For our third Saturday off, a group of us decided to explore Oudtshoorn – a place well known for its ostrich farms and Cango caves. We travelled again with Reyne through R&R tours and he told us the scenery was going to be very different compared with our last trip and we weren’t disappointed. The drive offered beautiful views of rolling hills, lots of greenery and in some places it was quite dry with lots of ostriches in fields filled with stunning purple flowers and cute stick tee-pee looking huts for them to shelter in. On the way we also passed gorgeous mountain scenery and we pulled over so that we could take a picture. It reminded me of how some places in NZ look.
Our first stop was at the ostrich farm where we joined a tour learning all about them – their leather, eggs, feathers and behaviours. We met a very cute dwarf ostrich who we were told was separated from the others so that she wasn’t bullied due to her small height, we were also able to hug another ostrich and get a “neck massage” as they fed from the buckets held in front of us. We were asked if we wanted a photo sitting on one that had a bag placed over its head or if we wanted to ride them but all said no – we felt that was a bit cruel and didn’t want to hurt or stress them out in any way. We learnt all about the incubation of the eggs and it wasn’t yet chick season but they were waiting for them to hatch. We were also shown how strong the eggs are and how much weight they can hold as we watched how people could stand on them without any damage whatsoever to the shells.
For lunch we went to a lovely place that both Kennedene (basically the ‘Mum’ at Oceans Campus) and Reyne had recommended called Wilgewandel Holiday Farm. It was off the main highway and had a small petting zoo, donkey and camel rides, trampolines, paddle boats and go-karts as well as good food and drinks. The rabbits were all really sweet and the black ones were my favourite – I also really enjoyed looking at the camels which had really cute, funny faces.
After lunch, we headed off for the famous Cango Caves and when we arrived, the Oceans Research intern and friend of mine, Claudia, was deciding whether she wanted to do the adventure option with tight squeezes and 27cm crawl. I felt like I would be quite claustrophobic doing that and scared of getting stuck so definitely didn’t want to do it – yikes! We all ended up taking the historic tour which lasted about an hour (which went by super quickly!) and learnt some fascinating things about the caves – the “San people” (who are indigenous hunter-gatherer people of South Africa) used them to stay in, we saw an example of what little light the first explorer had when he ventured deeper into the caves, learnt that the San people didn’t venture further as they believed there were spirits there, that there used to be orchestra concerts held in the main hall-like cave and that they had to stop them as people unfortunately started vandalising the cave structure and breaking bits off.
It was amazing learning about how long it took for some of the structures to form and being so close to them and surrounded by it all. The guide showed us the discolouration that occurs from people touching the formations (kind of like a reddish colour) and that the water droplets just ran off it and can’t form further.
On the Sunday, I had organised another trip with R&R Tours to Plettenberg Bay, solo this time since there was more I wished to explore there. The first stop was Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness and Rehabilitation Centre where I was booked in for a photographic tour along with four elderly couples. I really enjoyed taking this tour option as we had lots of time to enjoy seeing the animals and it wasn’t rushed at all. We saw caracal, cheetahs, white lion, serval cat, African wild cat, and a leopard. We were able to go into two cheetah enclosures with the guides – the first had a male and female pair and the second had a single female and also a huge leopard tortoise in the enclosure with her. It was amazing seeing these beautiful cats up close and exciting being in their enclosures – I’ve never done anything like it before. At one point in the tour we saw two young lions – one white male lion and a lioness and the guides informed us of the canned hunting issue in South Africa. He told us that some businesses will have lion cubs as they are cute and cuddly for people to pet then once they get too big for this purpose, they are sold to game farms where rich people from around the world come to shoot them and pose with the carcass. I was shocked to hear about how common this is and grateful to be visiting a place that didn’t support the industry.
After a quick lunch stop, we headed off for the Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary and joined a tour. The guide was hilarious and you could tell that he really enjoyed his job working with the snakes and he offered for the audience to hold a brown house snake, corn snake and royal python – which was amazing! During the tour there was one enclosure that had been dug out into the ground allowing for us to have an overhead view and the guide showed us the infamous puffadder and how intimidating the hissing is that it makes to warn you that you are too close to it. The rock monitor lizard was beautiful and it was sweet how the guide held him against his chest while showing us its claws.
Our third stop was the Elephant Sanctuary which had a very huge themed entrance. I entered to find a few others waiting for their elephant experience and we could see elephants grazing in the surrounding plains. There were five elephants altogether – 3 females (who joined us for the experience) and another female and a male who were in a previous encounter with people – they rotate the elephants so they don’t get tired. Our guide met us and introduced what the plan for the tour was while the other handlers collected the elephants. They walked them over to us and the guide told us which elephants were best for each of us to have the experience with. I got the matriarch female at the front – the oldest and feistiest – she was really stunning and our afternoon started with us walking trunk in hand with them.
We went into the forest and stopped at a clearing where we sat down on some logs while the handlers used different hand a voice signals to get the elephants to move in a way that allowed for us to see and learn about the various body parts and how they use them. Before coming to this particular sanctuary I wanted to make sure I was making ethical travel choices so had googled them to make sure there were no bad articles about the treatment of the elephants as I have heard of some places using cruel methods to ‘break their spirit’ in order to get them to perform. I didn’t find anything negative on this sanctuary but I did notice that the handlers held bull hooks so I asked the main guide about it. He said they don’t use them on the elephants and that they were there for safety, and I didn’t witness anything concerning during my tour which was a relief.
I was able to pat the elephant I was paired with and learn about and touched the different parts of the body including her trunk, ears and feet. It was a surreal feeling making eye contact with her and I found it to be such a touching and emotional experience – she had such gorgeous long eyelashes. We then walked back to the field where we were able to feed the elephants pumpkin which they absolutely loved! I was able to brush one of them down too which was enjoyable.