The Garden Route in South Africa is a 300 km long ocean-hugging highway studded with azure blue beaches, iridescent lagoons, and densely forested areas interspersed with quaint cafes and cosy hotels. One of the most popular driving holidays in South Africa, this stretch of paradise draws tourists and locals alike. It has something for every traveller&ndashnature lovers will be enthralled by the extensive flora, fauna, and serene beaches, while adventure seekers will be on an all-time high with activities like shark cage diving and bungee jumping. My trip through this picturesque route was pure magic. Here's a guide to doing the route justice.
After a short drive from Cape Town, I started my vacation in Mossel Bay and was smitten by this small harbour town. It is referred to as the western gateway to the Garden Route and offers a variety of activities. You can easily spend a night or two in this postcard-perfect town, exploring its sights and sounds. Visit the Dias Museum for a glimpse into life around ancient Mossel Bay, dating back more than 500 years. Explore the Point of Human Origins Cave, an archaeological site showing the early evidence of human life. Stroll on the sprawling Santos Beach and admire the dramatic maritime view. Get your adrenaline pumping with shark cage diving and skydiving. Mossel Bay is the perfect place to spot these water beasts.
Where to eat and stay You will find everything in Mossel Bay, from fine dining to traditional steaks. When here, try the wild coastal oysters (Crassostrea margaritacea) at Mossel Bay Oyster Bar and Kaai 4 Braai. Garden Route Hotel and Portea Hotel by Marriott are my recommendations for a comfortable stay in this pretty town.
My next stop was Knysna, the jewel of the Garden Route. Renowned for its wooden furniture and oysters, it overlooks a tranquil lagoon and the surrounding mountains. Spend at least three to four nights here, of which two days are dedicated to seeing the adjoining villages of Wilderness and Oudtshoorn.
A boat cruise on the lagoon is a must-do, and while here, enjoy the beautiful sight of the sandstone "heads" that guard the lagoon and the pristine beaches and forests that lie just beyond them. Go to the Featherbed Nature Reserve, walk through the woods, and explore the ancient sea caves. If time permits, drive up to the mountainous Outeniqua Pass. The view of the ocean nestled in unending mountain layers is breathtaking.
I made Knysna my base and visited the Wilderness National Park to see some species of exotic birds. For adventure seekers, there are some exciting hiking trails too. I also visited Oudtshoorn, South Africa's ostrich farming industry hub. An ostrich farm safari is highly recommended, where you can learn about this unique bird and observe them in their natural habitat.
Where to eat and stay A culinary hotspot, Knysna has innumerable eateries serving the most delectable food. Try the seafood at Sirocco. Located on the water's edge of the trendy Thesen Harbour Town in Knysna has excellent fare and a great view to go with it. Drydock and Cafe Mario are other options to savour the local special oysters and other seafood and steaks. Knysna has a fine blend of lodging options. Pezula Resort and Trubine Hotel offer luxurious accommodations, while 47th on Howard and Portea Hotel Knysna Quays make for a comfortable stopover.
I headed next to the resort town commonly called Plett. It is the most popular seaside playground for the big spenders. With sprawling seaside villas, snazzy restaurants, pristine beaches, and crystal blue waters, this place will surely reach your heart. Set aside at least three nights to experience it in all its glory. Also, visit the nearby Tsitsikamma National Park and Storms River for adrenaline-pumping activities.
Plett has many activities for the young and old, laid-back travellers, and adventure seekers. A boat tour to Robberg Marine protected area is highly recommended to witness the Cape fur seals. Explore Plett on a guided sea kayak tour, and you might see dolphins, seals, and even whales. On the outskirts of Plett lie three animal sanctuaries- Birds of Eden, the largest free-flight aviary in the world, Jukani Wildlife, and Monkeyland. The added attraction is a single entrance ticket allows you to visit all these three exotic places.
Keep aside a day to visit Tsitsikamma Forest, a fairyland of flora and exotic bird life. The adventurous traveller must attend the world-famous Bloukrans Bridge for bungee jumping. It is the highest commercial bungee in the world, with a free fall of 216 metres.
Where to eat and stay Plett boasts fine-dining restaurants and bars. The Plettenberg serves the South African favourite, Cape Malay curry or grilled springbok loin&mdasha must-try while over there. Zinzi is another hot favourite if you want to sample some of the best Eastern and European delicacies. The Plettenberg Hotel and Plettenberg Park Hotel Spa make for a stylish and luxurious stay. At the same time, the Sky Villa Boutique Hotel and Cottage Pie by Robberg are affordable hotels with magnificent views and impeccable service.
The last destination on the Garden Route trip is Port Elizabeth, now called Gqeberha. It is one of the largest cities in South Africa. If you have a day to spare, explore the Donkin Reserve and Addo Elephant Park in this mesmerising town. Or else, catch your return flight from here, bidding farewell to the wonders of the Garden Route.
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