South Africa's garden route
Beautiful scenery and charming gardens.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa
(AP) — Far from the crowds and traffic snarl-ups on South Africa’s much-vaunted coastal Garden Route is a stunning inland alternative that showcases some of the country’s most fabulous scenery but passes unnoticed by most visitors.Skip to next paragraph
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It winds through scenic spa towns, vineyards, and fruit farms, breathtaking mountains and floral feasts — not to mention the self-proclaimed Ostrich Capital of the World.
The best news for tourists is that it is possible to combine Route 62 and the Garden Route, named after its dense and lush vegetation, for a truly unforgettable journey.
Instead of taking the N2 highway from Cape Town to George (a journey of about five hours, and that’s without road work) as most tourists do — go on the N1 highway to Worcester and then follow the inland route to George.
It’s shorter and infinitely more beautiful, and you miss only a small part of the Garden Route. The road is empty and fast and can be covered in a few hours. But it’s worth lingering for at least a couple of days.
Here are some of the highlights along the way:
Worcester and Robertson are both fruit-growing centers in the Breede River valley. A short detour from Robertson is the village of McGregor, at the foot of the Riviersonderend Mountains, prized by artists and wealthy South Africans seeking to escape from modern pressures into olde-world charm.
Montagu is surrounded by the most amazing rock formations and is a beautiful base for mountain biking and hiking.
It boasts wonderful hot springs — a huge hit among children — which stay open late at night and take on additional charms under a starry sky. (We were once there at dusk when a snake slithered from the mountains and came to rest upon the ample body of a female visitor snoozing in the shallow waters!!)
It’s definitely worth an overnight stay — there is cheap caravan (camper) and chalet accommodation at the Montagu Springs resort and a pricier hotel called Avalon Springs, and lots of guest houses in the village.
Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital, lie a couple of hours farther down this magnificent road, which is lined by a multicolored display of indigenous flora in spring (September).
Oudtshoorn is a bustling tourist center because of its location and its ostriches, prized for their tough leather and low-cholesterol meat. There are several farms offering tours and — for the brave — ostrich rides.
We were pampered for a night at the Rietfontein Ostrich Palace Hotel near Calitzdorp — which bills itself as the world’s oldest ostrich farm, which turns 100 next year — and enjoyed exceptional food and accommodation at very reasonable prices (it’s a deservedly popular breakfast and lunch spot for mountain bike tours).
There are plenty of hotels, guest houses and game reserves catering for all budgets in the area, and restaurants are good even by South Africa’s high standards — just don’t ask for a boiled ostrich egg for breakfast as it takes two hours to cook!
The awe-inspiring Cango Caves lie about 30 minutes from Oudtshoorn. If you are relatively fit and don’t have claustrophobia, try the 90-minute “adventure” tour through the “Tunnel of Love” and “Devils Chimney,” otherwise just take the standard walking visit and marvel at the stalactites and stalagmites.
Authorities have become stricter with weight limits ever since a guest got stuck for nearly 10 hours last year, trapping more than 20 other hapless visitors with her.