R62-header-Calitzdorp

Karoo road trip – Route 62

Arguably one of South Africa’s best roadtrip routes, is Route 62. Route 62 meanders from Oudtshoorn to Cape Town along scenic roads that are less travelled than its more famous coastal cousin, the adjacent “Garden Route”. 

Not too far from Uniondale, we passed a road sign that said Kykoe. The lush valley and forested land looked so inviting that we followed the road for a couple of kilometers. There seemed to only be the remnants of a lovely old farm with some broken down homes in the most exquisite forest setting. No wonder the district is known as Eden. It was great for a pitstop and an opportunity to just breathe and enjoy the scenery.

 

The photograph in the bottom centre above 👆, has a tiny oxwagon sign with the inscription “WJ Burchell 1810-1815″. I tried to find out more… Apparently William John Burchell was a famous British naturalist and botanist as well as a poly-mathematician (whatever that might be). Between 1810 and 1815, Burchell did extensive fieldwork (self funded) and traversed some 7000 km around South Africa, all by oxwagon. Numerous plant and animal species are named after Burchell, most famously our zebra and some birds.

Perhaps he fell in love with this spot too and might have stayed here for a short time during his journey. Perhaps in this very house?

 

Calitzdorp is known as the port wine capital of South Africa, and is host to the oldest estates and cellars in the region. The climate is similar to Portugal’s Douro region – hot and dry in summers with temperatures reaching 40 degrees C contrasted with cold and bracing winters. It is during the latter season that we cruise into town and follow a charming road that curves past vineyards and many newly renovated homes with gorgeous views of the valley and the dry Gamka river bed.

The village of Calitzdorp is filled with historical buildings heavily influenced by Edwardian and Victorian architecture. Some of these have been lovingly restored and I was struck by the abundance of flowers despite being a place that is purported to only “rain when it wants to”.

We were booked into Strooi Kooi, an ecologically designed straw bale cottage on the edge of the vineyards, with views over the surrounding farms. Simple but stylish and superbly comfortable.

Our friend Bernice, has a good friend Jaco, who lives in Calitzdorp. A couple of WhatsApp messages later and we were steered towards Die Bakhuis for dinner. A perfect choice because a) dogs are welcome; b) their pizzas are wood-fired; and c) you can bring your own wine.  The staff were super friendly to us and our dogs (I had to drag Darcy out of the kitchen where she was making headway at winning treats from the chef🙈). And our pizzas were possibly one of the tastiest ever! We couldn’t decide if we preferred the pulled lamb and aubergine one, or the chicken, mushroom and sun-dried tomato…so we had a slice of one, then the other, then back to the first, and then the second, just to be sure…🍕

As you leave Calitzdorp, you sweep out on the Huisrivier Pass, which leads to the town of Ladismith in the west. Although only 13 km long, it manages to pack in many sharp bends and curves which makes it hard to enjoy the exceptional scenery. Fortunately there are some stops along the way where you can stop and stare.

Ladismith is a farming town known for exceptional fruit products (one third of SA’s apricots come from this region). Its also famous for the Ladismith Cheese Factory and Parmalat. I was looking forward to some cheese tasting but this was clearly not a priority for the town and I was left remembering how some years ago I couldn’t buy a Cornish pasty for love or money in Cornwall!

Mention Route 62 and most South Africans will say “Ronnie’s Sex Shop!”
We thought we’d pop our heads in and see if it was living up to its reputation. (This place has nothing to do with sex at all, but is merely a bar in the middle of nowhere. Apparently the word “Sex” was painted in as a prank by a friend of Ronnie’s with a penchant for marketing…)

We arrived mid-morning and it looked as though the sleepy-eyed staff were just opening up for the day.
The smell of stale spilt beer lingered from the previous night and although we sniffed around hopefully, there was no sign of a hearty breakfast or even a cup of coffee on the cards – just a serving counter that sold crazily exotic cocktail milkshakes and of course drinks in the bar. The ceiling of the dingy pub was jam packed with autographed brassieres. I imagine after a drink or two it becomes obligatory to leave your underwear behind.😁
Just as we were beating a hasty retreat, we met Ronnie himself. He was keen to understand why we were making an escape:
“Where are you off to?”
“Cape Town”
“What on earth for…?”

Hungry, but prepared to wait until we reached the picturesque village of Barrydale, we consoled ourselves with the beautiful autumn scenery (a gorgeous pitstop for the dogs amongst the fruit trees and a picturesque old building) and the winding roads that take you into the fertile valley nestled below the Langeberg mountains.

Relying on recommendations once again, we pulled into a vintage diner called Diesel and Creme. Cleverly decorated with old advertising signs for Pepsi, Caltex and old Gatti ice cream bicycles, there are lots of tables inside and outside. We opted for outdoors because of Darcy and Paddy.

Over-the-top milkshakes are clearly a thing in this part of the world and we opted to try these with our breakfast. Everything was delicious but we left feeling slightly ill.😂

The magnificent Tradouw Pass awaited us after breakfast and we followed its undulating path through the folds of the mountain. Thomas Bain certainly lived up to his reputation of a Master Builder, forging a route through the amazingly rugged mountain scenery.

Access to the Winelands regions is almost exclusively via mountain passes that were constructed in the 19th century. They pick their way through steep ravines following the course cut by rivers over centuries.

On the Cape Town side of the Tradouw pass, we found the peaceful settlement of Suurbraak.  The village was registered in 1812 by the London Missionary society as a mission station to serve the Khoi people. The heart of the village has been well preserved and many of the old style homes line the road, some seem to still rely on wood burning stoves and donkey-drawn ploughs, so it feels a little bit untouched by a modern lifestyle, although some of the old homes had been beautifully renovated as weekend cottages. It’s a beautiful place with green fields, majestic mountains and a river that runs through it…

Route 62 tails off at this point as the more familiar Cape landmarks of Montague, Robertson and McGregor follow on then becoming R60, or you can make the choice at this point (as we did) to pick up the N2 at Swellendam and head more swiftly into Cape Town. Route 62 – we’ll be back!

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