The ‘other’ Route 62…

By Stef Terblanche

South Africa’s iconic and world-famous Route 62 has become a major tourist attraction and a favourite with locals as well as visitors from around the world. But many people tend to think of it only as that section of the route between the towns of Robertson and Oudtshoorn, when in fact the entire route runs from Robertson in the Western Cape to Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape.

In Issue 6 of Mzanzitravel we carried an article covering the first section. In this article we take a look at the second section between Oudtshoorn and Jeffreys Bay.

The Oudtshoorn-Jeffreys Bay stretch makes for an equally delightful road trip with plenty to be discovered along the way, including the world’s longest wine route at 850km long (although much of it falls outside of Route 62). Along the way are some tiny towns and villages with a unique old-world charm, nature reserves, mountains and mountain passes, dams and river streams, and so much more.

The part of South Africa through which this stretch of the R62 – as the road is officially known – runs, is known as the Langkloof (long valley). The roughly 200km valley is formed by the Kammanassie and Kouga Mountains on its northern side, and the Langkloof, Tsitsikamma and Kareedouw Mountains on the southern side. The Langkloof is a narrow, fertile valley and is known for ostrich farming along the western part and fruit growing, especially apples and pears, further to the east. The valley was named by Isaq Schrijver in 1689 and has been farmed since 1760.

The Langkloof is also home to many well-preserved San (bushman) paintings. It is also here where the Kouga mummy was discovered, thought to be that of a young Khoi person, which is now housed in the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. The valley is a 360 degrees kaleidoscopic feast of ever changing mountain colours and formations, river streams, farmlands and orchards, with its tiny towns dotted at intervals in-between. Apart from the N2 coastal route, Route 62 is also the only other main highway directly connecting Cape Town and Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth).

Oudtshoorn

Our journey starts in the heart of the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo), in the ostrich capital of the world, Oudtshoorn, also known for its world-famous Cango Caves and its annual Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (Klein Karoo National Arts Festival).

The town still bears plenty of evidence – apart from the many ostrich farms surrounding it – of the glorious heydays of its ostrich empire in the form of many well-preserved ‘ostrich palaces’…the Victorian mansions of the erstwhile ostrich barons.  Even if the old ‘ostrich barons’ are now all gone, to this day a thriving ostrich industry producing feathers, meat and leather survives here. A number of ostrich farms are open to the public, offering daily tours with guides from whom visitors learn all about the history and many uses of these giant flightless birds, about their life cycle, and the farming and production processes. Most of these farms have curios shops and restaurants where products made from ostriches can be bought, including delicately painted and decorated ostrich eggs and lampshades, leather bags, shoes and clothing…and of course feather dusters.

About 25km north of Oudtshoorn on the road to the Swartberg mountain pass are the world-famous Cango Caves, considered one of the great natural wonders of the world – a veritable natural Disneyland.  Visitors follow guides through a succession of vast caverns, chambers and some rather narrow tunnels and crevices, all lit up in different colours that reflect off an awesome array of stalactites, stalagmites and helictites (limestone formations that grow over hundreds of years). Different tour options are available that will take you deep into the bowels of the mountain. Between Oudtshoorn and the caves you will pass a number of excellent lodges and guest farms.

Once a year around Easter the town fills up with thousands of people from all over the country and beyond for the annual Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, the oldest and largest Afrikaans cultural festival in the world. The festival offers an absolute feast of plays, music, cabaret, visual art, talk shows, debates, food stalls and markets. It is South Africa’s second biggest cultural festival after the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. The town also was the home of the great Afrikaans language poet, playwright and author, CJ Langehoven. He wrote the words of Die Stem, South Africa’s pre-1994 national anthem which still forms part of the current national anthem. His house on Jan van Riebeeck Drive is now a museum.

The town also falls within the Klein Karoo Wine Route, which is part of Route 62. At the neighbouring town of Calitzdorp some of the finest South African port-style wines and Sherries are produced, as well as various cultivars of red and white wine. There are some seventeen wineries in the area open for tasting and buying wines. If you are brave enough, try the locally distilled ‘witblits’, a kind of moonshine that was for many years illegally distilled and which will have you gasping for breath.

