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This year Oudtshoorn celebrates its 16th Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees. But should you tire of the buzz, don’t worry, there are plenty of other diversions close by.
1. Cango Caves
The Swartberg range boasts 56 cave systems and is thus rather like an enormous Swiss cheese. However, most of the systems are closed to the public in order to preserve their exquisite and ancient stalagmite and stalactite formation.
The largest of all, though, Cango Caves, is open to all. Accompanied by a guide, you can venture into its giant ’concert hall’ where the acoustical conditions make even horrible voices sound really rather nice. Try singing in there and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
For the more daring, an adventure tour takes you through a set of twisting tunnels and curvy cavities, often on hands and knees and sometimes on your belly. People of ample proportions might want to opt for the standard tour instead.
The standard tour lasts an hour and costs R60 per adult and R30 per child. The 90-minute adventure tour costs R75 for adults and R50 for children.
Cango Caves, Tel: 044 272 7410 www.cangocaves.co.za
2. Hot Air Ballooning
Sunrise over the Klein Karoo is beautiful. Even more so if you’re in a balloon. The Swartberg range rises to the north like jagged teeth and the Outeniqua range rolls southwards to the ocean. There is silence but for the occasional blast from the burner and the peace and beauty are beyond description.
Upon landing you are treated to a sumptuous champagne breakfast which will make you merry – and help ease the pain of the price tag as a one-hour flight will set you back R2100pp. But it will be an experience you’ll never forget.
Oudtshoorn Ballooning, Tel: 0827848539
3. Ostrich Farm Tours
Oudtshoorn is steeped in history; very odd history, but history nonetheless; and most off it related to the ostrich. Oudtshoorn is ‘The Ostrich capital of the World’ and there are many ostrich show farms around it where a visitor can meet and even hug adorable ostrich chicks.
You can learn how to make a feather duster; you get the chance to stand on some ostrich eggs (to prove how strong they are) and if you are small you might even be allowed to ride one. Then, after the tour; you can visit the on-site restaurant and stuff yourself silly with the meat from the silly long-legged birds.The tours last from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours and cost around R60 for adults and R30 for children, excluding meals.
Highgate Ostrich Farm, Tel: 044 272 7115
Cango Ostrich Farm, Tel: 044 272 4623
Chandelier Game Lodge and Ostrich Farm
Tel: 044 272 6794
4. Mountain Bike the Swartberg Pass
Take a rip-roaring, high velocity mountain bike adventure down the Swartberg Pass. It’s a bit like riding a bucking bronco, but it’s great fun and the scenery is out of this world.
Backpacker’s Paradise in Oudtshoorn has bikes for hire and provides a taxi service to the top of the pass. It’s all downhill after that. Adrenalin junkies can ignore the rest breaks if they choose and instead hurtle down the pass at supersonic speed, but it’s not a requirement.
Those who prefer a more sedate pace can take all day over the ride to enjoy the fynbos-covered mountains and the crystal clear fresh air. Be extra careful during the Kunstefees, though, because the pass is likely to be infested with revellers.
On the way home you can stop at the Cango Caves, the ostrich farms, Wilgewandel Holiday Farm and the Cango Wildlife Ranch using the discounted entrance tickets that you receive as part of the bike tour.
Backpackers Paradise, Tel: 0442723436 www.backpackersparadise.net
Dennehof Tours, Prince Albert. Tel: 0235411227 / 0728423056 / 0824568848
5. The Succulent Man
To the untrained eye the Succulent Karoo can appear uniformly drab and monotonous, but Louis Jordaan of Minwater Farm has anything but an untrained eye – having spent 27 years studying the biome. He can tell you fascinating stories about almost every Succulent Karoo shrub, bush, insect and bird.
Louis has indeed got eagle eyes (he can spot a 1 cm tall plant at 500 paces) and this, combined with his encyclopedic knowledge of the Klein Karoo, guarantees you an interesting time with him.
He takes people on guided walks and drives by request, and can also provide for fully catered overnight camping as well as 4×4 adventures.
