A roadtrip between Van Wyksdorp, Calitzdorp & Ladismith.
Driving Route 62 is an iconic South African experience, primarily connecting Cape Town to Oudtshoorn, and ultimately the Garden Route and Port-Elizabeth further east. This route was the original link between these two regions before the N2 highway was built in 1959.
The route is characterised by the mountain passes, open stretches of red soil, rivers, orchards, and indigenous fynbos. Modelled after its better-known American counterpart, Route 66, established between Chicago and Los Angeles as far back as 1926, to provide small towns access to major national routes.
Route 66 was replaced by a national highway, which caused a severe decrease in traffic. This greatly affected the smaller towns’ economy along the route, whose survival depended on the vast majority of travellers. With the completion of the N2, Cape Route 62 suffered the same fate. Even though the villages on this route have been in hibernation for more than 50 years, they have been beautifully preserved – all situated in small farming communities with no lack of things to explore and do.
Although I’ve been up and down Route 62 multiple times, I always leave with a few more stops added to the bucket list after each stay. This time I set out to explore the area between Van Wyksdorp, Calitzdorp and Ladismith. Here's everything I got up to...
Start off with a drive along Burgers Pass (R318) or Koo Pass.
Granted, a bit of a detour if coming from the Cape Town side, but oh so worth it. Originally known as the Koo Pass (serving the fruit-growing region known as the Koo Valley), yes the same 'KOO' products that have been spotted in South African pantries for over 80 years. It was renamed after a local town councilor, Mr. Burger, who spent a lot of time and energy to influence the authorities to upgrade the road.
The pass was originally plotted by Thomas Bain and constructed by the Divisional Council in 1876, but construction stopped due to a lack of funds and was finally completed in 1887 at a cost of 1000 Pounds Sterling.
Despite the modern engineering, this pass has a combination of dangers - from long momentum gathering straights to very sharp corners. Drive this one carefully.
If you decide to come this way, make sure to stop at Oupa Batt se Winkel, serving locals since 1915.
Stop for lunch in Barrydale
Diesel and Cream needs no introduction. A favourite to many along this route, we stopped for a quick lunch (and milkshake, of course) before hitting the road again.
If you end up falling in love with Barrydale, as I previously have, be sure to look at everything I got up to in Barrydale.
Check-in at Watermill Farm Cottages, 3km away from the town, Van Wyksdorp.
The town itself was founded in 1838, on the farm Buffelsfontein, which was owned by Gerrit van Wyk. Today the population of the village is about 700, of which a few direct descendants of Van Wyk can still be found.
Watermill Farm is situated 3 kilometers from the town's main centre, enfolded within the foothills of the Rooiberg Mountain Range, and enclosed by the demarcated Rooiberg Conservancy area. When the farm was first settled is unknown, as no records exist, but the earliest buildings still in use on the farm date back to the 1820’s.
Today, the owners, Russell and Penny take their commitment to the environment and sustainability seriously. "In our present, day to day living, we do so with care and concern for the environment. We are surrounded by pristine veldt, clean air, and pure water that comes from a natural spring. We are very aware of how privileged we are and so we take that commitment seriously."
The farm is run on organic lines. Not using any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. They've also chosen to plant specific trees, shrubs, and herbs to attract a variety of birds, butterflies, bees and other insects to maintain bio-diversity, and to act as natural predators for garden pests.
All of the cottages run off solar power and limited amounts of gas, making them entirely off the national grid, and the grey water from the kitchens are filtered and cleansed through banana circles. They also make use of natural enzymes to break down the black water in the septic tanks. Where possible, the cleaning materials used on the farm are bio-degradable. They make use of bi-carb instead of bleach, bio-degradable dishwashing liquid and general-purpose cleaners, and Triple Orange gel for laundry.
The cottages, traditionally built earth structures, are not only able to stand for centuries, but also fully bio-degradable. In the restoration process, the traditional processes were followed, and the ethos of Reduce, Re-use and Recycle was adhered to. Environmentally acceptable alternatives to modern day chemicals were opted for... lime instead of cement; whitewash instead of paint; Envirotouch Pro-Nature range for varnishes and sealants; and Breathecoat as a waterproofing for the showers and bathrooms etc.
There are 4 cottages to choose from, The Barn, The Mill House, Manor House and, pictured below, Lavender Cottage. All fully equipped, with bedding and towels provided. Creature comforts include a 3 plate gas burner for cooking, gas hot water, and candlelight for evening illumination. Solar lighting and refrigeration has been added for comfort, and The Welcome Dover stove in the original hearth provides for warmth in winter. These quaint cottages are comfortable and very cosy.
More info for the Watermill Farm Cottages
The Barn: R350 per person per night
Lavender Cottage: R350 per person per night
Manor House: R350 per person per night (minimum two people per night)
Mill House: R350 per person per night (minimum two people per night).
Please note: No Children under the age of 9 / No Pets.
Penny or Russell
Tel no: +27 (0)72 469 0495
For those who have a bit more time, the farm has so much more to offer.
The mountain spring-fed farm dam is perfect for swimming and they welcome fishing on a catch-and-release basis. We pulled out a couple of Kurpers.
There’s also an incredible walk to the mountain spring known as "The Eye". Throughout history, the inhabitants of the town dependant on the farming of fruit, sheep, cattle and ostriches, enjoyed the constant output of water in winter and summer. A bit further on you’ll see some of the most incredible crevices, including markings and writings dating back to 1891, when the soldiers would hide out in these caves during the Anglo Boer War.
