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Our Route 62 road trip | A lesson in slow living

Farmhouse near Bonnievale on Route 62

If American singer-songwriter, Jack Johnson, were a local, I'm convinced that his lyrics, ‘Slow down everyone, you're moving too fast, frames can't catch you when you're moving like that,’ would have been inspired by travelling Route 62. Meandering from Ashton to Humansdorp, this scenic road trip - with a reputation for being the longest wine route in the world - is a surprising and much needed lesson in slow living.

Embracing the cliche, ‘life’s a journey, enjoy the ride,’ we blocked off two weeks from our calendars and set off on what would end up being a 4,650 km road trip with Route 62’s promise of idyllic Little Karoo farming towns, soaring mountain passes and picturesque wine valleys our main focus. (We quickly realised that ‘areas of outstanding natural beauty’ not only belong to the UK; we found plenty along Route 62 and beyond).

DAY 1 | An off-the-beaten-track coffee shop & the heart of the Karoo

Taking our time - a mandatory mindset for those embarking on such a road trip - we set off from Johannesburg. A detour off the N1 for diesel and we stumbled across SNOBS COFFEE in Trompsburg in the Free State; the first solar coffee roastery in SA.

Snobs coffee Roastery, Trompsburg

Bearing in mind that it’s quite a trek to reach Route 62 from the City of Gold, we booked a stopover in Graaff Reinet (an Eastern Cape town in the heart of the Karoo). It took 8 hours to get there but we quickly discovered that this was way more than just an en-route stopover.

Graaff Reinet, Eastern Cape

I didn't know one could be so utterly enchanted by a sleepy little Karoo town.

It honestly felt like it had had a 'Ben and Erin hometown makeover.' The charming blend of green and white Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture - all coming standard with a stoep and potted pink bougainvillaeas - was prettiness personified. (Our accommodation at Die Wingerd Guest House was the introduction to Graaff Reinet's nostalgic spell).

Die Wingerd Guest House in Graaff Reinet

Good food (the best lamb curry ever), good coffee (from Maria’s), good people, and the quintessential church marking the town centre, completed the narrative. Were it not for the fact that Route 62 beckoned, we would have lingered a little longer. (Next time).

Karoo Town, Graaff Reinet main road NG church

DAY 2 | Chasing stories & the jewel of the Central Karoo

Unless you have a good reason, you’re unlikely to head towards the middle of nowhere to visit the tiny dorpie of Merweville in one of the most arid regions of the Great Karoo. (There's only one road in and one road out, giving it a ‘last outpost’ kind of feel).

No street lights, dusty gravel roads and a magnificent Dutch Reformed Church are all part of its 'lost in time' quaintness.

Karoo town Merweville church

But I did have a good reason, and Andrew was kind enough to indulge my whim and take a detour to travel 43 km off the beaten path for me to visit the remote setting and location of the Afrikaans series, DIE BOEKKLUB. Filming locations included the imposing Church, Tannie Bettie se Gastehuis and Die Boekklub Koffie Winkel en Padstal where we lingered for lunch.

Karoo town Merweville Die Boekklub TV series

Our next stop was Prince Albert. En route we passed a farm called 'Vaallaagte' which means 'drab/pale emptiness.' There isn't a better descriptor of the endless barrenness and desolate landscape; as if life has been sucked from this part of the world.

The sky may be bluer, the stars may be brighter, but the rugged, deserted bleakness, and miles of nothingness, seem like a lament.

Route 62 Karoo farmhouse near Prince A;bert

And then we arrived in Prince Albert, the 'Jewel of the Central Karoo' and the link between the Great Karoo and the Klein Karoo.

The main street is beautifully appointed and preserved, showcasing Victorian and Cape Dutch gabled architecture. This little town is also the setting of the cooking show, Kokkedoor, and where the local TV series, Recipes for Love and Murder - based on Sally Andrew’s novel - was filmed.

Prince Albert accommodation

Honey-coloured light, long shadows and the backdrop of the Swartberg mountains make Prince Albert an irresistible muse for artists and an invitation for tourists.

Ambling up and down Church street had us popping into little shops, delis, galleries and the local Library to view the historical quilt on display that was lovingly made by the local quilting circle.

Even though we interrupted children’s storytime, the local librarian - who has been there for 37 years - quickly struck up a conversation with us. Being in-the-know as to the best places to eat, she kindly offered to make a booking for us because she is friends with most people in town.

Swartberg Hotel in Prince Albert

DAY 3 | Not one, but two mountain passes & a local farmer

En route to Montagu we took the Swartberg Pass. I had to really tap into my adventurous spirit and embrace my fear of heights.

