Current Covid-19 lockdown regulations require South Africans to stay within our own provinces but after four months of the strictest lockdown on earth, we’re keen to get away from home. Luckily, our own province is large and varied so it’s a pleasure to go roadtripping through the Western Cape province.
Two hours by road can take you to completely different regions and there are many interesting little towns and villages. But it still makes sense to avoid crowded places so where should you go? Booking into a hotel or guesthouse is tempting because we’re all tired of our own cooking but a self-catering type of accommodation is a safe option wherever possible, and also the cheapest! Here are two trip suggestions:
Trip 1 – Karoo and Garden Route – mostly hotel accommodation – minimum 5 nights but the longer, the better
The Karoo, a fascinating region with wide-open spaces, big skies, and semi-arid but breathtaking landscapes, is massive and straddles several provinces. The Karoo is synonymous with roadtripping through the Western Cape. We would start with a night at Matjiesfontein, in the eastern corner of the Great Karoo. This historic hamlet is isolated enough to give you all the physical distancing you need, but the hotel is the only place to stay. Ask for the self-contained smaller rooms, they’re cheaper and away from the main building. From there we’ll take Burger’s Pass to Montagu. This pass used to be known as the Koo Pass – named after the well-known canning company because this is fruit country. It was renamed after a Mr Burger who was instrumental in having the road upgraded. We’re grateful to him as we wind our way through the mountains and the Koo valley taking in the magnificent views.
The small and extremely pretty town of Montagu is on the edge of the Klein Karoo. This area warrants at least two nights to allow time to visit the nearby Breede Valley and to take in the streets of Montagu itself which are full of beautifully restored old houses. If you want a hotel instead of self-catering, our favourite is the Montagu Country Hotel, the only fully art deco hotel in the country.
Afterwards we would continue up the R62 into the heart of the Klein Karoo, with a night or more near Calitzdorp. No trip to this area is possible without a detour into Seweweekspoort. This magnificent canyon rates very highly on our list of favourite drives in the entire region. Back on the R62 you’ll be taken through the town of Ladysmith but instead of rejoining the same road after the town, we suggest a detour through what we call the Hoeko road. Undulating through such lush farmland, you’d forget you’re in the Karoo, this is well worth the extra time.
A wonderful place to spend a few nights is the Retreat at Groenfontein, not far from Calitzdorp. Retreat is the right word for this wonderful haven, also situated in a lush valley contrasting with the Karoo surroundings. After a few days of tranquility (no cell phone reception!) you can either retrace your steps to Cape Town, or continue the roadtrip.
We would continue along the back road which skirts the awesome Swartberg Mountains and brings you out near the Cango Caves. This is not the right time to visit these ancient caves with their enclosed spaces, so we’ll head towards the town of Oudtshoorn and head straight over the Outeniqua Pass into the coastal part of the Garden Route. I’d avoid all the main towns, maybe break the trip with a night in the lovely Wilderness and in the morning head for Nature’s Valley for a few nights. Forest and beach walks, cosy fires, and a few good books later and you’re ready to face the return trip to Cape Town along the coast.
Trip 2 – West Coast and Cedarberg – minimum 4 nights, 6 at best
Heading along the West Coast on R27, again avoiding major towns, I’d head straight for Stompneusbaai which is just under two hours from the city. Best place to stay is Veronica’s Piece of Paradise, right on the beach. This simple but cosy apartment offers some of the most amazing sunsets, whale watching, beach walks, and the nearby spring flower display. All of it without crowds and very well-priced.
Places to visit nearby are the small coastal village of Paternoster with its beautiful beach and fabulous assortment of restaurants, including Wolfgat which has received more accolades than we can list. At this time of year the world-renowned Spring Flowers are starting to carpet the ground with magnificent colourful displays – none better than at the nearby Cape Columbine or the West Coast National Park, wrapped around the Langebaan Lagoon. Heading in the other direction, you can visit Velddrif for a boat ride on the Berg River or go bird watching at Rocherpan Reserve.
After a few days you can head inland to the Cederberg for a few more days of roadtripping through the Western Cape. This mountainous region is rich with flora and offers some of the best hiking and mountain climbing trails in the country. There are a lot of self-catering options to choose from, as well as camping, in the mountains.
Aside from hiking there is also the Sevilla Rock Art Trail. An easy flat walk, the trail offers some of the finest examples of rock art created by the San people who lived here thousands of years ago. When you buy your ticket at the farm stall nearby you can either buy a booklet or just use the free map provided. The book is worth the extra cost as it gives more depth to the paintings which portrayed the world of these ancient people. You might also see some small game, and there is a fascinating array of indigenous plants and birds.
No trip to this region is complete without visiting a Rooibos Farm to stock up with a selection of flavoured rooibos, one of the most amazing endemic South African products.
Returning to Cape Town via the back roads of the Swartland, we may spend an additional night or two somewhere else. Riebeeck Kasteel is tempting but it gets crowded so Tulbagh might be a better option. Nestled in the Winterhoek Mountains, it can get either very cold or very hot in this valley. Tulbagh is one of the oldest towns in the area and was almost completely devastated by an earthquake in 1970. Luckily, most of the old buildings were beautifully restored and the entire project is well documented in the local museum. A stroll down Church Street past many of these old homes is an absolute must-do when in Tulbagh. There’s no shortage of accommodation types in and around town, and this is wine-making country so wine tasting and stocking up is the order of the day before a short drive back to Cape Town.
You could go roadtripping through the Western Cape for months on end .. what are we waiting for?