By Kari Collard
The Garden Route is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s most rewarding stretches of tarmac. And if you enjoy road trips—giving in to the purr of the engine with nothing but the open road in front of you—then the Western Cape coastline is waiting for you. En route you will stumble across a number of captivating towns, each with its own special charm. You’re sure to be spoilt for choice. Here are a few places that should really get your motor revving.
Gateway to the Garden Route
George is situated roughly 430 kilometres outside of Cape Town. The town is known for its variety of activities available all year round. One of the most popular attractions is the Outeniqua Transport Museum. Take a trip back in time to the era of steam—the museum also operates the only remaining scheduled steam-train service in South Africa, between George and Mossel Bay. Then take a drive along the Outeniqua Country Hop Route and stop off at one of the strawberry or herb farms along the way. These farms offer a great day out for the whole family to enjoy. George’s climate, setting and landscape also make it a world-class golfing destination, suitable for amateur and professional players alike. One of the most popular is Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate, with four courses of winding fairways on 140 hectares.
For a Variety of Outdoor Activities
Knysna is lush with indigenous forests and home to South Africa’s only forest elephants. The Knysna Elephant Park gives animal lovers an opportunity to see these creatures up close. A lagoon, beaches, lakes, mountains and rivers also offer visitors a variety of outdoor activities. One of Knysna’s top attractions is The Heads, a geological feature made up of cliffs situated at the mouth of the lagoon. Forming part of the Southern Right whale’s migratory route, Knysna offers visitors a chance to catch a glimpse of these and other species during August and September. Dolphins, meanwhile, can be spotted all year round. Knysna is also equipped for the adventure-hungry, with everything from abseiling and skydiving to paragliding and scuba diving. Oyster-lovers should plan their trip over July for the annual Knysna Oyster Festival. A variety of these delicacies can be sampled to your taste buds’ delight. What’s more, a selection of boutique stores, markets and corner cafés populate the town itself, giving Knysna a quaintness and charm.
Trendy Garden Route Hot Spot
Situated on a steep slope leaning towards the sea, Plett, with its abundance of panoramic views, is one of the true treasures of the Garden Route. With an energetic nightlife and many leisure activities on offer, Plett is considered to be one of the trendy hotspots of the area. Visitors are sure to return to this holidaymakers’ haven, which offers activities such as polo at Kurland’s country retreat andyachting at the Keurbooms River mouth.
A short drive along the N2 will bring you to the Bloukrans Bridge. Although an engineering masterpiece in its own right, the bridge is also the world’s highest commercial bungee jump point with an epic 216m plunge. If you’d prefer not to plummet, you can still enjoy the spectacle from the safety of the observation platform.
Sleepy Seaside Sedgefield
Nestled between George and Knysna, surrounded by lakes, sand dunes and a variety of indigenous fynbos, is the sleepy seaside village of Sedgefield. The town’s overriding appeal is its simple and infectiously relaxed way of life, but there is also loads to see and do. Situated to the west of Sedgefield is Swartvlei, one of the largest lakes in the area—a true water sport paradise. Then, on the border of Sedgefield, lies the Goukamma Nature Reserve, which provides visitors with abundant bird-watching opportunities and long leisurely walks to take in the rich flora and fauna of the reserve.
A Bay of Heritage and Surf
The historic coastal town of Mossel Bay is situated halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. It is renowned for its mild weather all year round. The bay is a worthwhile retreat during the winter and summer months. Home to the Outer Pool surf spot, Mossel Bay is a definite detour for all the wave riders making their way up the coast. And Mossel Bay, one of the first export harbours in the area, is dotted with historical buildings and museums telling the past tales of this special little town. A bit of heritage mixed with the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean makes this a not-to-miss spot on your way through the Garden Route.