This is day two on my trip along South Africa’s Garden Route. If you missed the first stop, Gansbaii, head on back a few days and check it out.
Sometimes you just want to be a tourist, and that’s how I felt about venturing into Oudtshoorn. The town is a diversion off the main Garden Route, so you have to cut inland over some looming mountains to reach it. It’s probably four hours out of the way round trip, but my mom and I were OK with that, as we were ready to mingle with some ostriches, a South African rite of passage.
But first, we drove through Mossel Bay and found a place to crash for the night. One thing that amazed me about South Africa is that you can find a really nice place for not a lot of money—at last! true luxury for less—and online I came across Cheetah Lodge, a charming bed and breakfast with three suites available for just $80 each. This, of course, included a full breakfast spread. So we booked it and arrived to find the other two rooms were occupied by two Indian families, who embraced us, taught us all about cricket and cooked us a big curry for dinner that night.
We rose early the next day to drive over the Swartberg Mountains and dip into the valley that surrounded Oudtshoorn. Something to bear in mind: This area is not very well marked, and as we arrived during the height of the all-consuming, week-long Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, many of the streets we needed to drive down were blocked off. And in the countryside of South Africa, there are no detour signs. The good news is that there are so many ostrich farms scattered about that even if you can’t find the one you planned on visiting, chances are you’ll stumble upon a suitable alternative.
In the end, we did find the farm we set out to visit after what seemed like hours of driving around aimlessly. Truthfully, I never really mind getting lost, as you get to see a whole lot more “off the beaten path” this way. We pulled up to Cango Ostrich Farm to find they were just beginning a tour, so we joined a group of 35 other tourists and settled in to learn about ostriches.
After a brief presentation, we were introduced to Sofie, Betsy and their friends. Those “friends” are scary, man! I mean just look at their feet:
It’s like a dinosaur’s toe. Not to mention, the menacing glare:
Straight-up ostrich mafia material right there. Then, the males in our group were asked to give Betsy a little peck on the lips. Thank God our guide didn’t ask for women volunteers; I don’t want to kiss no ostrich!
But I did settle on giving her an amiable hug. (Betsy is supposedly the only nice, non-aggressive bird on the farm.)
Awwwww. Next, we wandered over to the ostrich eggs. Did you know that a single ostrich egg can take a direct impact of 250 pounds? Crazy, huh? Luckily, neither Mom nor I weigh quite that much, so we each got to try it out.
(Look how cute my wee mother is—all five feet of her!) But the best part of the day was still yet to come…
I rode an ostrich, folks! Our guide asked for volunteers, and I only assumed all of our group of 35 would jump at the chance. I mean, wouldn’t you? In the end, only two guys stepped up to the plate…and me. Here’s the part where you say, “but Kristin, ostriches are dangerous and mean-spirited creatures! Why would you do such a thing?!” in which case I respond with a “true” followed closely by an “I think I’ve demonstrated by now that I border on insane.” Also, while ostriches are mean, they’re also really dumb (before you PETA reps start pelting my blog with tomatoes, let me say these were the ostrich farmers’ words, not mine). If they can’t see you, they think you can’t see them. Which is exactly why the ostrich wranglers slip a paper sack over their heads in the loading dock before you mount the loaded cannon. Then, once you’re nice and secure (or so you’re led to believe), they take off the bag and BANG! you’re off.
Riding an ostrich is a weird feeling (duh), as you’re instructed to hold on tight behind their wings, which just seems wrong and unnatural. I only lasted eight seconds while the wranglers ran alongside me, but that was still about four seconds longer than the two dudes before me. (I win.) And then, on the way out, I fed a whole herd of Sofie’s friends! (The guide called it “a free neck massage;” I think it was more like “free labor” for the farm.) Mom, on the other hand, took a pass. Again. Wuss.
It was more fun that it looks, I assure you (though those ostriches didn’t even begin to work out all my knots). My mom sat on the sidelines and filmed the whole thing.
Ostriches in Oudtshoorn from Camels & Chocolate on Vimeo.
After we had bathed in ostrich stench long enough, we ventured back toward Oudtshoorn, had lunch (ostrich burgers, heh) on the patio at Buffelsdrift as hippos swam lazily along beside the dock, then decided to make one final stop before we headed back to the Garden Route: Cango Wildlife Ranch.
The ranch was more like a small zoo, but I’m kind of a fan of all things wildlife—isn’t it obvious?—so I was satisfied with our visit.