Take a drive over the Rooibergpas to Calitzdorp, via Rooiberg lodge.
The Rooiberg Pass was built in 1928 most probably under the supervision of the Divisional Council of Oudtshoorn. It joins the village of Van Wyksdorp with Calitzdorp over the Rooiberg Mountain.
Though not in a bad condition, I recommend driving this pass in a 4x4, or very capable 2x4 with high ground clearance. A long pass at 14 km, containing some fairly rough sections. There are a total of 69 bends, corners and curves which include 6 hairpins and many other bends with a turning radius in excess of 90 degrees.
It's a road for the less hurried and offers wonderful views on both the northern and southern sides with valleys and ridges covered in fynbos.
If traveling from Van Wyksdorp’s side, be sure to drive through the Rooiberg Lodge before hitting the pass.
The owners purchased this remote farm over 20 years ago. Back then, the farm had been used for hunting, but they soon turned it into a natural paradise, focusing on encouraging the indigenous fauna and flora to thrive and creating a space where people could relax and unwind. Because of the abundant water supply, they planted olive groves which now cover 200 hectares of the farm, and produce award-winning olive oil and preserved olives under the Mont Rouge label.
They offer hiking and mountain biking trails, nature drives, olive tastings, gin tasting, and guided stargazing evenings. Nyala and zebra graze around the lodge, and kudu, gemsbok, springbok, impala and waterbuck are often spotted on the nature drives. If you're lucky enough, you might spot the giraffes, but we're told they're quite shy. We opted for a quick breakfast at the lodge restaurant and took a self-drive through the reserve.
You will notice a large area under construction. This is the exciting new Jobs4Carbon project with the dual focus of job creation and environmental restoration focusing on the re-establishment of the indigenous ‘spekboom’ plant, a carbon sponge that impacts our air quality.
On the other side of the pass, you’ll find yourself in the somewhat bigger, Calitzdorp. We didn't end up staying for the night, but spots I can recommend include De Krans Winery, Boplaas Winery and the Calitzdorp Station.
Making the loop back to the R62, spend a few nights in the town of Ladismith.
Ladismith lies 300 km from Cape Town along Route 62. In 1852 the farm Elandsvlei was set aside for the town, and it became a municipality in 1862. Named after young Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon, who became the 14-year old bride of Sir Henry George Wakelyn Smith in the early 1800s- thereafter known simply as ‘Mrs Henry Smith’ or Lady Smith. One of two towns in South Africa are named after her, and so the original Ladysmith was changed in 1879 to Ladismith to prevent confusion with a similarly named town in Kwazulu Natal.
The couple remained childless and their devotion to one another became legendary. Juana often set up a tented camp close to the battle scenes her husband was fighting in, in a bid to remain close to her husband - they so hated being apart.
Two other legends dominate the history of the town. The peak of the ‘magic mountain’ or Towerkop, which looms over the town, is said to have been struck by a witch in anger because it blocked her way over the mountain. The result was a deep split at the top of the mountain, producing two perfect halves. You can hike up the split peak in a day, if you’re fit, or you can attempt the Elandsberg hiking trail, a 12 km route to Stanley’s light, which brings me to the final delightful myth of Ladismith. Stanley de Wit took upon himself in 1963 to tackle the Elandsberg Mountains with 200 metres of plastic pipe, a spray nozzle, bicycle dynamo, a 6-volt bicycle light and the tools to help him, after his climb of three-and-a-half hours, to set up his light in the path of a mountain stream, the force of which turns the dynamo and keeps the light burning both day and night. Local farmers will easily know when water is scarce.
Drive the Seweweekspoort Pass
A bit off-course, the Seweweeks Poort is probably the most beautiful 18 km stretch of gravel road anywhere in South Africa and definitely worth a day trip if you’re staying in or around the town. With easy gradients, multiple river crossings, mind-blowing geology, this road is an absolute joy to drive or ride, as it twists and turns through every angle of the compass, as it follows the contorted bends of the river and falls entirely under the control of Cape Nature Conservation and more specifically the Swartberg and Towerkop Nature Reserves. It is also a certified Unesco World Heritage Site.
Set up camp at Oaksrest Vineyards.
Oaksrest Vineyards Guest farm is located in the beautiful Dwarsriver Valley at the foot of the majestic Swartberg Range.
The campsite is set between the vineyards and the banks of the farm's "Pinotage Lake", offering you 5 thick lawn stands with shaded areas, next to the dam. Individual stands have electrical hook-ups, fresh water and braai facilities. Ample braai wood provided at R 35.00 per big bag.
A beautiful ablution facility provides showers and toilets with washing machine, extra fridge freezer, and microwave oven. If you enjoy waking up to the sounds of bird life, fresh country air, long farm walks, and mountain bike trails, lush gardens, fishing, canoeing, and swimming in the dam with a built in wooden deck, then this is a perfect setting for you. Be amazed at the stars in the clear night sky and, if you're lucky enough, you'll hear the majestic call of the Fish Eagle.
There are 5 x campsites accommodating 4 persons per campsite at a rate of R180 per person.
Learn more on their website at www.oaksrest.com
We took the shorter route back home, but if you’re keen for a road trip I highly recommend going over the Tradouw Pass and passing through the towns of Suurbraak and Swellendam, before jumping onto the N2 (assuming you’re heading back to Cape Town).