After a visit to Cape Town, it’s difficult to imagine topping this city for coastal scenery, but South Africa’s cape region presents one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines: the Garden Route.
Picture quaint whale watching towns and unspoilt lagoons, rocky cliffs, indigenous forests, fynbos clad mountains, immaculate beaches and famous surfing haunts. The Garden Route roughly stretches from Hermanus all along the coast to just beyond Plettenberg Bay, Nature’s Valley and the Tsitsikamma Forest, and even boasts the world’s highest bungee jump at Bloukrans Bridge.
March is the perfect time to visit this incredible part of the country. The weather is superb, with mostly blue sunny skies and sometimes a small breeze, but none of the famous South Easter wind which can blow gale force winds for days on end in December and January. The crowds of local holidaymakers have long gone home, and so accommodation, restaurants, parking and the beaches have been freed up with none of the peak season crush and stress. Add to this that the Northern Hemisphere has been suffering from a long and in some places brutal winter, we’d say it’s high time for a dose of sunshine!
Another sweetener is that the weak Rand means that never before has eating out and booking fun excursions been so cheap! And if you’re a golfer, did you know that the Garden Route is also famous for several championship golf courses, which are looking their best at this time of the year.
Just over an hour from Cape Town, past the great sweep of False Bay, nestled at the foot of fynbos clad mountains and the breathtaking scenery of the Overberg region, lies the charming seaside town of Hermanus. Renowned for its blue flag beaches, picturesque town centre and seasonal whale migration it also boasts cliff paths along the coast which create the perfect natural vantage point for land-based whale watching. The whales in turn swim really close to the cliffs, as these create protective enclaves to protect their calves. March is NOT peak whale season, but at least the crowds have all gone home.
We recommend staying at Grootbos, a five star eco and family-friendly reserve, surrounded by indigenous fynbos and milkwood forests with private decks offering endless vistas over the ocean.
Beyond Hermanus, you can take a side excursion to Cape Agulhas, where two great oceans collide. There’s a windswept and undulating landscape of sheep pasture, and you ought to set out early since it’s a long drive to reach the coast again at Mossel Bay. The Garden Route itself truly begins here as the road follows this broad, untouched bay, epitomizing the wide-open spaces and uninhabited expanses that Africa is famous for.
Mossel Bay boasts a diverse and rich sea life which includes seals, penguins and dolphins, as well as well-established Great White shark cage diving. Arrive during the weekend of March 21-23, and you can witness the spectacle of local bikers at the Buffalo Rally.
Push on to George, the biggest town in the region, which has an airport and established commercial centre. Time permitting you may want to linger here for a game of golf as George features a wide selection of golf courses.
From here, a veritable feast for the camera begins as you pass through Wilderness and Sedgefield – favorite holiday destinations for South African families seeking out pretty inland lagoons, with private beaches perfect for a picnic lunch.
Knysna is blessed with a scenic location on an enormous lagoon, surrounded by indigenous forests, and this picturesque town is perfect for relaxing with a glass of wine, sampling the famous local oysters at a waterfront café, or cruising out to the ‘Heads’ for sunset at the lagoon mouth. Bookworms will be pleased to note there is a Literature Festival taking place in Knysna between March 18 and 23.
We love Kanonkop Guest House, a boutique hotel situated in prime position on the Knysna Heads cliffs with expansive views over the lagoon. There’s just so much to do in the area, that visitors are spoilt for choice … from mountain biking and kayaking to bungee jumping, shark cage diving and even Elephant Back Safaris, Knysna has something for everyone!
The drive from Knysna to Plettenberg Bay is so pretty you don’t even notice you’ve left the coast. In fact this whole region is typified by giant conifers, fantastic hiking trails and rugged river mouth landscapes. ‘Plett’, as the locals affectionately call it, is surrounded by lush indigenous forests and the famed Tsitsikamma National Park with its abundant birdlife and Cape flora lies just to the east.
With its endless white sandy beaches, warm Indian Ocean, clean lagoons and estuaries, Plettenberg Bay is a firm favorite with families and honeymooners alike, and an excellent base from which to explore numerous attractions in the area, such as the Elephant Sanctuary. One of our favorite hotels is The Plettenberg (a five star luxury Relais & Châteaux hotel) built on a rocky outcrop with commanding views over the sea.
Eastern Cape and Game Reserves
From here, the Eastern Cape is within easy reach with its malaria-free game reserves. The ecosystems and landscape changes and becomes scrub-like and dry. What better way to end your Garden Route road-trip than with two or three nights on safari with the opportunity to spot The Big Five? For those looking for family-friendly accommodation with great game viewing opportunities, we suggest staying at Kariega. For understated luxury and breathtaking scenery, we recommend that you drive the extra distance to Kwandwe Ecca Lodge, offering everything you would come to expect from a top notch safari experience including game drives, guided bush walks with a historical angle and rhino tracking.
Don’t make the mistake of only allocating one or two days to experience the Garden Route, you need at least three days! Looking at the map, there are three routes to choose from. The first is following lesser known roads up the coast via Arniston and the Southern-most tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas. Or take a trip on the famous Route 62 through the semi desert known as the Klein Karoo and the Ostrich farming region of Outshoorn, which still bears remnants of ‘gold rush’ type wealth created from a run on ostrich feathers at the turn of the century. Or simply take the most direct route along the N2, as outlined above.
The Garden Route map is filled to the brim with exceptional scenery and attractions for everyone. A holiday on the Garden Route, with it’s well-marked roads, is perfect for those wanting to self-drive. Its long beaches, lagoons, warm sea and activities, make it an ideal family holiday too. And romantic couples will find privacy and romance staying at cliff-top villas and exploring the surrounding unspoilt nature. And for everyone, what better way to end a Garden Route road-trip than with a few nights on safari?