Oudtshoorn is one Garden Route destination that is seldom visited by tourists, but this is one of the Western Cape's great pities. Nestled at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains, this scenic Little Karoo town was once the indigenous home of many Bushmen tribes, and the rock paintings on the walls of the caves in this area tell a story of an ancient civilization that was sophisticated and social long before Europeans arrived in the Western Cape.
The one distinguishing feature of Oudtshoorn is that it is home to the world's largest ostrich population. Ostriches form the backbone of this town's farming industry, and there are a several notable show farms where visitors can go to see and learn about these fascinating creatures. One of the popular tourist activities to be found here is ostrich riding, which is a lot more pleasant than it sounds! Beware however, because an ostrich can kill a human with a single kick, and they should be treated with respect.
In the local restaurants and pubs you can find traditional Afrikaner fare, as well as a wide variety of ostrich-meat meals. Ostrich meat is a dark red in color, but is the lowest in fat of all red meats and is extremely high in protein for its weight. It has a smooth, smoky flavor that is comparable to venison, and is delicious as a steak or in small pieces on a skewer. You will find many authentic pubs serving local and international beers, and once a year the Little Karoo National Arts festival transforms the town from a sleepy farming town to a massive gathering of people from all over the country.
One of the major features of Oudtshoorn, besides the ostriches, that brings tourists out of their way is the magnificent Cango Caves. These caves go on for over four kilometers, although only one kilometer of caves is open to visitors. There are four individual caves that you can visit, and the principle chamber is one of the most magnificent natural caves in Southern Africa. If you go on some of the more strenuous tours you will need to be able to climb through "the Devil's Chimney", which is a narrow rock chimney less than a foot in diameter.
If you are looking to explore the wine route from Oudtshoorn, it is the start of the Route 62 wine route. Route 62 is an alternative to the N2, which can be very busy and chaotic in the festive season. It gets you from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth faster than the N2, and it winds its way past historic Garden Route towns such as Worcester, Robertson and Montagu. Oudtshoorn might be a little out of the way if you are planning on hugging the coast, but it is well worth the trip if you want to get the full Western Cape Garden Route experience.
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