Swartberg Mountain Pass, South Africa

A gravel road with narrow sections that are only suitable for one way traffic and a few with hairpin bends and blind corners, make the treacherous ascent not for the faint hearted. I honestly think I held my breath for 23 km! But we made it to the top - altitude 1,575m. (At least Andrew had done a couple of advanced driving courses). And the surprising discovery of Proteas growing wild in such an environment made it all worth it.

Protea, Swartberg Pass, South Africa

Even though I consider myself a pretty accomplished wordsmith, I couldn’t come up with a suitable adjective to capture the sheer scale and majestic splendour of the rugged and dramatic towering presence of this mountain range. (Perhaps Dr Seuss would have come up with one).😉

(We also imagined that parts of the Lords of The Rings Trilogy could have been filmed here).

Swartberg Mountain Pass in South Africa

At last we got to Route 62! (It's a long trek from Joburg). Officially in the Klein Karoo, the scenery immediately changed (i.e. much greener). Known as the longest wine route in the world, Route 62 also boasts olive groves, fruit orchards and nut farms.

Route 62 farm road en route to Barrydale

Our first pit stop was the quaint town of Calitzdorp, known as the Port wine capital. We had brunch at Die Dorpshuis (a gathering place for locals) and chatted to Ampie, the owner - also a local nut farmer - who became our friendly 'tour guide' and suggested we take an off-the-beaten-path detour via the Seweweekspoort Pass.

Route 62 Die Dorpshuis Calitzdorp

Just because one mountain pass is obviously not enough in a day, we took Ampie's advice and headed to the Seweweekspoort Pass. (It is considered one of the most beautiful 18 km stretch of gravel road in South Africa).

Route 62 Seweweekspoort Moutain Pass

Compared to the Swartberg Pass, this is much more a 'beginner's' pass with easy gradients and gentler turns. There are multiple river crossings, incredible caves and beautiful flora (including geraniums) scattered along the roadside just waiting to be photographed.

From there we made our way to Montagu via Barrydale, a little village nestled in the heart of the Tradouw Valley, known for its chilled, hippie vibe.

Route 62 road trip  Barrydale scenery


DAYS 3-5 | The mountain mecca of the Cape, a friend & love at first sight

I had no expectations of Montagu other than we'd been told it was a lovely little town on Route 62. Because we wanted to catch up with an old friend - who happens to own the Penny Farthing Antique Shop that houses a treasure trove of delights for collectors - we booked 2 nights at a guest house (which also happens to be a small olive farm).

Langeberg Mountains, Montagu, Route 62, Western Cape Cape

What I did not expect was for it to be 'love at first sight.’

Perhaps it's the fact that Montagu is surrounded by mountains, vineyards, fruit orchards and olive groves, or perhaps it was the beautiful architecture, or maybe it was just the people? Whatever it was, I felt at home.

Church Street, Montagu, Western Cape

Known as the 'mountain mecca' of the Cape, this charming little town - surrounded by the Langeberg mountain range - welcomes you with a warm embrace and casts a spell over you; exuding the benefits of slow living. The friendly locals are never too busy to chat and the Victorian and Cape Karoo architecture and pretty rose gardens are what make Montagu so captivating.

Route 62 road trip Montagu Mission Curch

DAY 4 | A secret succulent garden & an afternoon cruise

Robertson - known as the 'valley of wine and roses' - is easy access from Montagu. Our first stop was MO & ROSE @ SOEKERSHOF.

The place had been recommended, but nothing could have prepared us for its 'secret' sculptural garden.

Mo & Rose Succulent Garden at Soekershof

I had a double reaction: Firstly, my surprise that it wasn't a country rose garden, and secondly, that it was the most amazing succulent garden I had ever seen! (Who knew cacti could be so pretty?). Hundreds of succulent plants and trees have been carefully landscaped and intentionally designed to create a breathtakingly beautiful waterwise garden of colours, shapes and layers that elegantly transform the backdrop vista of the Langeberg mountains. It is quite unique and quite magical.

After coffee at Soekershof, we headed for Viljoensdrift - a family-owned wine farm since 1818 - for a 50-minute boat cruise along the Breede River. (Our cruise was enlivened by a tourist group that had done a 7km hike that morning which involved 2 wine tasting stopovers; likely to make any hike or boat cruise a tad interesting).

Viljoensdrift Winery, Robertson Valley, Western Cape

The winery lies south of the Elandsberg mountains and the vineyards are banked with roses. Lining the roadside are flaming red cannas and cerise bougainvillaea.

Before heading back into Montagu we made a quick stop at Owl's Rest Olive and Lavender Farm. (You are unlikely to leave empty handed).

