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  • Overview

    The stretch of southern coastline between the town of Heidelberg and the Tsitsikamma National Park makes up South Africa's well-travelled Garden Route. Travellers will find a scattering of popular resort towns, spectacular mountain ranges, scenic lakes, indigenous forests, golden beaches, and secluded bays.

    The main cities on the route are George and Mossel Bay. George is a bustling commercial centre with some good hotels, making it a convenient central point from which to explore the coastal region.

    George is also close to Oudtshoorn: site of the world-renowned Cango Caves, and home to several ostrich farms that offer entertaining and educational tours. Other popular holiday towns on the Garden Route include Knysna, Wilderness, Nature's Valley, and Plettenberg Bay.

    The Garden Route encompasses a wide variety of attractions from historic sites to scenic vistas, with the spectacular beaches and nature reserves the main highlight. There are ample opportunities to interact with nature, and visitors may spot whales, dolphins, seals, baboons, and nearly 300 species of bird.

    To make the most of the area, travellers need to stray from the national N2 highway and explore the towns, villages, and resorts en route. Fortunately, this major highway makes roadtripping easy. A fun way of enjoying the scenery is to ride on the Outeniqua Choo-Choo vintage steam train between George and Knysna. There are also great recreational opportunities to enthral active holidaymakers, from bungee jumping and water sports, to hiking trails and canopy tours.

    Tsitsikamma National Park

    Tsitsikamma is a word of the indigenous Khoi-San people meaning 'place of many waters'. It accurately describes the beautiful 50-mile (80km) stretch of coastline that makes up the Tsitsikamma National Park. The park is Africa's oldest and largest marine reserve, and contains many attractions, including a giant Outeniqua yellowwood tree that is hundreds of years old. The region is criss-crossed by hiking trails, including the world-renowned Otter Trail (a five-day hike), which starts at Storm's River and runs along 25 miles (41km) of spectacular coastline to Nature's Valley. A number of private operators offer numerous adventure activities in the area, such as black-water rafting and abseiling, mountain bike tours and fishing trips. A particularly exciting diversion is to undertake a canopy tour of the forest, gliding across the treetops on steel cables strung between platforms. The most popular bases for exploring the area are Wilderness, Knysna, and the aforementioned Nature's Valley. All are charming coastal towns that offer comfortable campsites and luxury lodges. Tsitsikamma National Park serves as the highlight of South Africa's famous Garden Route.

    Storms River Mouth, Tsitsikamma Storms River Mouth, Tsitsikamma Conrad88
    Mossel Bay

    Mossel Bay is the largest city on the Garden Route and is situated roughly half way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. It is renowned as the Adventure Capital of the Garden Route and enjoys an ideal climate, with an average of 320 days of sunshine per year and a moderate winter. Mossel Bay was discovered by Bartholomew Dias in 1488. He was the first European to land in South Africa. He was rounding the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas, when a strong wind blew him off course, into the protected bay of St Blaize, now called Mossel Bay. Here he found fresh water and set up a stop-over point for trade ships that were sailing to the East. Many explorers and traders placed important letters in an old shoe under a huge Milkwood tree which is now more than 500 years old. Today, letters are still posted from the Old Post Office Tree.

    Adventure junkies come to Mossel Bay for a range of activities in the immediate vicinity: shark cage diving; sand boarding the longest sand dune in South Africa; feeding, riding, and picnicking with elephants; safaris with the Big Five; exploring the predator park where visitors can view white lions and tigers; tandem skydiving; dolphin and whale-watching boat trips; scuba diving; abseiling; helicopter flights, and more.

    Other more sedate attractions include the largest shell museum in South Africa; an indigenous botanical garden with a braille trail fragranced for the sight impaired; a life-sized replica of Bartholomew Dias' caravel style ship; St Blaize Lighthouse and cave; and several world-class golf courses.

    Mossel Bay is also well known for its wide selection of restaurants and excellent seafood. Many different types of accommodation are on offer, from budget backpackers to five star hotels. There are eight sandy white beaches to relax on and enjoy the sunshine.

