In summer the streets are packed with festival-goers roaming between theatre productions, stalls and music events. In the winter – when the temperatures drop a freezing hit or two – snow enthusiasts come from all over to experience the Swartberg Mountains covered in white. Then there is a sport festival, the nearby Meiringspoort Race and in August the town turns classical as world-class musicians harmonise to the beat of the Klein Karoo.
But what do you do in the town of Oudtshoorn when the music stops, the race is done and dusted and the mountain peaks go on about their day without a hint of snow?
A recent trip to Oudtshoorn showed that there is more to the town than feathers and festivals. Here are a few suggestions of things to do, places to see and where you can eat and sleep in Oudtshoorn when you are road tripping along Route 62.
11 Things to do in Oudtshoorn
Explore the Swartberg Mountains with True South Travel
A trip to Oudtshoorn is not complete without exploring the Swartberg Pass, a 24 km pass that has been nicknamed the “rubicon of gravel road passes” by Mountain Passes South Africa. This pass is another Thomas Bain masterpiece – his swan song – and True South Travel offers an informative guided circular tour of the pass via Prins Albert and Meiringspoort, as well as a sundowner (or sunrise) trip where you can gaze upon the panoramic vistas of the Karoo. While a 4×4 is not necessary to explore the pass, something with a bit of a higher clearance than a Lamborghini should give you peace of mind, the road on the Southern side of the pass is the worst but from Die Top all the way to Prins Albert you will travel on a comfortable gravel road. Allow for a full day of touring, make plenty of stops for photos – because the views will wow the sedimentary rocks off beneath your feet – and make Prins Albert your lunch stop. If you want an extra slice of nature, you can also opt for the bird watching tour and go on one of the Swartberg Hiking Trails with True South Travel.
Visit the website: www.truesouthtravel.co.za
Stargazing with True South Travel
Look up at the sky, what do you see? Stars, planets, constellations, galaxies, globular clusters and a sprinkle of glitter? The skilled guides of the True South Travel team, who know their way around the sky, will take you on a tour with telescopes through the Southern Hemisphere’s “high five”. Depending on your choice of accommodation, this activity can take place at the place where you are staying in Oudtshoorn.
Visit the website: www.truesouthtravel.co.za
Go back in time at C.P Nel Museum
Make an educational pit stop at the well-kept and preserved C.P Nel Museum – the first in South Africa to receive the Award of Accreditation in 1982 – and get a better understanding of the town, its people, how everything developed and the ostrich industry. Among the displays are a music show room, a synagogue, old transport, natural history and street scenes.
Visit the website: www.cpnelmuseum.co.za
Olive Tasting at Surval Boutique Olive Estate
Do an olive tasting – as well as an olive oil tasting (as weird as that may sound) – at Surval Boutique Olive Estate (a working farm) and prepare to have your mind blown as you learn more about olives. The tasting is paired with Anthonij Rupert’s Protea Rose and you will also taste Olive Chutney, Olive Jam and Olive Tapenade.
Visit the website: www.surval.co.za
Learn about the ostrich industry at Safari Ostrich Farm
The ostrich industry in Oudtshoorn started in the 1800s and the town became a booming metropolis thanks to the feathers which were exported to mostly Europe back in the day. Today, Oudtshoorn is still known as the ostrich capital of the world and the town’s ostrich show farms takes visitors on an egg-to-feather tour of the industry. One such farm is Safari Ostrich Farm, also one of the first show farms in the region to put a stop to ostrich riding at their facility. Safari Ostrich Farm’s tour includes a tractor ride – with ostriches roaming around you (and peeking at all that glitters) – and the guides explain the natural breeding cycle of ostriches before you disembark and go on a walking tour.
Visit the website: www.safariostrich.co.za
Wine Tasting at Karusa Vineyards
Karusa Vineyards is a family-operated wine and fruit farm on the outskirts of Oudtshoorn where the tranquil atmosphere beckons you closer to kick off your shoes, soak it all in and relax with a glass of something in your hand. As the first and only Premium Private winery in Oudtshoorn – and the first Klein Karoo winery to plant exotic Mediterranean cultivars – they are well-known for their Cap Classique and Mediterranean-styled wines such as the Shiraz, Viognier, Mourvedre, Grenache Noir, Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay and native Pinotage.
Visit the website: www.karusa.co.za
Meerkat Safari at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge
Wake up with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge’s Lookout Lounge before you head out on an open safari vehicle to wake up with the meerkats of Oudtshoorn during a Meerkat Safari. With the rising sun the first meerkat will appear from the burrows, then the next, another and a few more with glittering eyes towards the sun with a yawn here and a swaying meerkat ready-to-fall-asleep-again there. The stomachs of the meerkats act as solar panels, they warm up and recharge to get ready for a day of moving around, sniffing out insects for lunch and constantly keeping an eye to the sky for birds of prey sniffing out their own version of lunch.
The Meerkat Safari is a completely hands-off activity you enjoy from a distance, without disturbing the meerkats, however, it is unfortunate that Buffelsdrift is still continuing with their activity of elephant interactions. Albeit they don’t offer riding anymore, elephant interactions are still unnecessary, for a well-researched article and understanding the matter and thoughts behind this opinion, read “The elephant in the room” by Dr Louise de Waal.
Visit the website: www.buffelsdrift.com
Lift your spirits at Grundheim
Grundheim Wines, established in 1858 on a farm where six generations have been farming for more than a century, is no stranger to awards when it comes to wine and spirits. They have plenty of years, experience, passion and skill behind them and it comes as no surprise that they received gold and silver in the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards. Visit Grundheim – between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp – and go taste their unique products from muscadel, to port, liqueurs, witblits, potstill brandy, wine and of course gin.
