Here are some excerpts from the Lonely Planet – South Africa & Lesotho & Swaziland chapter on the Western Cape about the towns we passed through in the Little Karoo:
Montagu is nestled between two mountain ranges and it’s this setting that seems to give it a cozy atmosphere, gone are the wide-open skies with the mountains hugging the edges of the spacious valleys. It’s a romantic town with an air of dignity afforded by the twenty-four restored national monuments and fine art deco architecture. The calmness was shattered by serious flooding in 2008. The river broke its banks and tore up much of the hot springs resort and the nearby caravan park. Hasty repairs to two small bridges over the now quiet river were done, but the damage is still apparent. Fortunately, the centre of the town was unscathed and the tree-lined streets are as welcome as ever on a hot February afternoon.
Bonnievale is a small country village with a big heart and loads of cheese. The surrounding cheese factories manufacture more than 100 tons of cheese each day, and it’s even possible to visit and watch the process for yourself. Like the other communities along the Breede River, there are vineyards, fruit trees, dairy cows and stud horses to populate the surrounding landscape. There are 14,750 residents and 25,000 cows. Mooo…
Robertson is the western gateway to the heart of Route 62. It is also one of the largest wine growing regions in the country and boasts forty-six wineries within sipping distance of the town. It sits under the shadow of the Langeberg Mountains, nestled along the Breede River, which provides the water essential to its survival. The town is 150 years old, with jacaranda lined streets, beautiful gardens and many Victorian buildings.
The surrounding wineries have been recognized over the years for their fine wines and the local farm stalls overflow with fresh produce, dried fruits, jams preserves and freshly baked breads. There is a wide variety of accommodation, suited for backpackers and genteel guests with discerning tastes. However, it’s the relaxed nature of the hospitality that provides visitors with an unforgettable stay and keeps them coming back again and again.
Dreaming away at the end of a road going nowhere, quiet and sleepy McGregor is an increasingly popular retreat with lots of accommodation on offer. The main thoroughfare, Voortrekker St, has pretty whitewashed cottages dating from the mid-19th century, and the village is surrounded by farmland. It’s a good base for hiking in the nearby Riviersonderendberge and in fact is one end of the excellent Greyton McGregor Trail.
McGregor Country Cottages, located beside an apricot orchard at the north end of the village, is this complex of eight whitewashed, thatched-roofed self-catering cottages, each with a fireplace. The entire place has a quaint farm-like feel with a cosy bar and sitting room and sociable hosts.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We took two full days to drive from Prince Albert, through the Meiringspoort Pass and then below the Swartberg Mountain range, westward, enjoying every minute of the heart of the Little Karoo. We spent the night in Barrydale, a small town in a wide valley, and though it was lovely, there wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about it.
There was much there to remind us of places in Canada, wide-open spaces, mountains in the distance, farms everywhere we looked, cattle, windmills, orchards, and numerous small towns. The things that made it stand out as a different world were the ostrich farms and the African Sacred Ibis roosting in the trees in Montagu. We were thinking of checking out the hot springs in Montagu, but as we approached the town, we were overtaken by literally hundreds of men on massive motorcycles.
Apparently, we were being engulfed in the Route 66 Harley Davidson Rally. The bikers have been gathering together every February since 2007, and the Avalon Springs in Montagu has been the host for the past many years. We turned tail as motorcycles are not our ‘thing’, and the noise was deafening. On our way out of town, we happened across two very interesting things.
The first was a huge flock of African Sacred Ibis roosting in a stand of trees surrounding a small pond. They are such huge birds, and striking with their black and white plumage. The noise from the ibises was almost as deafening as the noise from the Harleys. I was drawn to a nearby tree that was being ignored by the ibises, and I saw some strange nests suspended from the branches. On the way back to the parking lot, I came across a notice board that explained that the Cape Weaver bird, and its smaller cousin, the Southern Masked Weaver, were responsible for the hanging nests.
The second thing that caught my attention was a yield sign with a silhouette of a walking cat. Now this struck me as very unusual because I’ve been collecting yield signs for years now, and this is the very first one I’ve ever seen with a cat on it. It definitely put Montagu on the map for me. I sure hope those 500 bikes give the town’s kitties the right of way.
When I read that Bonnievale’s dairies produce 100 pounds of cheese per day, and that it was possible to tour a cheese factory, I felt we just couldn’t pass it by. It meant we had to make a slight detour off Route 62 but it was worth it in spades. It was something to see, from high on an enclosed catwalk above the production floor. It wasn’t easy to take photos of the process, but I snapped some of the racks of cheese aging in place. Some had a layer of yellow wax on the wheels of cheese, and others were further along in the aging process and had been dipped in another layer of wax, this time bright red. It made me think of all the gouda cheese I’d eaten in my lifetime. Bread, cheese, and wine, my three favourite food groups!
Instead of travelling northwards to join the Route 62 at Robertson, we kept to the smaller country roads, and followed the undulating course of the Breede River. The area was full to bursting with vineyards and wineries, all irrigated with water from the river. When it got late in the day, we decided to stop in McGregor, after reading about the McGregor Country Cottages in our guidebook. We loved the old-world charm of the renovated buildings with their thatched roofs. We walked a short distance and found a lovely restaurant for dinner that night. A perfect ending to a perfect day.
The next morning, we set off once again, driving towards Robertson and the Route 62. The town is described as the gateway to the heart of Route 62, but we weren’t arriving from Cape Town. We were heading towards it, so for us it was really the departure gate. We were now moving into the Winelands region of South Africa, yet another striking landscape to explore.