Inside South Africa – Exploring the Countryside

(Wine Country, The Garden Route, George, Oudstroom, Knysna)

Groot Constantia

Route Options

  • Cape Town to Groot Constantia – 30 mins via M3
  • Table Mountain to Groot Constantia – 40 mins via M3
  • Hout Bay to Groot Constantia – 10 mins via M41

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Don’t miss this if you want to experience South Africa’s wine county, one of the most renowned in the world. The Groot Constantia is the oldest in the region and produces some of South Africa’s best wines.

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The legacy of Dutch settlers, its foundation can be traced back to over 300 years. The wine tours are varied – you can book a historical tour with a visit to the cellars, museum, and vineyards or if you’ve been there, done that, you can book just the wine tasting tour which comes with a pairing of handcrafted chocolates (R125 per adult.)

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The winery is located in a beautiful setting – Dutch architectural buildings set against the backdrop of green vineyards and beautiful flowering plants. Stately old oak trees (all that’s missing is the yellow ribbon) line up the road that leads to the main building. Inside, there are two restaurants with a shop that sells Groot Constantia wines. Predictably, we spent a lot of time in there.

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Awe Fact: These wines are immortalized in the writings of Jane Austen. Royal dudes like Frederick the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis Philippe of France all drank and served this wine to their aristocratic guests.

The Garden Route

Route followed

  • Day 1: Cape town – George – Knysna (stayed overnight in Knysna)
  • Day 2: Knysna to Oudtshoorn via George (visited ostrich farm and conga wildlife ranch). Drove back to Knysna (stayed overnight in Knysna)
  • Day 3: Knysna to George (Flew out of George airport)

 

Driving Time

  • From Cape Town to George – 5 hours
  • From George to Knysna – 1 hour
  • From George to Oudtshoorn – 1 hour

The drive to Knysna through the N2 highway took us through one of the most scenic routes in the world with smooth roads and minimum traffic.

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The Outeniqua Mountains on the southern coast formed the backdrop for the major part of the drive. Rows and rows of Canola, Wheat and Barley fields stretched as far as the eye could see. The landscape was dotted with hundreds of sheep, lambs, and ewes, grazing contentedly on the lush green seemingly unending carpet.

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The grass effortlessly changed color from green to golden as wheat chaffs reached up to the sun’s warmth. The countryside was peppered with a profusion of Eucalyptus and Umbrella Pines and our guide Kevin provided us with a wealth of information as we drove through. We whizzed past town signs – Middleton, Jogenkslip, Krige, Greyton, Riviersonderend – all farming towns lined with quaint country houses that had lace curtains at the windows.

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About an hour from George lies Albertina in Aloe Ferox country. We stopped here to visit The House of Aloes Factory – the original one that’s been in this region since 1986. The world’s tallest Aloe statue stands on the premises – a bit formidable to look at, okay a trifle ugly too, but a novelty all the same.

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The Aloe Forex plant is used not only in medicine but also in beauty products and its healing properties have been proven since ancient times. The beauty products are marketed under the Alcare Aloe brand and are sold at the Aloe shop here. Lotions, Eye gels, foot creams, fragrances – there’s something for everyone.

Knysna

We arrived at Knysna early evening and checked into the Protea Hotel, run by the Mariott Group. After freshening up, headed straight to the waterfront where we were booked on the John Benn Ferry Sunset Cruise run by the Featherbed Company.

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The ferry has a restaurant on board and you have the option of staying indoors or out on the deck. Of course, we spent the whole 90 minutes on the deck despite the fact that it was very windy. The ferry took us all the way to the Knysna heads where the Knysna lagoon merges with the Indian ocean.

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There are loads of restaurants on the Knysna Quay so once we got back from the cruise we headed to one which was not crowded (most were).

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Oudtshoorn

Cango Caves

Next morning we drove to the Cango Caves which are situated at the base of the Swartberg range of mountains near Oudstroom town.

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The chambers and tunnels have limestone formations that are truly incredible and very old. One of the stalagmite formations that drops from the high ceiling is called the ‘Bridal Couple.’

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There are many others with similarly charming names. We had an amazingly knowledgeable guide who made the one hour tour extremely fascinating.

Safari Ostrich Ranch

Oudtshoorn is the Ostrich capital of the world. The Ostriches here are the finely feathered kind and judging from their expressions, they seem to know it.

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A professional safari guide took us through the one-hour tractor tour, explaining the breeding cycle of Ostriches. We could get up close to the Ostriches and even feed some of them. Later we visited the souvenir shop (highly expensive) and the restaurant (I did NOT have Ostrich steak.)

DSC_0058.JPGBesides this farm, there is also the Highgate Ranch in Oudtshoorn. Both farms are in the Ostrich business so to speak, and like many other wildlife ranches in South Africa, they follow the method of making wildlife pay for its own conservation.

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So apart from being a tourist attraction, the Safari Ostrich Ranch also uses the Ostriches for its meat, eggs, hide and feathers. The Ostrich is not on the endangered list but their numbers are dwindling. Only time will tell if the sustainability equation will work out in their favor.

Cango Wildlife Ranch

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Among all the places I visited in South Africa, this was probably the one I liked the least.

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They have an extensive collection of animals – Crocodiles, Cheetahs, Leopards, the rare white Lions, and Tigers.

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All the animals are inside enclosures, and even though they are not cages per se, their movements are restricted within the boundaries.

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They do not have the freedom to roam for miles in a jungle or climb trees and hunt for their own food. However, it is heartening to see the love and trust between the animals and the Cango Ranch staff.

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They also have a snake park, bird enclosure, and Pygmy Hippos. We were told the whole ranch experience is an educative one and whatever money is generated goes into the upkeep of the animals.

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George

While returning from Oudtshoorn to Kynsna, we stopped at George and discovered it was much larger than we expected. Besides being the administrative and commercial hub of the Garden Route, it is also renowned for its world-class golf courses. The town center is lined with banks, conference halls and shopping centers including the Garden Route Mall, where (ahem) we did a bit of shopping.

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Back in Knysna, we had a full-fledged celebratory dinner at the waterfront, toasting the end of a spectacular South African holiday. Oh, did I forget to tell you? Knysna is the oyster capital of South Africa and even though the oyster season is in June/July, there definitely were oysters on the menu that day. It was a sea-food fest for sure – absolutely the perfect way to say goodbye.

South Africa however, has a piece of my heart. I know I shall return.

 

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