South African holidays to Mossel Bay is rich in history. In 1488, Bartholomeu Dias anchored in the bay, which was later named Aguada de São Bras (the watering place of Saint Bras), after he became the first Portuguese navigator to round the Cape of Storms. The Bartholomeu Dias Museum Complex comprises several museums and places of interest, among them the Maritime Museum which has as its main attraction a life-size replica of Dias' caravel. The complex also includes the Culture Museum, which depicts the town's history from the earliest times, and the Shell Museum, with its large collection of sea shells.
Well known is the historic Post Office Tree, a milkwood tree where a Portuguese naval officer, Pedro de Ataide, left a letter in a shoe, or iron pot, when his ship put in here on the voyage back to Portugal from the east in 1500. The letter was found the following year by a naval officer sailing to the east. In time, the milkwood tree was increasingly used as a 'post office' by passing sailors. The Point, also known as Cape St Blaize, features a large wave-cut cave that was inhabited between 100 000 and 70 000 years ago by nomadic Khoi people who exploited the coastal resources. The Cape St Blaize Lighthouse above the cave has been a beacon to ships since it was commissioned in 1864.
After a relatively easy journey across the coastal plains east of Houwhoek on your self drive South African holidays, early travellers were forced to cross the Outeniqua Mountains near present-day Mossel Bay to avoid the almost impenetrable Knysna and Tsitikamma forests, with their precipitous ravines. The earliest route across the mountains was along the Attaquas Kloof, named after a chief of the Hessequa Khoikhoi. Originally an elephant track, the route was first explored by the Dutch ensign Isaq Schrijver who penetrated through the kloof to reach the Olifants River valley in January 1689.
For over a century, the route remained the gateway to the Little Karoo, and among the numerous explorers who passed this way were Hermanus Hubner (1736), August Beutler (1752), Captain Robert Gordon and William Paterson (1777). When Thomas Bain was commissioned to build a new pass linking Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn, he decided to follow the easier gradients of the mountain slopes in the Ruitersbos area, some 8 km east of Attaquas Kloof. Construction of the pass began in 1867, and when it was completed two years later it was named after Mr M Robinson, the Chief Inspector of Public Works and Commissioner of Roads at the time.
Stretching from Worcester in the west to Uniondale, the Little Karoo lies in a narrow valley bounded in the south by the Langeberg and Outeniqua mountain ranges. In the north, the Witteberge and Swartberg ranges separate the Little Karoo from the Great Karoo. Although a semi-arid region, the numerous river valleys have been blessed with fertile alluvial soil. This, together with the dry climate and sunny weather, creates ideal conditions for the cultivation of various crops such as grapes, apricots, lucerne, tobacco and wheat.
Self drive South African holidays through the Little Karoo has to include a visit to the regions Ostrich Farms. The ostrich industry of the Little Karoo had its beginnings in the hunting of wild ostriches for their feathers. By 1838 over 250 kg of feathers were being exported, and the increasing demand resulted in the domestication of ostriches around the 1850s. By 1861 the export of ostrich feathers had increased to 1 553 kg, and twenty years later the number of birds stood at around 100 000. Between 1900 and 1914 the industry experienced an unprecedented boom. At the height of the boom years, the number of ostriches reached more than 750 000 and wealthy farmers built palatial homes, dubbed 'feather palaces', in Art Nouveau and neo-Cape Dutch styles.
The industry collapsed upon the outbreak of World War I, but subsequently recovered. However, the market for ostrich feathers never regained its former peak. Today, the ostrich industry comprises about 400 farms. In addition to feathers, the birds provide fresh meat and biltong, while ostrich leather handbags and shoes are much sought after. Visitors can learn more about these fascinating birds on guided tours offered by Oudtshoorn's famed ostrich farms, which include Hoopers Highgate, Safari and Cango.
Once known as the Ostrich Feather Capital of the World, Oudtshoorn has a rich cultural heritage. Many of its fine sandstone buildings date back to the feather boom period, including the old Boys High School (1907) - with its 27,5-m-high clock tower - now known as the CP Nel Museum, and the Le Roux Dorpshuis, a fine Edwardian art nouveau-style 'feather palace' with a circular tower and intricate iron railings.
Other historic buildings include the Gothic-style Dutch Reformed Church (1879), Pinehurst and the Prince Vincent and Company building of 1914. Also of interest is Arbeidsgenot, the house of the well-known Afrikaans lawyer, writer, poet and politician, CJ Langenhoven. A longtime campaigner for the Afrikaans language, Langenhoven wrote the words of Die Stem (the sole national anthem of South Africa until 1994) and was also the author of some 40 books.
In March/April each year, Oudtshoorn is host to the popular Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, which attracts upwards of 100 000 people for a week-long celebration of Afrikaans artistic expression.
This pass across the Outeniqua Mountains which will you will travel on South African holidays, was built between 1943 and 1951 to replace the winding Montagu Pass, built between 1844 and 1847, and to provide a more direct and faster route between George and Oudtshoorn. Italian prisoners of war were used as labourers during its construction. After following the valley carved by the Klip River between Waboomskraalberg to the west and Camferskloofberg, the road descends in a series of sweeping bends along the eastern slopes of Geelhoutboomberg. A viewpoint on the left-hand side of the road provides expansive vistas over the Cradock Pass (built in 1812) and the Montagu Pass (built in 1844).
Laid out on the coastal plain below the Outeniqua Mountains, George is a picturesque town with streets lined by majestic oak trees planted soon after it was founded in 1811. The town was named in honour of the then reigning monarch, George III. Situated in the heart of the Garden Route, George is popular with outdoor enthusiasts who are attracted to the numerous hiking trails and walks in the nearby forests and mountains. Places of interest along the 1,5-km-long historical walking tour include the George Museum, housed in the Drostdy building. The main theme of the museum is the region's timber industry, but it also has an important collection of vintage gramophones and musical instruments.
Also to be seen along the walk is the King Edward VII Library (the best example of Edwardian architecture in the town), the old slave tree, St Mark's Anglican Cathedral (1850) and the historic Dutch Reformed Church (1842) 6. The George Timber Route meanders from the George Museum past several tree species, furniture manufacturers and the Dutch Reformed Church (1842), with its magnificent yellowwood ceiling and handcarved stinkwood pulpit. An interesting collection of railway equipment, coaches and locomotives, as well as a replica of an old station, can be seen at the Outeniqua Railway Museum.