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The Garden Route

The Garden Route’s name is well-known, but why?

The route is a popular and scenic stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the extreme western reach of the neighbouring Eastern Cape.

The name comes from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered along the way and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast. It includes towns such as Mossel Bay, Knysna, Oudtshoorn, Plettenberg Bay and Nature's Valley; with George as it’s main city. It’s not all green though, as you can go via the semi-desert landscapes of the Karoo and Oudtshoorn (the ostrich capital of the world).

The Garden Route is also famous for its hardy fynbos floral kingdom, its secluded little bays and its year-round holiday frame of mind. With its oceanic climate, with mild to warm summers, and mild to cool winters, it’s a great place to visit anytime of year.  It has the mildest climate in South Africa and the second mildest climate in the world, after Hawaii, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Temperatures rarely fall below 10°C in winter and rarely climb beyond 28°C in summer.

Things to see

Oudtshoorn is separated from the Garden Route by a dramatic mountain range that forms a barrier between the lush coastline and semi-arid interior known as the Little Karoo. A mountain pass makes for a stunning drive into this unique landscape and on to South Africa’s ostrich capital, Oudtshoorn. The town has several ostrich show farms where you can learn all about these extraordinary birds. The other draw is the Cango Caves and a tour of their elaborate underground labyrinth, complete with narrow stone passageways and vast caverns dripping with stalactites.

Wilderness is a sleepy village with wide sandy beaches, and you know you’ve truly arrived on the Garden Route when you go over the hill before Wilderness and see a ribbon of shimmering white sand and surf-speckled ocean stretching away into the distance. Wide beaches, well-marked hiking trails and unique ecosystems of bird-filled forests, rivers and lagoons make Wilderness a paradise for nature lovers, bird watchers or anyone looking for a peaceful escape.

Keurboomstrand, a small town with a lovely long beach, and in comparison to the hustle and bustle of nearby Plettenberg Bay, the peaceful atmosphere here is refreshing and relaxing. Keurboomstrand is set on a lovely long beach stretching all the way to Plettenberg Bay. The Keurbooms River Nature Reserve is well worth a visit: go for a hike in the spectacular wooded gorge or paddle along the placid river in a kayak, keeping an eye open for forest and water birds including the endemic Knysna louries and colourful malachite kingfishers.

Knysna is a charming holiday town at the heart of the Garden Route and is South Africa’s favourite holiday town.  It sits on the shore of a shallow lagoon: grand houses tumble down the hill toward the water, boats bob at wooden jetties and the town's popular Waterfront is a trove of edible treats with restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. There's plenty to do in and around town: take the ferry to the Featherbed Nature Reserve and stroll along its cliff-top paths, go on a boat cruise to ‘The Heads’ (a pair of rocky headlands through which the tide ebbs and flows) or walk one of the trails in the surrounding Knysna Forest.

Mossel Bay is just under 400km from Cape Town and signals the start or end of the Garden Route. Although the town's sprawling outskirts are not so hot aesthetically, there are protected sandy bays that are perfect for swimming, sailing and kayaking. As a popular holiday destination there’s plenty to do in the area as well: take a boat trip to Seal Island, go horse riding along the beach and visit nearby Botlierskop, a private game reserve that gives its visitors a taste of South Africa’s legendary game viewing experience with the Big Five present. It’s not like going on safari in the wild, but it’s a great opportunity to see some of Africa’s iconic animals. Mossel Bay is the place to go on the Garden Route cage diving with great white sharks from October to January (February to September, Simonstown near Cape Town is better).

4-day Garden Route Tour

Take a 4-day Garden Route safari through the Karoo and ostrich-country, Cango Caves and Cango Wildlife Ranch, Wilderness,  Knysna, Keurbooms River Nature Reserve, Mossel Bay, Botlierskop Private Game Reserve game drive. (Experience close encounters with Rhinoceros, Lion, Buffalo, and Giraffe, rare Black Impalas and more), historic Swellendam.

From 10,700 ZAR per person. departs Tuesdays. 

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