When in Oudtshoorn with kids, visit an ostrich farm. I am pretty sure that this is a rule for the Little Karoo, and certainly one that I followed when we found ourselves spending some time in the ostrich capital of South Africa as part of last year’s June school holidays road trip.
Established as a tourist attraction in 1956 by 4th generation ostrich farmers Derek Fisch and Harry Lipschitz, Safari Ostrich Farm is a commercial ostrich breeding farm in Oudtshoorn with a focus on extensive farming of ostriches for meat, leather/skins and feathers.
The 1800 hectares large farm is built around a beautiful old sandstone homestead called the “Feather Palace” – built in 1910 and harking back to the beginning of the ostrich industry when the Oudtshoorn farmers farmed with ostriches exclusively for their feathers (which at a stage ranked fourth to gold, wool and diamonds in terms of the value of exports from South Africa).
The farm has about 280 breeding South African Black ostriches onsite, of which about 60% are female. Interestingly enough, Safari Ostrich Farm also happens to be the first South African ostrich farm where you can see both the Kenyan Red and Zimbabwe Blue ostriches (both of which are surprisingly a lot more aggressive than our local variety). The farm is also home to a few rare white ostriches, as well as some Australian emu.
For the visitors to the farm there is obviously the ostrich product shop and little eatery to enjoy, but by far the biggest hook is of course the Safari Ostrich Farm’s little ostrich ‘safaris’ – an informative stroll and tractor drive among the ostriches and around the ostrich farm itself. In other words, loads of fun for the little ones.
Basically, expect all the staples of an ostrich farm visit, made all the better thanks to a polished experience and super friendly guides.
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And yes, of course I had some ostrich for lunch.
Whilst in Mossel Bay with the girls and my folks for a bit of the June school holidays this year, we were rather hoping to catch a ride on the Outeniqua Power Van – a 2.5 hour return trip aboard an old Transnet railcar up into the Outeniqua mountains via the historic Montagu Pass. Of course, my severe aversion to planning, let alone making reservations of any sort, resulted in us not getting a spot – though it did facilitate a madcap race through to George just in case some seats were left open on the morning!
There were none. So instead, we camped outside the George Botanical Gardens in order to take a photo of the Power Van as it powered on by, following which we immediately hopped back into dad’s car for an impromptu drive over the famous Outeniqua Pass, the mounain pass that was built to replace the Montagu Pass as the primary route connecting George and the Garden Route coastal plain with Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo.
Built over a period between 1943 and 1951 (and undergoing more than a few upgrades along the way), the stunning Outeniqua Pass contains over 40 bend, corners and curves, and along the way you are able to spot four other passes in the area, not to mention gain an aerial view of George and the sea down in the distance.
As it turned out on the day, the weather was perfect for the drive (due to the elevation, the pass is often subject to mist and rainfall – and the occasional truck breakdown), and we were even lucky enough to hear and watch the Power Van chug along the Montagu Pass on the opposite side of the valley from one of the lookout points that we were stopped at!
After driving over the pass, turning around and then driving back over it (the best views – and lookout points – are in the Oudtshoorn to George direction), we next headed down into rural George, for a coffee, cake and ice cream with strawberries stop for the kids at Redberry Farm – a firm favourite family hangout for both tourists and locals alike.
And yes, of course the girls went for a spin on the mini train while we were there.
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From there dad randomly selected a dirt road to follow, and eventually we ended up back home. Exactly how a day out and about driving should be enjoyed.
Celebrating over 30 years of conserving and caring for endangered animal species, the Cango Wildlife Ranch (which originally started life out as a crocodile show farm), is one of the now very iconic Oudtshoorn attractions for visiting families – after all, which small kid is ever going to forget entering the premises through those toothy, gaping crocodile jaws!
A fully accredited, privately owned institution, Cango Wildlife Ranch has worked for years towards the conservation of cheetah and other endangered species – so much so that they are in fact one of the five biggest cheetah centres in the world and has for many years had the highest survival rate of cubs produced globally.
Currently housing over 90 species of animals, all in good condition, and looked after by a large experienced team of both professionals and volunteers, the Cango Wildlife Ranch serves to maintain both excellent breeding programmes as well as robust public awareness campaigns.
