Dirt roads and soup
So after a cold and wet night at Grootvaderbos Nature Reserve and a few days of grey skies i thought i would see if heading into the Klein Karoo might make things a little more sunny.
I made my way down a dirt road towards Heidelberg, and after a quick 20kms along the N2 to Riversdal, the town where cows and churches outnumber the people, i hung a louie and headed through the Garcia Pass and belatedly joinied the world-famous Route 62.
As South Africans, i think and i could be wrong, but we are destination driven when we travel locally … we go straight to our destination and we drive past so much following our national roads and we miss the multitudes of hidden gems that scatter this beautiful country.
I have driven on dirt pretty much since i left Swellendam and i have seen some of the most beautiful parts of the country i didn’t even know existed. I have encountered nature reserves i had never heard of and found communities and roads that have more beauty along them than the well known towns and cities we flock to year after year.
So after skipping a good deal of the R62, which i have driven numerous times … i headed for Calitzdorp.
Probably the most underrated destination on the route, a lot of people stop for the port and the wine, which is good reason as any as there are some excellent cellars including Bo Plaas, and Axe Hill to name a few, but the area is teeming with a lot more than wine.
Before you arrive in Calitzdorp you come down the spectacular Huis River Pass, it’s not a long one, but the mountains are truly imposing ,there are plenty of viewing points – stop, take a breath and inhale the scenery it is awe-inspiring.
I arrived around lunch time and unexpectedly dropped in on my uncle James the proprietor of the Naked Lady, probably the best pub in the Klein Karoo and we promptly built a fire and spent the rest of the afternoon and a good deal of the evening drinking and shooting the shit … by the end of the evening we had agreed to go for a drive around the area so i could meet some of the locals and see the spots worth seeing … we also seem to be publishing a book called Dirt Roads and Soup.
I was staying at the amazing Spekboom Cottages which offer unbelievable value for moolah. It is a street of refurbished cottages, each with a private garden, a splash pool, braai area and come in various sizes in terms of number of rooms. They are all fully equipped with fireplaces, kitchens and offer an excellent value for money as a self catering option when you visit this part of the world, the also serve home cooked meals and breakfasts if you order the night before.
After a good hearty breakfast we headed out the back of Claitzdorp in the direction of the Swartberg Pass and drove through possibly the most beautiful valley that offered views, interesting people and a perfect introduction to the landscapes of the Karoo. Definitely stop by Roger Young’s gallery, he is an amazing photographer and a pretty dapper wood worker as well, you can also get a pretty decent cup of joe.
If you ignore the turn off to the Swartberg Pass and head towards Oudtshoorn you will eventually come across Red Stone Hills. A bunch of geological misfits that shatter the landscape with their haphazard yet truly eclectic shape, color and size. Grab a cold beer, or one of the excellent local wines and watch a sunset or rise over these geological wonders.
Next up was a visit to another nature reserve – the Gamka Nature Reserve. We literally just dropped in for a quick look before deciding i would return another day as lunch and a cold glass of something was calling. Another must do in Calitzdorp is grab a lunch, probably better described as a home cooked feast at the retro inspired Die Handelshuis restaurant and shop, just off the main road. We both smashed an epic Kudu curry … there food is truly sumptuous.
After quick beer at the Naked Lady, i crashed exhausted from a day of mind-boggling beauty.
The next day i was again off at the crack of dawn heading for the Swartberg Pass and hoping that the weather would clear by the time i got there, the dirt road up to the pass again revealed some incredible mountains, valleys and kloofs. I just wish the sun had been out so i could have captured some of it. By the time i started heading up the pass which was actually closed, the mist and rain was so thick i could barely see the front of the van.
I turned around disappointed, but i will be back as the Swartberg pass was definitely part of the plan.
The weather wasn’t improving so i headed down to the Cango Caves and had my mind summarily blown. I had always seen photos but they never actually convey the sheer size and proportions of these natural wonders. Our guide did a pretty impressive version of Qongqothwane (The click song) to illustrate the acoustics in-between giving us a great historical and geological lesson about the caves.
There are two tours, the standard, which is pretty mellow and covers 6 chambers all of epic proportions and costs R69 for around about an hour. There is also an adventure tour which goes for R90 and involves a lot more ducking and crawling, but is well worth it if you aren’t a 6’5 foot giant.
Disclousre : My Uncle James runs and operates both the Naked Lady and Spekboom cottages … this aside they are both epic establishments regardless of the fact that we are related. The Accommodation goes for anywhere between R280pp to R380pp depending on which cottage you rent.