DAY 5 | Longing for England, a dose of ‘bohemian’ creativity & some apples

After a reluctant farewell to Montagu, our travel itinerary had us setting off for Franschhoek. But en route, we set our GPS for Greyton in the Overberg region.

Known as South Africa's 'Little England,' Greyton had a lot to live up to. (It's worth mentioning, however, that those who actually hail from England raise a quizzical eyebrow at this description).

Autumn in Greyton, Western Cape

I do think 'Little England' is a bit of poetic licence, but that doesn't take away from Greyton's picturesque autumnal oak-lined streets, picket fences, olde-worlde shops, quaint restaurants and coffee shops, a couple of ‘Namaste’ greetings and an 'arty-farty' vibe (Even the rubbish bins are a curated collection of works by local artists).

In my humble opinion, the Greyton experience is a combination of Dullstroom, Clarens, Bathurst and Hogsback. (I will leave you to draw your own conclusion).

Village of Greyton, Western Cape

After a couple of hours meandering up and down Greyton’s little streets and popping into interesting antique, vintages and gift shops, our scenic route took us past Bonnievale (aptly named), verdant fields and lush rolling farmlands. Then, between Villiersdorp and Grabouw the scenery gently morphed into flourishing apple orchards.

Villiersdorp apple orchard

Full confession: I may have 'trespassed' to get this photos of an apple orchard and picked up an apple that had fallen from a tree as a memento.

DAYS 5-7 | Vineyards, flowers & going off-script

To me, Franschhoek, in the 'valley of the vines, ' is probably one of the most beautiful destinations in South Africa. (Clearly I am not alone in thinking this as it is a magnet for tourists and local visitors).

Franschhoek Valley

Framed in an incredible setting, Franschhoek is where moments in our history are put on display. (The political nuances and narrative of our past may evolve with an inevitable measure of distortion and manipulation, but the wonder of God's creation does not).

This is not our first visit here, and so this time we did not do Antonij Rupert's classical car museum, Tokara Wine Estate or Ruben's restaurant. (But if it's your first visit, add these to your itinerary). One year I hope to make it to the annual Franschhoek literary festival.

Franschhoek, Western Cape

You actually don't need to plan much. World-renowned restaurants, French-style sidewalk eateries, a Saturday market, Cape Dutch and Provencal architecture, vineyard after vineyard and the filtered light make Franschhoek and surrounds unmissable.

Franschhoek esteries and restuarants


Be warned: From shopping to dining, Franschhoek is generally overpriced. But taking a stroll and appreciating the beauty on offer is free.

DAY 6 | A magical floral kingdom & a story

There are flowers, and then there are Adene's flowers.

One would not usually put Platvlei farm, Wolseley, on your list as a destination of choice, but because I follow ADENE'S FLOWER FARM on Facebook, it was on mine and definitely worth the 3-hour round trip from Franschhoek!

Adene's Flower Farm Wolseley

Nestled in the Breede River Valley, Adene's 5ha working flower farm (including 150 Dahlia varieties) is probably one of the most amazing places I have visited and should be seen in person to be truly appreciated. (But I will try with these photos).

Adene's Flower Farm, Wolseley. Western Cape

Only open to the public from mid December to the first weekend in April, Adene extended her opening hours and this was her last weekend to come and view and/or pick her spectacular array of Dahlias.

Adene's Dahlia Flower Farm Wolseley

The endless display of colour and floral magic is a wonderland of delight. (Find out more)

The thing about a road trip is that you can go off script. And that is exactly what we did…

Because we were 'in the area' and because we were quite taken with the slow living vibe of the little towns along Route 62, we veered onto R46 and took a slow drive into the historical town of Tulbagh.

Tulbagh. Western Cape, Cape Georgian and Cape Dutch Architecturee

All set about with towering mountains and vineyards, Tulbagh is the prettiest celebration of Cape Dutch Architecture. A walk up and down Church Street - with your camera - is prescribed.

But, aside from its rich cultural heritage spanning centuries, Tulbagh has a more 'recent' story to tell...

Cape Dutch Architecture, Church Street, Tulbagh

What I didn't know is that all the houses on Church street were part of the biggest restoration project in SA after the 1969 earthquake (6.3 on the Richter scale). Each house has been proclaimed a national monument with a plaque outlining how much earthquake damage it suffered and the extent of its restoration.

DAY 7 | A wine estate with a difference

A stay in Franschhoek is not complete without a visit to one of the many beautiful wine farms in the area. This time, Babylonstoren got our vote.

Babylonstoren Wine Farm

Named after the koppie on the farm that resembled the tower of Babel, Babylonstoren is certainly a wine farm with a difference.

