Dramatic cliffs, craggy rock formations, thick green vegetation and wide sandy beaches make up the South African coast. It is varied and staggeringly beautiful. The Garden Route is a particularly scenic 150 miles of coastal road that starts near Mossel Bay and passes through a series of pretty seaside towns until it reaches St Franis Bay. What makes this stretch so special is that it is flanked on the one side by a continuous mountain range made up of the Outeniqua Mountains, the Langeberg Mountains and the Tsitsikamma Mountains and the Indian Ocean on the other. This makes for an outstandingly beautiful drive with the mountains forming a spectacular backdrop and the Indian Ocean offering mile after mile of glittering vistas over the sea.
There are a tempting selection of things to do along the way too. There are private safari lodges and vineyards to visit; extreme adventure and tranquil retreats to experience; local arts and crafts to see and excellent restaurants to try. The area is also a haven for nature lovers with an endless supply of walking trails, coastal paths and nature reserves to explore.
The towns along the route are as picturesque and as they are charming and you can stop off to eat fresh oysters and drink locally brewed beer in Knysna; swing from bungies and whizz through forest canopies near Tsitsikamma; relax on long sandy beaches at Pettenberg Bay; or explore the wilderness at Nature’s Valley.
We visited Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. These two towns are perfectly placed for exploring the Garden Route and each has its own unique character.
Knysna is a peaceful town nestled on the shores of an estuary between indigenous forests and the sea. If you are visiting Knysna you mustn’t miss The Knysna Heads, which many consider to be the most striking geological features along the entire southern African coastline. These rocky cliffs and outcrops flank a treacherous channel through which the sea pours to form a lagoon at the mouth of the Knysna River. Knysna is also well placed to day-trip to Goukhama Nature Reserve and Buffalo Bay, which have fantastic swimming beaches. Gouldveld Forest is also close by. Gouldveld is part of the Garden Route National Park and is home to the old Milkwood Gold Mines and great hiking and mountain biking.
In contrast Plettenberg Bay is right on the beach and has golden sand as far as the eye can see. It is a mecca for watersports and an excellent location for exploring the rugged hiking trails of Robberg Nature Reserve and its famous seal colonies. Plettenberg Bay is also well-known for its ocean safaris because the waters around Plettenberg are the favourite places for dolphins, whales and seals and from July to the end-November whales come to these waters to calf in huge numbers.
Below are a few things we loved during our visit and if you have any special places along the Garden Route you can share them via the comments section below.
We loved Brenton-on-sea for its stunning views and the fantastic walk along the sandy beach to Buffalo Bay (click here to find out how: http://www.gardenrouteadventureguide.com/brenton-to-buffalo-bay-beach-walk.html).
For drinks and sunsets we found the Butterfly Blu Restaurant at Brenton Haven. This has a lovely decked patio that looks out to sea and from here you can watch the sun set over the ocean. (For more information visit: http://www.brentonhaven.co.za/).
Knysna and Pletts have an excellent selection of accommodation. Knysna is very laid back and we recommend staying on The Knysna Heads. However there are only a few places to stay in this part of town and the best views are to be found at Headlands House (http://www.headlandshouse.co.za/), The Alexander and Head Over Hills.
In Plettenberg things get a bit more formal and for those who like to stay in boutique hotels The Plettenberg Hotel is gorgeous and part of the Elizabeth Garth collection (http://www.collectionmcgrath.com/content/landing/the-plettenberg). If you prefer a smaller and less formal place try Christana’s Lodge (http://christianalodge.com/) It is a small guest house just moments from the beach.
We also fell in love with Tsitsikamma National Park, which is an easy drive from Plettenberg bay. The park straddles both the Western and Eastern Cape and has 80 km of dramatic coast. Tsitsikamma is considered one of South Africa’s must see destinations (click here to read about our visit to Tsitsikamma National Park).