Ostriches have always had the raw end of the deal in Oudtshoorn. From a carefree existence roaming the African plains, they found themselves on a supply-and-demand joyride at the turn of the 19th century. First, they made local farmers wealthy, satisfying the whims of Victorian fashion with their feathers. The feather.com bubble burst soon after, leaving many farmers in financial ruin and a glimpse of hope for the birds. But this was short-lived as local entrepreneurs cottoned onto new ways to keep the ostrich industry alive and kicking. Oudtshoorn is living testimony to their success - a bustling town lined wall-to-wall in ostrich ranches, curio shops, B&B’s and restaurants deriving income from this hapless bird. This said, there’s a whole lot more to Oudtshoorn than “ostrich capital of the world.” The town is the best base for visiting the nearby Cango Caves and the Swartberg Pass. It also has a balmy climate and a vibey atmosphere that reaches boiling point once a year at the Klein Karoo Arts Festival.
Things To Do
- 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 bloody-mindedness of Indiana Jones to explore the caves you’ll likely need it for the shuffling crowds.
- Many tourists flock to Oudtshoorn to see ostriches, ride ostriches and eat ostriches. And what they don’t see, ride and eat, they buy and take home with them. Whether you too go the whole hog, sorry bird, is your choice. While you’ll see plenty of it driving through the Klein Karoo, either in free-range flocks or in trucks on an outing to Mr Butcher, four show farms dedicate themselves to tours and the spectacle of jockeys racing the birds. The larger outfits are tourist spectacles in themselves, so rather visit a smaller show farm. The Cango Ostrich Farm apparently falls into this category, though at the end of the day we're talking six of one, half a dozen of the other.
- Most of Oudtshoorn’s cultural life occurs along or close to Baron van Reede, the town’s vibey main avenue. On it you’ll find the popular CP Nel Museum, a handsome sandstone building with an interesting collection of artefacts from… you guessed it, the ostrich era. A little way along, on the corner of Loop and High streets, Le Roux Town House sheds light on the opulent life of a feather baron.
- Oudtshoorn is blessed with some good eateries. Again, the main concentration is along Baron van Reede. Not only will you find our nation’s favourite fast-food chains, from Saddles to Santa Fe Spur, but a number of other decent spots cooking it up. Jemima’s is probably best known among them. And yes ma’am, ostrich steak and Karoo lamb are on the menu.
- 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.
When last did you join the hordes at the Cango Caves, wrestle a croc and snap that obligatory pic of the missus perched upon an ostrich egg - praying for her sake it doesn't shatter under the loa...
Where You'll Also Find Us
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