Wednesday

Self-drive South Africa. Places to visit in the Gouritz Cluster UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Let’s say you want to spend a week somewhere exciting and not too far from Cape Town. You would like to visit a place where people care about their community as much as they care about the environment? You are going to experience a landscape as beautiful as you would imagine paradise if you go on a road trip and drive from Cape Town to Prince Albert to Oudtshoorn, to Knysna and back. This route is 1,105 kilometres. Cape Town to Lainsburg to Prince Albert to Swartberg Pass to Oudtshoorn to Prince Alfred’s Pass to Knysna to Cape Town.


The Klein Karoo, some might call this area Little Karoo, is in the Western Cape of South Africa. The area is a wide, elongated plane in the southwestern part of the central plateau of South Africa, and is bounded by the Swartberg mountain ranges the Langenberg and Outeniqua mountains. If you go on a road trip like this, it is all about the warmth of the people you meet along the way, but also about your lust for adventure when driving the road less travelled. And then it is about food as well as it is about the magnificent scenery and biodiversity.

The climate in the Klein Karoo is semi-arid, compared to the Great Karoo this area gets much more rainfall, falling almost entirely in winter. Summers are hot and dry, and daytime temperatures often are as high as 40 degrees Celsius. In winter night frosts are possible. Sadly, rainfall has been low over recent years.

Many rivers and streams run through the Klein Karoo, the soils are fertile, there are orchards and vineyards. The Klein Karoo is a proper piece of rural South Africa. There are small villages, in many cases better be described as hamlets. Places where time runs slower than elsewhere, I know this is not possible, but it is exactly how it feels. There are wide open spaces, spectacular rock formations, and at times you will feel as if you are one with nature. I am always surprised, at how beautiful even the agriculturally used landscape is. Your soul can get a proper rest in the Klein Karoo. 

Klein Karoo: It is wild, it is beautiful and it is tranquil

There are 4,500 plant species in this area that are to be found nowhere else on earth, lots of it is not in its best form, much of the land has for example been cleared for farming and also possibly damaged by visitors to the region. So if you visit, treat lightly, and when driving don’t just go off designated roads with your 4WD. There are initiatives that work on the protection of biodiversity in the region. 

The Klein Karoo lies within the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve which covers an area of 3,187,892 hectares and is now part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. And that is not only excellent for the protection of nature but also for all people who live in this part of South Africa. Local business models linked to the biodiversity economy are going to help reduce poverty and high unemployment.

Here is an idea for places to visit within the Gouritz Cluster that includes the coastal region from the Breede River to the Great Brak River, and inland from Montagu in the west to Prince Albert in the north and Uniondale in the east.

Prince Albert

Prince Albert was established by a farmer’s couple in 1762 and soon attracted more and more farmers. By 1842 a church had been built and a growing community called this place home. Soon after in 1845 some parishioners suggested to name their town Albertsburg after his Royal Highness, Prince Albert (the English Queen Victoria's husband) and ever since the town was called Prince Albert. At about the same time lots of properties with lovely gables were build, the so called Prince Albert Gables.

Have coffee and cake or Rooibos tea and scones at a café in town before you wander through town to take lots of photos. I like Lazy Lizard, 9 Church Street.


Swartberg Pass

Do you see the tiny man on the street sign? This is exactly how it feels to drive along the gravel road that winds to the summit 1,583 metres above sea level. The views at every turn are magnificent and make-up for all these steep (and often sudden) serpentines. This trip is not for the faint hearted, but look, I made it without fainting, and so will you. This drive can be done in a 2WD. The pass connects the Karoo towns Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn. Both places are so very charming, I can never get enough of them.


Oudtshoorn

This is the ostrich capital of the world. The San People, the indigenous Bushmen who have lived in this area ever since 44,000 BC ate ostrich eggs and used the empty shells to carry water. They are hunters and gatherers and weren’t interested in trade and business. As you know there are all these famous places all over the world where people made money during the gold rush or with oil, and the European settlers in this area made it with ostriches. Stay overnight in a bush tent at the Le Petit Karoo Ranch just outside of town. The view over the Schoemanshoek valley with the Outeniqua and Swartberg mountains in the distance is a real treat. 