The CP Nel Museum in the town is one of South Africa’s best country museums. Located in the historic building of what was once the Oudtshoorn Boys’ High School, it is also the only museum with a Synagogue inside that is still in use! This testifies to the erstwhile large Jewish community of the town who were prominent in the ostrich business and which earned it the nickname “Little Jerusalem”.  Much of the town’s history and the ostrich boom years is on display here. The museum building is now a national monument.

The town has many interesting little shops, restaurants, pubs and very good lodges and B&Bs. A short distance outside the town lies the Cango Wildlife Ranch, home to over 90 species of amazing animals, the world’s first crocodile cage-diving and a very successful cheetah breeding facility. A visit to the Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, situated 7km from town in the foothills of the majestic Swartberg mountains, is also well worth a visit. The game farm offers visitors luxury tented en-suite accommodation overlooking a spectacular 5ha natural waterhole where wild animals come to drink, bush safaris, guided nature walks, game viewing on horseback and elephant excursions.

Another unique attraction is Meerkatmagic, a conservation and research project which only works with wild animals using ethical techniques to gain their selective trust after many years, without ever taming them.

 

De Rust and Meiringspoort

The quaint little villagem of De Rust, voted South Africa’s Town of the Year in 2011, is strictly speaking not on Route 62, but is close enough and well worth a visit. From Oudtshoorn follow the R341 east, passing by the Kammanassie Nature Reserve, until you reach De Rust, 34km away. From De Rust you can re-join Route 62 at Uniondale by continuing along the R341.

Nestled between the Swartberg and Kammanassie Mountains, the village is the gateway to the Great Karoo through the spectacular Meiringspoort. Stop in this village where time has long stood still for breakfast or lunch, and after exploring the settlement, continue driving a few more kilometres till you come to Meiringspoort. Here the road enters an awesome, narrow gorge flanked by soaring cliffs that almost cause the sky above to disappear at times. It runs alongside the Groot River which, contrary to what its name suggests (meaning “big river”), is little more than a gentle stream. But don’t be fooled by that: it has flooded the poort on numerous occasions, and in the late 1990s a spectacular flood forced it to be closed and the road to be rebuilt at huge cost.  

For 25km the road follows the contours of the gorge and river, ducking underneath overhanging cliffs and crossing the river 25 times, with beautiful picnic spots, including magnificent waterfalls,  dotted all along the way. At the far end of Meiringspoort the road emerges at Klaarstroom, 55km east of Prince Albert. One of the most scenic spots is found at Die Skelm where a waterfall tumbles down into a dark pool said to be bottomless and the home of a mermaid. In the poort you will also find a sign marking the spot where the Afrikaans author, C J Langenhoven, carved the name of his fictional elephant, Herrie, on a boulder; today it is a national monument.

De Rust itself is a Victorian village where many of its old homes and shops have been perfectly preserved. A variety of good accommodation, restaurants and activities are available. Activities include hiking trails, cycling, bird watching, fresh water fishing and water sport on the nearby Stompdrift Dam. The town has a Donkey Awareness Project and visitors can enjoy a ride on unique and rebuilt traditional donkey carts through the town.

Detour to the Garden Route

If you are coming from anywhere along the Garden Route and wish to join Route 62, the ideal place to do so is from George via the spectacular Outeniqua Pass. Or, if you are already on Route 62 and have some time on hand, a quick detour over the mountain at this point to George and the Garden Route is ideal.

Towns and attractions that are all within easy reach from here, include Mossel Bay, Great Brak River, Heralds Bay, Victoria Bay, George, Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna, the Wilderness lakes region, the Knysna Forest, the Heads at Knysna, the castles at Noetzie, many superb beaches and mountain hikes and much more.

Uniondale

A town still under siege of the Anglo Boer War. No fewer than five British military forts built as defences during that war still surround the town. Two have been restored and one declared a national monument. There is also a memorial on the site of one of the Anglo Boer War battles. Visiting a fort high up on a koppie behind the town, provides one with panoramic views of the town, mountains and the Karoo plains. Uniondale was founded through the joining of two towns Hopedale and Lyon in 1856.

