The “longest wine route in the world”, otherwise known as the Route 62 is known for its delicious wines and brandies. Route 62 meanders through incredible rock formations and narrow mountain passes
The second part of my trip to South Africa in 2008 was to drive along the Garden Route and visit Addo Elephant Park – well at least it used to be an elephant park, but there is so much more there now including lions. As I never like to do the same journey there and back I decided that on the outward journey we would drive through the Klein (Little) Karoo along Route 62 and then at Oudtshoorn make for George via the Outeniqua Pass. I always think that the Garden Route really only starts at George and ends at Storm River, although this is hotly disputed and some say it starts at Heidelberg. We would do that stretch twice, but stop in different areas on the way.
Leaving Cape Town
After another great breakfast and leaving the Cape Peninsula behind us we headed for the N1 towards Paarl, getting stuck in two traffic jams on the way. As we limped past Century City (don’t go there) I vaguely wondered about bypassing the Huguenot tunnel, a toll road through the Klein Drakenstein (Little Dragon Stone) mountains, and drive instead on the R301 up to Wellington and then across the R303 through Bain’s Kloof Pass to Breerivier and then the R43 back towards the N1 at Worcester.
This is a route that I have done several times before, including on my previous visit to the Cape in 2000 and it is one of the most picturesque passes in the Cape. I may be biased as I find most routes in the Cape to be pretty impressive, but this is undeniably scenic following the Witte River with rapids and rock pools where you can bathe and picnic by the side of waterfalls.
However, I had never driven through the tunnel before as this wasn’t built when I lived in the Cape and the usual way out was up and over Du Toitskloof Pass which was often very unstable with regular rockfalls and incredibly scary at night. Given the amount of driving that we had to do and the time already lost in the traffic jams, we decided to use the tunnel. It is a fine tunnel, as tunnels go, and we quickly emerged at the other side to some incredible views over the Breede River valley and the Hex River Mountains in the background.
(Apologies for the poor quality of some of these images, but they were taken through an increasingly dirty windscreen)
Valley of Wine and Roses
We stopped off at the Worcester Ultra City to fill up and then left the N1 (so unfortunately missed the Hex River Valley, another stunning area especially in the autumn for the colours of the vineyards) and followed the N15 to Robertson.
(One important fact about driving in South Africa is that you have to pay cash at filling stations – they do not take cards. A very nice aspect though is that you get excellent service, someone fills up the car, your windows get cleaned and they will even check oil and tyres for you! All for a few Rands as a tip. I must admit though that I was nervous about carrying large amounts of cash with us, so I tended to fill up quite often to avoid this.)
Driving to Robertson was a surprise as there are now a plethora of wineries, and it is known as the valley of wine and roses. I hadn’t realised that there were so many vineyards, including Graham Beck, as I remembered it as mainly for fruit-growing. Yes I know, grapes are fruit, but I was thinking of orchards.
Leaving Robertson towards Ashton and Montague we hit Route 62 and followed this to Ladismith at the foot of the Klein Swartberg range where we stopped for coffee. In fact as you drive into the town, you feel as though you are driving straight into the Towerkop (Bewitch Peak) which is famous for its cleft peak!
(Another driving fact – watch out for speed cameras! I never saw any on this trip, but there were many times when I wasn’t sure of the speed limit as signage is not always very prominent. On my return to the UK I had collected 3 speeding tickets! I have never had one in the UK so I was not expecting them in rural areas. According to ‘Seth Efrikan’ legend you generally pay more for the speeding tickets and toll roads than you do for your holiday!)
From Ladismith it is onwards to Zoar and Calitzdorp. There is lovely Victorian and Edwardian architecture in Calitzdorp and several wine cellars. Near Zoar is an interesting place called Ronnie’s Sex Shop –
Ronnie painted the name Ronnie’s Shop on a cottage next to the R62, planning to open a farm stall to sell fresh produce and fruit. His friends played a prank on him by changing the name to Ronnie’s Sex Shop. Initially angry about the involuntary name change, Ronnie left the name and continued fixing the dilapidated building. His friends would stop by for a chat, having a few beers and throwing a couple of chops on the fire. During one of these evenings, someone suggested: “Why don’t you just open a pub?”
Now it is a pitstop for visitors from all over the world as well as local farmers – to be honest there is very little else on this road to stop at! We were doing this drive in the South African autumn but it was still rather warm so thank goodness for air con! I have driven through here in the mid summer when temperatures rise to 40 C and no air con – and it does get extremely hot! Once, long ago, I went through here in a VW kombi (campervan) and being air-cooled – well, yes, you see the problem – hot air does not make a very efficient cooling system and we broke down several times en route having to wait (in baking heat) at the side of the road until the van had recovered sufficiently to carry on a bit further. Very annoying in the days when petrol stations closed at 6 pm because of the oil shortage.
After Calitzdorp comes Oudtshoorn, the largest town in the Klein Karoo and famous for Ostrich farms and the Cango Caves. Well, it is supposedly famous for ostrich, but we didn’t see a single one! Even when we passed the Safari show farm on the way out of town – not one ostrich to be seen. Oudtshoorn is completely surrounded by mountains so whichever way you approach it is quite stunning. Another place to stay overnight but not on this occasion. We continued along the R62 to Zebra (and annoyingly once again I didn’t manage to get a photo of the building on the side of the road which is painted with zebra stripes), in fact that is the only building I have ever seen in Zebra!
Finally we left the R62 (N12) and went into the Outeniqua mountains, still the N12 / N9, and through the Outeniqua Pass. Unfortunately for us, clouds and thick fog had formed over the mountains and the views were not as striking as they can be in clear weather, but dramatic all the same. We wound our way down the serpentine curves to the town of George and the coast, silenced by the breathtaking mountains surrounding us. Route 62 may not be the quickest way to reach the Garden Route, but it beats the N2 any day if you have the time. I just want to do it again only with time to linger longer in the towns of the Klein Karoo, so I guess I shall be back.