Minwater Farm, Tel: 044 279 1285 www.minwater.co.za
6. Drive the Passes of the Klein Karoo
With its wonderful mountain ranges the Klein Karoo doesn’t lack for dramatic passes – the most famous of which, of course, is the Swartberg Pass. So why not pack a picnic basket, fill up your tank and go for an idyllic all-day drive through some of the most stunning countryside on the planet.
The Swartberg Pass rises steeply up from the Klein Karoo near Oudtshoorn and then descends into the Great Karoo at Prince Albert. Take time to explore the quaint town of Prince Albert and then head back east along the R407 and N12 through the spectacular Meiringspoort.
Alternatively, you could explore the Montagu Pass to George – a scenic dirt road that straddles the Outeniqua Mountains and runs almost parallel to the main R12 highway.
7. Take a Tour into the Mountains
TBI Adventures is a locally based outdoor adventure company operated by mountain man Johan Uys, a veteran of local exploration – having been at it for more than 30 years.
TBI can arrange guided day hikes almost anywhere in the Swartberg and Outeniqua ranges, as well as licensed quad bike tours along a 22km mountain trail. With Johan guiding you every step of the way you can go abseiling off a 40m cliff, swim under hidden waterfalls, explore little-known caves, go kayaking on secret mountain dams, or do a combination of all of these.
A 3-hour quad bike tour costs R400pp (minimum age 16), two hours of abseiling costs R200, a 4-hour caving trip R250, and kayaking R95 (half day) or R180 (full day).Check the website for combinations, which are good value for money
TBI Adventures, Tel: 082 926 9389 www.tbiadventures.co.za
8. Buffelsdrift Game Park
For those hankering after a traditional African safari, Buffels Drift has all the prerequisites; lovely tented camps, open-sided safari vehicles, drinks at sunset, thatched roof restaurants and lots and lots of big game – such as buffalo, rhino and giraffe. They also have some tame elephants which you can feed from a bucket – if your heart so desires.
Game drives (and good lodge food) aside, perhaps the singularly most pleasant thing about Buffels Drift is that each luxury tent has a private deck that extends out into a beautiful lake in which hippos grunt, fish leap with gay abandon and waterfowl honk like a brass band warming up for a concert. And what a wonderful auditorium it is that they perform in – an untouched open expanse of Klein Karoo framed by a backdrop of marvellous mountain peaks.
An overnight package at Buffels Drift includes accommodation, dinner, breakfast and two guided game drives lasting two hours each. Day visitors are welcome to eat in the restaurant, join a guided game drive, go on a horseback safari or even walk with the elephants. Prices on request.
Tel: 044 272 0106
9. Wilgewandel Holiday Farm
When your children get bored with all the art, theatre, biltong and booze that is the Kunstefees, there’s no better place to take them than Wilgewandel Holiday Farm – a pretty little adventure park next door to the Cango Caves. Here they can go bananas in the play park (complete with trampolines and a rope slide), or go on a camel ride, a donkey cart ride or a bumper boat ride.
There are farm animals to feed as well as an 18-hole Putt-Putt course for everyone to enjoy. A fully licensed restaurant allows parents to fill up while their the little ones go wild in the safe and charming rural setting. Farm style accommodation is also available.
Wilgewandel Holiday Farm
Tel: 044 272 0878
10. Go to Hell
Gamkaskloof (affectionately known as Die Hel) is an isolated valley deep in the Swartberg Mountains. Nobody really knows where it got its derogatory name from because it isn’t hell at all. It’s really quite a beautiful place; a verdant oasis among looming granite peaks.
The road down into the kloof (which is part of the World Heritage Swartberg Nature Reserve) is quite a thing, what with being full of ups and downs and hairpin bends. But every kilometre is stunning. You get onto it at the very top of Swartberg Pass and though it’s only about 50km long, the journey will take you several hours. This is not a road for high speed junkies, but it can be driven in a sedan if you take it carefully. Accommodation in the valley is provided by CapeNature, and there’s a restaurant/shop at the end of the road.
Tel: 0861 CAPENATURE (227 362 8873)
Text and pictures by Dale Morris. This article was taken from the April 2010 edition of Country Life.