Oudtshoorn – The heart of the klein Karoo

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I prefer using a real map compared to a GPS when it comes to traveling. There’s just something about it that makes you feel that you are about to turn your boring journey into an exciting adventure.

Now, driving from Plettenberg Bay to Oudtshoorn is pretty straight forward, and I’ve done it many times before  ­- but for some reason I felt like I needed to try a different route. Reaching under my car seat I found my trusty road map book (Printed in 1994) and chose a route that I have never driven before.

With a coffee in the one hand, my American travel buddy and I drove off towards the R340 road, just outside of Plett. This winding mountain pass delivered some spectacular views and at times I felt that we were completely lost since the whole route turned out to be a gravel road. After almost driving off the narrow mountain pass twice and nearly crashing into an oncoming car around a bend, we reached a tar road that took us straight to Oudtshoorn.

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Since Oudtshoorn has quite a lot to see and do, we decided to spend the night  at The Backpackers Paradise, a backpackers that we’ve heard about quite a few times during our trip on the Garden Route.

They had various room options available with clean towels delivered daily. The rooms are scattered throughout the old main house as well as in other outbuildings. The common room area has couches surrounding a cozy fireplace right next to the kitchen. Here you can order delicious meals throughout the day. Muffins, croissants and cakes are baked daily which fill the air with that homely freshly baked smell. As a special touch, Backpackers Paradise offers complimentary ostrich egg in the morning so you can try your hand at making some delicious ostrich scrambled egg.

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Be sure to first check into the backpackers before you book any day trips and excursions in the area because you receive quite a few discounts and coupons upon arrival.

Here are some of the activities we enjoyed:

Ostrich Riding
Ostrich riding is quite a common activity in the area and is an absolute must if you are in Oudtshoorn. I mean where else in the world would one be able to ride a bird? We visited the Chandelier Game Lodge & Ostrich show farm about 7km outside of Oudtshoorn to try this rather peculiar experience. Before you can get onto the ostrich they herd it into a V-shaped enclosure, here you climb onto its back and hold onto its wings. The guides then slowly release the ostrich but always run next to it to prevent you from falling and getting injured. Even though the ride did not last very long it was still quite exhilarating and really funny. Make sure you have someone to take some pictures of you while you do it because this truly is a unique experience.

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Cango Caves
About 20kms north of Oudtshoorn lies the majestic Cango caves. Discovered by a Dutch farmer in 1780, the Cango Caves soon became a popular tourist attraction in South Africa. There are two way of exploring the cave, the more relaxed “Standard Tour”, suitable for all ages, or the exciting “Adventure Tour”. We opted for the “Adventure Tour” of course.

This was pretty hardcore and required us to crawl through various tight holes and cracks. At some point I really thought that I was stuck because I could hardly move. The guide gives you clear instructions on how to approach each section and if you follow his directions it is quite easy to clear all the different parts. I would not recommend the “Adventure Tour” to anyone who is claustrophobic as it gets rather intense at times.

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Cango Wildlife Ranch
When I last visited this place back in the 90’s, it was a mere crocodile farm – now it has grown to a beautiful park with a wide range of different interesting animals to look at, ranging from pigmy hippos, lemurs, bats and snakes to lions, tigers and more. I personally am not a fan of keeping animals in cages, but a lot of the animals at the Cango Wildlife Ranch are used for specific breeding programmes that will contribute to a better future for certain endangered species. This is not just a glorified zoo and it seems like the animals are healthy and being treated well. The vibe in the park is great, mostly due to the friendly and helpful staff all around. One of the most interesting activities that they had to offer was crocodile cage diving, unfortunately it is not available during the winter months because the crocodile are not very active during this time. Maybe I will try it next time. Various volunteer programmes are also available for travelers who’d wish to do their part for the animals.

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These were only a few activities we had time for, but Oudtshoorn has so much more to offer. I fell in love with the beauty and vastness of the Klein Karoo and I will definitely return to explore some more.

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