The Klein Karoo is the Garden Route’s neighbour to the north. And it’s equally, beautifully interesting.
Wines (specially dessert wines); caves; ostriches; fynbos; the arts; Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp and De Rust; World Heritage Sites; and some of the world’s most spectacular mountain passes.
The Klein Karoo - the semi-arid plain between the Swartberg Mountains and the Outeniqua Mountains (the Outeniquas are the mountains that separate the Klein Karoo from the Garden Route) - is one of South Africa’s most beloved destinations. And it’s close enough for day trips from Mossel Bay.
So here’s our list (in no particular order) of our Ten favourite Things To Do in the Klein Karoo (Nice rhyme, hey?):
Vast underground halls and towering dripstone formations make the Cango Caves one of South Africa’s best-known attractions.
- There’s a choice of the easier Heritage Tour (which penetrates 500 m into the mountain), or the more challenging Adventure Tour, which goes into the less accessible caverns.
- You’ll need to book because space is limited in order to protect the delicate underground environment. 29 km from Oudtshoorn in the picturesque Cango Valley. www.cango-caves.co.za
Wilgewandel: for the kids
A selection of fun activities for young and old: camel rides, donkey-cart rides, a 100 metre foefie-slide (zipline) into the farm dam, rowing boats, a putt-putt course, a touch farm (ostriches, Billy goats, sheep, rabbits, and a pig), and a restaurant and gift shop.
- “We pride ourselves on creating a healthy farm atmosphere where you can relax and enjoy the fresh air.”
- Near the Cango Caves, 25 km from Oudtshoorn. www.wilgewandel.co.za
Ostrich Show Farms
Fascinating stories and an eye for shiny things! Meet the world’s largest flightless birds on a tour at:
- Highgate Ostrich Show Farm - the world’s oldest ostrich show farm (on the R328 between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay) www.highgate.co.za
- Safari Ostrich Show Farm - with its famous Ostrich Feather Palace (also on the R328) www.safariostrich.co.za
- Cango Ostrich Show Farm (in the Cango Valley) www.cangoostrich.co.za
- Chandelier Game Lodge & Ostrich Show Farm - which also offers birding, mountain biking, game drives, and Khoi San Cultural Trail (On the N12 between Oudtshoorn and George) www.chandelier.co.za
The Klein Karoo Wine Route
“Arguably the most diverse of South Africa’s wine regions.” (According to its website).
- The numerous microclimates of the Klein Karoo are perfect for a wide variety of quality dry wines, fortified and dessert wines (ports, muscadels), and pot-stilled brandies.
- With about a dozen different estates and tasting rooms in the Calitzdorp/ Oudtshoorn De Rust area alone, the Klein Karoo Wine Route makes a great destination for day-drives from Mossel Bay. www.kleinkaroowines.co.za
CP Nel Museum
The imposing sandstone tower of the CP Nel Museum once housed a mermaid! (And we’re not kidding.) Since she’s no longer in residence, though, you might like to visit the Museum for its:
- History of ostrich farming and the ostrich feather booms of the early 20th Century; iCollection of music instruments;
- Synagogue (the preserved interior of the old St. John Street Synagogue as it was in 1896. Still used occasionally for religious services.) www.cpnelmuseum.co.za
The Arts & the KKNK
Oudtshoorn hosts one of South Africa’s largest arts festivals: the KKNK (Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, or Little Karoo National Arts Festival - annually in April). But culture isn’t limited to one week a year in the Klein Karoo.
- Art Karoo Gallery - authentic art from the Klein Karoo at 54 Baron van Reede Street, Oudtshoorn. www.artkaroo.co.za
- Village Art Gallery - original works by top South African artists (Schoeman Street, De Rust) www.derust.org.za
- Calitzdorp Art Route - this tiny Karoo dorpie takes its many artists and their galleries and studios very seriously. Download the Calitzdorp Art Route 62 map here.
Visit the home of CJ Langenhoven - the father of the Afrikaans language. Declared a museum in 1955, and restored in 1990, it offers a glimpse of life in the early 20th Century. (Jan van Riebeeckweg, Oudtshoorn) www.cjlangenhoven.co.za
- "Maak in die somer hout bymekaar en sit in die winter by die vuur" - CJ Langenhoven 1873-1932
Greet the dawn with a family of meerkats
The meerkats (suricates in English, Erdmännchen in German, igala in Xhosa) of the Klein Karoo like to come out to sun themselves in the first light of the day. These companies will take you to see them:
Take a day drive from Mossel Bay to the Swartberge (Swartberg Mountains) - the northern border of the Klein Karoo. Among its many attractions:
- Swartberg Nature Reserve - a World Heritage Site. Famous for its Gamkaskloof Valley (also known as Die Hel), this 121,000 hectare reserve conserves various vegetation types (renosterveld, mountain fynbos, spekboom veld) and supports antelope, baboons, dassies and leopard as well as a wide variety of birds. Visit in autumn (March - Ma) to see the proteas in full bloom. www.capenature.co.za
- The Swartberg Pass was built between 1881 and 1888 to join Oudtshoorn in the South to Prince Albert in the North. A gravel road notable for its dry-stone walls, its hairpin bends - and its amazing views. www.en.wikipedia.org
- The Meiringspoort - on the N12 national route between De Rust and Beaufort West - offers spectacular driving through the most amazing, folded rock formations. www.en.wikipedia.org
- The scenic route from Mossel Bay via the Robinson Pass (on the R328), Oudtshoorn, Cango Caves, Swartberg Pass, Prince Albert, Meiringspoort, De Rust, Oudtshoorn, and home again (about 370 km) ranks as one of South Africa’s most spectacular day drives.
The Outeniqua Mountains separate the Garden Route from the Klein Karoo. Visit them for these (and many other!) great attractions:
- The Outeniqua Nature Reserve - a 38,000 ha reserve known (ironically, we think) for its mountain passes (see below). But great for fynbos spotting and excellent birding - particularly if you’re looking to see the raptors. www.capenature.co.za
- The Robinson Pass - on the R328 between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn. www.sa-venues.com
- The Outeniqua Pass - the main road from George to Oudtshoorn. www.en.wikipedia.org Great views, but if you’re a little more adventurous, try
- The Montagu Pass - the historic, 19th Century, gravelled road from George to Oudtshoorn. Very popular with mountain bikers. www.en.wikipedia.org
- The Ruiterbos Valley Region - the area at the foot of the Robinson Pass - is home to a number of artists, galleries, guest farms, horse farms, and quirky attractions (like a one-shop CBD). www.ruiterbos.com