Sunday, November 20, 2011

South Africa's Magical Route 62

November 18, 2011 11:34 pm

The road is long, with many a winding turn

Route 62 is the loveliest stretch of road you have never heard of. Which perhaps is not surprising – most visitors to Cape Town, having ticked penguins, cable cars, maximum security island prisons and a winery or six off their to-do list, bomb down the N2 highway to the Garden Route for some R&R by the Indian Ocean. Quick, check the BlackBerry: if it is Thursday, it must be Knysna.
But for those who appreciate that the journey can be equal to the destination, the more relaxed Route 62 offers a decidedly picturesque alternative if you want to head east from the Mother City.



Starting near Paarl, it meanders past vineyards and small Afrikaans-speaking dorps, over flower-clad mountain, along the edge of the Klein (Little) Karoo, where washing flutters on lines in tidy front gardens and donkey carts lollop down side roads.
While it would, in theory, be possible to drive in a day the whole 420km to Oudts­hoorn – from where you can drop down over the Outeniqua Mountains to George on the Garden Route – that would rather be missing the point.
This is a road to savour, to pootle along while stopping here and there to go hiking through fynbos, and to make use of the growing number of B&Bs and restaurants using fresh, local produce.
Setting off from the city late in the morning gives you the perfect excuse to stop at Babylonstoren, a 45-minute drive away, just to the south of Paarl.
The renovation of this old Dutch farm was completed at the end of last year byKaren Roos, former editor of South African Elle Decoration magazine, and her husband, with predictably stylish results.
Even if you cannot stay overnight, call ahead to book lunch in the restaurant. Mains veer towards the meaty, while desserts challenge the status quo with combinations such as warm baked chocolate and beetroot pudding, lemon and pea soufflĂ©, or white chocolate with thyme and savoy cabbage crisp. Don’t knock them till you’ve tried them.
Whenever I have driven Route 62, I have motored on from here, through the Huguenot Tunnel, past Worcester and down towards jacaranda-lined Robertson, to arrive in the shadow of the Langeberg (Long Mountain) in the late afternoon.
I would recommend stopping just short and spending the night at Tierhoek Cottages, an absolutely idyllic spot if you like peace and quiet. Situated at the end of a dirt track next to meadows on a working fruit farm, it features an early morning wake-up call from hundreds of chatty Cape weaver birds outside your window.
You could also head slightly further east to the town of Montagu and stay in Mimosa Lodge for a one-stop-shop that combines pleasant accommodation and great food under the supervision of Swiss chef-cum-owner Bernhard Hess.
If you make either of these spots your base for a night or two, take a side trip to Bonnievale, around which are clustered numerous vineyards, and the small, slow-paced hamlet of McGregor.
Otherwise drive on after breakfast, through the likes of Barrydale, Ladismith and Calitzdorp, pausing briefly nearby for the almost-obligatory photo at Ronnie’s Sex Shop (actually a pub).
By mid-afternoon, as the road signs start to warn you to avoid tortoises, and grumpy-looking ostriches begin to appear in the fields, the town of Oudtshoorn should heave into view.
Pronounced Oats-hoo-un, it is a place that seems a little lost under the vast skies of southern Africa, as if collectively sighing “ah, but you should have been here when ... ”; “when” being the latter part of the 19th century, when no self-respecting lady in Europe would be seen without an ostrich feather perched in her hat, and from which the good citizens grew rich.
I have probably never given the town a fair crack of the whip, and its rather quiet, reserved demeanour is no doubt shaken off during the large, annual Afrikaans culture festival (the Klein Karoo Kunstefees or KKNK) at the end of March. But a good reason to pause here is to rise early (very, very early) and go on a meerkat safari with the affable and pleasantly eccentric Grant McIlrath.
There is something rather life affirming standing about in the freezing cold while watching as a family of meerkats pop up one by one to greet the day, yawn, scratch and then trot off to find breakfast.
With McIlrath the whole experience is fun and educational rather than exploitative.
From Oudtshoorn the migration instinct of the sun-seeking visitor is to turn south down the N12, onward to the coast. But before you do, you should first head north, over the steep, spectacular Swartberg Pass to the town of Prince Albert, which was founded in 1762. This is not to be attempted in one of those lawnmowers on wheels disguised as a bottom-of-the-range hire car, however.
Based at the charming Dennehof guest house, the area is a photographer’s paradise.
Outside the summer months, when the thermometer can easily push past 40 degrees Celsius, there are good hiking options and a chance to taste the locally grown fruits alongside the world-renowned lamb produced in the Karoo. It is a town where you can easily spend a few days very pleasurably doing not an awful lot.
And that could be the ethos of Route 62, too. If you are in a hurry, stick to the N2 motorway. If not, then take this road where the drive is the holiday and dipping your toes in the Indian Ocean at the end of it is just a bonus.

No comments:

Post a Comment