Tourdust’s Garden Route – Five essential Garden Route experiences
What are the five essential experiences on the Garden Route? We pin our flag to the mast and explore the five essential experiences that, in our opinion, define the Garden Route.
#1 GETTING AWAY FROM THE CROWDS ON TABLE MOUNTAIN
Cape Town is a City where mountains meet City and Sea. The City spreads from the charming V&A Waterfront up to the flanks of Table Mountain and there is no better place to see all it than from atop Table mountain amidst the lush fynbos. Most tourists venture no more than 5 minutes from the Cableway, but there is plenty of space to take in the view in solitude whether climbing Table Mountain or just enjoying the 2 hour loop from the Cableway station at the top. If you are looking for something a little more strenuous, then we suggest spending up to 3 days hiking and camping in the Table Mountain National Park.
#2 EXPLORING THE FYNBOS, MOUNTAINS & WILD COAST OF THE WESTERN CAPE
Fynbos describes the predominant vegetation in this area and describes a diverse ecosystem of small leaved bushes. The diversity is fascinating but the real reason we recommend time amongst the fynbos is that it creates an incredibly vibrant vista and is found in some incredible locations. None more dramatic than amidst the mountains and Coast-line of the Western Cape around Hermanus, Grootbos and De Kelders. This is a landscape where a single view can take in sweeping mountains, dramatic coast-lines and the ocean. From June – October the area becomes the best land based whale watching location in the world, but the region is worth a visit year-round.
#3 TREKKING THE COASTAL PATHS IN TSITSIKAMMA NATIONAL PARK
A wild, wild coast-line. Easily our highlight of the Garden Route area. Densely forested mountains rise from the ocean, rivers carve deep clefts in the cliffs and dolphins frolic in the surf. This is absolutely not sun-beds and cocktails territory! This is a coast-line that begs to be walked. The Otter Trail is arguably the best Coastal walk in the world, but is an option only for those who book well in advance and are willing to carry their own gear (camping equipment and all). The Dolphin Trail is a fantastic alternative – a 3 day supported trek staying at comfortable lodges and highly recommended. For gentler options, the waterfall trail is a stunning short walk from Storms River Rest Camp that allows hikers to scramble the rocks as the path hugs the ocean to a well-deserved swim in the splash pool of the afore-mentioned waterfall.
#4 VIEWING THE WILDLIFE OF THE EASTERN CAPE
Safari snobs will claim the Garden Route has nothing to match the marvel of Kruger NP or the Masai Mara, but the area offers some excellent small private reserves and superb variety of wildlife. The area is perfect for those who don’t want the sole focus of their trip to be safari. A short 2 day safari extension to your Garden Route trip is the perfect safari taster that doesn't need to blow your budget. After all, in how many places can you combine penguins (Boulders Beach in Cape Town), Whales and Dolphins (Whale Coast), Meerkat and Ostrich (Oudtshoorn) and traditional big five safari (Eastern Cape and Garden Route Game Reserves). Read our guide to our favourite Eastern Cape and Garden Route Safari Lodges and Camps for families – we’ve tested the majority of them with our own children!
#5 INDULGING & RELAXING IN THE CAPE WINELANDS
A foodies' nirvana set amidst drop dead gorgeous mountain landscapes, the Cape's vineyards are the ultimate treat for both the eyes and the taste buds. The experts at the best estates are able to reel off generations of knowledge about their finest vintages and you can spend time exploring the vineyards and then tasting some of their finest wines. For children and on-wine drinkers, there are plenty of gourmet treats available from home made chocolate to local artisanal produce. You can experience the winelands either by staying at one of the estates and exploring independently, or on a guided tour from Cape Town.
AND SOME OF THOSE WE FEEL ARE OVER-RATED...
- The Garden Route officially covers the area of Coast around Mossel Bay, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. It is in our opinion over developed and over-rated. We only usually recommend Knysna and Plettenberg Bay if you are dead-set on getting some quality beach time in. Our preference though is to use a single base on the fringes of the Garden Route in the Crags Area (home to a lovely set of very independent and unique accommodation options including Hog Hollow, The Kurland, Emily Moon River Lodge and Moonshine on Whiskey Creek). Here you are well located for the highlight of the Garden Route, Tsitsikamma National Park and it is easy too to dive into the visitor attractions of Knysna and Plett.
- Hermanus has traditionally been associated with the magnificent whale watching opportunities of the Western Cape. Whilst in season it does provide a magnificent land base for whale watching it is a little built up for our tastes. Head instead for Grootbos, De Kelders Reserve and De Hoop Reserve for equal if not superior whale watching and a sense of coastal wilderness that you just won’t get in Hermanus.