The Garden Route of South Africa encompasses a large region of the south coast of the country, starting just east of the Cape Winelands.
The area is known for its biodiversity, scenic landscapes and temperate weather, fostering habitats found nowhere else on the African continent, and plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth. Small, natural lakes are scattered throughout the region, like ponds in garden, with streams connecting them to each other and finally the ocean. The region can truly be regarded as one of the country’s most diverse, and there are many must-visit destinations dotted throughout the region, each starkly different to the next.
The Garden Route National Park is perhaps the best starting point in an overview of the region. The park offers scenic landscapes that include large stretches of fynbos, an indigenous family of plants found nowhere else on Earth, and some of the last remnants of one of South Africa’s only true forest areas, where our national tree, the Yellow wood tree, can be found among the many giants that form the forest’s canopy. Many near-endemic species and subspecies, including the Knysna Lourie and the famous Knysna Forest Elephant, call these forest areas, known as the Knysna-Amatole montane forests, home. Bloukrans bridge, near the coastal village of “Nature’s Valley” to the south of the park is the world’s highest commercial bungee jumping site, and a favourite among adrenaline-junkies.
A short 3 hour drive northwest from these forest regions, and within the Garden Route region, there are the Swartberg Mountains and the Klein Karoo. The area here is dry and rocky, with the Swartberg Mountains towering over the flats of the Klein Karoo. This region is famous for its breathtaking views, and geological treasures. The Cango Caves, one of South Africa’s most popular groups of caves, are found at the start of the Mountain range, and includes rock deposits of the Pre-Cambrian period, which ended 541 million years ago.
Finally there are the coastal towns and world famous beaches of the Garden Route that include Mossel Bay, Herold’s Bay, Victoria Bay, Jeffrey’s Bay, Wilderness, Plettenberg Bay and, perhaps the most famous, Knysna. Knysna has a long history dating back to the first European settlements on the shore of the beautiful Knysna lagoon in 1760. Today, the winding coastal road that takes you into this beautiful town from the west travels past the northern end of the lagoon, where many kayaks, motorboats and catamarans can be seen in the peak season. Every June the town hosts an Oyster Festival centred on the lagoon’s waterfront that contributes to the town’s vibrant yet relaxing atmosphere. Victoria Bay and Jeffrey’s Bay are two of South Africa’s surfing world famous surfing hotspots.
Golf enthusiasts will also find the Garden Route a very promising destination, with famous golf courses, including Fancourt in George, Pinnacle Point near Mossel Bay, Oubaai near Herold’s Bay, Kingswood Golf course and Plettenberg Bay Country Club. With the backdrop of beautiful coastline, breathtaking mountains or fynbos-covered rough, these courses are among South Africa’s most visited and most beautiful.
The Garden Route has something for everyone, from bird watchers to photographers, geotourists to surfers, golfers to ocean-lovers, but above all else, for those looking to relax and enjoy the beauty the region has to offer.