    Wilderness

    Set on the Touws River estuary, the beautiful town of Wilderness is fast developing into a plethora of luxury holiday homes. The Wilderness National Park surrounds the destination and tempts paddlers with about nine miles (15km) of inland waterways. Park wardens offer some wonderful canoe trips and hiking trails, and numerous accommodation facilities are available. If relaxation is the priority, visitors will find an idyllic coastline, where lovely rock pools are exposed at low tide and long swathes of sand invite sun-bathing. Swimmers should note that while the sea is pleasantly warm in summer, the coastline can receive some dangerous currents. Fortunately, lifeguards are almost always present on the main beach in season. Wilderness is a favourite stop on the Garden Route and is close to a number of other popular coastal towns and villages, such as Knysna and Nature's Valley. The city of George is also nearby if travellers wish to visit malls or go to the cinema.

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    Natures Valley

    One of the most beautiful nooks of a decidedly beautiful country, Nature's Valley is an enchanting and relatively undiscovered holiday resort on the Garden Route. Located about 18 miles (29km) from Plettenberg Bay and surrounded by the Tsitsikamma National Forest, Nature's Valley is a gorgeously lush area of tall bearded trees, monkey ropes, and rich bird life. It also happens to sport one of the prettiest coastlines in the country. Featuring great weather all year round and a decided lack of non-essential infrastructure, Nature's Valley is the perfect place to go for tourists looking to relax and rejuvenate in peace and quiet. There are plenty of scenic walks and hiking trails for adventure enthusiasts. In fact, Nature's Valley marks the end of the Otter Trail, one of South Africa's most famous hikes. Canoeing down the river and swimming in the sheltered lagoon are also fun excursions. Accommodation in Nature's Valley comes in all shapes and sizes: from luxury villas which can be rented on a monthly basis, to the excellent Wild Spirit Lodge and Backpacker Hostel, which offers affordable lodging in a funky and eco-friendly environment.

    Nature's Valley, South Africa Nature's Valley, South Africa Paul Venter

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    The Garden Route has a maritime Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. The area experiences the most rainfall in South Africa, though this seldom hinders travellers from enjoying the beauty of the region. The Western Cape half of the Garden Route has a similar climate to Cape Town, with most rain falling in the winter months (June to August).

    In the Eastern Cape and approaching Port Elizabeth, rain tends to fall predominantly during the summer months (December to February). The fact that the route winds along the coast ensures that the weather can be rather unpredictable and rain is always a possibility.

    Average temperatures from December to March (summer and early spring) are about 75ºF (24ºC) to 86ºF (30ºC), while the average winter temperature is 64ºF (18ºC). As these averages suggest, the Garden Route is seldom uncomfortably hot or cold.

    The Garden Route is stunning in any weather, making it a year-round destination. That said, some of the main attractions are beaches and hikes, meaning they're at their best in late spring, summer and early autumn (anytime between October and March). Travellers should bear in mind that the main resorts become extremely crowded over the Christmas period.

    George Airport
    Location: The airport is situated around five and a half miles (9km) from George.
    Time: GMT +2
    Getting to the city: Taxis are the only form of transport between the city and the airport. There are a small number of private companies operating on this route.
    Car Rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Hertz, National, Thrifty, and Europcar.
    Fascilities: Facilities include foreign exchange, ATMs for Nedbank and Standard Bank, conference facilities, cafés, and a few snack shops. The airport caters for disabled passengers.

    Useful Contacts:

    The Garden Route is famous for road tripping, beach lounging, and hiking opportunities. Hiking the phenomenal Otter Trail is arguably the best way to experience the region. The five-day trek stretches from the beautiful Storm's River estuary to the much-loved Nature's Valley and is highly recommended. Numerous shorter walking trails also traverse the coastal strip, and there are many picturesque campsites.

    The National N2 Highway runs the length of the Garden Route. Travellers can simply stay on this highway and stop at most of the main towns and villages for which the route is known.

    The N2 takes travellers from Cape Town past Mossel Bay, Wilderness, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and the Bloukrans Bridge (famous for bungee jumping). It continues all the way up past Jeffrey's Bay to Port Elizabeth. But it is recommended that tourists leave the highway to explore some of the more unspoilt areas if they have the time.

    The route is a fun pilgrimage for surfers, with Mossel Bay, Plettenberg Bay, Cape St Francis, and Jeffrey's Bay all providing spectacular surf breaks. Knysna and Nature's Valley are two of the highlights along the Garden Route and shouldn't be missed.

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