The Garden Route of South Africa
The Garden Route is perhaps one of the most scenic and interesting routes in South Africa and stretches from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape along the eastern coast of the country to the Storms River on the border of the Eastern Cape Province with its administrative capital being in the town of George.
It gets its name from the multitude of indigenous Milkwood forests and natural floral kingdoms that are found here. The Proteas, Vygies, Ericas, Pin-Cushions, Bluebells, Aloes and Tubers are abundant in this part of the country and as you explore the Wilderness with its long sandy beaches, lagoons, backdrop of mountains, you will soon see why this area is so amazing to visit. The entire Garden Route is set against the rocky Outeniqua Mountains and sometimes this area is referred to as Outeniqua which is a name that the Khoi people derived meaning “laden with honey.” A popular icon is the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe, the only running steam train that offers a unique view of the Wilderness, Knysna, George, Hartenbos, and Mossel Bay area. Before you embark on the fun 52 kilometer journey by rail, visit the Outeniqua Transport Museum at the beginning of the line in George and at Mossel Bay at the end of the line be sure to visit the Dias Museum Complex offering insight into life as explorer Bartholomew Dias, a maritime museum, shell museum, post office tree and aquarium.
Oudtshoorn is a town in the semi arid region of the Klein Karoo and makes up the westernmost section of the Garden Route. This area is famous for its Ostrich farms and in the 17th and 18th century Ostrich feathers were farmed and made into wonderful fashion accessories. One can still see the feather palaces there to this day. Nowadays, the Ostriches are protected and are an icon of the town. Many painted egg shells are sold as mementos and one can even ride the ostriches at certain farms. Aside from this flightless bird, Oudtshoorn is known for its crocodile farm which houses some amazing specimens of crocodiles and alligators along with birds like pink flamingos. One of the most famous places to visit in Oudtshoorn however and makes it into the top ten tourist attractions in South Africa, is the Cango Caves. These caves and tunnels were created naturally from limestone millions of years ago, and offer breathtaking stalactites and stalagmites in very interesting formations. Some formations are the biggest in the world. The entire cave structure is measures 4 kilometers, but only about a quarter of this is open to the public in supervised tours. You walk into massive open caverns and if you want to embark on the adventure tour, you can go on hands and knees through a series of tunnels to enter other areas of the caves. The most well known and stunning natural formations that is almost 150,000 years old, is called Cleopatra’s Needle and it stands at a height of 9 meters. Aside from these many interesting tourist attractions, another reason to visit this town is to experience the fine music and art culture that culminates in April for the Klein Karoo Kunstefess (Festival). This is a major event for Afrikaans and some English musicians and bands to strut their stuff in a week long celebration.
The Klein Karoo is a semi arid region which is the sibling of the Groot (Great) Karoo. Here you will find plenty of succulents like aloes and lots of wildlife (strangely enough). There are various wildlife sanctuaries like the Karoo National Park and the Gamkasberg Nature Reserve which are home to the very rare black rhino and riverine rabbit among many other animals like the mountain zebra, antelope, and baboons, as well as vast amounts of birdlife including the major predators (eagles, goshawks, kestrels, and buzzards). The Karoo National Park also has a world first fossil trail for the blind.
George and Knysna are two of the major towns along the Garden Route. George is known as the gateway to the Garden Route and offers plenty to do and see. There is also an airport in George for those that want to fly in quickly from Cape Town International. There are golf courses, shopping areas, luxury hotels and lodges as well as great beaches, and great nightlife. Knysna also offers a variety of activities and one of the best times to visit is during the annual Knysna Oyster Festival in July. The Knysna oysters which are grown in a hatchery in the lagoon are reported to be some of the tastiest in the world. Best known for its “Heads,” the two rock formations that create a narrow channel from the lagoon into the ocean, Knysna is a favorite holiday destination for many people. Fishing, yachting, bird watching, hiking, shopping, and much more can be enjoyed.
Plettenberg Bay is a vibrant and busy seaside resort area made up of many towns from just outside Knysna to Natures Valley. It is well situated for all travelers, being just one hour away from George Airport and 2 hours drive from Port Elizabeth Airport. A blend of superb landscapes, charismatic cultures and diverse natural tourism make this place a must visit. This area is rich with history and the Plettenberg Bay historical Route showcases remnants of the early Portuguese and Dutch settlers. Further back in history you can view prehistoric caves that were home to Middle Stone Age men and the ancestors of the Khoisan Griqua people that lived here. These caves like Nelson’s Bay Cave are estimated to be 100,000 years old and many are still being excavated.
Arts and crafts are well represented here and you will find scores of galleries, pottery shops, unique hand made clothing, and traditional paintings, sculptures, ceramics, craft, glassware, photography and more.
Tsitsikamma National Park is the last major area in the Garden Route and offers a dramatic forest of Milkwoods, Ironwoods, Stinkwood, Hard Pear and Yellowwoods with lovely streams, rivers and waterfalls running through it. It is known as the “garden of the garden route” and the name Tsitsikamma is a Khoi word meaning the “place of sparkling or abundant waters”. This protected area has been standing guard over the coast for centuries and many animals have made this secluded gorged plateau forest their home including bush pigs, antelopes, honey badgers and even leopards. This area offers grand hiking and walking trails, cycling tours, horse riding tours, canopy adventure expeditions, as well as some farm stalls, resultants, and places to stay that offer self catering, bed and breakfast, camping and hotel or lodge accommodation options.
In the heart of this area is the place known as Nature’s Valley which is a triangle shaped conservation area that includes the Tsitsikamma National Park and beyond. Here you can view plenty of wildlife and birdlife and is a treasure for nature lovers. The eye catching bird, the Knysna Lourie, is only found in this area along with Cape Otters, buck, and the rare Brenton Blue Butterfly which has not been seen here since 1984 and is planned to be reintroduced. Baboons are another resident of Nature’s Valley which you might see, although they do pose a problem to the people that live there as they enter houses. Various monitoring programs and surveys are being conducted to teach people to live with these creatures. This area also offers a botanical park and garden, fynbos reserve and the 5 day Otter Trail which is one of the best hiking trails in the world according to hikers.