Visit the website: www.grundheim.co.za
Head inside the Cango Caves
The Cango Caves – situated in a limestone ridge parallel to the Swartberg Mountains, 29km from Oudtshoorn – is a must-visit for everyone; whether you have an appreciation for geology, history, nature or the unknown. There are two tours, the easy Heritage Tour which departs every hour and the extreme Adventure Tour (departs every hour on the half hour) which will force you to squeeze through small openings, crouch down, face the dark and face your fears. Between the stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over millions of years the caves hold many secrets. Skeletons of three genets have been found which begs the question, “is there another secret entrance?” and what about the ancient engraving found in a completely dark area of the caves or why did so many cave guides commit suicide, why do the lights fuse so often… is there a ghost?
Visit the website: www.cango-caves.co.za
Find your calm at Thorny Creek Brewery
Travel along the dirt road going past Oudtshoorn’s Research Farm (on the Paardepoort Road connecting to Route 62) and when you see a red bus in the mountain (on your left), you know you’re at the right place, you know you are at Thorny Creek Brewery & Red Bus Café. Owners, Rob and Olga make small full grain 200ℓ batches of beer at a time and have a 1.5ha organic garden with fruits and vegetables that ends up beautifully presented and prepared on your plate.
Ziplining and more at Cango Caves Estate
Not even a kilometre from Cango Caves you’ll find Cango Caves Estate & Zipline. Here you can have an adrenaline rush on a double zipline alongside a daring friend. The zipline adventure’s first platform is situated a stone’s throw from Cango Caves, while the fourth and final platform – a 500m thrill – will take you all the way to their deli where good coffee and yummy pizza awaits.
Visit the website: www.cangocavesestate.co.za
Where to sleep in Oudtshoorn
For camping and self-catering: Kleinplaas Holiday Resort
If you are one for pitching your tent, caravan or looking for self-catering accommodation, a family resort with a swimming pool or a place for groups, turn your compass towards Kleinplaas where you will find 3-star self-catering units (up to 6 beds), bed and breakfast accommodation as well as 4-star camp sites for tents or caravans. There is also a conference facility available and catering services for large groups.
Visit the website: www.kleinplaas.co.za
For something different: Mount Noah Lodge
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, that is a boat. Yes, it is in the Karoo. And yes, you can actually sleep in it! Mount Noah Lodge challenge the status quo with their uniquely strange accommodation in Oudtshoorn; here at the world’s first dry-dock yacht accommodation you can either sleep in one of the boats (each with an attached bathroom), or opt for the spacious self-catering unit. You can swim in the marina swimming pool, and enjoy the sunset lounge and Captains Bar. They also offer dinner and breakfast to their guests.
Visit the website: www.mountnoah.co.za
For a treat of sophistication: Surval Boutique Olive Estate
Surval’s attention to detail is visible everywhere; from the olives, to the restaurant to the accommodation situated in the 18th century Klein Karoo homestead of Surval Village. The spacious rooms offer beautiful tranquil views of the Swartberg Mountains and it shouts elegance and luxury at the top of its lungs.
Visit the website: www.surval.co.za
For a step back in time: Bakenskraal Ostrich Palace
Situated in the Elephants River Valley, about 6 km from Oudtshoorn, is Bakenskraal, one of area’s original ostrich palaces on a farm that was surveyed and proclaimed in 1834. This four-star guest house with a swimming pool for those notoriously warm Karoo days, has 12 elegantly decorated rooms and can accommodate up to 30 guests.
Visit the website: www.bakenskraalostrichpalace.com
Where to eat in Oudtshoorn
From ostrich to olives, pizza to pampoenkoekies, beer to bubbly, your taste buds are spoiled for choice when visiting Oudtshoorn. You can enjoy some fine dining and dishes that will take you back to your grandmother’s kitchen, good coffee and locally produced wine, brandy and more.
Go read ‘Eat up, drink up and taste Oudtshoorn’ to find out where you can wine, dine and nibble in Oudtshoorn.
Explore Oudtshoorn’s neighbour, De Rust
De Rust is just 35 km from Oudtshoorn and makes for the perfect day trip; you can either take the long way over the Swartberg Pass, take the Oude Muragie gravel road (which passes Rust and Vrede Waterfall), or alternatively there is another dirt road (opposite Dysseldorp) that connects Oudtshoorn and De Rust. And if you’re not up for the dust there is always the N12.
Go read ‘De Rust: A stop-and-DON’T-go kind of place’ to find out what you can do in the town of De Rust.
Explore Oudtshoorn’s other neighbour, Prins Albert
At the foot of the Swartberg Mountains and 72 km from Oudtshoorn you’ll find Prins Albert. To name a few, the charming Groot Karoo village is known for its dustbin art, local cheese and dairy products, quaint eateries, a theatre, cooking school, olives and delicious figs in summer. It’s well worth a day trip over the Swartberg Mountains, or if time is on your side, definitely a weekend getaway.
KKNK (Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees)
The Afrikaans festival, KKNK, will celebrate its 25th festival in 2020 and is a mosaic of visual and the performing arts. If you want to indulge in Afrikaans music, drama or art, this is a date to add to your calendar.
Festival date: 24-29 March 2020.
Klein Karoo Klassique
The Klein Karoo Klassique – established in 2009 – is an arts festival featuring classical music, local art, mouth-watering cuisine and blue-ribbon wine. The Klein Karoo Klassique serves as a platform for South Africa’s most accomplished classical musicians.
Festival date: 8-11 August 2019
Every year, during the month of October, the Meiringspoort Race, a halfmarathon and 12.5km race, takes place in De Rust, just a stone’s throw from Oudtshoorn.
Race date: 12 October 2019.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Oudtshoorn Tourism for the duration of the trip.