After Mountain Zebra (see last blog), we visited two more national parks, and then headed back towards Cape Town, following what is known as Route 62.
Camdeboo National Park and Graaff-Reinet
The best known feature of Camdeboo National Park is the Valley of Desolation. We’re not sure why it has that name, but it consists of some impressive rock columns and other formations on a valley floor. The best time to see it is at late afternoon, so we drove up the steep road and then followed a path along the rim of the valley, enjoying the amazing views. After completing the circuit we collected drinks from the car and returned to the first viewpoint, to enjoy the sunset.
The town of Graaff-Reinet is in the centre of Camdeboo, and we stayed there for two nights, in a cottage now classified as a historic monument. The town is full of attractively styled buildings, many with Dutch gables and practically all whitewashed, and gleaming in the bright sun. It is a very picturesque town, and we enjoyed strolling around.
Karoo National Park
Graaff-Reinet is in the semi-desert area known as the Great Karoo. We travelled across the plains of the Karoo to reach Karoo National Park. It was a long straight road across empty land, reminiscent of travelling across Northern Australia – or Kansas! No point in planning a coffee break on the 130-mile journey – you won’t find any towns or cafés along the road.
Karoo National Park is distinguished by the mountains that rise up from the surrounding plain. The scenery is great; we stayed overnight in a park chalet, and had a veranda with tremendous views. The weather was bright and sunny; we were delighted to be back in T-shirts and shorts. While driving around loop roads in the park we saw a lot of animals, including zebras (Mountain Zebras and Burchill’s Zebras – we are getting good at telling them apart), red hartebeests, gemsbocks and ostriches.
Although we much enjoyed our time at Karoo, we were also slightly disappointed. We were looking forward to some hiking in the magnificent scenery, but discovered on arrival that this was not possible – the hikes we’d read about can be done only with a guide, and we arrived just too late to join a group. While driving around the park, you must not get our of your car except in a very few designated ‘safe’ areas, such as picnic sites which are enclosed by fencing to ensure that wild animals do not come to eat your meal – or you! It was great to see the animals, but not so good to be cooped up in the car.
Oudtshoorn and Cango Caves
From Karoo we drove south to the town of Oudtshoorn, where we joined Route 62 for the journey back to Cape Town. On the way there was an unexpected bonus – after miles of frankly boring plains, the road took us through a very scenic gorge, with a stop to do a short walk to an attractive waterfall.
We stayed overnight in Oudtshoorn, which is the capital of the ostrich faming industry – something we studiously avoided. However, we arrived at the end of a 9-day festival in the town, and enjoyed wandering about watching the local people having fun.
Next morning we detoured to visit the Cango Caves. We took the ‘standard tour’, avoiding the ‘adventure tour’ which is not suitable for claustrophobes! The first two chambers were large and impressive, the others less so.
For our journey west we followed Route 62, the mountain route that runs between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. West of Oudtshoorn it traverses the so-called Little Karoo, and takes you through some dramatic mountain passes with magnificent scenery. The journey itself is hugely enjoyable, but we had some interesting stops in the small towns along the way.
Our first was Calitzdorp, reputed to produce the best port in South Africa. We had coffee in a quirky café cum bookshop, and of course we could not pass up the opportunity to visit one of the port wineries for a tasting. We stayed overnight in Montagu, and swam in the hot springs: beautifully landscaped pools, water 41° – perfect!
The following day was rather disappointing. We drove to the town of McGregor, as we’d read in the guidebook about a walk from there which sounded really good. It transpired however that the walk did not start from McGregor – you first had to drive about ten miles out of town on unsealed roads, so we abandoned the idea. Instead we did a boat trip on the Bree River – but the weather turned cold, wet and windy, so as we were the only passengers we suggested aborting the trip.
The day after that – intended to be our last in South Africa – we did a loop road through some magnificent scenery. Our first stop was the town of Ceres, and as there was a heavy shower while we were there, we took refuge in a coffee shop. The town itself is nothing special, but the route there, through a mountain pass, is simply stunning. At Tulbagh we walked down a street where beautiful 18th and 19th century houses have been restored or recreated following an earthquake in 1969.
Our next stop was the Taal Monument outside Paarl, a memorial to the Afrikaans language. The monument itself is impressive, and it is situated on top of a hill, with magnificent views across the Winelands and to Table Mountain. It was a fitting conclusion to our South African trip – because our next and final stop was Cape Town airport, for the journey home.