The town is something of an architectural jewel. It boasts the largest watermill in the Southern Hemisphere, built in 1852 and operational until the 1950s. It has been fully restored with all working parts inside and outside intact, and now serves as an art gallery and restaurant. South Africa’s first woman architect, Sophie Gray, wife of the Bishop of Cape Town, designed the Anglican Church on Voortrekker Street. The Dutch Reformed church is another beautiful old sandstone building set in a rose garden with palm trees guarding its entrance. Its 100-years old bells and three tower clocks still work perfectly. The older, original Dutch Reformed Church, now called the Voortrekkersaal, also still stands. A beautiful old Synagogue is also well-maintained.

The Nagmaal huisies (Communion homes) on Hood Street, with their horse stables on the mountain side, were built in the previous century by the local farmers who came into town once a month for the church service. Well-preserved homes in all the Karoo styles – Victorian, Karoo, Georgian, Cape Dutch and mixtures of these – abound throughout the small town. The classical Victorian-colonial building of the police station and court house was built in 1891. Next to that is the Apostolic (Pinkster) Protestant Church, built in 1843 which is one of the seven national monuments in Uniondale. The school building on the property now houses the Little Theatre Café and tourism office. The Salvation Army Hall which was built in 1887 now houses Penny Lane coffee shop.

No visit to Uniondale is complete without hearing about the legend of its resident ghost. Once a year, on the anniversary of her wedding and tragic death in a car accident, a young woman dressed in her wedding dress waits by the road outside the town, and gets into passing cars without them stopping, giving unsuspecting drivers the fright of their lives. But she doesn’t stay long and disappears again after a short while. Regular encounters with this ghost are reported every few years. In the 1970s, one such a traveller came racing into town one night after meeting the ghost bride and asked police to escort him safely past the site where she stood. Less than fifteen minutes later the traveller and the police who escorted him were back in town: all ashen and trembling with shock.

Like Oudtshoorn, Uniondale was once a major ostrich farming district with a thriving wagon-building industry, both now gone. Most of the farming in the district now focuses on sheep, tobacco angoras, seed, fruit and wheat.  Numerous activities can be enjoyed here, including scenic drives, cycling trails, 4×4 trails, hiking trails and game viewing excursions. A nice route is the old wagon trail to Avontuur. Even a round of golf can be enjoyed on the town’s rather unique golf course, set on Stoneleigh Country Estate on the outskirts of Uniondale, but you have to watch out for angora goats and springboks on the fairway.

Then there is also the annual 100km Karoo to Coast mountain bike race from Uniondale to Knysna through the Prince Alfred’s Pass, which attracts more than 4,000 cyclists. Nearby nature reserves include the Fort Local Nature Reserve on the edge of town, Sustersdal Private Nature Reserve, EC Soetkraal Provincial Nature Reserve, the Swartberg East Nature Reserve, Kammanassie Nature Reserve, and the eastern end of the massive Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve.

Baviaanskloof

Uniondale via Willowmore is the eastern gateway to the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site and home to the biggest wilderness area in the country. It is also one of the eight protected areas of the Cape Floristic Region. The Baviaanskloof mega-reserve covers 200km of unspoiled, rugged mountainous terrain with spectacular landscapes hosting more than a thousand different plant species, including the Erica and Protea families and species of ancient cycads.

Seven of South Africa’s eight biomes are represented within the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve – fynbos, forest, grassland, succulent Karoo, Nama-Karoo, subtropical thicket and savanna. Baviaanskloof stretches all the way from the edge of Route 62 to the Gamtoos Valley and beyond. The reserve straddles the border of the Western and Eastern Cape provinces. A short distance outside Uniondale a gravel road branches off to the right that can be followed right through the length of the reserve to Eastern Cape towns of Patensie and Hankey. But check conditions before entering as the road is not a very good and better suited for 4WD vehicles.

Baviaanskloof is renowned for its exceptionally beautiful hiking and 4X4 trails as well as superb mountain biking opportunities, good game viewing, and bird watching.

  • Contact Info: Email:  Call the Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency on Tel +27 (0)43 492 0881, or email info@ecpta.co.za.

 

Six hamlets and Joubertina

Upon leaving Uniondale along the R339 south of the town, you will re-join Route 62 after 7km. Continuing east towards the Eastern Cape and the coast, you will pass through the tiny hamlets of Avontuur, Haarlem, Misgund, Louterwater, and Krakeel before reaching Joubertina. Don’t be misled when the small town is referred to as ‘The Big Apple’ – it has nothing in common with New York or any other big city, and the reference is to its biggest export product and the many apple orchards that are found in the district. The town lies in the lower part of the Langkloof valley, tucked in between the Krakeel, Wabooms and Twee Riviere rivers, and between the Kouga, Baviaanskloof and Tsitsikamma Mountains.

