The Garden Route is one of those areas in South Africa which you cannot stop exploring as the region has so much to offer. Oudtshoorn is one of the most visited tourist places along the Garden Route. This quaint town of 60 000 inhabitants is the capital of the Little Karoo and is cosily nestled between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains.
6 reasons to visit Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of South Africa
I always look forward to arriving in Oudtshoorn when travelling around the Garden Route, as there are so many nice things to see and do. I have listed 6 reasons why you should definitely go and soak up the beauty of this area.
1. Ostrich capital of the world
The most important reason why tourists go to Oudtshoorn is the presence of thousands of the worlds biggest birds, the ostrich, which makes it the perfect opportunity to scratch that one item off your bucket list; to ride an ostrich. That said, the maximum weight for riding an ostrich is 80 kg.
Oudtshoorn houses the biggest population of ostriches in the world, hence its nickname, ‘The Ostrich Capital of the World’, or as it is known locally ‘Groot Voël Paradys’, which is Afrikaans for ‘Big Bird Paradise’.
It all started at the end of the 19th century when ostrich feathers were an important fashion item among rich Europeans, mostly as decoration for their hats. The breeding of ostriches boomed during this time with feathers of over 300 000 birds to chose from. When the market for ostrich feathers later collapsed, the locals decided to start fuelling tourism, the birds were there anyhow, so best to take advantage of this.
There are a few farms which you can visit, where you can view and learn all about this fascinating bird. Two of the more popular farms to visit are the Safari Ostrich Show Farm and the Cango Ostrich Farm. I have visited both, but my preference is the latter one. In my opinion, Safari caters more for bigger tourist groups while Cango is for slightly smaller groups and feels less commercial.
At The Cango Ostrich Farm, first you’ll be given some explanation about Oudtshoorn, the ostriches and the history behind it all. After this obligatory theory (sorry, you cannot get out of it) you can experience the life of Betsy (as they name their host ostrich) and her friends and the tricks they can do. She can kiss you on the mouth or her friends can provide you an enjoyable neck massage.
Ostrich eggs are huge and can resist the weight of a heavy person. To try it out, you can stand on some ostrich eggs available on site, but don’t worry, you won’t end up with feet soaked in egg yolk. If you would like to cook one, be very hungry and prepared to have a strong breakfast or cook for a big group, as 1 ostrich egg is the same as 24 chicken eggs, yummy!
Standing over 2 metres tall, the ostrich is a pretty impressive bird and for obvious (weight) reasons cannot fly. Can you imagine a flock of ostriches flying over? One thing you would not want is to walk below it, imagine the poop coming out and splashing on your head.
They have a very small head and an even smaller brain, but very large eyes. Unfortunately they are also not the smartest birds out there, one can say “the light is on but nobody is home”.
Last but not least the highlight of the tour. You can sit on and ride Betsy or her friends. Yes indeed, so you can add another “vehicle” to your means of transport list. I have never taken a ride on an ostrich, as I kind of feel sorry for these birds. But I have seen lot’s of people enjoying the ride, and sometimes falling off, which can be quite entertaining.
One thing is for sure, you will definitely enjoy the ride, the experience and the lessons learned. So go visit the ostriches!
2. Cango Caves
30 km outside of town lies a gem in the mountains, the Cango Caves, with beautiful caverns and spectacular tunnel formations.
There are two ways of visiting these caves, the standard tour and the adventure tour. The standard tour takes you to the first part of the cave formations. While the adventure tour guides you through the deeper and further end of the caves. When joining the latter one, make sure you don’t suffer from any signs of claustrophobia, as some part of the tour takes you to extreme narrow openings, as small as only 30 cm wide where you will have to crawl through.
I have never done the adventure tour myself, but it is definitely on my bucket list for my next visit.
Nevertheless even the standard tour provides very nice sightings. You get to see different chambers where amazingly big stalactites and stalagmites can be admired, with the names of Cleopatra’s Needle or The Weeping Willow. Many years ago concerts used to be held in the main cave room (The Grand Hall), as this cave room has amazing acoustics. But unfortunately people were damaging the caves, like breaking off the stalactites, which take thousands of years to build to take home as souvenirs. So it was decided to stop these concerts. In my opinion this is very unfortunate as attending one of those concerts would have been an amazing experience. However, during the tour, some of the guides might sing for you, so you can still experience first hand how it sounds in there.
