Getting to Oudtshoorn is part of the fun for no matter which way you arrive, the road offers something spectacular: west from Cape Town along the R62 wine route – the world’s longest, south from the Garden Route over passes extending high above a carpet of pristine forests, east and along a winding road that travels over the same river 30 times through a deep 13km gorge or from the north over the formidable Swartberg Pass that climbs 1000m in just 12km.
Oudtshoorn is nicknamed the ostrich capital of the world, boasting the world’s largest ostrich population and once a booming town enriched by a worldwide demand for the bird’s feathers. The boom has long gone but the ostriches and grand mansions of the ostrich barons remain.
Oudtshoorn is the chief centre of the Little Karoo, a dry area north of the Garden Route in South Africa. Aside from ostrich farming, Oudtshoorn is a major lucerne and honey producer.
Visitors arrive in their busloads to view the Cango Caves, the ostrich show farms and the town’s many other attractions. And spending a few days in the dry, clean air will clear those lungs of city smog in no time!
Top 8 reasons to visit Oudtshoorn
1. A visit to the 20 million year old Cango Caves is a must. The caves extend for over 5km and were first used as a refuge by San people. Tours have been conducted since the 1890s. Take the standard tour to marvel at the huge chambers and a speleothem wonderland. An adventure tour is offered too and is considered a true caving experience.
2. Learn more about the fascinating ostrich on a tour of one of the town’s ostrich show farms. Occasionally ostrich races take place, the brave jockeys being members of staff.
3. Collect a map from the Info Centre and tour the feather palaces that were once owned by wealthy ostrich farm barons. The wealth generated from the ostrich feather industry in the 1800s allowed farmers to build opulent sandstone homes with yellowwood staircases and stunning wrought iron work.
4. Join Meerkat Adventures to spend time with a meerkat clan. The meerkat is a type of mongoose, better known as a suricate. Learn about the group’s complex social structure, their diet and what is meant by a watchman’s song.
5. The Klein Karoo national art festival takes place in Oudtshoorn every April. Various art mediums are expressed (mostly in Afrikaans) and the roadsides are lined with stalls.
6. Crocodile cage diving, interactions with lemurs and up close encounters with cheetahs are just some of the offerings at the Cango Wildlife Ranch. Sample a crocodile kebab (skewer) at the onsite Turtles restaurant.
7. Experience the thrill of travelling the Swartberg Pass in a standard vehicle where signs warn motorists to use both brakes and gears. The rewards are magnificent views along the route and if you mistakenly take the turnoff to The Hell, good luck in making it back...
8. Ask your host to arrange a hot air balloon trip, offered by Oudtshoorn Ballooning, for spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and plains.
The nearest airport is George Airport, located 60km outside of Oudtshoorn. Two car rental agencies are based in Oudtshoorn and several at George airport to hire a vehicle, or you could order a rental online. There are a number of metered taxi companies in Oudtshoorn. Shuttle service operators transport visitors between George Airport and Oudtshoorn, however, we recommend driving the 425km from Cape Town to fully appreciate this section of countryside.
Did you know?
The word Karoo means The Place of Great Thirst in the Nama language and typifies the region which lies between the lush coast and the flat plains over the northern mountain range.
The ostrich is the world’s largest flightless bird and can reach running speeds of 70kph. The adult bird weighs around 120kg and the female lays eggs roughly 1.5kg in weight, equivalent to over 20 chicken eggs in volume.
Oudtshoorn is named after Baron van Rheede van Oudtshoorn who died before he could take up office as the Dutch East India Company’s Governor of the Cape Colony. He was on his way by ship from the Netherlands and died at sea in 1773.