Our family simply love it, travel in South Africa is easy for us, we live here. From our base in East London, in the Eastern Cape, we have a short hop through Port Alfred and on to Port Elizabeth. The start (or end) of the Garden Route, it depends which way you’re coming from. For this travel article we’ll take you from Cape Town toward Port Elizabeth and try and give new visitors to the area an insight into this beautiful part of South Africa.
Many LOCALS RATE this region of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape as one of the prettiest in the South Africa. There are a few arguments perhaps as to where the actual Garden route begins and ends as many say the Garden Route begins as one leaves Cape Town and ends on entering Port Elizabeth, whilst this might be true, the real Garden Route, the most beautiful section anyway, starts from the town of Mossel Bay and ends in Port Elizabeth.
We’ll take you through the route from Cape Town as if you were driving through. The road winds it’s way along the excellent N1 National Road, you won’t see much of the sea until you start the downhill section toward the town of Mossel Bay, passing the Sasol oil refinery, approximately four to five hours easy travel from Cape Town. Mossel bay can be described as a small but historical fishing town, built on the edge of a beautiful bay. Mossel Bay is currently being re-discoverred and has re-invented itself as a travel destination. Recently completed additions are the Casino complex; the Pinnacle Point Golf Estate, many residential apartments and accommodation options around Diaz Strand and the recently upgraded Mossel Bay Golf Club. One can either by-pass Mossel Bay on the N2 or take the easy detour through the town. This detour can be extended through the holiday resort villages of Klein Brak and Groot Brak Rivers , popular holiday resorts with many holiday homes, busy over the Christmas season.
Not too far along the highway you will by-pass the George Airport, serviced by SA Express airline and also the town of George and the large Garden Route Shopping Mall, recently built and confirming the role of George as the commercial hub of the Garden Route. George has wonderful examples of South African architecture, illustrating the influence of the Dutch extending from the 1600’s, commonly referred to as Cape-Dutch Architecture. George is the home of the famous Fancourt Golf Estate, a golf and residential complex where the Presidents Cup competition and many others have been played, if golf is your game, do not miss the more traditional George Golf Club, rated usually in the top ten in the country. If you intend heading for Oudtshoorn and the Karoo, this is where one can turn toward the North.
As you pass George you could take a turn to the right, a lovely little Bay, also a popular surfing spot, known as Victoria Bay and commonly referred to as Vic Bay by the locals, take a break and walk along the road in front of the houses, the writer was once fortunate enough to watch a cormorant (SA sea-bird) fishing a deep pool in chrystal clear water. Just after Vic Bay, some tight turns, a lovely section, through the Kaaimans Pass. Take it slowly and beware of speed restrictions through the turns and you will pop out over Dolphins Point, a great place for a view stop, look out for the schools of Dolphins but if you don’t see any, enjoy the vista of the Kaaimans River Mouth, the Indian Ocean and the Wilderness coastline.
Wilderness started off as a small resort village along one of the many rivers that link a series of lakes around the Wilderness town area and National Park, a nature reserve where water birds are abundant. Wilderness has since expanded with residential and accommodation developments between the N2 and the shoreline. The Wilderness can no longer be described as a small coastal area or resort town due to it’s expansion but it has succeeded in maintaining it’s natural beauty. For a little peace and quiet, particularly if you enjoy birding, walking or mountain biking, the Wilderness is a wonderful place to consider spending a night or two if you are touring or even longer for a family holiday. It is well situated with easy access to the rest of the Garden Route wich can be accessed by shorter day trips.
As you leave the Wilderness area, you will still feel part of the lake region as you travel the short hop, perhaps half an hour, toward the resort town of Sedgefield. Sedgefield is situated toward the end of the lakes and is a small holiday village that stretches out along the edge of the various waterways. Populated by many holiday homes and serviced by a shopping area along the N2, keep a look out for some local shops of interest, the whole area is home to forests and also some extremely able furniture manufacturers that have remained long after the last tree was ever brought down, this no longer being the practice.
A drive along the N2 for approximately twenty km’s takes one along the shores of Lake Pleasant to the turn off to Buffels Baai, or Buffalo Bay. As you drive along look out for the Outeniqua Choo Choo as it’s known, one of the last operating steam trains which plies the route daily between Knysna and George. Just a few minutes from the N2 along a tar road is the resort village of Buffels Baai where a lovely beach, one of the nicest along the Garden Route, lies shelterred in a small bay. An ideal stop over for a swim break, a lovely shop and reataurant and a long beach walk if you need to stretch your legs.
The next town is one of the reasons that makes the Garden Route a destination of choice. As you leave Buffels Baai and return to the N2, you will go up and over steep hill and cross the long bridge over the Knysna River, to your left the hilis and the River, on top of the hill you will see the Simola Golf Estate in the distance , to your right the full expanse of the famous Knysna Lagoon. A lovely scenic road takes one into the Knysna village, once the home of the timber industry in the region, now one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Africa. Knysna, with it’s Knysna Waterfront; Thesen’s Island; the Heads and Leisure Isle is an exciting holiday town with much to offer the visitor. certainly a good place to make your base as you tour the Gardeb Route. Accommodation options include many Hotels ; Guest Lodges and Bed and Breakfast accommodation.
The short area between Knysna and the next town, Plettenberg Bay has many quaint farm stores selling an assortment of local wares, there are also restaurant and accommodation facilities for those wanting to take their time along this section. One actually turns off the N2 into the holiday mecca of Plettenberg Bay, known to many as the Nice , Cannes, and even the French Riviera of South Africa, Plett, as it is commonly referred to, is the chosen holiday resort of many a well known South African businesses person, teeming with luxury homes, fine restaurants and a lovely, up-market shopping area. Add the mix of two good golf courses, Plettenberg Bay and Goose Valley, the beach, the polo fields and arguably the best weather along the coast and Plettenberg Bay has simply got the recipe just right for an African beach holiday.
One leaves Plettenberg Bay, having perhaps made a visit to the nearby Keurbooms River and lagoon along the N2 toward the Tsitsikamma forests and Nature Reserve. Either take the toll road or if you are not in a hurry, take the older road that passes through the forest and natural terrain, it is suggested you have a map with you, this is certainly the more picturesque route through the village of Natures Valley. At a small village called the Craggs, is the Bird’s of Eden, the largest under cover aviary in the world, set aside and hour or two for this and it’s sister attraction, Monkeyland, both well worth the visit, you must remember to take off your shiny articles, such as earings, some of the birds are a little too playful, a lovely experience not to be missed.