Then of course there is that whole entertaining visitors through edu-tourism thing.
The Cango Wildlife Ranch setup is fantastic. The grounds, pathways, and enclosures are interestingly presented, well maintained, and in fact just well done, while the guided tours which lead you through everything are slick and very informative – and for those in search of something even more adventurous, experiences like crocodile cage diving and big cat interaction are also available.
There was of course no way that Chantelle, the girls and I could pass up the opportunity to pay the ranch a visit as part of our June Holidays road trip last year, and I’m quite glad that we did make the time to do so in the end.
The girls were enthralled, I was happy to relive pleasant childhood memories, and most pleasing of all, Cango Wildlife Ranch remains still well worth the visit.
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Seriously. If you find yourself in Oudtshoorn and have kids in tow, then missing a visit to the Cango Wildlife Ranch (which is open 365 days of the year just by the way) is pretty much unthinkable!
Caves and ostriches, that is pretty much what immediately comes to mind if you think of Oudtshoorn, and rightfully so – no tourist visit or holiday with kids to the largest town in the Little Karoo is complete without having visited at least one ostrich show ranch and of course the world famous Cango Caves!
Situated in the foothills of the Swartberg mountain range, the Cango Caves can be found in the Precambrian limestone of the area, stretching for about 4 km (in length) underground. Based on cave paintings and other recoved artifacts, the cave system appears to have been in use throughout prehistory over a long period during the Middle and Later Stone Ages, however, it was only after its rediscovery in 1780 (by local farmer Jacobus van Zyl), that the caves took on its role as one of the more popular local places to visit.
Due to accessibility constraints and in efforts to preserve the caves themselves (the limestone is particularly susceptible to heat, light, touch, and of course the carbon dioxide that we breathe out), only about a quarter of the actual cave system is open to visitors – who may only only enter the cave as part of a guided group.
Tours are conducted at regular intervals throughout the day, with the two main tour types being the “Standard Tour” which takes around an hour to complete, and the “Adventure Tour” which takes around an hour and a half and has you crawling through a number of very narrow spaces and up some very vertical faces!
(Not really recommended if you are on the larger than normal side though – people can and do get stuck, sometimes horribly so.)
The tourist parts of the caves have been made wonderfully accessible, with knowledgeable tour guides and clever lighting bringing to life the beautiful stalagmite and stalactite formations, in a space that really is one of those places that you need to experience in person in order to get a feel for its majesty.
It is also worth mentioning that the visitors centre that you need to move through in order to reach the caves is also rather well laid out, featuring an excellent and informative “Interpretive Centre” that is well worth spending a little time in.
Now the last time that Chantelle and I visited the caves was back in 2007, so I was rather pleased to be able to return to this otherworldly place a full ten years later – the perfect showpiece for our two little munchkins in tow on what was now turning out to be a very attraction filled holiday roadtrip.
Pleasingly, the Cango Caves were exactly as brilliant as how I remembered them to be.
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Fun Fact: You don’t really want to still be walking along the pathway when the lights are turned off (which they do in order to further preserve the caves). Unfortunately for Jessica and myself though, this was exactly what happened as we were making our way out (my knee was giving a bit of hassle, so I was moving slowly by this point of the tour).
Seriously, I’m amazed that I didn’t need to dig out a clean pair of pants for Jessica – that was one massive pitch dark fright for one so young to have experienced! :D
One of our stops on last year’s June Holidays Road Trip was the ever delightful Oudtshoorn, a visit filled with caves, ostriches, camels and milk tart jaffles. In terms of accommodation, we went with De Oude Meul Country Lodge, a fantastic family friendly self-catering accommodation complex that lies about 14km out of Outshoorn, at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains.
A working ostrich farm come season, De Oude Meul has no shortage of facilities, counting among its many offerings a restaurant, two pools, free (and pretty decent) Wi-Fi, game hunting, hiking routes, 4×4 trails, a kids play park, fishing, a wedding venue/conference hall, and yes, as you can see from the photo above – a whole lot of bunny rabbits! (Plus a Shetland pony or two).
