The Garden Route, South Africa is a 300 km route of spectacular beauty along the southwest coast of South Africa and is known for its ecologically diverse vegetation, numerous lagoons, forests, lakes, and beautiful beaches. It stretches from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape.
It’s Wednesday and a long weekend is right around the corner, the perfect time for us (Maddi, Anna and me, Ben) three JENMAN African Safaris interns, to start off on a road trip. And what is more suitable for a 4-5 day trip in South Africa, than the world-famous Garden Route?
As soon as our day at work was over we made our way to the airport to rent a car for our trip. We leave Cape Town and drive into the night for a 4.5-hour drive to Mossel Bay, the beginning of the Garden Route. We check into a nice Airbnb apartment and fall into our beds, exhausted from the long day.
The alarm clocks are set to an early wake-up because we had a whim to watch the sun rise over the sea. It turns out to be a most excellent idea, because not only is the sunrise on the beach breathtaking but almost a bit clichéd when suddenly countless dolphins appear frolicking in the sunbeams covering the calm sea, a sight we will certainly never forget. After this perfect start to the day, we continue on our way along the coast. After a short stopover in George, we arrive in Wilderness where an endless stretch of wild beach and the “Map of Africa” – a viewpoint over an area that looks like the continent of Africa, await us. We stretch our legs a bit and then drive on to Knysna.
Knysna is located in the heart of the Garden Route and offers countless activities for just about everyone. From hiking trails in Knysna Forest, to boat trips on the lagoon, to shopping, and oyster tasting, you will find everything your heart desires here. The highlight of our day is the Knysna Elephant Sanctuary near Plettenberg Bay, where we can meet these impressive gentle giants up close. For us as Europeans who only know elephants from the zoo, it is a special moment to encounter them this way. Still happy from this wonderful experience, we drive to the Knysna Heads to enjoy the afternoon sun with an incredible view of the lagoon. For the evening we choose a traditional African restaurant at the Knysna Waterfront where we have a delicious dinner of various grilled game meat and local vegetables.
The new day starts with breakfast in the holiday town of Plettenberg Bay, not far from Knysna. It provides much-needed sustenance for our breathtaking hike in the Robberg Nature Reserve where we admire incredibly beautiful beaches and discover hidden caves. We really enjoyed the stunning nature and the feeling of true freedom. Afterwards, it’s time to continue to the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation & Awareness Centre, a sanctuary for Big Cats. In a private tour, we learn a lot about these impressive rescued wild animals and see cheetah, leopard, and lion from a few centimetres distance, with only a fence separating us. We are also pleased to see they Apex Predators have big spaces to roam. About two hours later we are in Cape St. Francis where we take in the sunset at the lighthouse. A storm comes up and creates dramatic scenery to our delight. After dinner at a restaurant in Jeffrey`s Bay, we check in at our apartment directly on Paradise Beach.
We start with another amazing sunrise at sandy Paradise Beach, but this is only the calm before the storm. Today is a day full of action because we are driving to Bloukrans Bridge, the highest commercial Bungee jump bridge in the world. While the girls just want to watch, I dare to go on the 216- metre high bridge. The view is amazing, but there’s not much time to enjoy it because soon it’s my turn to jump. One last view over the edge of the bridge, into the valley below, then I take the plunge and jump. I forget to breathe for a moment, but when the adrenaline kicks in, the feeling is indescribably great. I survived the jump and after some stops in the wonderful Tsitsikamma National Park, we continue our journey to Oudtshoorn where we will stay over the night. Tired from an action-packed day, it’s time for bed.
The next day begins the same way the previous one ended, with action. On today’s schedule: the Cango Caves. On an exciting adventure expedition, we explore the 20 million-year-old caves with their hidden chambers that reach deep into the mountain. The large tunnel system is full of impressive rock formations such as a series of dripstones and vast halls with stalagmite formations. It is one of the country`s finest caves that attracts and inspires countless tourists every year. The adventure tour is not for the faint-hearted, because the further you go into the mountain, the narrower the corridors and passages become. We have to duck to get through the narrow paths, even leopard crawl a distance at one point and press ourselves through openings not wider than 27cm. Certainly not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia.
After we tick off this challenge, we drive to the Swartberg Pass, an extremely narrow gravel road that meanders up the mountain. Throughout the almost 24km one hour drive we have never-ending wide open views of beautiful landscapes and are rewarded with incredible scenery. Finally, we take off on our journey back home to Cape Town on the N1. Late in the evening we reach the Mother City again and are happy to have had such a great trip with so many lasting memories and experiences.
If you ever get the opportunity to do something like this, don’t hesitate for a second, because the Garden Route South Africa offers something very special for every taste.
WONDERS OF THE GARDEN ROUTE – 8 DAYS
SMALL-GROUP LODGE SAFARI
The Garden Route offers the finest scenery, ocean sunsets and tropical forests from the Big 5 in the Addo Elephant National Park to the iconic Cape Town. Let the beauty of this unique area unfold before your eyes.