Even if you don’t like caves, the ride from town to the caves is so worth it. The road meanders into the Swartberg mountains, with spectacular views over the fertile valley. Take some time to take it all in, or stop for a picknick while enjoying the view.
Just keep in mind that this is a very popular tourist area and during the weekend it can get very crowded especially with local tourists out for a day trip. This means that you might have to wait a few hours for the next available tour and that the groups can become quite numerous. So go buy your ticket in advance and drive back to enjoy your picknick closeby. There is also a full service restaurant / cafeteria at the caves entrance.
3. Cango Wildlife Ranch
Another highlight Oudtshoorn has to offer is the Cango Wildlife Ranch. I’m not a huge fan of animal gardens or zoos, but this one I really enjoy visiting.
I like the set up as well as the animals one can see there. It is a nice place to take a stroll, to ‘get lost’ and experience animals that you are not likely to see in a game park in South Africa, like the pigmee hippo (it’s so weird to see an adult baby size hippo, they look so much more cuddly), a river hog (who to my surprise seems to have a head like Shrek, with long pointy ears), lemurs from Madagascar (indeed, as well the movie as the country), meerkats and white tigers.
The wild cat area is spectacular in itself, as you have an aerial wooden walkway, which gives you the opportunity to observe lions, jaguars and tigers from above and not through steel bars. My mind is always running wild up there imagining how fast I can run if this construction collapses.
Apart from just looking at the animals there are some nice additional adrenaline rush experiences. It is possible to step in one of the cages and pet a cheetah, with a guide of course. In the occasion there are tiger cubs (they are so cute) you can play with them as well. And one of the more spectacular activities is the diving with crocodiles. Yes indeed, you read well, close encounters with a huge crocodile. It is actually a cage dive, but nevertheless a breath holding experience to come up close and personal with those fearsome prehistoric animals.
When staying overnight in Oudtshoorn and your accommodation is not located too far away from the Cango Wildlife Ranch (which is only a few kilometres out of town) you can hear the animals during the night. Especially early morning, when you wake just before sunrise with the thrilling and mighty roar of the lions or all the birds singing their early morning concerts.
4. The town itself and its climate
It is said that Oudtshoorn has the most sunny days in South Africa, and I can believe that. Every time I have been there at various times of the year, it has been mainly sunny, sometimes a bit overcast with a few raindrops. The temperature is often mild and pleasant.
The town itself has countless large and beautiful mansions which used to be feather palaces during the ostrich boom. They are all spread around town. One very nice detail of these houses are the cast iron decorations at the front part, which look like lace. Some of these houses are remade into hotels, lodges, cafes or souvenir shops. In the gardens of these cafes one can overlook the hustling and the bustling (well, not really, it’s always slow and quiet) of the streets and the local people.
When visiting as from september the town turns purple due to the many jacaranda trees that ornate the main street.
5. Don’t leave without a souvenir
The one place in South Africa to get a souvenir or gift for back home is Oudtshoorn. The birds have much more to offer than just the meat and the feathers. The meat, which is red, is a true delicacy with the advantage that it contains hardly any fat or cholesterol and is also very tasty. When enjoying a true South African ‘braai’ (barbecue) a piece of ostrich steak adds to the local experience.
Ostrich leather is used to make a number of items, like handbags and wallets. The feathers are, apart from a fashion item, perfect to be used as a duster. I am not much of a cleaner, but I am a fan of this natural product over synthetic dusters. They work really well. And last but not least, the eggs can be bought for all different purposes. They come carved, painted, with candles or lamps inside. Just have them wrapped very well, even though they can carry a lot of weight, you don’t want to end up with pieces of egg shell in your luggage, since they are not cheap to buy (the decorated ones).
6. The start of the longest wine route in the world – Route 62
Oudtshoorn is also the start of the longest wine route in the world, the famed Route 62, on your way to Cape Town. You will find multiple wineries on your way where of course you should stop and try out all the wine…poor driver…
Another blog post will be entitles to route 62. There is so much to say about it.
Oudtshoorn: a gem of the Garden Route
It can be said that Oudtshoorn is definitely a place to visit as part of your Garden Route experience. The area of the Little Karoo is beautiful, the climate is exceptional and the ostriches are just so much fun. Plan at least one full day and an overnight to visit Oudtshoorn. You will not regret it.
Have you already had the experience of riding an ostrich? Would you consider it when visiting one of the farms in Oudtshoorn?
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