Cape Country Routes is a grouping of independent hotels and country inns with members from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. I visited some of their members in the Klein Karoo on assignment for Franschhoek Life.
De Zeekoe Guest Farm is a short drive outside Oudtshoorn. This farm takes its name from the hippopotami that used to inhabit the Kammanassie and Groblaars Rivers in centuries past. Today the reeds that cover the riverbanks provide shelter for smaller species, including no fewer than 168 bird species.
The 3000 ha property is home to a few springbok in addition to the bonsmara cattle and sheep that are farmed. Alfalfa is grown on irrigated fields. Bicycles and kayaks are available for rent for the energetic, while the less energetic may choose to while away their day poolside or at the spa.
A memorable activity on offer is a pre-dawn meerkat tour with Meerkat Adventures. The tour starts with warming coffee and rusks before a short hike to the burrows, with an informative background talk along the way. Before the first rays of the sun touch the burrows everybody is comfortably installed on a camp chair with a blanket to keep out the chill.
With a little luck it’s not long before the first meerkat peeks out a burrow to get a whiff of the morning and decide if it’s warm enough to venture outside. The rest of the family follows in fits and starts – even meerkat families seem to have late sleepers! They line up on an elevated spot to enjoy the early sun and once they’re all toasty saunter off for the day’s hunt – their dark upright tails being the last that the human visitors will see of them.
Kobus se Gat is another wonderful Klein Karoo experience. The Lategan family constructed their restaurant at the foot of the Swartberge and prepare much of their fare in the traditional way – over open fires. Pay attention to the suspended stone chimney over the central hearth – rural ingenuity at its best! Expect Karoo Lamb, ostrich sosatie, bucket list-worthy roosterkoek (griddle cakes) and country hospitality. If you’re looking for things to do, ask them about their tours of the area – especially of the historic Swartberg Pass with its sweeping views and rock formations. The engineering is impressive too. If you’re brave you can cycle down the Swartberg Pass.
Africa’s largest cave system, the Cango Caves, is only a few kilometres from Kobus se Gat, so be sure to also include this natural wonder in your itinerary.
Being ostrich country no visit to the Klein Karoo would be complete without a visit to an ostrich farm. The tractor and walking tour at Safari Ostrich Farm is packed with insight into these birds. Did you know that there are several species of ostrich in Africa, or that the natural colour of their leather is light grey? I didn’t. Of course you do know that they don’t really stick their heads in the sand when scared…
The farm’s restaurant naturally has ostrich on the menu, which is good, as you can’t have too much of this cholesterol-free red meat – especially with Safari’s secret apricot mustard sauce. All things ostrich are sold at the well-stocked shop, from wallets to feather dusters.
Heading back west the R62 passes through beautiful countryside and the historic villages of Calitzdorp (SA’s Port Capital), Ladismith (a major apricot producing area) and Barrydale, with its collection of zany eateries and shops along the R62.
The next village, Montagu, is a great base from where to explore everything the Breede River Valley has to offer. Wineries, adventure activities and things historic abound.
The Montagu Country Hotel is an Art Deco treasure house lovingly furnished by hotelier Gert Lubbe. On entering one half expects a flapper to descend the staircase with an exotic cocktail in her hand and a come-hither grin on her face.
Housed in several period properties with courtyards, pools and gardens in between the hotel gives few clues to its generous size and amenities. The hotel spa offers various rejuvenating treatments, including baths in the restorative mineral water that first brought fame to Montagu. The elegant, candle-lit dining room offers traditional South African and continental dishes – all to the soothing sounds of a baby grand piano.
American Dream Cars, Gert’s other venture, offers bespoke tours in two grand American dames; a 1956 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan de Ville and a 1956 De Soto Fireflight Pillarless S24 Sportsman two-door coupé. Both will make you feel like royalty when you tour nearby wineries and towns.
The Cape Country Routes pamphlet invites travellers to ‘Explore our beautiful region and beyond’. We recommend you do so. “Mile after magnificent mile…”