South Africa’s Stunning Garden Route
A lush sub-tropical paradise is perhaps the best way of describing the Garden Route, which remains one of the most popular destinations for travelers to South Africa. Forget any ideas of neatly trimmed gardens and greenhouses stuffed with prize specimens, the Garden Route entails 200km of the Western Cape coastline characterized by old growth forests, indigenous ‘fynbos’ vegetation and miles and miles of unspoiled beaches. Described by botanists as the most bio diverse of the so-called floral kingdoms, the Garden Route contains over 9,000 species of plants, many of which only grow here. It is, in short, a biologist and photographer’s dream.
And so much more. The Garden Route is also the adventure playground of South Africa and offers everything from canoeing down rivers, scuba diving and cave exploration, to mountain biking, paragliding and hot air ballooning. Those who like to ride the waves flock to coastline’s beaches where giant waves roll in off the Indian Ocean making towns such as Buffalo Bay, Victoria Bay and Plettenberg Beach surfing hot spots. And if surfing is too tame you can get up close and personal with great white sharks by taking a dip in a shark cage.
But perhaps the best way to enjoy the Garden Route is to put on a pair of walking books and hit the trails. The forests and beaches along the route are crisscrossed with countless trails offering a more sedate way to get to know the mosaic of ecosystems at your own pace. A good place to start out might be Tsitsikamma National Park which has plentiful accommodation options and a 42km otter trail as well as canopy tours. Along the route adrenaline junkies can try out the highest bridge bungee jump in the world.
Self driving is a popular way to see the Garden Route but for something a little different and perhaps more romantic a cycle ride along the tracks of the now-defunct steam train the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe is a must. The route follows the coast line, providing bikers with spectacular views along the way. Gastronomes will not be disappointed as there are many high quality dining options and fresh seafood is always on the menu, with oysters and red wine being firm favourites.
Knysna is the perfect destination for families. There are hours of entertainment to keep everyone occupied. Surf at Buffelo Bay, snorkel at the Knysna Heads, cross the lagoon to the Featherbed reserve where there are hiking trails and 4×4 vehicle rides and various lagoon cruise options. Visit the Knysna Heads that flank the mouth of the lagoon. The lagoon pours out into the Indian Ocean through a deep channel. The views from here are spectacular, looking over the lagoon, Leisure Isle and the town of Knysna. The Western head is a private nature reserve, Featherbed Bay. On the Eastern side there is a nice outlook point. Knysna is also home to the largest indigenous forest in South Africa, here you will find ancient yellow wood trees, blackwood, stinkwood and ironwood to name a few. This whole area used to be home to herds of Knysna Elephants. They are rumored to be one or two lonely elephants wandering the forest. You can hike some of the many trails that crisscross the forest and your path may cross one of these gentle giants!
Oudtshoorn is in the fertile oasis like valley of the Little Karoo. Oudtshoorn enjoys the sunniest days in the whole of South Africa, with pretty much every day of the year getting some sunshine! Being right on the edge of the Garden Route, it is often included in a tour of that area. Oudtshoorn has long been the Ostrich capital of the world, in the 1880’s where their feathers were a great fashion accessory in Europe. Today Ostrich feathers are still sold as curios, so are the eggs with beautiful pictures painted on them. Ostrich meat in South Africa is very popular.
Situated in the picturesque Cango Valley, you can explore the world famous Cango Caves. This vast network of limestone caverns is full of staggering formations of Stalactites and Stalagmites. These masterpieces are formed from gently dripping water over limestone in an environment that has a constant temperature and high humidity.
Whether you choose to experience a no holds barred adrenaline adventure or prefer instead to immerse yourself in the stunning natural beauty of this unique region, a tour along the Garden Route is a highlight of any trip to South Africa and should not be missed.