The glorious Garden Route is a 186 mile expanse of natural landscape spanning South Africa’s Western and Eastern Capes. From Mossel Bay in the West to Storms River in the East, the route passes diverse scenery including stunning coastlines and dramatic mountain ranges, dense forests, rivers and deserts. Here we explore six highlights of this iconic South African road trip.
The relaxed seaside town of Mossel Bay sits on the scenic Cape St Blaize peninsula, flanked by the Outeniqua Mountains. The town boasts miles of golden sands, including five blue flag beaches. Lapped by the Indian Ocean, the area is perfect for swimming and water sports including surfing, SCUBA and jet skiing. Adrenalin fans can indulge in shark cage diving, wreck diving and bungee jumping. Take a boat trip from the harbour to Seal Island, home to 2,500 cape fur seals. You might glimpse a predatory great white shark lurking in the surrounding waters.
Botlierskop Private Game Reserve
Encounter four of the big five at this privately owned game reserve. In a stunning location between the Indian Ocean and the Outeniqua Mountains, the 4,200 hectare estate is home to lion, elephant, Cape buffalo and rhino along with hippo, giraffe and zebra. Enjoy game drives, horseback safaris, and guided bush walks around the reserve. The estate welcomes day visitors as well as overnight guests and facilities include a spa, swimming pools and children’s water slides. Dine at the onsite restaurant or reserve a picnic hamper to enjoy in the grounds.
Between June and October each year the popular town of Plettenberg Bay draws scores of wildlife lovers keen to spot migrating humpback and southern right whales off the coast. Join a whale watching excursion, and keep your eyes open for dolphins and sharks. Enjoy surfing and diving off the town’s white sand beaches. Encounter seal colonies and incredible views on a stunning coastal hike at Robberg Nature and Marine Reserve.
‘Plett’ as the locals call it, is a foodie mecca with a host of excellent eateries. Don’t miss a visit to nearby Birds of Eden, an award winning sanctuary whose vast two hectare dome supports over 220 species of birds. Also nearby is Monkeyland, a refuge dedicated to primates formerly kept in captivity.
Located amidst the semi-desert wilderness of the Klein Karoo, the town of Oudtshoorn made its fortune in an unusual niche: ostrich farming. During the 19th century, well-heeled European and American women took to wearing hats adorned with ostrich feathers. Local Karoo farmers grew wealthy on the fashion; several built large houses (known as ‘feather palaces’) with their profits. A number of ostrich farms still exist in the area today, and several offer tours to visitors.
Make time to visit Cango Caves, a half hour drive from Oudtshoorn. On a guided tour of this ancient cave system you’ll explore a network of vast caverns and impressive displays of stalagmites and stalactites. These naturally occurring limestone sculptures are an estimated 20 million years old.
Situated on the banks of a tranquil lagoon surrounded by woodland, Knysna is an arty, bohemian town with a welcoming vibe. Famed for its annual July oyster festival, this attractive town offers an abundance of cafes, independent shops and excellent seafood restaurants. Enjoy a tasting session at Mitchells, South Africa’s oldest microbrewery. Hike or hire a bike to explore the trails in Knysna Forest, passing indigenous milkwood, yellowwood and stinkwood trees and ancient ferns. Take a sunset boat trip around the lagoon, passing the famous Knysna Heads, the two distinctive sandstone cliffs which guard the harbour entrance.
Tsitsikamma National Park
Probably the highlight of the Garden Route, this beautiful expanse of densely forested hillside and wild coastline offers an abundance of Cape plant and wildlife alongside a host of activities such as hiking, river tubing, and kayaking. Enjoy splendid coastal views on the Storms River waterfall trail, a scenic three hour hike/scramble which incorporates a section of the iconic Otter Trail. Adrenalin junkies can test their nerves on the world’s highest bridge bungee jump: a heart stopping 709 feet fall from Bloukrans Bridge. For a slightly gentler alternative, the Stormsriver canopy tour features an award winning network of platforms built around huge Outeniqua yellowwood trees. Glide on zip lines between the trees, 100 feet above the forest floor.
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