Our unit was more than spacious enough for the four of us, the braai worked a charm and a working DSTV a nice bonus. I adored the open space (prompting many a stroll through the well tended, lush green grounds), while the kids absolutely loved the animals and the play area.
The restaurant was pretty decent as well.
Being in the shadows of a mountain meant that it got bitterly cold at night, but nothing that a few extra blankets couldn’t solve! Besides, everybody cheered up the minute the bales of hay was carried towards the rabbit pen anyway…
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Bonus find – De Oude Meul commissioned this video to give you a bit of a better feel of what to expect when staying with them:
Pretty accurate and thus not hard to see that this is indeed a thoroughly enjoyable place to call home for a couple of nights – especially if you have small kids in tow like we do!
Having spent the day being guided around the magnificent Cango Caves, watching people zip-line down to Cango Caves Estate, and letting Jessica ride about on a camel at Wilgewandel, we were now happily making our way back towards the guest house, when the rather inviting scene over at Signature Divine caught our eye and immediately prompted a rather impromptu milkshake and coffee stop.
Originally setup to host events at their lovely small Klein Karoo venue with a view, Signature Divine has since evolved into a wonderful little eatery that offers a great menu packed with all manner of thoughtful gourmet treats.
In particular, the team is known for their menu of interesting gourmet milkshake combinations, basically a great way to try and escape that all oppressing Karoo heat!
To complement the magnificent view on display, Chantelle selected a milkshake, the girls opted for ice cream, and I got stuck into some good coffee – after which, on suggestion of our bubbly waiter for day, I discovered the world of milk tart jaffles.
Seriously, how in the world did I NOT know that this simple but delicious South African dessert morsel existed!
Anyway, adjacent to the eatery and its two beautiful stone barns is also an art gallery (Annie’s Art), showcasing the interesting acrylic work of Annamarie Janse van Rensburg.
(Surprisingly, the art gallery was open to the public but completely devoid of life. Definitely not something that would fly in the city – all her paintings would be off the wall in a matter of minutes! Definitely one of the nicer aspects of small town living though.)
In summary, Signature Divine is a surprisingly lovely stop in what feels like the middle of nowhere. Definitely worth pulling over if you ever find yourself in the area!
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Oh, and much to the delight of both Jessica and Emily, the restaurant does have a small trampoline for the kids on the grass patch. Small, but much appreciated touch.
Having decided that she wasn’t particularly keen on eating lunch off a bench table at Wilgewandel following our exciting morning of exploring the world famous Cango Caves, Chantelle was instead much happier with the idea of taking a short hop up to the Cango Caves Estate (which itself is just below the Cango Caves), home to both an interesting looking deli and a rather scary looking zipline!
This turned out to be a really, really good idea, because a) the deli afforded fantastic views of the swartberg mountains, b) the tranquility of the Grobbelaars River was right there if needed, c) the zipline made for some exciting people watching, and d) the coffee at the Cango Caves Estate turns out to be rather good.
Aside from its main business as a wedding or private event facility (the restored Manor House elegantly caters for this), the Cango Caves Estate also operates a very popular deli, which has its own coffee roastery and curio selection, not to mention its impressive stock of all the local fine wines, cheeses and biltong.
Then of course there is their zipline.
The Cango Caves Zipline is a double zipline setup, meaning that two people can slide side by side at the same time.
The ride starts at the parking area of the Cango Caves, with an initial teaser zip of some 155 meters over a Karoo ravine, followed by the big 465 meters trip over a game enclosure and all the way down to the Cango Caves Estate!
My girls are of course too small for this, (while Chantelle and I too heavy), so we opted to rather make do with some delicious pizza and ice cold drinks, admire the view, and perhaps try and beat the heat instead.
Can’t say that it wasn’t an enjoyable attempt.
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Their food is good and the deli air-conditioned (and rather comfortable), making this a worthwhile stop if you ever do find yourself out and about in the middle of a sweltering hot Karoo afternoon.
Three minutes down the road from the world famous Oudtshoorn Cango Caves is the popular (and relatively well known) Wilgewandel Holiday Farm, a family friendly accommodation option situated at the foot of the Swartberg mountain range.