Babylonstorenn kitchen and herb gardens

Besides the vineyards, there is the most spectacular vegetable and herb garden (based in design on the original Cape Company gardens), there are climbing roses and lavender patches, there are fruit orchards, there are beehives, there are 2 farm-to-fork restaurants, there is a Balsamic vinegar cellar, there is olive oil tasting, there is a glass greenhouse, there is a farm shop and bakery, there is buffalo milk ice-cream and there are free range chickens and turkeys (In other words, there is much to see and do, so make sure you don your walking shoes.).

Babylonstoren greenhouse and eatery, Western Cape, South Africa

Set aside the time to wander - at your leisure - among the many paths and just enjoy the botanical diversity and delights of Babylonstoren.

DAY 8-10 | The mountains, the sea & colourful charm

From Franschoek, our road trip had us headed through the Elgin and Grabouw fruit valleys to Hermanus. (But no more trespassing into apple orchards).

Although the mountains continue their protective watch over the landscape and vineyards, the scenery does begin to change; becoming a little wilder and more rustic.

Hermanus, Western Cape

Famous for being the capital of the `whale coast,' Hermanus' offering extends to so much more than just whale watching.

Hermanus coastline, Western Cape, South Africa

There is such scenic variety and contrast to this part of the world and much to explore in and around this vibrant coastal town.

Hermanus shopping alleys

For starters, take a breathtaking vineyard drive into the 'Hemel-en-aarde valley,' take a walk along the coast-hugging cliff path, take a stroll among the colourful shopping alleys, take in the little art galleries, take a breather and get a coffee (or gelato) and take lots of photos.

Hermanus, Western Cape

From adventure seekers and 'beach bums' to foodies and wine lovers, Hermanus is unlikely to disappoint.

DAY 9 | A step back in time

Every time we travel to Hermanus, we pop into Stanford in the Overberg region.

This tiny heritage village along the Kleinrivier oozes a cosy old-world charm and holds the title of '3rd Most Preserved Village' in the Western Cape. (One almost expects to bump into ladies with parasols and gentlemen checking their pocket watches).

Stanford Village, Western Cape

Starting at Die Ou Meul Bakery (with artisanal bakers at work), park your car and amble up and down the streets, browsing in the vintage and antique shops along the way and appreciating the character of the Cape Victorian and Edwardian-style architecture.

Cape Victorian architecture in Stanford Village, Western Cape

You really don't want to miss out on a quick visit to Stanford.

DAY 10 | Coffee, cake & a photo op en route

We had two opportunities to stop in the sweet rural village of Riviersonderend in the Cape Overberg surrounded by farms, mountains and on the loop of a 'river without end.' (Either on our way from Montagu to Greyton or from Hermanus to Swellendam).

Riviersonderend coffee shop, Western Cape

And who wouldn't stop when you are welcomed by the colourful and festive Padloper coffee shop? For me, it was a cappuccino and photo op invite, and for Andrew, it was the coffee and carrot cake.

Coffee and cake in Riviersonderend

If you didn't get to pop in for breakfast or freshly baked pastries at Die Ou Meul in Stanford, there is also one in Riviersonderend.

DAY 10 | A river runs through it

Driving towards Knysna from Hermanus or Cape Town, most travellers do not veer off the N2 to make a detour into Swellendam. (You really should).

It's the 5th oldest town in South Africa and was on my list for this trip. I really cannot stop gushing over Swellendam.

Swellendam architecture, Western Cape

Oak-lined streets, the Koornlands river running through it and the backdrop of the Langeberg mountains make this really pretty historic town of Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian architecture a wanderer's delight.

Swellendam Cape Georgian architecture

Which is exactly what I did; I wandered up and down (I call it a photo walk) - oohing and aahing - while Andrew sat in the car catching up on emails and enjoying the Belgian chocolates we bought at one of the artisanal shops. (He gets the vote for the best travel companion).

Grace+Merci coffee shop in Swellendam

Opposite Grace + Merci coffee shop (order the berry smoothie), is the most impressive Dutch Reformed Church with a touch of Baroque and Gothic architectural elements.

Gothic style church in Swellendam, Western Cape

Local artist, Olivia Botha, is also based in Swellendam. Her gallery-cum-shop is full of colour, whimsy, funky art pieces and decor accessories that will definitely make you smile.

Art De Olivia in Swellendam

Next time I will need longer than a couple of hours in Swellendam. (It may cost me a lot in Belgian chocolates).

