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Garden Route, South Africa

Posted on Monday, 21st Jul 2014

The Garden Route is perhaps the most internationally renowned South African destination after Cape Town and the Kruger National Park, and with good reason.

The Garden Route offers a breathtaking journey down to the coast, where it passes through Wilderness and Plettenberg Bay to Stormsriver. As you meander east, the landscape changes from positively Mediterranean to wild, wet and mountainous, with dense forests, bushland and dramatic cliffs.


Skydiving in the Garden Route

Beyond the N2 motorway and the sleepy seaside towns, you’ll find the land (and sea) that time forgot, patrolled by elephants, rhinos and whales. Whether your holiday preference is beach barbecues or bravura bungee-jumping, one thing's for sure: you won't be short of things to do.

Some of the highlights along the way:

Swellendam:
About halfway between Cape Town and Mossel Bay, Swellendam is a good stopping point. More than 250 years old, Swellendam is preserved in small town charm with wide streets, neatly preserved Cape Dutch and Victorian buildings, and excellent places to enjoy some South African food.


Swellendam

Mossel Bay
Considered by many as the official westernmost point of the Garden Route, Mossel Bay has a mild year-round climate, good beaches and friendly locals. Golf has become a big attraction here, thanks to the course at Pinnacle Point Golf Estate and Golf Resort. The course is perched atop a cliff and offers spectacular views of the Indian Ocean.


Pinnacle Point Golf Course, Mossel Bay

Detour to Oudtshoorn
Slightly north-east of Mossel Bay is George, an important link in South Africa's road network, and a crossroads for both coastal explorers and those traveling inland.

For a uniquely South African experience, be sure to head north of George for a quick visit to Oudtshoorn, South Africa's ostrich capital.

Although it's located just a few miles inland, the Oudtshoorn landscape is a dusty contrast to the thickly forested coastline of the Garden Route. Visit one of the Ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn and experience the frenetic, somewhat crazed madness that ensues from getting mixed up with these bald, chubby birds.


Ostriches in Oudtshoorn

It's not all ostriches in Oudtshoorn, though; the area is also famous for Cango Caves. Believed to have been formed more than 65-million years ago, the caves are regarded as one of Africa's most important natural wonders. It's a good idea to phone ahead and book in advance.
Cango Caves
Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn

And if the caves don't impress, the nearby Cango Wildlife Ranch surely will. The centre is one of the world’s foremost cheetah breeding projects and also boasts rare white lions, Bengal tigers and crocodiles.

Welcome to Wilderness
Leaving George behind, Wilderness is undoubtedly where you will next want to stop for a day or two. With an impressive collection of long, secluded beaches, lakes and rivers, the small intimate town is the perfect place to enjoy a secluded getaway.

Wilderness Beach
Wilderness Beach

The magic of Knysna
From the moment you approach Knysna, driving alongside the massive lagoon, it's all too obvious why this town is the unofficial capital of the Garden Route. Try not to swerve off the road when you first notice the impressive Knysna Heads – the two large sandstone cliffs that stand guard on either side of the estuary mouth.

Knysna Heads
Knysna Heads

In Knysna, visitors can just as easily explore the lagoon, forests and rivers as the bustling town centre. As the Oyster capital of South Africa, Knysna is a place where people love to eat. The culmination of the town's oyster obsession is the annual Knysna Oyster festival, which takes place from late June to early July.

Plettenberg Bay
Packed with marine life, lined with long beaches and buzzing with daytime activities and nightlife, it's easy to see why many South Africans spend their summer in Plettenberg Bay. There are also a variety of special places located just outside Plettenberg that must be visited. These include the Elephant Sanctuary, Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, the largest free-flight bird aviary in the world.

Bottlenose dophins, Plettenberg Bay
Bottlenose Dolphins in Plettenberg Bay

Tsitsikamma
Heading east once again, it's time to tame your fears in Tsitsikamma. Some 80km of rocky coastline comprise the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, a place of deep, heavily scarred gorges, cliffs, tidal pools and thick evergreen forests. There are walking trails that range from comfortable day-long hikes too much longer treks.

For a less strenuous experience, take a canopy tour. Standing almost 100 feet in the air, surrounded by 100-year-old hardwood trees, visitors slide along cables, zipping from platform to platform in the treetops.


Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour

Not to be outdone by the heights of Tsitsikamma, the nearby Bloukrans Bridge offers a heady rush of a different kind. At 708 feet, Bloukrans is the highest commercial bungy bridge jump in the world.

Port Elizabeth
Arriving in Port Elizabeth, you may have reached the end of your Garden Route journey east, but the coastal fun is far from over. Port Elizabeth is the gateway to the game reserves of the Eastern Cape, a malaria-free safari region that offers some incredible wildlife experiences.

The most famous of the Eastern Cape reserves are Shamwari, Kwandwe Private Reserve and the Addo Elephant Park, but there are many other remarkable reserves in this region, all of which are a comfortable drive from South Africa's "Friendly City"


Port Elizabeth Beach

Things to do in the Garden Route:

  • Treetop Canopy tours in the lush Tsitsikamma Forest
  • Visit the Monkeyland Sanctuary and  Birds of Eden
  • Visit the Elephant and Wolf Sanctuaries
  • Visit the Cango Caves and an Ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn
  • Bungee Jump off Storms River bridge, the highest Bungee Jump in the world
  • Explore the coastal town of Knysna – “the Jewel of the Garden Route”
  • Taste Knysna oysters
  • Explore the Featherbed Nature Reserve
  • Whale Watch between July and November
  • Take a Dolphin Cruise in Plettenberg Bay
  • Scuba dive in Plettenberg Bay
  • Mountain-bike through the Harkerville Trail
  • Canoeing
  • Golfing at the World-class golf estates
  • Go surfing in Jeffreys Bay
  • Visit the Addo Elephant Park

Best time to visit the Garden Route:

The Garden Route has a mild all-year Mediterranean climate with is perfectly suited for holidays any time of the year. Temperatures are highest in the summer months from November to April, although bear in mind that this stretch of coastline gets very busy over the Christmas school holidays. For a beach holiday without the crowds, the best time to visit the Garden Route is from February to April. July to November is the best time for whale-watching.

How to get there:

The N2 highway carves and meanders for 800km between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The Garden Route is the stretch of forested, coastal area between Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth.

There are a few different ways to get around the Garden Route. Self-drives from Cape Town offers an amazing option as this will give you a chance to explore the route at leisure.

Flights are also available to George and Port Elizabeth.

Posted in Jewels of Southern Africa

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