Road Trip Report 1: Oudtshoorn

There’s a lot to do in Oudtshoorn. At least for a town of the size of Oudtshoorn (population 95,000), there is.

Having only around 24 hours to spend there, we narrowed our options down to three: The Cango Caves, The Cango Ostrich Farm and The… er… Cango Wildlife Ranch. All three came well recommended by friends and all three now come well recommended by us as well.

The Cango Caves don’t have to work too hard. They’ve got everything in place and they just need to show it to you. Mathilda was our guide and demonstrated the acoustics of the massive Van Zyl’s Hall (named after local farmer Jacobus van Zyl who discovered the caves in July 1780) with a fantastic rendition of Amazing Grace.

The lighting and the informative guide are the finishing touches for the natural beauty of the caves. With small children, we were limited to the Heritage Tour (we did the Adventure Tour last time), but that was certainly enough to enjoy the spectacular sights under the Swartberg mountains.

Back towards town then, and the Cango Ostrich Farm, where we were wowed by witnessing an ostrich chick “mid-hatch” (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this, but I don’t know what it is). Liesl took us around and yes, it was all very touristy: I got to kiss an ostrich (a bit beaky), I got a neck massage from the ostiches (warm, but not relaxing) and the kids got to sit on an ostrich and, in Alex’s case, ride one too. He was so proud of himself, and rightly so. But it was also really educational. Ostrich farming is a HUGE business in SA and it was great for the kids to get such an interactive experience. Here’s Scoop hands on with a half hour old ostrich:

Alex has gone to school today with the ostrich egg he bought at the farm and he can’t wait to share his experiences with his classmates.

Finally, the Cango Wildlife Ranch. Expensive, but well worth it, especially if you’re into your big cats. Or their big cats, anyway. Most of which were asleep for the majority of time we were there.

They have cheetahs (+ 2 cubs), leopards, lions, servals and Bengal tigers in the Big Cat section, plus three types of lemurs, crocodiles, duikers, cape vultures and an amazing snake house. It does cost a bit, but it’s a great (and again, educational) experience and at least part of your entrance fee goes towards their conservation and captive breeding projects for many of the endangered species they have at the park. Included in the price is a guided tour, which lets you see far more than if you were going around alone. Ed was our guide, made us feel very welcome and was able to answer all our questions.

To fit in all of this in one day was a bit of a squeeze, but we made it by being on the first tour (9am) at the caves (booking essential) and being the last ones out of the Wildlife Ranch at closing time, by which time we were all pretty exhausted.

Our departure from Oudtshoorn the following day was delayed by a military parade which we were told was to mark the anniversary of the Infantry School in the town and the 150th anniversary of the inaugural town council meeting.

It was actually a rather understated affair, but the kids loved seeing the band and the big army vehicles and it was a decent send off before we headed South over the Outeniqua Mountains towards the coast. More of that (and more photos) tomorrow, but in the meantime, the first pics can be found on Flickr here.

We stayed at the Turnberry Hotel, which was clean, friendly and well organised and was a great base for our activities. The family room was nicely set up with a separate annex for the kids, which was very helpful. Oh, and before I go, a shout out to Jemima’s Restaurant which provided us with an amazing opening meal to our trip. Best steak I have had in several years and superb service for the kids. Excellent.

Iceland whale tourism idea is brilliant

Iceland. Land of ice. And volcanoes. And financial ruin (like everywhere else these days). And puffins.

They’ve come up with another gem of an idea to attract visitors to their lump of rock: Whale watching – with a twist.
You get to eat what you see.

Watching and hunting whales “work perfectly together” in a look-and-cook combo of tourism and gastronomy, Iceland’s Whale Commissioner said on Thursday at the global whaling forum.
“Many of the tourists that go on whale watching tours go to restaurants afterwards to taste whale meat,” said Tomas Heider, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in the British Channel Islands.

Iceland have a “Whale Commissioner”. That’s brilliant. And so is his idea, despite what others may say:

Many countries in the 89-nation IWC, especially in South America, argue that potential income from tourism far outstrips the value of commercial whaling, and that the two do not mix well.
But in Iceland, Heider insists, the industries feed off each other.
“Even though we have been increasing our whaling in recent years, the tourists are streaming in numbers to Iceland and going to whale watching tours like never before,” he said. “It works perfectly together.”

Of course, we’d never, ever, ever think of doing something so vulgar in South Africa, would we?

Unless of course you’ve ever been to Oudtshoorn, the self-proclaimed “Ostrich Capital of the World”, where you can see, feed, ride and then eat the local birdlife.

I trust that anyone commenting negatively on the News24 article or writing an angry letter to the IWC (on recycled paper with a recycled pen) will also be contacting Western Cape Tourism and complaining bitterly about these same heinous practices taking place on our own doorstep.

Disclosure: 6000 eats ostrich most weeks and has also tasted whale meat on two occasions. He was unimpressed.

Oudtshoorn flashback

Oudtshoorn (roughly pronounced Oats-Horn) is a small town in the Western Cape which claims to be the ostrich capital of the world. And that might not sound like much of a pull, but if you want to do anything to do with ostriches, visit ostrich-related attractions and buy ostrich-related merchandise, Oudtshoorn is your number one destination of choice. It’s a couple of years since I was last there, but I don’t think it will have changed much, based on the fact that when I was there it didn’t appear to have changed much since colonial times.
I got into a spot of bother with my traveling companions on that particular visit, due to a comment I left in the guest book at the excellent Jemima’s restaurant. Having enjoyed all that Oudtshoorn had to offer during the day, I felt compelled to sample the speciality dish – ostrich – for my dinner. Then, perhaps buoyed by a sense of a day completed in fine style, together with some (or more) decent Cabernet Sauvignon, I reached for the visitor’s book on the way out and wrote:

Saw one.
Fed one.
Rode one.
Ate one.

Which, despite being absolutely true, was considered – in stark contrast to dinner – to be in rather poor taste and invoked the spirit of the Derbyshire butcher specialising in game meats who had the display of rabbits hung outside his shop next to the sign:

Watership Down.
You’ve read the book.
You’ve seen the film.
Now eat the cast.

All of which meandering brings me to and its startlingly similar tagline:

Choose pig.
Name pig.
Visit pig.
Eat pig.

Personally, I think they lose it slightly with the extra syllable on the third line, but it’s still a good effort. And yes, you adopt a piglet, they lovingly care for it, nurture it and feed it; and then slaughter it, chop it all up and deliver it (vacuum packed, nogal) to your door.

A whole pig weighs in at about 40-50kg of meat. This usually works out between £280 and £350, though never more than £380. For this price you get all of the meat back from your pig, butchered, vacuum packed, weighed, labelled and priced ~ just how you would like to find it. In terms of cost, you are paying about £100 more than in a supermarket, the same as in a good butchers, and £160 less than London prices. Any offal you choose to have from your pig is free of charge.

The advantages of this system? You know exactly where your pig came from, where it has been and what it has been eating: “From field to fork, from pasture to plate – tracking your food every step of the way”.

I can already imagine the Oudtshoorn farmers planning the South African equivalent. If only there was some tear-jerking family film about a talking baby ostrich which they could use the name from. 

Perhaps that’s all that’s holding them back.