South Africa's garden route
Beautiful scenery and charming gardens.
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Beyond the caves lies the formidable Swartberg Pass, which winds precipitously down to the hamlet of Prince Albert. (A road from there leads through total isolation in the Karoo desert to Gamkaskloof or “The Hell”). It’s worth a detour if you have time.Skip to next paragraph
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If not, don’t worry as the scenery is also amazing on the Outeniqua Pass down from Oudtshoorn to the coastal town of George. Even better is the spectacular untarred Prince Alfred’s Pass linking Oudtshoorn with Plettenberg Bay.
George is one of the main tourist hubs on the Garden Route, so called because of its dense vegetation.
South Africa’s last remaining passenger steam train, the Outeniqua Cho Tjoe, runs between Mossel Bay, the first town on the Garden Route, and George. Some visitors only go as far as George and then return to Cape Town, missing out on the loveliest parts of the route.
The other two big attractions are the towns of Plettenberg Bay, locally known as Plett, with a beautiful beach and a “big resort” feel about it, and Knysna — very busy, but scenic with highly recommended outings to the Featherbed nature reserve.
There are unlimited accommodation options — but everywhere gets full during the December-January summer holidays.
Indian Ocean currents mean that the waters of these coastal resorts are much warmer than beaches around Cape Town, which is chilled by the frigid Atlantic Ocean. There are plenty of attractions all along the route, including an excellent monkey sanctuary as well as elephant and bird parks.
To avoid the crowds, seek alternatives to the three main resort towns (Mossel Bay, Knysna, and Plett). The village of Wilderness, for instance, has a long sandy beach, lovely lakes and is next to a beautiful national park.
Nearby Sedgefield is also an excellent base. There are plenty of water sports and adventure activities as well as bird-watching and more leisurely pursuits.
Near the end of the Garden Route is arguably its most beautiful part — the Tsitsikamma national park, a stretch of ruggedly beautiful coastline frequented by whales and dolphins and bordered by indigenous forests.
It’s the starting base for the world-renowned five-day Otter Trail through forests and rivers — but you need to book months ahead and be prepared to carry your own bags and food.
The three-day Dolphin Trail is for those who want a bit more luxury. There are many extreme sports activities, including bungee jumping. You can swing through the forest on in the Tsitsikamma canopy tours at Storms River Mouth.
Or stroll on the endless beach, watch the waves and swim in the lagoon at Nature’s Valley, which is a secret hideaway and, as its name suggests, comes close to being paradise on earth.
If You Go:
Getting around: Cape Town or Port Elizabeth are the best starting points. It’s easiest if you have your own transport so you can stay at smaller places en route, although there are organized bus tours that can be arranged at tourism information offices. For budget travelers, the Baz Bus provides a hop-on, hop-off service.
Lodging: There are limitless possibilities. Many don’t need to be booked in advance if you travel outside the peak December-January period. There are cheap — but often lovely — accommodations in national parks. On Route 62 has links to towns and guesthouses along the road. For the Garden Route, here's a site with a list of addresses. And here's information about Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital.