Exploring South Africa’s Garden Route

Jump into a car and you’ll discover one of the world’s most remarkable coastal stretches: South Africa’s Garden Route.

The Garden Route – the name given to the stretch of forested, coastal area between Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth – is the bright red cherry on this southern slice of Africa. (Image: South African Tourism)

If you can bear to tear yourself away from Cape Town, there’s another local jewel worth of your attention, especially in the summer months. Jump into a car and head east – and you’ll discover one of the world’s most remarkable coastal stretches: South Africa’s Garden Route.

Leaving Cape Town

The N2 highway carves and meanders for 800km between Cape Town in the Western Cape province and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. The Garden Route – the name given to the stretch of forested, coastal area between Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth – is the bright red cherry on this southern slice of Africa.

Swellendam

About halfway between Cape Town and Mossel Bay, Swellendam is a good stopping point. More than 250 years old, Swellendam is preserved in small town charm with wide streets, neatly preserved Cape Dutch and Victorian buildings, and excellent places to enjoy some South African food.

Mossel Bay

Considered by many as the official westernmost point of the Garden Route, Mossel Bay has a mild year-round climate, good beaches and friendly locals. Golf has become a big attraction here, thanks to the course at Pinnacle Point Golf Estate and Golf Resort. The course is perched atop a cliff and offers spectacular views of the Indian Ocean.

Yet it’s not all leisurely walks and casual golf in Mossel Bay. The town is one of the only two places in South Africa from which visitors can go cage diving with great white sharks – something to think about when you slice your ball off the cliff at Pinnacle Point!

Detour to Oudtshoorn

Slightly north-east of Mossel Bay is George, an important link in South Africa’s road network, and a crossroads for both coastal explorers and those traveling inland.

For a uniquely South African experience, be sure to head north of George for a quick visit to Oudtshoorn, South Africa’s ostrich capital.

Although it’s located just a few miles inland, the Oudtshoorn landscape is a dusty contrast to the thickly forested coastline of the Garden Route. Visit one of the Ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn and experience the frenetic, somewhat crazed madness that ensues from getting mixed up with these bald, chubby birds.

It’s not all ostriches in Oudtshoorn, though; the area is also famous for Cango Caves. Believed to have been formed more than 65-million years ago, the caves are regarded as one of Africa’s most important natural wonders. It’s a good idea to phone ahead and book in advance.

And if the caves don’t impress, the nearby Cango Wildlife Ranch surely will. The centre is one of the world’s foremost cheetah breeding projects and also boasts rare white lions, Bengal tigers and crocodiles.

Welcome to Wilderness

Leaving George behind, Wilderness is undoubtedly where you will next want to stop for a day or two. With an impressive collection of long, secluded beaches, lakes and rivers, the small intimate town is the perfect place to enjoy a secluded getaway.

The magic of Knysna

From the moment you approach Knysna, driving alongside the massive lagoon, it’s all too obvious why this town is the unofficial capital of the Garden Route. Try not to swerve off the road when you first notice the impressive Knysna Heads – the two large sandstone cliffs that stand guard on either side of the estuary mouth.

In Knysna, visitors can just as easily explore the lagoon, forests and rivers as the bustling town centre. As the Oyster capital of South Africa, Knysna is a place where people love to eat. The culmination of the town’s oyster obsession is the annual Knysna Oyster festival, which takes place from late June to early July.

Plettenberg Bay

Packed with marine life, lined with long beaches and buzzing with daytime activities and nightlife, it’s easy to see why many South Africans spend their summer in Plettenberg Bay. There are also a variety of special places located just outside Plettenberg that must be visited. These include the Elephant Sanctuary, Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, the largest free-flight bird aviary in the world.

Tsitsikamma

Heading east once again, it’s time to tame your fears in Tsitsikamma. Some 80km of rocky coastline comprise the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, a place of deep, heavily scarred gorges, cliffs, tidal pools and thick evergreen forests. There are walking trails that range from comfortable day-long hikes too much longer treks.

For a less strenuous experience, take a canopy tour. Standing almost 100 feet in the air, surrounded by 100-year-old hardwood trees, visitors slide along cables, zipping from platform to platform in the treetops.

Not to be outdone by the heights of Tsitsikamma, the nearby Bloukrans Bridge offers a heady rush of a different kind. At 708 feet, Bloukrans is the highest commercial bungy bridge jump in the world.

Port Elizabeth

Arriving in Port Elizabeth, you may have reached the end of your Garden Route journey east, but the coastal fun is far from over. PE is the gateway to the game reserves of the Eastern Cape, a malaria-free safari region that offers some incredible wildlife experiences.

The most famous of the Eastern Cape reserves are Shamwari, Kwandwe Private Reserve and the Addo Elephant Park, but there are many other remarkable reserves in this region, all of which are a comfortable drive from South Africa’s “Friendly City”.

This is an edited version of an article first published by Fifa.com

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