We departed Mossel Bay on Wednesday morning aiming for Oudtshoorn and the Cango Caves. Apparently the caves were South Africa’s “first tourist attraction,” which sounded intriguing. We took a beautiful route up the mountains, with interspersed clouds and sunlight, and frequent pull outs and rest areas. After a pass and some descending we began to see the many ostrich farms which this area is known for. First an ostrich here and then, then pairs, the small groups. Then big fields with hundreds! This was a pen with juveniles, and they came toward us with a somewhat threatening look!
There were advertisements for the opportunity to ride on or even race on an ostrich, but we thought better of it. We took a slow cruise through the town of Oudtshoorn and followed the signs for the caves, about 30 KM outside of town. A windy road led us to the visitor’s center, and a parking attendant told us the next tour would leave in 10 min, so we boogied inside and paid the fee for a “standard tour” of 60 min. (A longer “adventure tour” involves some sliding and squeezing, and we hadn’t budgeted the time.) We entered the caves with a big group and in a moderate sized room were broken up into 3 sub-tours. Then we proceeded down some steps into an amazingly big and beautiful room.
Here we learned the history of the caves’ discovery and use. Amazingly, due to the great acoustics, concerts were held in this room for several decades, but due to vandalism and other issues, they had to be cancelled. At the end of the tour our guide sang a beautiful song and demonstrated the great sound. We proceeded deeper into the caves and were amazed at every turn by the otherworldly formations. The stalagmites, stalactites, and other formations varied in age from tens of thousands to a few million years old! Most of the rooms had a name related to some unique feature, such as the drum room, and the honeymoon suite. This was one of the coolest views.
At the end of our tour we returned the the huge room and they extinguished all of the lights except a replica oil lamp that was used by the first modern person to enter the room (in 1780!). The light from the lamp was a complete joke, and we felt bad for the poor Dutch farmer who didn’t get to witness the mind blowing formations, instead returning to tell his friends of a rather boring find!
We returned to Oudtshoorn for a nice lunch of ostrich salad (tastes like steak!) and then proceeded back down the mountains. We stopped briefly in George and Wilderness before landing at Knysna. We’ve heard of Knysna because a pretty big kayak builder of that name is based there. As with most towns we visit, we were immediately drawn to the waterfront, and before long we saw some paddlers in K1s in the estuary! Soon we found the yacht club’s small boat storage area and jealously ogled all of the cool racing kayaks and surfskis. A light warm rain had been falling, but suddenly the sun burst through the clouds and we spotted our first African rainbow!
The next day we were relieved to find that there is good coffee to be had in South Africa! It seems that here, as in many places, “coffee shop” really means cafe, and if they have coffee at all, it’s an afterthought. But here in Knysna they had real coffee shops with real coffee, and it was delicious! And they weren’t afraid to provide Don’s favorite, a “quad shot.” After exploring the downtown area we went out to the Heads for views, hiking, and lunch. The Heads are big cliffs that guard the entrance to the Knysna River estuary / harbor, and they are stunning. A small swell was running through the entrance and we could imagine great surfing conditions. Here’s the view from the top of the north head.
We were really enjoying Knysna and considered staying, but were feeling some pressure to keep moving. The next sizable town, Plettenburg Bay, was said by many to be very nice, so we headed there. However, upon arrival, we didn’t feel like it was the place for us, and continued on. We also checked neat spots such as Nature’s Valley and Storms River, but were unable to make a decision. We ended up making it to Jefferys Bay (J-Bay), a well known surf town, and found a comfortable place for the night. Our dinner spot was was just a short walk up the beach, and upon returning we took a refreshing dip in the pool under a massive, bright waning moon rising over the Indian Ocean. Not bad!