Loosely based on the U.S.A.’s Route 66, our Route 62 extends from near Cape Town to the Eastern Cape and is the route less travelled for those who prefer a scenic and leisurely way to see the region. I think the term ‘road trip’ was invented for roads like Route 62. Miles and miles of open road, not too much traffic, spectacular scenery, and plenty of interesting and quirky characters all along the way.
I never tire of it. Route 62 starts in the beautiful towns of Ceres and Tulbagh and involves the stunning Bain’s Kloof mountain pass, but for me the real road trip begins in the Breede Valley. After a quick stop for the best almond croissant in the region, we arrive in Robertson. Here you can find South Africa’s most popular brandy cellar and the famous Breede River where families play and camp, and wine lovers cruise on riverboats while sipping Chardonnay and nibbling on picnic lunches. If time allows, a quick side trip to Bonnievale and Macgregor in case there’s a country fair or church fete where I can stock up on jam and pickles and something kitsch for my roadtrip memory shelf.
Then it’s time to hit the road again and head towards Montagu, one of the prettiest towns on Route 62, named ‘town of the year’ in 2002. If you’re a rock climber, if you love hilltop towns with lovely old architecture, if you’re a Harley Davidson fanatic, if you love art deco, or if you just love driving through beautiful mountain passes – well then you’ll love Montagu. And if you spend a night it has to be at the oldest hotel in town, filled with authentic art-deco furniture and full of fascinating history.
The trip continues … next stop Barrydale and Ronnie’s Sex Shop. Ronnie’s used to be called just ‘Ronnies’ but business was slow so his friends added the catch-word that sells everything and entices the traveller to look twice. Now everyone stops at Ronnie’s for a beer, a swim in the tank behind the shop, and a look at the bar decorations.
As we approach the small sleepy town of Ladismith there is a towering mountain peak no-one can ignore. Appearing as if it was split by lightning, Towerkop is the town’s pride and joy. Rock climbers apparently love it and the local cheese company is named after it. The town’s tourist info centre is located inside an old church which was declared unsafe, deconsecrated and used for tourism while waiting to collapse. 70 years on it is still standing and the lady who runs the info centre loves telling the story.
Ladismith behind us, we head towards Calitzdorp but first a detour through Seweweekspoort – prepare yourself for rock formations and towering cliffs that will leave you breathless. If you miss any of it, don’t worry because when we get to the end we turn around and return the same way. Back on Route 62 and… another detour down a short gravel road to come face to face with red rocks that have been around for longer than any other rock in South Africa, and that’s very very old.
Okay, now we can stay on the road and head for Calitzdorp, the port capital of South Africa, via the Huisrivier Pass. Legislation tells us we may no longer call this nectar ‘port’ but old habits die hard so, for now, port it is. After tasting the latest and stocking up we need a cold drink so we pop in to a lush green oasis – the coolest restaurant in the centre of this extremely hot dry Karoo town.
And on to Outdshoorn, the town where ostrich fortunes have been made and lost several times during the past two centuries. But there’s much more to this town than ostriches, although they are amusing and their eggs come in catering size. There’s the Cango Caves of course, ancient limestone marvels, there’s a fabulous game reserve with luxury tented accommodation overlooking a dam with hippos, there are the beautiful old ‘feather palaces’ reminiscent of those ostrich fortunes, and there’s ostrich steak on every restaurant menu and you have to try it if you haven’t before.
My number one favourite attraction in these parts is the Swartberg (Black Mountain) Pass – acknowledged to be the most spectacular pass in the whole of South Africa and also one of the most ingenious engeering feats of that master road builder, Thomas Bain. Swartberg Pass is more than a mountain pass with breathtaking views and rock formations – it’s also a rich kingdom of fynbos and animal life. When you reach the top your trip is not yet over because now you get to go down the other side and take in more breathtaking views and some more rock formations that make you gasp at the obvious geological violence that took place millions of years ago. If you have time and the correct 4×4 vehicle you can take a side trip down to The Hel – not an easy trip but worth it if you’re adventurous and keen on places with bizarre pioneering history.
At the bottom of the Swartberg lies Prince Albert – a small town renowned for the largest quantity of perfectly preserved examples of fine old Cape architecture. The return trip to Outsdhoorn is a 16km drive through Meirings Poort – a canyon that cuts a swathe through rocks towering above as you wind your way through. If it’s a hot day a quick stop at the waterfall for a very cold swim is part of the experience.
As the sun sets over the Karoo, I have to stop driving and can allow myself a sundowner and an ostrich pie at my favourite country restaurant. It’s been a long day and tomorrow we start all over again.
Next stop: Garden Route. How do we get there from here? Over a mountain, of course!