The stretch of southern coastline between the town of Heidelberg and the Tsitsikamma National Park makes up South Africa's well-travelled Garden Route. Travellers will find a scattering of popular resort towns, spectacular mountain ranges, scenic lakes, indigenous forests, golden beaches, and secluded bays.
A Garden Route Scene, South Africa © Conrad88
The main cities on the route are George and Mossel Bay. George is a bustling commercial centre with some good hotels, making it a convenient central point from which to explore the coastal region.
George is also close to Oudtshoorn: site of the world-renowned Cango Caves, and home to several ostrich farms that offer entertaining and educational tours. Other popular holiday towns on the Garden Route include Knysna, Wilderness, Nature's Valley, and Plettenberg Bay.
The Garden Route encompasses a wide variety of attractions from historic sites to scenic vistas, with the spectacular beaches and nature reserves the main highlight. There are ample opportunities to interact with nature, and visitors may spot whales, dolphins, seals, baboons, and nearly 300 species of bird.
To make the most of the area, travellers need to stray from the national N2 highway and explore the towns, villages, and resorts en route. Fortunately, this major highway makes roadtripping easy. A fun way of enjoying the scenery is to ride on the Outeniqua Choo-Choo vintage steam train between George and Knysna. There are also great recreational opportunities to enthral active holidaymakers, from bungee jumping and water sports, to hiking trails and canopy tours.
Mossel BayMossel Bay is the largest city on the Garden Route and is situated roughly half way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. It is renowned as the Adventure Capital of the Garden Route and enjoys an ideal climate, with an average of 320 days of sunshine per year and a moderate winter. Mossel Bay was discovered by Bartholomew Dias in 1488. He was the first European to land in South Africa. He was rounding the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas, when a strong wind blew him off course, into the protected bay of St Blaize, now called Mossel Bay. Here he found fresh water and set up a stop-over point for trade ships that were sailing to the East. Many explorers and traders placed important letters in an old shoe under a huge Milkwood tree which is now more than 500 years old. Today, letters are still posted from the Old Post Office Tree. Adventure junkies come to Mossel Bay for a range of activities in the immediate vicinity: shark cage diving; sand boarding the longest sand dune in South Africa; feeding, riding, and picnicking with elephants; safaris with the Big Five; exploring the predator park where visitors can view white lions and tigers; tandem skydiving; dolphin and whale-watching boat trips; scuba diving; abseiling; helicopter flights, and more. Other more sedate attractions include the largest shell museum in South Africa; an indigenous botanical garden with a braille trail fragranced for the sight impaired; a life-sized replica of Bartholomew Dias' caravel style ship; St Blaize Lighthouse and cave; and several world-class golf courses. Mossel Bay is also well known for its wide selection of restaurants and excellent seafood. Many different types of accommodation are on offer, from budget backpackers to five star hotels. There are eight sandy white beaches to relax on and enjoy the sunshine.
Nature's Valley, South Africa © Paul Venter
Nature's ValleyOne of the most beautiful nooks of a decidedly beautiful country, Nature's Valley is an enchanting and relatively undiscovered holiday resort on the Garden Route. Located about 18 miles (29km) from Plettenberg Bay and surrounded by the Tsitsikamma National Forest, Nature's Valley is a gorgeously lush area of tall bearded trees, monkey ropes, and rich bird life. It also happens to sport one of the prettiest coastlines in the country. Featuring great weather all year round and a decided lack of non-essential infrastructure, Nature's Valley is the perfect place to go for tourists looking to relax and rejuvenate in peace and quiet. There are plenty of scenic walks and hiking trails for adventure enthusiasts. In fact, Nature's Valley marks the end of the Otter Trail, one of South Africa's most famous hikes. Canoeing down the river and swimming in the sheltered lagoon are also fun excursions. Accommodation in Nature's Valley comes in all shapes and sizes: from luxury villas which can be rented on a monthly basis, to the excellent Wild Spirit Lodge and Backpacker Hostel, which offers affordable lodging in a funky and eco-friendly environment.
Storms River Mouth, Tsitsikamma © Conrad88
Tsitsikamma National ParkTsitsikamma is a word of the indigenous Khoi-San people meaning 'place of many waters'. It accurately describes the beautiful 50-mile (80km) stretch of coastline that makes up the Tsitsikamma National Park. The park is Africa's oldest and largest marine reserve, and contains many attractions, including a giant Outeniqua yellowwood tree that is hundreds of years old. The region is criss-crossed by hiking trails, including the world-renowned Otter Trail (a five-day hike), which starts at Storm's River and runs along 25 miles (41km) of spectacular coastline to Nature's Valley. A number of private operators offer numerous adventure activities in the area, such as black-water rafting and abseiling, mountain bike tours and fishing trips. A particularly exciting diversion is to undertake a canopy tour of the forest, gliding across the treetops on steel cables strung between platforms. The most popular bases for exploring the area are Wilderness, Knysna, and the aforementioned Nature's Valley. All are charming coastal towns that offer comfortable campsites and luxury lodges. Tsitsikamma National Park serves as the highlight of South Africa's famous Garden Route.
Wilderness © michael clarke stuff
WildernessSet on the Touws River estuary, the beautiful town of Wilderness is fast developing into a plethora of luxury holiday homes. The Wilderness National Park surrounds the destination and tempts paddlers with about nine miles (15km) of inland waterways. Park wardens offer some wonderful canoe trips and hiking trails, and numerous accommodation facilities are available. If relaxation is the priority, visitors will find an idyllic coastline, where lovely rock pools are exposed at low tide and long swathes of sand invite sun-bathing. Swimmers should note that while the sea is pleasantly warm in summer, the coastline can receive some dangerous currents. Fortunately, lifeguards are almost always present on the main beach in season. Wilderness is a favourite stop on the Garden Route and is close to a number of other popular coastal towns and villages, such as Knysna and Nature's Valley. The city of George is also nearby if travellers wish to visit malls or go to the cinema.