(Am I the only one who sees this picture and starts to sing “Never smile at a crocodile…” in her head? No? I thought not.)
If you want an adrenaline rush—and, more importantly, to dish out a lot of extra money, which we didn’t—you can also cage dive with the crocodiles (which personally sounds awesome, but seemed pretty anticlimactic watching from above) and pet cheetahs.
We stuck to photographing them from afar and decided to save our money for other ventures. Like the elephant sanctuary and monkey park we would find in Plettenberg Bay…
Getting There: My mom flew Delta direct from Atlanta to Johannesburg. I flew Emirates (not advised) from San Francisco to Jo’burg via Dubai. South African Airways seems to have the most frequent and affordable flights from most U.S. hubs like Washington D.C. and New York City. The majority of those flights have very brief layovers in Senegal to refuel.
Once you arrive in South Africa, it’s best to start your Garden Route drive in Cape Town and end in George, where you can catch a cheap South African Airlink flight back to either Cape Town or Jo’burg. You’ll see nearly all of the route that way and then not have to drive it all the way back to where you started.
Where to Stay: There are several little B&B-like places (called guesthouses) scattered along the Garden Route. We picked ours, Cheetah Lodge, as it worked the best with our driving schedule and was quite literally right on the road we were taking to Oudtshoorn. It was a good choice, as we had lovely hosts, a delicious full breakfast in the morning, luxury accommodation with fancy bathrooms and bath products, and even a swimming pool.
What it Costs: Our plane tickets were around $1400 each round-trip from Atlanta (Mom) and San Francisco (me). South African Air flights ran around $200 cheaper than that on average. Accommodation at guesthouses runs anywhere from $60 to $100 a night for two people. Most attractions we visited cost $15 a person. The most expensive part of our trip, airfare aside, was the rental car, which ran around $150 a day. Then again, Hertz screwed us over and charged us twice, refusing to refund any of the money, so let this be a lesson: Don’t pre-pay, and don’t book your car through Hertz.
Sofie (the feathered one) is so cute. While feeding them over your shoulder, your eyes were closed to prevent them from tearing your FaCE OFF?
SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON
That’s all I can muster for a comment right now. My mind is blown.
Can’t believe I didn’t think of that reference myself while riding the ostrich! (Actually, I can, as I was thinking of little more than hanging on for dear life and not getting kicked in the head when I inevitably fell!)
WOOOOOOOOOOOAH That place looks so cool! I love that you rode an ostrich, I probably would have tried it too because it’s one of those things, like, when would you have an opportunity to do that again?
The bottom picture where you’re feeding them and the one has its mouth open is really funny!
Once again, your blog amazes me! Fun!
Exactly! It’s not every day I’m on an ostrich farm!
Thank you for the kind words =)
I think ostriches might be the creepiest animals on earth. Jeff also rode an ostrich on Outdshoorn, but I passed. I prefer to stay as far away from them as possible. It was hilarious to watch, however.
Did you eat any ostrich? I hear it is good.
I did actually. It’s delicious! My first taste of ostrich wasn’t in South Africa, though–funny enough it was at an ostrich farm in Tennessee about half an hour from my childhood home!
Hilarious! I <3 the ostrich feeding series!
Love the ostrich bit, and I still can’t get over the landscape. Hello, gorgeous!
Hilarious – love the ostrich feeding pictures. (And I see that you figured out the table thing – it looks great!) We opted to not do the ostrich riding part and, instead, shark dive. Shark diving was great but this looks equally fun. There are so many wild and crazy things to do in SA!
I still haven’t figured out how to do a table in Wordpress–if anyone knows how to arrange photos in a collage, please chime in! maybe there’s a plugin for it?–so I just did it in Photoshop. Time-consuming, but I like how it breaks up the monotony of a photo-heavy post, like my inspirations, the Road Forks. =)
I am definitely up for a trip to southern (and South) Africa in the next year. Thanks for the info!
Glad to hear you went to, and enjoyed, Outdshoorn. I have the exact same Ostrich photos! It was certainly a fun and interesting experience! 🙂
It would be funny to compare our photos side by side! I’m sure everyone comes away with similar shots, but it’s kind of a touristy thing you just can’t pass up. We had such a blast!
Though I still can’t actually pronounce Oudtshoorn to save my life!
Okay, a few things.
1) Riding an ostrich makes you a badass.
2) I love the ostrich’s little hat.
3) In the picture of you riding the ostrich it looks like you and the ostrich are a two-headed person-ostrich animal. Which means you would be able to run super-duper fast but I don’t know where you would poo.
