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.
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.