DAY 11-12 | Indigenous forests, a lagoon & ice-cream

Our slow return trip back to Joburg had us choosing the scenic Garden Route and a stopover over in Knysna. Deriving its name from the Khoisan meaning ‘place of wood or fern leaves’ - and associated with Dalene Matthie’s ‘Kringe in a bos’ and ‘Fiela se kind’ - Knysna’s beauty makes it a striking stopover that never disappoints for breathtaking photos (no matter what the weather).

Knysna Heads, Western Cape

Its location and contrasts - the beaches, the lagoon, the mountains and the forests - make Knysna a top tourist and holiday destination. Having visited a few times, to me there is 'old Knysna' and 'new Knysna,' each with a completely different vibe.

Knysna, Garden Route, South Africa

A trip to Knysna, however, is never complete without a drive to the iconic Knysna Heads. And despite the cold, wet, windy weather, the view is spectacular. (An umbrella always makes a good photo prop).

Ice Cream in Knysna

And of course, everyday (according to Andrew) is a good day for ice cream.

DAY 12-13 | The banks of the Sundays River

From Knysna we made our way via Tsitsikamma, (no bungee jumping off the Storms River Bridge), St Francis Bay and Jeffreys Bay. We then veered inland from Port Elizabeth towards the Sundays River Valley.

We knew nothing about this area but quickly discovered it is citrus country with orange, lemon and naartjie orchards as far as the eye can see.

Addo Sundays River Lodge, Eastern Cape

It is also where we found a hidden spot of tranquility along the banks of the Sundays River.

This is where you go 'off grid' and just breathe before you head back to the 'real world.'

Ndlovu Addo River Lodge, Eastern Cape

Had we known more, we would have booked 2 nights at Ndlovu Addo River Lodge. It was such a treat and just an hour from PE - towards Addo Elephant Sanctuary - this is definitely one to add to your next trip if you are in the area. Sophia (from France), who is married to a local lad, Luc, will really spoil you.

Ndlovu Addo River Lodge breakfast

Add it to your travel list and let this very special setting and destination weave its slow living magic.

DAY 13 | A family farm, a movie location & a trip down memory lane

Along the Karoo Heartland Route, you will find Cradock, which must have been a 'grand old lady' in her day.

Cradock Cape Victorian architecture

The reason we chose to pass through this typical Karoo historical farming town was two-fold: to visit the setting of the Afrikaans series, 'Spoorloos' and, more importantly, to trace a little bit of my French Huguenot and Dutch heritage.

My maternal grandparents hailed from 2 farms just outside Cradock. My grandfather - Oupa Coetzee - was a sheep farmer on Ivanhoe farm, and my grandmother - Judith Susannah Botha - grew up on ‘Fortuinplaas’ in the 1920s before becoming a farmer’s wife.

Kelinplasie farmhouse in Cradock in the eastern Cape

In the early 1950s, Oupa sold the farm and bought a smallholding in town at 40 Bree Street which he named 'KLEINPLASIE, ' the home in which my mom spent her primary school years. No longer a farm, the house is still standing, inviting me to wonder about the lives and stories of my forebears.

It is a poignant moment when a place connects you to a part of your story that you were never part of.

Kleinplasie, 40 Bree Street, Cradock, Eastern Cape

We stopped for lunch at True Living Old Karoo Deli where the chef and owner - also a farmer's wife - shared some stories about living in Cradock and the families who have farmed there for generations.

'Spporloos' season 1 filming location in Cradock. Eastern Cape

We then found the house and church that played a big role in 'Spoorloos' season 1 and after a short drive around, (with me taking photos of the charming Cape Victorian and grand Edwardian-style architecture), we headed to Colesberg - just across the Fish River in the Northern Cape - to break the final leg of our trip back to Joburg.

Cradock Hotel

Day 14 | All roads lead back home

After 4,650 km, and a sleepover in Colesberg, we arrived back in Joburg.

Our road trip experience is filled with memories, highlights and a renewed appreciation for the diverse and scenic beauty of South Africa.

Route 62 Road trip map

What was my favourite road trip moment?

I really cannot choose, as each destination on our itinerary - and every route (and detour) to get there - was a discovery of unexpected delights, hidden gems, beautiful sights and unanticipated surprises that all vie for top position.

Venturing to places we've not been before, and collecting stories along the way, really does make a road trip as much about the journey to get there as the destination itself.

John Steinbeck said, "People don’t take trips, trips take people,” and I am in agreement.

From the arid Karoo, roads less travelled and soaring mountain passes to charming historical towns (and coffee shops), lush rolling fields, rivers, oceans, vineyards, olive groves, fruit orchards, forests, fynbos and a few dirt roads - a road trip has a way of changing the way you look at the world around you. (I think I have left a little piece of my heart on Route 62).

Till next time...


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