Famous for their camel rides (which is precisely the reason we simply HAD to take Jessica there following our exploration of the caves), Wilgewandel is built around its kid friendly activities, offering things like water slides, donkey cart rides, the humorously named Ghwarra-Ghwarra Golf Course (putt putt), a foefie slide (zip-line), pedal cars, farmyard animals and rowing boats – basically it should technically be near impossible for your kids not to find some form of entertainment that they enjoy on the grounds!
Centered around a lovely dam, there is plenty of space to run around, the farm atmosphere keeps everything relaxed, and the onsite restaurant works hard to ensure that everyone has a plate of food and full glass in front of them.
Oh, and Wilgewandel sports a pretty well stocked curio shop as well – useful for all those touristy people among us.
The place is then as you imagine a magnet for day visitors and as such can get quite busy at times – so worth keeping in mind if you were originally looking to get away for some complete peace and quiet!
Although we weren’t staying at Wilgewandel (we were bunked down at the lovely De Oude Meul Country Lodge further down the road), and we didn’t grab a bite to eat here either (Chantelle preferred to grab something a little better looking from the nearby Cango Caves Estate instead), we did however hang around long enough give the girls a good chance to run around and play and talk to all the animals – and of course let Jessica tackle her second camel ride of the year.
(Which she absolutely LOVED of course!)
So, if you have kids with you and are looking to escape the the hot Oudtshoorn/Klein Karoo sun (and maybe recharge your batteries for a bit by letting the kids run off to play), then marking Wilgewandel on your travel map is definitely quite the good idea.
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Bonus: It is worth noting that I’m not overly excited by their pricing model mind you – basically you need to pay for every single activity as opposed to bunching every thing up under a single access fee, meaning that a day out at Wilgewandel as a day visitor has the potential to get really expensive really quickly if you have two or more kids running around who demand to try absolutely each and everything on offer.
That said, Wilgewandel Holiday Farm is out in the middle of nowhere and is definitely an oasis of entertainment if you ever find yourself lounging around Oudtshoorn with bored kids that are maybe a little tired of seeing ostriches every time that they look out of a window! :D
In just ten or so days’ time, Chantelle and I will be packing our bags, bundling the girls into the car, and fumbling to find a radio station that both of us can agree on, all so that we can hit the road and enjoy what should be a super awesome, nine nights long mid-year school holidays breakaway.
Interesting fact: this will officially be the longest road trip holiday that Chantelle and I have ever had with the girls – so it should be a pretty interesting experience all around!
Now, knowing that I despise just languishing in one place for too long, you might have guessed that this holiday road trip will involve a fair bit of driving around… and you would be 100% correct. Of course it does.
So, on to the rather exciting breakdown for our upcoming July 2017 holiday then:
We kick things off with a three night stay in Oudtshoorn (a place I’ve last been to a full decade ago!), using the wonderful looking De Oude Meul Country Lodge as our base of operations. From there we should be more than adequately placed to visit with ostriches, cheetahs and camels, go spot a waterfall or two, and of course enter some very famous underground caves.
Next we head straight up to the Main Rest Camp in the Addo Elephant National Park, where we’ll sleep for just one night. This should be an unforgettable first time experience for the girls, and I am looking forward in particular to staking out the main waterhole with them come sundown!
(Bonus fact: the last time that I was in Addo was back in 2009, when Chantelle and I embarked on our epic Honeymoon road trip around the country!)
From Addo we will then drive down to Port Elizabeth and spend three nights there in the company of Evan and Natasha. The girls are SUPER excited at the prospect of playing with their friend Evalynne again, while I have to say, I’m secretly rather excited to try and find an opportunity to slip out and visit the PE branch of the SAAF Museum, or perhaps make an attempt to see the infamous Cape Recife Lighthouse if the wind blows that way.
The last leg of our July holiday sees us shack up at The Gull self-catering chalet (right on Myoli beach!) in Sedgefield for two nights, a town of particular nostalgic value to me seeing as that was where I spent the vast majority of my holidays as a child thanks to it being home to my mom’s folks.
In other words, I may be even MORE excited than the girls for this upcoming little breakaway! ;)