Great Karoo and Little Karoo
“Thirstland of the San”
Day 1 : Cape Town to Oudtshoorn
Leave Cape Town to cross the Hottentots-Holland mountain range over the original Du Toitskloof pass, stopping for a photo and final look at the Paarl valley before resuming our journey to the Breede River valley. This valley, bordered by the Langeberg mountain range in the north, stretches eastwards for more than a 100 kilometers with wine estates around Worcester, Robertson and Ashton, producing some of South Africa’s premier wines. We take a breather at one of the top wine estates near Ashton for a taste of their superb wines.
A short drive takes us through the Langeberg mountains to the town of Montagu – eastern gateway to the Little Karoo. It’s picturesque, beautifully restored gabled homes with brightly hued bougainvillea decorating the hedges and verandas, just beg to be photographed. After a optional light lunch, drive through Barrydale – financial hub of the Barry nephews’ empire more than two centuries ago, to a short stop at the most isolated shop in the little Karoo. Next is Ladismith, sporting the world’s smallest hydro-electric generator. The following town is the port-wine capital, Calitzdorp. Sample the port and also the dried fruit of the region before departing for the Little Karoo capital of Oudtshoorn.
A century ago, Oudtshoorn gained recognition as the world’s ostrich feather capital and still has numerous ostentatious so-called “feather palaces”. We arrive in time for a guided tour at a top ostrich show ranch to meet and learn more about these pre-historic birds.
Relax with a glass of wine at sunset before enjoying a dinner of deliciously barbecued ostrich filet. Stay overnight nearby on a well-established guest farm.
Day 2 : Oudtshoorn to the Great Karoo
After a substantial farm breakfast, drive less than 30 minutes to the Cango Caves – snug against the foot of the great Swartberg mountains. Take a guided tour of the caverns with their spectacular limestone formations and perhaps wander through the geological display centre.
Leave the caves behind, and, weather permitting, negotiate the most spectacular of South Africa’s passes – the mighty Swartberg Pass. Wonderful views of the Matjiesriver valley on the ascent to the “Top”, almost 1100 metres above the valley, followed by an awe-inspiring descent of 1000 meters in less than 12 kilometers, truly makes this the “grandfather” of all passes. Visit the first and only Great Karoo wine cellar near Prince Albert for a guided cellar tour followed by wine tasting. A light lunch, including locally-produced cheese and fruit, follows.
Early afternoon finds us at our destination – a Great Karoo guest farm where you will experience the warm hospitality so typical of the region’s people. Relax at the guest cottage or explore the fruit orchards and surroundings before taking a 10-minute drive followed by a short walk to see the well-preserved Bushmen, (”San”), paintings.
Late afternoon we take a drive to a vantage point overlooking the valley to toast the sunset and enjoy the view. Back at the farm you can already detect the tantalising aromas of dinner being prepared. Relax on the spacious verandah and marvel at the magic as the crisp, clear Karoo night unfolds the spectacle of the southern night skies. Your guide will tell you a little about the planets, stars and constellations and even show you how to navigate your way by using the heavenly bodies. By this time you should be ready for the unforgettable experience of a candlelight feast on succulent, barbecued Karoo lamb.
Day 3 : Great Karoo to Cape Town
After breakfast we reluctantly take our leave and intercept the N1 road to Cape Town. Turn your watches back 100 years as we take a worthwhile detour off the main road to visit the tiny Victorian village of Matjiesfontein.
Resume our travel southwards through the Hex River Pass and the lush Hex River Valley with its scores of small, export grape farms – green in the summer and a kaleidoscope of colour in autumn. Onwards past the Hex River mountains till we take a breather at an interesting little wayside farm stall.
Travel past the Worcester winelands and drive through the 4 km long Huguenot tunnel through the mountains to arrive back at the “Tavern of the Seas” in the late afternoon.
This tour can be extended by one day for either a visit or an overnight stay in a guest house in the rarely visited village of Gamkaskloof – also known as “The Hell”. Producing wine, fruit and vegetables, this tiny community was virtually cut off from the outside world until the construction of a gravel road from near the top of the Swartberg Pass down into the valley in 1962. Descending more than 1400 meters, it is only accessible in 2×4 vehicles when there is no melting snow on the Swartberg mountains in winter, or when there has been no recent rain or thick fog.