The R62 road starts outside Ashton, where the R60 from Robertson takes a right turn to Swellendam, and continues through the Little Karoo and the Langkloof to Humansdorp.
The first part of the R62 winds its way through the convulated rock formations of Cogman’s Kloof, through a short tunnel with a British fort from the Anglo-Boer War guarding it, to emerge on the other side in a verdant valley with the town of Montagu encradled by the Kingna and Keisie (Bath) Rivers. This is the first town in Kannaland, or the Little Karoo (Klein Karoo in Afrikaans).
Itinerant farmers (trekboere) had been using the land since the middle of the 18th century and after 1820 quitrent farms had been granted here. When the need for a new church congregation arose, David Stephanus van der Merwe in 1851 bought the farm Uitvlugt and had it subdivided into erven, and by 1854 more erven were added to the west of the Keisie River. By the time a church was built in 1862, the town had grown to over 500 inhabitants. It was named after John Montagu, the Colonial Secretary.
Montagu’s historical heritage is very well preserved. The custom of replacing thatched roofs with corrugated iron a century ago did not take hold here, and many of the thatch roofs are still intact, some with gables. Other attractive buildings are Victorian villas and some double-storey houses from the 1870s and 1880s. Historian Dr Hans Fransen calls Montagu “a gem among Cape towns”.
The hot thermal springs, behind the hills to the north, have long attracted visitors, and there is a tranquil Nature Garden on the eastern edge of the town (entrance from Van Riebeeck Street). Montagu Museum, situated in Long Street, comprising the old DR Mission Church and the beautifully restored Joubert House, also runs a medicinal herb garden and offers various products from it for sale. The town now has a wide range of facilities for those wishing to escape the city, from just relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet, to horse-riding and serious rock-climbing.
From Montagu the R62 takes one past orchards and pastures of the fertile Tradouw Valley eastwards to Barrydale, with the Langeberg to the south of the road and the hills of the Karoo to the north.
The other route to Barrydale is the R324 from Suurbraak, through the beautiful Tradouw Pass. By the mid-19th century, the farmers beyond the Langeberge needed an easier route to get their produce to the harbour at Port Beaufort, as the shortest way was via Montagu and the Cogman’s Kloof. Only a footpath existed through the mountain (“tradouw” means “women’s path” in the Quena language), but this could not be turned into a road for wagons. The building of a pass was first suggested in 1858, and in 1867 it was raised in the Cape Parliament. Master road-builder Thomas Bain was instructed to plan and build the pass, and work started in 1869. The pass was opened in 1873 and, just more than a century later, from 1974 to 1980, it was realigned and tarred. It is surely one of the most scenic mountain passes in the country, but many sharp curves remain and must be negotiated slowly!
Barrydale, named after Thomas Barry, one of the nephews of the Barry & Nephews Overberg mercantile empire, was established at the northern end of the Tradouw Pass in 1878. There had been a small church since 1877, but the land (part of the farm Tradouwshoek) was only bought in 1878 and the new church congregation established in 1880. The town, tucked away in a deep valley, was laid out along the banks of the Huis River, with larger plots for cultivation on either side of the watercourse. Van Riebeeck Street, in which the church, hotel and shops were located, was originally the through-road, but the R62 has since been shifted higher up the hillside to skirt most of the town.
The town has in the past years attracted many artists and crafters, with many shops and restaurants serving tourists on the R62. It has retained much of its character, with cows and sheep often seen grazing between the scattered houses.
From Barrydale the R62 winds amongst the hills and valleys of the Little Karoo to the hot springs at Warmwaterberg, and on to Ladismith, Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn.