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Garden Route

Featherbed Nature Reserve, looking down onto the Knysna Heads  © Vaiz Ha, License

Garden Route

The Garden Route extends along the coastal strip between Heidelberg and the Eastern Cape border at Storms River Mouth, and incorporates all of the towns and resorts along the N2 highway and coast. To the North the Garden Route is bordered by three mountain ranges, the Langeberg, the Outeniqua and the Tsitsikamma mountains. The whole region is one of extreme natural beauty and many very popular resorts have become established along the route. Large parts of the Garden Route are controlled by the South African National Parks thus ensuring the preservation of this pristine area well into the future. Just east of George, lies the Wilderness National Park. This region attracts hundreds of bird species to it's wetlands.

In the extreme West of the Garden Route where the Breede River flows into the Indian Ocean is St Sebastion Bay, an annual breeding place for the Southern Right Whale, which can be seen between June and September from Whitesands. In 2005 more than 130 whales were seen in the nursery including more than 50 pairs of cows and their calfs.

The town of Riversdale lies on the N2 and has become known as the Floral Paradise of the Garden Route. The town is a mecca for nature lovers of all ages and especially for fynbos enthusiasts. From here you can hike, bike or take a horse trail. To the North of the town is the famous Sleeping Beauty Peak in the Langeberg, and a mountain pass leads you to the Klein Karoo. A little to the East of Riversdale is the small town of Albertinia named after a local preacher. The town is situated in a major sheep and wheat region and is well known as being South Africa's main producer of red and yellow ochre and of kaolin. There are two factories that process gel from the aloe based here.

Mossel Bay has a history dating back to the 15th Century and derives its name from the abundance of mussels found here. The town lies on a sunny peninsular just off the N2 and is half way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. It was at Mossel Bay that the Portuguese navigator Bartomoleu Dias landed in 1488 to replenish his water supplies. History lovers can also see several block houses built by the British in the Outeniqua mountains during the Anglo-Boer War.

The Garden Route's next town is George which is harbours a wonderful museum which is mostly dedicated to wooden artifacts. There is a reconstructed woodcutter's cottage as well as wagons and carts and even old gramaphones. Herold's Bay is George's own beach resort and is just outside the town. Here there are good vantage points for whale and dolphin watching. A mountain pass leads from George into the Klein Karoo.

The Knysna National Lake Area, known as the Jewel of the Garden Route, there is a large lagoon bounded at its entrance by two sandstone heads and with a background of the mountains of the Outeniqua Nature Reserve. The lagoon is home to the famous Knysna Seahorse and the Pansy Shell. This beautiful town offers the visitor anything from fine shops and restaurants to hiking trails, and there are even three golf courses. The Knysna Elephant Park offers a unique chance to get see these magnificent animals that once lived in these forests.

Just along the coast from Knysna lies the popular resort town of Plettenberg Bay, known affectionately by many a visitor as 'Plett'. Standing out on the beach here is Beacon Island with its hotel. In the bay itself you can witness schools of common dolphin playing, as well as Bottlenosed and Humpback dolphins.

Several species of whale can be seen here - the Southern Right, the Humpback and Bryde's whales as well as Orca, the killer whale. This is the only place on Earth where the rare Beaked whale has been filmed. Boat based whale watching tours are available here. To the south of Plettenberg Bay lies the Robberg Nature Reserve, which has many short hikes through the coastal fynbos that dominates this peninsula.

At the Eastern end of the Garden Route you will find the Tsitsikamma National Park, a pristine indigenous forest that is home to Yellowwood, Stinkwood and Ironwood and many other tree species that are protected in this forest. The coastline here is quite spectacular with its natural gorges formed over millions of years. The 5 day Otter Trail that runs along this coast. Hikers are advised to book well in advance.

Exploring the Garden Route in South Africa's Western Cape offers an array of breathtaking landscapes, outdoor adventures, and cultural experiences.

Here are ten must-see attractions and activities along this iconic route:

1. Tsitsikamma National Park: Discover the dramatic coastal scenery, ancient forests, and diverse fauna of Tsitsikamma National Park. Hike the famous Otter Trail, brave the Storms River Mouth suspension bridge, or enjoy scenic drives and picnics.

2. Knysna: Visit the charming town of Knysna, renowned for its scenic lagoon, indigenous forests, and the Knysna Heads. Explore the waterfront, enjoy fresh seafood, and shop for local crafts at the bustling markets.

3. Plettenberg Bay: Relax on the pristine beaches of Plettenberg Bay, known for its azure waters and outdoor activities such as dolphin and whale watching, kayaking, and hiking in the Robberg Nature Reserve.

4. Oudtshoorn: Experience the ostrich capital of the world in Oudtshoorn. Tour ostrich farms, explore the underground wonders of the Cango Caves, and interact with wildlife at the Cango Wildlife Ranch.

5. Wilderness: Embrace the tranquility of Wilderness, a coastal town bordered by rivers, lakes, and indigenous forests. Kayak through the Touw River estuary, hike the Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail, or simply unwind on the secluded beaches.

6. Garden Route National Park: Explore the diverse ecosystems of the Garden Route National Park, encompassing wilderness areas, forests, lakes, and coastline. Discover the scenic viewpoints of the Wilderness and Knysna sections of the park.

7. Nature's Valley: Visit the idyllic village of Nature's Valley, nestled between mountains and the sea within the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Enjoy hiking trails, birdwatching, and beachcombing in this unspoiled paradise.

8. Golfing: Tee off at world-class golf courses along the Garden Route, including Fancourt, Pezula, and Simola. Golf enthusiasts can enjoy challenging fairways set against breathtaking backdrops.

9. Wine Tasting: Indulge in wine tasting experiences in the picturesque vineyards of the Garden Route. Visit boutique wineries in the Outeniqua and Langkloof valleys, known for their cool-climate wines and scenic surroundings.

10. Adventurous Activities: Thrill-seekers can satisfy their adrenaline cravings with activities like bungee jumping from the Bloukrans Bridge, zip-lining through the forests of Tsitsikamma, or paragliding over the coastal cliffs of Wilderness.

Whether you're seeking outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or simply relaxation amidst stunning natural landscapes, the Garden Route offers something for every traveler to enjoy in the Western Cape of South Africa.

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