Everyone has a favourite stretch of road, and mine is the 464 km section of the R62 which joins Kareedouw and Ashton. True I have driven on roads more rugged, more remote, more breathtaking and more jar-droppingly spectacular, but still the R62 remains my favourite. It’s empty but not desolate, magnificent at times but also dull at others. And there’s just enough to see, do and eat to make the journey a destination in itself.
A Slow Start
There isn’t much to Kareedouw, but that’s fine. We only left Cape St Francis an hour ago and there’s no need to stop yet. We swing past the Dutch Reformed church – made from locally quarried stone and set back from the road in attractive gardens – before hitting the road again.
In Joubertina we buy a bag of apples – probably picked up off the ground in one of the orchards – from one of the guys standing at the side of the road, and I bite into one as we drive on. If it had been a bit later in the day we would have stopped at the excellent Belfry Kitchen for lunch, but it’s only 11 am.
Things Hot Up
It’s getting hot now, and with no air-con in our VW Chico, there’s not much to break the 184km to Oudtshoorn. By midday the heat is too much to handle. We stop the car next to a bridge and make our way down to the river which passes under it. We empty our pockets and sink into the waist-deep water fully clad. We just sit there, breathing and occasionally sipping the brackish water, until our thermostats are reset. We drive on, windows open. By the time we reach the Ostrich Capital of the world not only are our clothes bone-dry but the Chico’s seats are too.
A Quirky Centrepiece
Oudtshoorn can be reached from the coast via the (admittedly spectacular) OuteniquaPass. It’s only 49 km from George and 120 km from Knysna. But you can’t say you’ve really been to Oudtshoorn if you haven’t taken the R62 – there’s something about the road and the landscape and the absence of people that prepares you mentally for Oudsthoorn.
We find a guest house that has both air-con and a swimming pool, and swiftly make use of both conveniences. At the pool we meet a solo traveller from Hungary. He explains that goulash as we know doesn’t bear much resemblance to his country’s national dish. “Real goulash,” he insists, “Is like a soup.”
This is what makes Oudtshoorn such an interesting place. Nowhere else on the R62 would you bump into a Hungarian next to the hotel pool; nowhere else on the R62 would you stumble across an enormous newly constructed mosque. The ostriches and the CangoCaves and the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees mean that Oudtshoorn is now one of very few platteland dorps that is a destination in its own right.
We sign up for the ‘ostrich braai’ dinner menu offered by the guesthouse and head out to explore the town. It’s too hot to even consider the caves, and besides we’ve both been before. Instead we opt for a more modern Oudtshoorn experience: Cango Wildlife Ranch started off as a crocodile farm in 1977, but they’ve now got cheetahs, lemurs, tigers and servals to name but a few. With 92 animal species and counting, Cango has got something for everyone…including crocodile cage diving!
The ostrich braai is everything we had hoped it would be, and we sleep it off in the company of the guesthouse’s resident cats. The next morning we wake with renewed energy for the road.
Quaint, Quainter, Quaintest
We reach Calitzdorp before we’ve even had time to dust off the cobwebs, and although both the hot-springs and the Port farms are calling our names, we drive on. The last time we were in Caltizdorp we went to one of the incredible free organ recitals in the Dutch Reformed Church (every evening at 6 pm): the organ is one of the best in the country and Dr Noel Jean Creil, a doctor of music and theology, sure can tickle the ivories.
The HuisrivierPass to Ladismith is spectacular, and a taste of things to come. The rest of the day’s drive will feature a number of passes and poorts that warrant stopping the car and getting out the camera. We take our time, savouring every curve as we wind our way to the top.
Ladismith, back on the flat again but still surrounded by mountains, is all about cheese. What used to be Towerkop cheese has now been taken over by Parmalat, but you can still buy in bulk from their factory shop – and we do!
The road to Barrydale is long and straight, but fortunately there’s plenty to break the journey. Ronnie’s Sex Shop is the R62’s poster boy, and it is absolutely impossible to drive past. Many years ago, Ronnie Price was the victim of a prank: late one night his mates added the word SEX to the hand-painted RONNIE’S SHOP on the side of his house, and the rest – as they say – is history. A pub with a difference, Ronnie’s is the place to be and be seen in the Klein Karoo.
Just over the road from Ronnie’s is the Warmwaterberg Spa . Rustic and old fashioned, these are my kind of springs. Concrete pools and muddy water. You can stay the night here, and I have done so in the past, but today we just have time for a quick dip before moving on.
From here on the R62 is action-packed and high octane. Barrydale has to be one of the quaintest towns in the Cape. Art galleries, antique shops and loads of restaurants vie for our custom, but – as always – we stick with the place we know best. Clarke of the Karoo deserves its reputation and I make a point of having the Karoo lamb curry every time I pass through. It’s worth the sweat, even on a day like today.
If Barrydale is quaint, then Montagu is quainter. It’s actually been voted town of the year on a few occasions and it’s easy to see why. I’m still digesting my curry, though, and we drive straight through, towards Ashton.
The Best For Last
Ashton is where the R62 proper comes to an end (it merges with the R60) but, true to form, the R62 refuses to peter out with a whimper. The 10 km Cogmanskloof follows the contours of the KingnaRiver, at one point passing through an old, rudimentary tunnel above which stands a British Boer War fortification. The river is perfect for picnicking and paddling, and the dramatic cliffs high on the ridges make any photograph taken here instantly recognisable
We should stop, but by now the call of the city is too strong. Onwards we go to Robertson, Worcester and the big boring N1. Farewell, R62, till we meet again.