Your Guide To The Open Road
Cruising under Big Skies
Ladismith to Calitzdorp (R62)
The Klein Karoo is roadtrippin’ at its soulful finest. And the Ladismith to Calitzdorp stretch as good as any to earn your Big Sky wings. But, first, a caveat. in this neck of the woods, you have to work a little to get the most from the experience. You have to don your Indiana Jones hat (this is not dandy Greyton weekending) and go seeking. You have to get off the beaten track, get some dust on those Goodyears. For, behind the drab main street 70s architecture, Pep Stores, bleary-eyed street hustlers and general impoverishment lies a world of smouldering red sandstone, brittle sandy hinterlands, deep ravines gouged by the hand of God, and some seriously impressive passes, courtesy of Thomas Bain and his band of merry slaves.
Stick around to watch day fade into dusk and night into dawn. Take note of the incredible diversity in the seemingly uniform and barren. Meet the locals. Sample the port - lots of it. You’ll quickly realise just how awesome the Klein Karoo is. North, east, south and west of Ladismith and Calitzdorp, the options are plenty and tantalising. From Calitzdorp, up the Groenfontein Valley, over to the Swartberg Pass and beyond. Through Kruisrivier and down Lategansvlei. South on the Volmoed road and over the Rooiberg, dropping in for a quick leg stretch at Gamkaberg Nature Reserve on the way. From Ladismith, winding on up the contorted Seweweekspoort, eyeballing teetering rock formations that’ll knock your socks off. Pulling in at the mission village of Zoar, downing a vetkoek and checking out the beautiful church. Cruising down to Vanwyksdorp, either on the long flat from Ladismith or over over the windy Rooiberg Pass… It’s all there for the taking. What’s more you’ll likely have it all to yourself.
Don't expect much from the main streets cutting through these towns; the good stuff sits in the back streets and beyond.
Complete your stroll around Calitzdorp with a glass or three of port, for which the place is super well known. Peter Bayly in the Groenfontein valley (14km) is worth the pretty drive. You can do a full Groenfontein-Kruis River-Red Stone Hills loop, which will pop you out back on the R62. Gorgeous.
Sidestep the local hustlers (sadly, as unemployment increases, so do the numbers), and check out the fine local architecture spanning various eras (in some cases, serious errors) - the grand churches, the Nagmaal huisies. Both towns have a rich history.
Take to the gravel; the farm roads leading north and south of both towns are nothing short of spectacular.
Don't visit in Jan or Feb - especially if the air-con’s playing up.
"an oasis in the middle of the Karoo..."
"Great milktart and coffee"
"Went for coffee, stayed for lunch"
"Warmest service around!"
“Delicate flavors of cardamom and ginger…”
“Such a treat!”
“Lekker! is more than just “nice”!”
"Tasty food and warm ambience"
"Wonderful find in Calitzdorp"
"Heart home-cooked meals"
"Wholesome Klein Karoo fare"
"Gem of the Swartberg."
"Artist in paradise."
“Farmstall on a farm!”
“Best Country Eatery In South Africa”
- Complete your stroll through Calitzdorp's historic back streets with a glass of port, for which the town is well associated, thanks to a hot dry climate and poor soil. Some of the country’s best port is made at three wineries, all within walking distance. Die Krans Estate and Boplaas are among them. Further out of town, Peter Bayly Wines does a fine Portuguesestyle port – visits are by appointment only. Die Oude Postkantoor gallery and cafe sits at the gate.
- Take a day trip over the Rooiberg South and Rooiberg North passes, for gobsmacking vistas over the vast mountain landscape of Van Wyksdorp.
- Still in Van Wyksdorp, you can take a walk through quiet gravel streets to the historic NG and Lutheren churches.
- The mountains rising up behind Ladismith are intimidating to your average Joe Soap. Best you contact the Tourism office for the options, or stay at one of our recommended farm getaways if you plan to do a lot of walking.
- Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, a low-key reserve draped over a rugged isolated mountain, is a good place to stretch the legs. Originally established for the conservation of Cape mountain zebra, Gamkaberg has accommodation, a 4x4 route and hiking trails. Don’t visit in February, unless the idea of 44 degrees in the shade turns you on.
- If you have time to kill, you’ve got to do a day drive. There are two main options. First on the to-do list is Seweweekspoort – a wild gorge cutting through tortured rock formations that pops out 21km later in the Great Karoo. At the other end of Ladismith and with a different personality, the Hoeko valley is a picturesque meandering drive through wonderful farmlands, old homesteads and orchards – at their best in spring.
- Ranked high on the country’s top 10 attractions, the Cango Caves is an obligatory pilgrimage. Whether you like it or not, you too must join the hordes to gawk, gasp and gaze upon this natural underground wonder of echoing caverns, towering columns and dripping rocks. A guided tour is the only way in, so while you won’t need the bloodymindedness of Indiana Jones to explore the caves you’ll likely need it for the shuffling crowds.
- Believe it or not, after a day or two in Oudtshoorn you will have had your fill of ostrich. Time, then, to pull head from the sand and motor north to experience the Swartberg Pass. Final work of master road builder, Thomas Bain, the Swartberg Pass is an engineering marvel. The drive to the summit is fairly tame – but the views are great. It’s the descent to Prince Albert where Bain struts his stuff, a succession of dramatic serpentine switchbacks, twists and turns winding down, down, down.
- Eating-wise, these two towns are a mixed bag and the experience somewhat Russian Roulettish - depends on the day you visit and the general mood - Monday is generally lacklustre. The restaurants in Calitzdorp and Ladimsith are more often than not, fairly basic affairs, befitting local character. Some are downright shabby, yet posing as 'artisan'. For finer eating, head to Oudtshoorn, where the quality is a notch or two higher, but then again, do some research beforehand eg via Tripadvisor.