When we travel the coastline between the “Mother City” of Cape Town, through the Western Cape to South Africa’s Eastern Cape, we experience an area of sheer delight, known quite simply as the Garden Route.
This wonderful, coast-hugging area of the country offers rugged hillsides, ocean waves, sandy beaches, natural floral landscapes and so much more. As you travel, you can take side-trips off the route to visit the Whale Nursery of South Africa in tiny Witsand, or the ostrich farms and Cango Caves of Oudtshoorn, but here we will concentrate on some of the major towns along the route by visiting Mossel Bay, Wilderness and Knysna. Bear in mind that there are many other towns and villages in between that you will pass as you meander along.
Whilst unofficially the Garden Route starts in Cape Town, the official beginning at the Western Cape end is in Mossel Bay.
Lying on the Indian Ocean coast, the town was founded after the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias sailed in on February 3, 1488.
While Dias named the bay, “Aguada de São Brás”, in 1601, Paulus van Caerden, a Dutch navigator, renamed it Mosselbaai (in Afrikaans) or Mossel Bay, basically due to the fact that the area offered so many mussels.
Mossel Bay has a very moderate climate, second only in the world to Hawaii, and according to the town’s official website, offers 300 sunny days every year.24 kms (15 mi) of gorgeous sandy beaches offer all the normal activities including whale watching, there are plenty of golf courses, game reserves and boat trips on offer too. Shark Cage Diving is available for those with nerves of steel who want to meet with huge sharks, up close and personal.
As we travel down the Garden Route, through the Western Cape of South Africa, the next major town by its very name conjures up scenes of wild, empty beaches and rough, natural countryside. However, Wilderness is actually a beautiful small town in a stunning setting. Backed by forested hills, the town hugs a series of pretty wetlands right over to the coastal dunes, which overlook a glorious white sand beach. In season, as you stroll on the sand (see the photo at the top of this article), it is possible to see whales and dolphins playing just off shore. Just west of Wilderness, visit the Kaaimans River, which runs through a thick forest area.
The Wilderness National Park offers meandering waterways, which can be explored with a rented canoe. For birding fans, many well-placed bird hides are available to see the many local species. Adventure junkies can try abseiling down a waterfall or have a go at kloofing (canyoning) in the area. Less adventurous folk can enjoy a mountain biking trip or head for the surf.
The next stop on our Garden Route tour is the friendly town of Knysna. While not a beach location as such, the town wraps itself beautifully around a lagoon, guarded by a couple of rocky promontories dubbed “The Heads.” Wonderfully scenic, the area offers dramatic cliff views over the Indian Ocean as well as a private nature reserve.
Famous for its annual Oyster Festival, the town itself is very quaint with an array of both Georgian and Victorian buildings, offering craft shops, coffee shops, restaurants offering the catch of the day as well as a certain amount of evening entertainment.
The video below gives a good idea of what is on offer in Knysna and the Garden Route:
In short the Garden Route has a multitude of wonderful destinations on your vacation in South Africa, so while you travel within the Western Cape, don’t miss this scenic tour.
By Anne Sewell