A visit to Cape Town will not be complete without spending a few days exploring the Garden Route. Though I have already make a few reviews on places around Cape Town, I feel the need to write about this magnificent stretch of coastline.
The Garden Route is a scenic stretch of coastal highway that combined stunning views of lush, indigenous forest on one side and endless views of the sea in the horizon on the other. The garden route sandwiched between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains and the Indian Ocean begins from Mossel Bay and ends at Storms River, a rustic village towards the direction of Port Elizabeth.
Here are some of popular destination on the garden route.
Situated halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay is the first stop in the garden route for driving or touring from Cape Town. It was quiet when we were there, perhaps it's the begining of summer and the town is not overwhelmed with visitors as it usually do during the summer holidays. The Maritime Museum which display artefacts of shipping and sailing history is an interestin pace to visit and the 800 years old Post Office, is truly a representation of the town's rich heritage.
As the sixth oldest town in South Africa, George is the Capital of Southern Cape. George is halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and hence an ideal base for exploring surrounding towns and scenic landscapes. I like George, it's quaint and yet modern. There are plenty to do in George such as learning about the history behind a National Monument, an ancient English Oak known as The Slave Tree embedded with large chain and lock, enjoy a nostalgic ride on Africa's last remaining passenger steam train, the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe as it meanders through the beautiful fynbos and temperature forest toward Knsyna.
Set between the Kaaimans River and the Goukama Nature Reserve, the approach into Wilderness is a sight to behold. Lying by the border of the Outeniqua Mountains, Wilderness is surrounded by many rivers and lakes. The National Park within Wilderness is a great place to observe many types of wildlife and is especially ideal for bird watchers. Sport enthusiasts will also be spoilt for choice when it comes to adrenaline pumping activities like hang gliding, paragliding and mountain biking. The rustic charm of Wilderness is further enhanced by the presence of quaint, wooden houses perching at the edge of the cliff. Remind me of houses in the Alps without the snow.
Sedgefield is a small resort town between Wilderness and Knysna. Known for its many hiking trails and bird hides, Sedgefield is a delightful place to marvel at colourful wild flowers and fynbos. There is even an estuary for bathing and fishing. Sedgefield is a good stopover for coffee and shopping too.
Knysna is Southern Cape best known holiday destination. Knysna striking geological features ranges from treacherous channels, beautiful lagoon and a large indigenous forest, home to many ancient trees of such as stinkwood, yellowwood, blackwood and white alders. One of the best known attractions in Knysna is the Heads. The Heads are two sandstone cliffs guarding the mouth of the lagoon and it connects the estuary within the sea. The lookout at the Eastern Head is a great place to watch swirling current flowing from the open sea into mouth of the channel and eventually calming down as it blend into Knysna River. Western Head is a privately owned nature reserve, Featherbed Bay and can be visited on a guided walking tour. I did a review on Knysna in dooyoo not too long ago...I simply loved this place.
Plettenberg Bay is a nursery to the endangered South Right Whale. The whale comes here to calve in winter. From July to December, you can have an opportunity to watch the South Right Whale and its calf frolicking in the waters of Plettenberg. Like most places on the Garden Route, Plettenberg have its share of beautiful forests and varied wildlife. The pretty town is also blessed with a varied ecosystem, one of which is a unique marine reserve which is home to soft coral reefs and a host of marine life. There is a vibrant nightlife in Plettenberg Bay. Pubs, clubs and fine restaurants can be found in every corner of the town. The Bay is a favourite vacation spot for students. We didn't stay very long in Plettenberg though I wish we did. The town have a suburban feel and its not too touristy.
The Tsitsikamma National Park is an internationally recognized nature reserve. The forests in Tsitsikamma is home to a giant Outeniqua yellowwood tree. This enormous tree has survived unchanged for millions of years and is one of the few true monarchs of the world's forests. We drove into the national park, the rich vegetation cools the environment and shoreline is simply pictureques. Though we didn't go through any hiking trails, I found out that one of the best known hiking trail is the Otter Trail, which takes about 5 days to complete. The trail runs through rugged, rocky shoreline, river crossing and lush forest. You need a certain level of fitness to go on a Otter Trail, perhaps I will do it the next time after some fitness training.
Personally, I think the best ways to see the Garden Route is self drive. It is easy to drive to the Garden Route. Ideally,it takes about 4 to 5 days to totally absorbed the splendour and beauty of Garden Route.
From Port Elizabeth to Mossel Bay you drive on the most beautiful road running next to the sea. The towns Knysna, Wilderness, Plettenberg Bay and George are a few of the beautiful towns on the Garden Route. My all time favourite is Knsyna. THE LAKE On Knysna Lake you can hire a boat to stay on for your holiday. There are also sunset cruises on the John Benn wher you can have drinks and a meal on your way out to the heads. The heads are considered the most dangerous area for ships to come in or go out into the sea from the lake. On the side of the lake are incredible villas of which a lot is owned as holiday homes by foreigners. THE TOWN Knysna is considered a artist town with a lot of artists (painters, sculpturers, craft artists etc) residing there. There are regular art courses in town running from a few days to a week or two. A lot of craft and art shops sell unique African arts and crafts. THE PEOPLE The locals are a colourful bunch of people. There are a lot of English speaking people and then the group with their own dialect of Afrikaans. They are whitty and always friendly. Many of them work in the local shops and grocery stores. Being from Johannseburg I found them incredibly friendly and helpful. We sometimes have aproblem with this in Johannesburg. THE FORREST The forrest is well-known in South Africa and Daleen Mathee wrote many books (most in Afrikaans but some of them were translated in English) on this forrest in the earliar days of the Cape. It used to have many elephants walking around but apparantly only one is left. Nobody has seen it years so it might just be a myth. Driving around in the forrest is a wonderful experience. If you like trees and plants it is a msut. CLOSE TO KNYSNA A small little beach area with castles can be found at Nutzi. They were owned by private owners but I see lately some has bee
n converted into Bed and Breakfast areas. It is worhwhile to go and have a look. You go down onto the beach ( a lot of steps) and have a nice view from there. George is another town close to Knsyna that is worthwhile seeing. There is a leather factory and a huge shop that specialices in wood furniture and smaller wooden products that makes nice gifts. Plettenberg Bay is a popular holiday resort with a stunning hotel right on the beach. Victoria Bay is a small little bay with all accomodation basicly on the beach. ACCOMODATION On the lake with a beautiful view of the lake are numerous accomodation from B&B to apartments to hotels. The better the view the more expensive though. I found the Wilderness area cheaper and it is only a few km away from Knysna. Sedgefield between Wilderness and Knysna is also a cheaper option for accomodation. WHEATHER Winter rains in June and July. Can get cold in the winter and very hot in summer. March/ April is always a nice time to visit. SCENERY The coastline is breathtaking, the mountains majestic and the forrest and woods from a fairytale.