After bidding adieu to the Garden Route with an oyster feast, we headed inland for a two-day stay in ostrich country. Oudtshoorn – the little town in the Karoo where we stayed – is quite literally known as the “ostrich capital of the world.” Not only is it home to the largest ostrich population anywhere on the planet, but it also hosts a number of specialized breeding farms, including a show farm that features ostrich safaris and ostrich racing.
Our stay in the Karoo – the last stop of our road trip before Cape Town – had a nice bit of symmetry with the beginning. We stayed at another AfriCamps, which had a nearly identical set-up to the one in Ingwe, where we had spent several days while exploring Tsisikamma, Nature’s Valley, and the Robberg Peninsula. The best part of the set-up was the braai – not only did each “glamping” tent come with its own firepit, but also the camps provide a prepared grill selection, so all one had to do after a full day of adventuring was fire up the braai and slap the pre-marinated meat on the grill for a delicious, home-cooked dinner.
The AfriCamps in Karoo – the franchise’s original site – forms part of a vast agricultural empire. The proprietors also own a considerable amount of land around the camp, and have elands, kudu, wildebeest, impala, and springbok roaming the uncultivated swaths of their property. D had hoped that this wildlife would also attract some colorful birds, but on this score he was sorely disappointed. The lack of interesting species did not stop us from enjoying our sundowner drive around the property, however, as the views of the farmland situated against the mountain backdrop of the Karoo were spectacular.
South Africa has a curious relationship with its wildlife, which forms the basis for some of the country’s most incredible nature-based tourism while also serving as a key pillar of its food pyramid. Those cute springbok and kudu you see in the wild? Plenty are also farm-raised and turned into steak and biltong. Ditto for ostriches, which in addition to roaming the wilds throughout the continent are also farm-raised for their meat while their eggs are festooned with fantastic designs by local artisans and sold to tourists.
We thought the ostrich tour would be a bit gimmicky, but it seemed silly to drive all the way to Oudtshoorn and not do one, plus we thought Munchkin might get a kick out of seeing baby ostriches. To our great surprise, we all ended up enjoying the tour immensely. We started at the hatchery, learning some interesting ostrich trivia and testing the durability of the eggs. The shells are so strong that a fully-grown human can stand upright on an ostrich egg without cracking it.
We saw the storage facility and visited the incubating chamber before arriving in another room, which held the eggs that were about to crack. After puncturing a hole in its eggshell, a baby ostrich still spends several days ensconced in the egg before it is finally ready to greet the world. And man, oh man, do they look adorable peering out of the eggshell with their bushy eyes. The last stop of the tour was a room that held one-week-old ostriches – the perfect age for visitors, as the birds are still too small to be raised in the wild and are quite amenable to being handled. After the hatchery, we visited a farm with the adult birds, but that part of the tour was nowhere near as exciting as the hatchery.
The other reason to visit Oudtshoorn is its proximity to the Cango Caves, an extensive system of underground tunnels and chambers that stretches for several kilometers under the Swartberg mountains. With two small kids in tow, we couldn’t do the longer adventure tour, which allows visitors to squeeze through narrow passageways deep in the caverns, but we did enjoy our hour-long tour of the caves’ principal chambers.
As with pretty much everything, Munchkin was initially impressed before quickly losing interest. He wandered around the massive first chamber, taking pictures on his camera and exclaiming, “Look! The walls have teeth!” But the tour did not move fast enough for his attention span, and once he lost interest he invented his own entertainment, playing games, singing songs, and exasperating several of the other visitors in the process.