Aesthetically not a very attractive town, it is the largest and youngest of the Langkloof towns. While the town itself may be something of a Cinderella, its surroundings are awesome and beautiful. But spend a night here and you will discover its unique soul. According to one travellers’ blog account you can buy milk at the hardware store that also sells second-hand furniture, or buy rusks from the hairdresser, who also sells coffins and bully beef. Not your usual kind of town.

Compared to other towns along Route 62, Joubertina is a mere 111 years young; founded in 1907 by the Dutch Reformed Church on the farm Onzer and named in honour of Uniondale’s Dutch Reformed minister, WA Joubert. The town has a railway station that once served its best-known train on the narrow gauge line, the Apple Express. The line runs all the way from Avontuur near Uniondale to Loerie and on to Van Stadens River in the Eastern Cape. The Apple Express ceased operations in 2011, but efforts are underway to reopen it. Since December 2017, using the restored NG15 NG119 steam locomotive, the Apple Express started running a limited summer holiday special service between King’s Beach halt and the airport in Port Elizabeth.

Follow the Langkloof Fruit Route that lies between the Tsitsikamma and Kouga Mountains around these parts at blossom time, and you will be overwhelmed by the fragrant experience. The Langkloof blossom festival is held here usually in August. The Kouga Wilderness, located near Joubertina in the scenic Kouga Mountains, offers the visitor numerous activities such as bird watching, boulder-hopping, 4X4 routes, fishing in the nearby Kouga River, abseiling, rock-climbing, horse riding, hiking and swimming in natural mountain pools.

  • Contact Info: For information about the town, call +27 (0)42 273 1516; for Kouga Wilderness, call +27 (0)42 273 2067.

 

Kareedouw

The last Langkloof town along Route 62 before you reach the coast at Humansdorp and Jeffreys Bay, is the small town of Kareedouw, situated between the Tsitsikamma and Zuuranys mountains. The town’s name is derived from the Khoi phrase meaning ‘path by the karee trees’. A former Prime Minister of South Africa from 1966 to 1978, John Vorster, is buried in the memorial garden next to the Dutch Reformed Church. Kareedouw is the gateway to the Langkloof Mountains and is 120 km from Port Elizabeth.

The town has retained its old world rural character, with most of its streets still untarred. The village is simply laid out on a grid, with tin-roofed houses and a large old stone church lining them.

The town is located an easy, relatively short drive from scenic places such as Churchill Dam, Plettenberg Bay, Jeffreys Bay, Cape St Francis, Storms River Mouth and village, the Garden Route National Park and the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area. The town’s economy depends on farming and forestry. The famous Rensilfier furniture factory located here, produces fine black-, yellow- and stinkwood furniture, while there is a statue in memory of woodcutters in the centre of the town. Kareedouw also provides the only entrance from the south to the Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve. The Kareedouw Pass over the mountains to Plettenberg Bay is a spectacular drive.

  • Contact Info: For more information call Tel +27 (0)42 288 0700, or Gamtoos Tourism on Tel +27 (0)42 288 0208.

 

Jeffreys Bay…end of the route

The final stretch of the eastern section of the lovely Route 62 and the Langkloof ends at the junction with the N2 freeway, some 14km from the town of Humansdorp and 28km from Jeffreys Bay. The N2 bypasses Humansdorp, with a short road connecting it to Jeffreys Bay. Alternatively the R102 can be taken which passes through Humansdorp. From here the N2 carries on to Port Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.

Jeffreys Bay is of course world-renowned as a surfing destination, where major international and national surfing events take place each year. Nearby Cape St Francis with its ‘super tubes’ is known as the place of the ‘perfect wave’ or the best right hand point break in the world among surfers. The area is almost one big, continues holiday resort with lovely beaches and the distant mountains in the background. There is also a large marina here. Pubs, restaurants, surf shops, other shops, lodges and B&Bs are plentiful, with much to do and see in the surrounding district.