The Garden Route

When planning where to sightsee in South Africa after rock-climbing, J and I had to rule out the Winelands because of the pregnancy. So we had to go farther afield and the other popular location that seemed to make the most sense was the Garden Route, on the south western coast of the Indian Ocean.

It was a long drive from Clanwilliam (7 hours) but South African drivers, contrary to what our guidebook suggested, seemed better than French ones and we made good time even without a GPS. I had ordered a road atlas for the whole Western Cape and highlighted all our routes in it, so except for circling around Worcester for about twenty minutes trying to find the road out (bizarre, since it was the road we came in on), we had no trouble navigating.

We found an AirBnB in Plettenberg Bay, which is pretty much the final town on the Garden Route before changing regions to the Eastern Cape. It’s supposed to be the wealthiest of the towns on the Garden Route, and it’s true that we saw some impressive villas, but at least in winter it didn’t feel over-developed.

With P-berg (not a real nickname) as our base we managed to do a lot of things in two days.

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An evening stop on the road to Plettenberg Bay: The beach at Wilderness

First thing the first morning we drove down the road to the Robberg Nature Reserve, which has three different hikes: one 20 mins, one 120 mins and one 4 hours. They were not easy walking so we did the 20 minute one with some exploring into paths that went off it. At one point I let J continue onward for about ten minutes, and while I was sitting waiting for him I saw a shark in the water below. So, win for the pregnant traveler!

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The Indian Ocean

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The Robberg Peninsula

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The Robberg Peninsula

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A sampling of the coastal villas (heaviliy protected by private security companies)

On our way out we asked a park ranger about the shark, and he said it was a great white, that they have three or four of them, and that they keep the seal population at bay.

Next we went for lunch at a restaurant on the Knysna Lagoon. I could not get over the color of the water.

Those pictures are taken in the direction of the exit from the lagoon, a notoriously dangerous passage for boats, and the rocks that mark the exit are called the Heads. We had a little walk around the rocks here and I bought a little stone figurine from a vendor by the restaurant.

We finished that day at the Knysna Elephant Park, an elephant orphanage with currently 7 elephants. They gave us a little bucket of beets, apples, etc and drove us out to feed and pet the elephants. There was about one guide for every four visitors, who told us when we could pet which elephant and kept us from getting trampled.

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It was a little stressful trying to pet them and look at the camera, since you never really knew when they were going to decide to move, and they didn’t care if you were in the way.

The next day we went to the Knysna Waterfront and then this weird little beach.

It was at the end of a dirt road that started with the Knysna township on either side, and progressively got better until we were outside a bizarre walled golf resort. There were four people at the beach and these funny little private homes that look like mini castles.

Two days on the Garden Route was enough for people who couldn’t really do any hiking, but it would make a good week-long vacation too. There are other excursions that you can do: whale watching, ferries in the lagoon, diving, if you want to spend more money. It was definitely more developed for tourists than the Cederberg area and a little more “chic” in general, but still pretty cool.

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6 thoughts on “The Garden Route

  1. Wow. Just wow. It all sounds so amazing! That water is so beautiful! And elephants! I love elephants! I was up close to them in Thailand and able to touch, but I felt like they were being exploited so it was so difficult to actually enjoy the experience. But an elephant orphanage must be a lot different as they’re there for good reason.

    • J had also met elephants before, in India, but this was quite a different experience. The guides knew them and their different personalities really well and were able to tell us when each elephant was ready to be touched (apparently running up to any old elephant and petting it is not a good idea). There were some sad stories at the orphanage of sick baby elephants they hadn’t been able to save too.

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