I don’t even know what to do with this, Steph. You’ve left me speechless! (and thinking of ostrich poo)
I can’t believe you sat on an ostrich, love it!!! Doubt very many people could say that 🙂
I truly enjoyed riding the ostrich and the only other tourist chickened out, and took photos for me. I so enjoyed staying at the B&Bs all over ZA. They were all so nice and very reasonably priced.
How much do I love that you also rode the ostrich? I couldn’t believe out of 35 people, only three of us manned up!
Kristin, this is one of coolest posts I have read in a long time. I would love to ride an ostrich. The ostrich faces when you are feeding them are so scary (but in a good sense).
Thank you, Ruth! I do find the ostriches’ glare alarmingly menacing. (Obviously it didn’t keep me too far away from them still. Heh.)
I would have killed to race on an ostrich! That is definitely an experience to brag about!
Oooh racing others while all on ostrich back–now there’s a thought! That’s the next step, I think 😉
Agreed – racing them would be the next awesome step! I rode them there back in 2005 – again, can’t believe some ‘chickened’ out. At the one I went to the staff did a race for us to watch and photograph, but we weren’t allowed to race ourselves – a big dangerous I guess if people fall off 🙁 Ah well. Awesome photos, brings back great memories!
That looks like so. much. fun! Wow, I’m very impressed with your ostrich riding skills, I hope you’ve updated your CV to include ostrich racing!!!
And I can’t believe nobody else wanted to ride on them, I would have been fighting my way to the front to join you!
Great photos and video of you feeding/riding too, well done Mrs Luna! :0)
Clearly, I need to go with you to South Africa next time!
Yep I’m definitely up for a trip :0)! Also, I’m loving this new answer feature for the comments, it’s a great idea!
You rode an ostrich! I can’t believe only 3 people volunteered… but yay for staying on your ostrich longer than the men! I’m laughing at the feeding photos, and wondering why they positioned your head BETWEEN the hungry beaks and the food!
You sho nuff rode that wild beast!! *laughter*
Great read and lovely photos! 🙂
Felt like I was there with you while reading…
Oudtshoorn truly is the ostrich capital of the world!
Keep the South Africa posts coming!
In a weird way, those ostriches are pretty cute!
but woah, their toes!
The video of ostrich riding is strangely amusing. They are such bizarre creatures. I for sure would have volunteered to ride one, I have kissed a sea lion,swam with manatees & dolphins, & had monkeys take over my riverboat so I definitely need to add some avian encounters to my list. South Africa looks awesome just wish it was not such a long flight away.
Swimming/snorkeling/diving with manatees is one of my dreams! I’ve been trying to coordinate a trip to the Florida springs during manatee season, but so far, I’m always there at the wrong time! One day…
The ostriches are so crazy looking eating at of the bucket- you’re barave! And your mom can really rock those lizard skin pattern pants- love it!
Haaaaa, Scott commented on the same. He said, “is that ACTUAL lizard skin she’s wearing?” I think it’s only the print =)
I went to the ostrich farm but I didn’t get to ride an ostrich. It’s a decision I regret. And I wanted to do it back in CT but when I did enquires, the guy said that it’s cruel and that they don’t permit that type of thing there.
Did you pet the Cheetah. I thought that was a VERY anticlimatic event. I couldn’t help wondering if the Cheetah was drugged.
Also did you manage to check out the Cango Caves???
Went to Monkeyland but didn’t have a chance to go to the elephant santuary. Maybe next year???
Sid, I didn’t pet the cheetah. It was a lot of extra money, I recall. And you’re right: The cheetah seemed pretty lethargic. They must have given her sedatives!
I didn’t have time to go to Cango Caves, but I did go to Monkeyland and the elephant sanctuary (coming up in next week’s posts!). Such an amazing country. I really hope we can make my friends’ wedding in Cape Town next spring…
Excellent interpretation of your experiences!
Ostriches & Crocs & Monkeys Oh My!
Looks like you and your Mom had a blast in South Africa!
You rode on that? You’re crazy! 8 seconds is all you need to win a rodeo though. That is really awesome about the eggs. B well, Phil
I can’t believe you got to ride an ostrich! That looks like heaps of fun!
I love that pic of you riding an ostrich–so funny! I want to ride an ostrich!
All that ostrich madness makes me want to grab and emu and go head to head on the race track!! Great photos, I can tel you were having a blast…totally Swiss Family Robinson, good call!
I went to the same farm 🙂