The Klein or Little Karoo in the Western Cape is a long valley that lies between the Swartberg and Langeberg mountain ranges. As it's name suggests, this area is the smaller sibling of the Great Karoo, to its north.
It has a wide variety of accommodation and activities and is one of the most unique and beautiful parts of South Africa, sandwiched between impressive mountains that offer ever-changing vistas.
The region stretches from De Rust in the east and Barrydale in the west and includes the towns of Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Oudtshoorn, the last being famous as a host for the annual national Afrikaans arts festival, the KKNK, and its role in the history of ostrich farming.
Because of its climate the Klein Karoo is an interesting wine producing area and vineyards that provide for a variety of quality of wines, not least the fortified wines like muscadel that do well in this sunny region.
One of the most interesting natural attractions is the Cango Caves, about 30km outside Oudtshoorn. This cave system was formed by rainwater eroding rock and limestone over 20 million years.
The caves and its gigantic stalactites and stalagmites were proclaimed an historical monument in 1938 and it is one of the worlds leading show caves, attracting thousands of local and international visitors.
The Cango Caves lie in the foothills of the Swartberg which is also the location for one of the most scenic and awe-inspiring drives in South Africa, the Swartberg Pass that connects Oudtshoorn with Prince Albert in the Great Karoo. Not for the faint--hearted, be prepared to navigate switchback bends on a narrow gravel road, and to be rewarded with views to match
Another equally spectacular drive is through Meiringspoort which winds its way through a narrow gorge delivering lovely views of the rock formations typical of the Cape folded mountains.
The area also has beautiful wilderness areas, including the Gamkaskloof and Aynsberg provincial nature reserves where semi-desert flora, including special succulents, and fauna, like the Cape mountain leopard, can be found.
How to get there
The Klein Karoo stretches along the the R62 from Barrydale in the west to De Rust in the east. Route 62 runs between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn, the Garden Route and Port Elizabeth, offering an alternative to the N2 highway.
Klein Karoo Wine Route
The Klein Karoo Wine Route lies in a flat semi-arid basin. Around it, the great walls of the Langeberge-Outeniqua and Groot Swartberg Mountains rise up; a rugged stone coronet that wraps around fruitful Montagu in the west, all the way along Barrydale, Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn, to De Rust near Meiringspoort in the east.
Roughly speaking, vines in the southern part of this area, namely Montagu, Barrydale, and Tradouw up to Ladismith, are planted in the foothills and kloofs of the Langeberge, with its chalky, shallow soil, weathered from the surrounding sandstone mountains. This terroir, combined with a climate of hot days and cool nights, contribute towards the award-winning ruby cabernets, merlots and chardonnays that come out of this region. Don’t miss Barrydale Cellars' highly awarded pot still brandies.
But it's the area between Ladismith and Oudtshoorn that lends a particular character to the wine route in the Klein Karoo, with Calitzdorp at its heart. Here, a semi-desert environment with intense sunshine brings out the deep berry flavours needed for excellent fortified wines like Cape port (although this name may no longer be used due to a European Union ruling).
Likened to the Douro in Portugal, plantings here consist mainly of the grape varieties of Tinta Barocca and Touriga Nacional. Besides creating champion port (called Cape tawny, vintage and ruby in South Africa) and muscadels, winemakers here are experimenting with typical port cultivars to create interesting red wines.
Visit Boplaas, De Krans, Peter Bayly cellars and make a point of trying Axe Hill's pink and white versions.
Muscat varieties flourish around Oudtshoorn in fertile silt where hot days and warm nights bring out the sweet potency needed for semi-sweet and dessert wines. This wine route in the Klein Karoo is also renowned for the quality of its excellent pot still brandies.
Full of wondrous landscapes and warm hospitality, this 17-cellar Klein Karoo winelands ramble is a wine tour with a difference.
Tel: +2728 572 1284
The Klein Karoo may initially appear bleak, but it not only supports the biggest variety of succulent plants in the world, it also produces some of the best wines. This fascinating part of South Africa is where you'll find the Cango Caves, a truly spectacular natural wonder.