The Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth is South Africa’s “hidden stretch of paradise”. Although I visited some of these places years ago, the Garden Route is my next South African adventure.
Beginning in late October, I’ll be driving the route, and I’m researching the area to decide which direction to take and what attractions to include. There’s so much exciting territory to explore, it’s a challenge deciding where to stop and for how long.
“Be at one with the indigenous forests, ever-changing sea, mysterious rivers, and wondrous lakes.”
The Garden Route “can be driven in five hours, but hidden destinations and side roads are the region’s secret jewels”. The two routes to choose from are inland and coastal.
Inland R62, the route less traveled, has “stunning mountain scenery and quaint, historic towns”:
- Barrydale – fertile fruit orchards and farmland in the Tradouw Valley
- Montagu – hiking, rock climbing paradise of Langeberg
- Calitzdorp – port wine capital
- Oudtshoorn – ostrich capital
- Cango Caves – world’s largest Precambrian stalagmite formations
- Prince Albert – historic village at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains
- Swartberg Pass – mysterious old gravel road pass
- Outeniqua Pass – through the Outeniqua Mountains, connecting the Garden Route with Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo
It’s recommended to take at least 3 days for the R62 and allow an extra day for the Prince Albert Circuit. Prince Albert is in the arid Karoo Plains, an “oasis on the southern edge of the Great Karoo”.
The town’s water supply flows from springs in the Swartberg Mountains. The spring water “runs in irrigation furrows bringing gardens and orchards to life” and makes Prince Albert one of South Africa’s prettiest towns.
As it “meanders along the coast from Heidelberg in the West to Storms River in the East,” the Garden Route has breathtaking scenery!
“Serene Prince Albert has beautifully restored Cape Dutch, Karoo, and Victorian buildings, a number of which are National Monuments”. Founded in 1762 on a farm called Kweekvallei (Valley of Plenty), after it gained municipal status in 1845 the town was “renamed Prince Albert in honor of Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg”.
The Garden Route “can be driven in five hours, but hidden destinations and side roads are the region’s secret jewels”.
Coastal N2 is a “brilliant marine drive” along the Indian Ocean passing:
- Whale watching paradise
- Golden wheat and canola fields with a mountain backdrop
- Swellendam – 3rd oldest city with Cape Dutch architecture heritage sites
- Mossel Bay – shark cage diving
- George – golf courses and museums
- Ramsar Wilderness Lakes – five lakes
- Knysna – known for its lagoon, oyster hatchery, Elephant Park, Monkeyland Free Roaming Primate Sanctuary, and Birds of Eden, the world’s largest aviary
- Plettenberg Bay – Robberg Hike
- Jeffreys Bay – surfing capital
- Port Elizabeth – major seaport on Nelson Mandela Bay
Parks and reserves along the Garden Route include Tsitsikamma National Park. Tsitsikamma (sits-ee-cah-ma) is a coastal reserve that protects South Africa’s indigenous forest and giant trees like the Outeniqua Yellowwood.
“Serene Prince Albert has beautifully restored Cape Dutch, Karoo, and Victorian buildings, a number of which are National Monuments.”
“Rivers in the area carve deep gorges as they wind down from the plateau to the sea. The Tsitsikamma Forest is also home to adventurous activities like bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bridge, the Storms River Adventure Center, the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, and the Tsitsikamma Waterfall Zipline. Hiking choices are abundant, including the Otter and Dolphin trails.”
The Otter Trail is one of South Africa’s most famous hikes through coastal forest, river crossings, and viewpoints with gorges and waterfalls. It’s a 5-day hike along 27 miles of Tsitsikamma coastline, from the Storms River mouth in the east to Nature’s Valley in the west. Bookings are essential. They open a year in advance and sell out quickly.
The unique Dolphin Trail is a challenging hike covering 10.5 miles in Tsitsikamma. The hike begins at Storms River mouth and winds east through fynbos and pristine indigenous forest. It ends on the banks of the Sandrift River at The Fernery. This hike is on my bucket list!
Port Elizabeth marks the end of the Garden Route, but it’s also the gateway to Addo Elephant Park and the Eastern Cape’s private Big 5 game reserves:
- Malaria free Gondwana Game Reserve
- Kariega Game Reserve
- Pumba Big 5 Game Reserve
- Lalibela Game Reserve
- Shamwari Game Reserve
I’ll probably vacillate between the inland and coastal routes, hike, and enjoy the more affordable game reserves. Tsitsikamma Waterfall Zipline sounds fun. Planning the itinerary is a bit overwhelming, but I have a few weeks to get things together. There will be more blog posts in October, when I encounter some of these spectacular places!