Although I am sure you will probably find many gardens in South Africa, the word “Garden” here indicates a beautiful stretch of coastal scenery. Shall we say it’s South Africa’s “Garden of Eden?” The official description given by the local tourist board is as follows, “The name comes from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast.” Should you be arriving in either Cape Town or Port Elizabeth, do try to fit in the Garden Route in your travels, especially as it is en route in either direction.
Geographically, the Garden Route is located roughly between Mossel Bay in the west and Plettenberg Bay in the east, a distance of around 300 kilometres/185 miles. There is one major airport in the town of George. What are you going to experience on a visit here? Well first, I suggest to do justice to the Garden Route’s many attractions, you should consider spending a minimum of 4 days here. The list of natural attractions is fairly lengthy. It has an exceptionally scenic coastline, excellent beaches with, in places, large waves crashing against tall cliffs, picturesque lakes and lagoons, ancient indigenous dense forests, dramatic ravines, deep gorges, and abundant wildlife. Mankind has provided top level golf courses, artists’ colonies, bungee jumping sites, and attractive resorts.
Enjoy a journey through the Garden Route:
Let’s assume you start in the west in Mossel Bay, which is around 400 kilometres/ 250 miles from Cape Town. This resort town is a popular vacation destination, catering to sun lovers with its safe swimming beaches. But that’s not all. For the intrepid, it is the place to go cage diving with the great white sharks. You can also visit the nearby private wildlife reserve of Botlierskop.
Continuing along, the next stop could be the beautiful and secluded Herold’s Bay, known for its surfing, fishing, and swimming. It is not a very big place as it is more of a tranquil village. The beautiful coastal fynbos (heathland vegetation) in and around Herold’s Bay makes for some wonderful walks and trails. It is a great area for spotting birds and, at the right times, to see dolphins and whales. For golfers, there is the scenic 18 hole Oubaai Golf Course. Golfers can enjoy the surrounding scenery, including the Outeniqua Mountains, the Indian Ocean, and if lucky enough, can even spot whales.
The main attraction of George, apart from the fact it has the only commercial airport, is that it’s well known for its golf courses, including the Fancourt Golf Estate, an 18-hole championship course designed by South African golfing legend, Gary Player, plus two other world-class courses to try out. Nearby to George are hiking trails in the Outeniqua Mountains. While here, do take a side trip inland to Oudtshoorn. Here you can visit an ostrich farm where you can learn all about these extraordinary birds and even ride one if you’d like to. Also, near Oudtshoorn is the Cango Caves, an extensive underground labyrinth complete with narrow stone passageways and vast caverns dripping with stalactites.
One sad note is that the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe, the last remaining continually-operated passenger steam train in Africa, ended its operation in 2009. It used to chug along the rugged coastline of the Garden Route between George and Knysna. The railway was first completed in 1928. There is talk of bringing it back. I hope so.
Nothing biblical about the village of Wilderness. It is a very serene and charming place, and to me, the start of the more dramatic scenery along the Garden Route. It is here that you can walk along the beach with towering cliffs in the background, together with rolling beakers and large stretches of white sand. Wilderness is a paradise for nature lovers, bird watchers, and anyone wanting a peaceful sojourn.
Sedgefield is a tranquil, laid back vacation town set on the banks of a beautiful coastal lagoon known for its birdlife (see main photo). There is a selection of attractive beaches. You can also venture into the surrounding forests and nature reserves.
If only one destination along the Garden Route is possible, my choice would be Knysna. Some of the reasons for this is its location on an attractive lagoon, its selection of accommodation and restaurants, and the ability to visit the surrounding countryside. The lagoon is a protected marine reserve and home to over 200 species of fish and the unusual sea horse. Here you must take a cruise to the Heads, a striking landmark made up of two brightly-coloured cliffs at the mouth of the lagoon, where the ocean waters flow in and where the sea crashes spectacularly through a narrow rocky gap. Knysna is home to the esteemed Simola Estate, which boasts a spectacular Jack Nicklaus golf course. Here you will find 18 of the most beautiful holes you will ever play.
Storms River is a powerful river that courses through the Tsitsikamma Mountain Range and into the Indian Ocean. It is flanked by tall indigenous trees, making it very scenic. Storms River cuts its way through the Tsitsikamma National Park. At the mouth of the river is a small village of the same name where you can experience crashing seas and breathtaking views, and see the incredible suspension bridge that serves as a lookout point over stormy seas and steep cliffs. Nearby is the Bloukrans Bridge Bungy Jump, one of the world’s highest and longest bungee jumps. I witnessed bungee jumpers here from below and knew right then that I would not be undertaking this activity any time soon!
Tsitsikamma National Park
Tsitsikamma National Park is a destination with dramatic coastal scenery, reefs, rivers, and lush forest. Tsitsikamma is a Khoisan word meaning, “place of much water.” The park incorporates an 80 kilometre/50 mile rocky coastline with spectacular seafront and landscapes and a remote mountainous region with secluded valleys. You can see dolphins play in the breakers and the southern right whale visits these waters in season, coming inshore to breed. There are various hiking trails and nature walks, the most famous of them being the Otter Trail, considered by most serious hikers as the best hiking trail in the country. To again quote the local tourist board, “The Otter Trail’s incredibly diverse natural beauty – taking in the best of forest and coast, with a wide variety of fauna and flora on show – will make a huge impression on you.”
Plettenberg Bay is quintessentially a seaside vacation town and a great place to relax for a couple of days, with its white sand and crystal-blue waters, making it one of the country’s top tourist destinations. The beaches here are excellent and kid-friendly. Enjoy the excellent golf courses, hiking trails, and nature reserves nearby. You can catch sight of southern right and humpback whales, bottlenose and common dolphins, and even killer whales that frolic close to shore. Plettenberg Bay offers plenty of accommodation, from upmarket hotels to budget B&B’s. Another attraction well worth a visit is the Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary – the world’s only multi-species, free roaming primate sanctuary.
Is That Everything Along the Garden Route?
Absolutely not. I have probably just scratched the surface of the many attractions for visitors and travellers aiming for this wonderful stretch of country on their South Africa vacation. What I will say is that there is something for everybody on a visit here.