limited, George Airport services daily routes to Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Either way, Route 62 will ensure a collection of discoveries at a relaxed and peaceful pace, a safe adventure into the somewhat unknown hinterland of the Western Cape ringing true to the words that travel is about the journey, not just the destination.