Legend goes that Lion has not always been the king of the jungle. The Batswana remember a time when Ostrich ruled the animal kingdom. Until one night when Lion sneaked up to the sleeping sovereign and opened its beak, to discover that it has no teeth. (Lion did not know that Ostrich hid his teeth in his stomach.) So Lion overpowered Ostrich and became the new king.
The people of Oudtshoorn, however, have never forgotten the glory days of the ostrich and the wealth that its feathers brought the town around the turn of the previous century. They still proudly refer to their little Karoo town as the ostrich capital of the world, and restore and maintain the elegant sandstone feather palaces in and around town. For visitors wondering whether the ostrich is actually a bird or a reptile, there are a few ostrich show farms with very interesting tours. I recommend Safari where anyone weighing less than 80kg is allowed to ride an ostrich. (Do yourself a favour and have a look at the inspired result of Cape Town designer Tsai’s ostrich ride…)
During my Oudtshoorn visit I stayed in a free-standing luxury tent at the Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, regular winner of the PMR Golden Award as best Game Lodge in the Karoo. Coming from the city, what a pleasure to find no door, lock or burglar bars on my lodgings. Only views onto the curvy Karoo koppies stretching out around you, hippos plunging into the pan and a variety of birds swooping over the water. My highlight was unzipping the tent’s bathroom to step into the private outside shower – gazing up to beautiful blue skies specked with playful swallows.
Although Oudtshoorn is a hot and arid place, Buffelsdrift is located in the Cango Valley, the town’s green belt. In this valley, the gathering of water among the mountains has created a lush desert oasis, all along the riverside up to the world famous, never fully knowable Cango Caves. A must-see. Also on the same road as the Caves and Buffelsdrift, you will find the Cango Wildlife Ranch – a sanctuary for mesmerising big cats like tigers and jaguars, crocodiles and many smaller animals.
Buffelsdrift is well-known for its restaurant with authentic South African food in generous portions. The sunsets from the veranda are simply spectacular. However, should you feel like exploring the town’s eateries, I can highly recommend Kalinka and The Colony at the Queens for dinner, and Café Brulé for breakfast or lunch. They all source most of their food locally and try and use what is in season. Chocolate lovers will delight in the creations of the charming, Belgian-trained chocolatier at Rococo, located close to the edge of the town, as you are about to leave for George. Walking distance from her establishment is award-winning Tantinki, where the self-effacing cheese maker can tell you many entertaining stories about how her cheeses got their names.
The most memorable part of my Oudtshoorn visit was the elephant experience at Buffelsdrift. Malaika, Bulelo and Jabari are 8-year old elephant orphans who lost their mother to poachers. They are incredibly intelligent, understand about 30 English words (only by listening to one’s voice) and are learning more. They are also natural cuddlers, trunks constantly looking for a human body to hug. According to their trainer, they are not aware yet that they are not also human, having been in human care since being bottle-fed.
Buffelsdrift really lives up to their promise to deliver a unique bushveld experience in the heart of the Klein Karoo. I can recommend it to anyone wanting to kick off their shoes, re-connect with nature and experience something of our wild, African continent without leaving the Western Cape.
Review by: Lizelle Steyn, independent traveller