Knysna

Featherbed Nature Reserve. Not one but five different rivers flow out of the Outeniqua Forest and meet the Atlantic Ocean at the Knysna Heads. In Knysna I wondered what is going on there on the other side of the lagoon (the Western Head). I made my way there to find out. The area is to be reached by ferry. To protect this nature reserve access is together with a guide only. After I walked through Milkwood forests, and as I came back to the coast, I felt I had just seen a little piece of paradise.



If you find the time you might want to drive over to Goukamma Beach, you know it is the little things right. Take a few moments to watch small Plough Snails in the tidal zone. Like well-trained sniffer dogs these snails scent rotten animal corpses from afar, reckon they will never be hungry during their lifetime. It is a hilarious spectacle to see how they come up from the sand, spread their base like sails, and surf up the beach while following the scent trail of let’s say a dead jellyfish. I imagine there to be all these little scent clouds, invisible to the human eye and nose of course. 



Prince Alfred’s Pass 

The pass ist a 68 kilometre gravel road between Knysna and Uniondale. Drive through the mountains, often through thick fog, and stop over for tea at a place called angies G spot. On your way you are going to see waterfalls, rock formations, and indigenous forest. There are rumours of elephant sightings, but so far I haven’t been lucky. 



Noetzie Beach 

If you come down from Alfred’s Pass and follow a gravel road from Knysna you find Noetzie beach. Wait, first you have to climb down the 114 steps from the parking space. It might be plus/minus one, I tried hard to count correctly on my way back up. There is forest, a lagoon, fynbos and castles. The sun peeped through the clouds at just the right moment and this secluded beach looked even more spectacular.



Wilderness 

The town itself is so very tiny, and sits directly on the Touw River Lagoon. When I first saw this beach I couldn't believe it, it is so breathtakingly beautiful. Just look at it, it seems endless. This time I saw a pod of dolphins, they were playing in the surf, right in front of my eyes. Too good to be true right?

Passengers journeyed 52 kilometres along the Indian Ocean in a steam train, the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe, part of the trip was the Kaaimans River rail bridge. It ended operation a few years ago, and so far no investors could be found to reopen the line. The train is named after the Outeniqua mountain range along the Garden Route. It is easy to pronounce Choo Tjoe, simply think of the sound a steam train makes.

Imagine in the old days how it must have been for travellers to cross the Kaimaans River to get to their destination. A Mountain Pass was built in 1867, so travelling along the coast is a breeze for travellers these days.



The end - but only for now ... 

Make your way back to Cape Town. It is an easy drive of four and a half hours over the N2. Stop for lunch in Swellendam, I love to stop at Oppi Stoep, Cnr 2 Berg & Swellengrebel Streets.

There are so many more things to do and places to see in this area, and that means there is reason enough to visit again and again.

If you would like to find out what to do when back in town read Ten fantastic things to do in Cape Town.

Only recently did I visit the Beech Forest in Grumsin: A Magical Place in Germany: Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Beech Forest inGrumsin and the UNESCO protected Argan Forests in Morocco: Would you like to find liquid gold? Travel to Morocco.

Looking forward to hear from you.

From Berlin with love

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:09

    well written article and you managed to change me to become a tourist in my country, thank you..I've travelled through Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and back, but I've had an opportunity to explore the area and I think I'm going to start doing that and that to your well written and inspiring article.... my e-mail address is ayandamtetwa@yahoo.com and work e-mail:mtetwaa@dws.gov.za

    ReplyDelete

Greetings stranger. I always try to be myself and to be a tourist as often as I can. I would love to get in contact with lots of hard travelling tourists who love to be out and about as much as I do. I am looking forward to all your comments. Thanks so much in advance.