Choosing from the selection of popular towns along Route 62, one can easily miss the lesser-known dorpies that are attractions in their own right.
For instance De Rust is a peaceful little place in the sun easily missed by those heading to its bigger brother Oudtshoorn and its elaborate ostrich farms. And I speak from experience. Travelling through the Swartberg Pass on a recent road trip through the Karoo, we almost missed this little pearl. After our visit to the Cango Caves and taking a shot left on an unknown road, we headed to De Rust. A typical small town where strangers passing in the street greet you like friends and the local backpackers make you feel like family. I kid you not.
We spotted an odd pink elephant statue in the main road and curiously stepped into ‘Herrie se Plek’ for dinner. De Rust's Boutique Backpackers was our final destination where we were invited to the unpretentious ‘Kaalgat Kudu Bar’ by our hosts.
We took on the friendly bartender at a game of pool, before reluctantly tasting her version of witblits - a distilled liquor well-loved the by the people of the region. Being city-slickers, however, we settled for a locally brewed beer, Dick's Bru as we oggled the posters of iconic local artists that have played shows in this characterful bar. The following morning we closed off our detour with breakfast beside Meiringspoort Waterfall, a short drive north of De Rust.
This quirky overnight stay taught me the basics of billiards, how to stomach a tot of witblits and to never underestimate the value of a small town stay. De Rust is proof that ‘good people make good places’, just like many other charming small towns in SA.
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If you're journeying the must-do road trip through Route 62, here are a few others you need to check out:
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Surrounded by the majestic Waaihoek, Witsen and Waterval Mountains, sometimes covered in snow in winter, the quaint little Wolseley village is a day-trip from the more popular Tulbagh and Ceres. There are four scenic mountain passes to the town, the Nuwekloof, Bainskloof, Du Toitskloof and Mitchell – making it a beautiful trip that will see you enjoying lots of delicious country food and wine.
The dorpie also holds some interesting Anglo-Boer War history with the opportunity to see two well-kept block houses in the town.
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Like the more popular Ceres, this spot is also a great producer of fruit, making it a Robertson Wine Valley must-stop. Found sandwiched between the Breede River and the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains it is ideal for orchard tours, wine-tastings and rose nurseries exploring.
Home to one of the largest factory co-operatives in the southern hemisphere, which produces canned fruit, jams and vegetables, it is more than just a consequence of industry development though. With its lime-rich soil the region produces some world-class and unique tasting wines. Checkout the Ashton Cellars as well as Platform 62 to stock up.
McGregor is just a two-hour drive from Cape Town but once here you’ll feel like time has simply stood still. Named after one of the oldest Scottish clans, this dorpie is considered a sacred site by its community of artists and healers – making it a colourful spot to say the least with a distinct quaintness of a 19th century village.
Stargazing and wine-touring in the heart of the Breede River Valley, McGregor also plays host to its own annual festivals, with the Mmmm MCGregor Festival happening on 24 to 25 September this year.
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This little Breede Valley town might often be passed by while road tripping Route 62, but it really is a champion in its own right. A Cheese and Wine celebration awaits at the four co-operative wine cellars, four estates and at least two private wine producers in the area, including the oldest wine cellar, Nordale. Wine tourism is big and the welcome from the farmers even bigger.
Don’t miss the opportunity to check out the Parmalat and Mooivallei Suiwel or La Montanara cheese producers. And the fact that the Breede River provides an endless playground for water sport enthusiasts means basing yourself here cannot hurt.
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The energetic will love the town of Barrydale, with its hiking and 4x4 trails found in the folds of the beautiful Langeberge in the heart of the Tradouw Valley.
Sitting between the Cape Overberg and the succulent Klein Karoo, which starts just north of the town, Barrydale owes its existence to farmers of old who went in search fertile land with water and has since become a scattering of apples, pears, oranges, apricots, figs, peaches and grape orchards.
You cannot miss out on a walk through Barrydale’s heritage garden or of course a visit to Ronnie's Sex shop.
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Amalienstein and Zoar
Two sister dorpies, with a rich interwoven history, you’ll find them as part of Route 62 as well as the Missionary Route that includes Mamre, Genadendal, Wuppertal, Steinkopf and Elim.
Zoar is said to be the first of the South African Missionary Society's (SAMS) 'projects', established in 1817. Initially run by the Berlin Mission Society a fall-out within in the society is believed to have caused the establishment of Amalienstein. The towns also have a deep Quena/Khoi backstory with the elders of this culture and way of life fast trying to preserve and share what little they know as part of a Kannaland Storytelling Initiative – make a point to check it out when you do visit.
This is a typical little Karoo town and the ideal mid-way spot between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
Shelter by the Swartberg, the Rooiberge and the mountains of the Huisrivier Pass, Calitzdorp is South Africa’s prominent port wines producer due largely to the hot, dry climate. Don’t miss the Calitzdorp Winter Festival, originally known as the ‘Calitzdorp Port Festival’, in recognition of the great fortified wine distilleries in the area. Although the name has been altered, the experience and thought behind the festival remains the same. This year's festival has already passed, but next year's will be even hotter! It's set to take place from 16 to 18 June 2017.
The town itself has heavy Edwardian and Victorian influences and a stroll down Queen Street, one of the oldest streets in town, will help you absorb the true Karoo style.
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Uniondale is ideally situated to form part of circular tourist routes that include destinations such as Oudtshoorn, Baviaanskloof, Port Elizabeth, Knysna and George. Adding to your Anglo Boer War historical discover, Uniondale which was protected by six British forts during this war., has restored one to its original state. Uniondale's watermill, with the largest wheel in South Africa, was built in 1854 and is worth checking out too.
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Quaint and rather undiscovered, Herold lies almost halfway between George and Oudtshoorn - offering access to both the coastal and inland attractions of the Klein Karoo and the Garden Route.
Outdoor lovers can make the most of prolific bird life in the area, mountain hiking and biking up the nearby Cradock and George peaks as well as wine tours such as Herold wines. The beach is also only half an hour away. Bring on Summer.
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This formerly one-horse town, the likes of Musgund, Louterwater and Kareedouw, has had a turnaround thanks to the establishment of Route 62. Now it’s more popularly known as the 'the Big Apple of the R62' due to the many apple crops on surrounding farms, and not really due to the size of the village.
Joubertina (pronounced Djou-ber-tina) lies nestled inbetween the Baviaanskloof and Tsitsikamma mountain ranges and is not as picturesque as some of the other dorpies of the route, but it’s certainly worth a day trip to get to know a true SA dorpie lifestyle and atmosphere.
Kareedouw might be rural but it really is pretty, set between Joubertina and Humansdorp, just behind the Tsitsikamma National Park, it is an hour or so outside of Port Elizabeth.
Perfect for a camping holiday in the right season, this is where you should head to just ease into a different daily pace. Don’t expect much in terms of big-city infrastructure but you will find the odd restaurant and a petrol station, with most of the streets thick with trees, owing to the town's name, which means 'path by the Karee trees'.