Experience More

3

Mossel Bay

n Cnr Church and Market sts; www.visitmosselbay.co.za

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t The lifesize replica of Bartolomeu Dias’s ship, displayed in Mossel Bay

One of the main attractions in the seaside town of Mossel Bay, situated 397 km (246 miles) east of Cape Town, is the interesting museum complex and the historic centre, both overlooking the harbour.

Seafaring history is the subject at the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex. Established in 1988, the complex celebrates the 500th anniversary of Dias’s historic landfall; the Portuguese explorer dropped anchor off the South African coast in February 1488. The inlet he named after São Bras (St Blaize) is today called Mossel Bay. A full-sized replica of Dias’s ship was built in Portugal in 1987 and set sail for Mossel Bay, arriving right on time on 3 February 1988. Here, the 130-ton vessel was lifted from the water and lowered into the specially altered museum. Alongisde this outstanding reconstruction, there are old maps, photographs and documents detailing the first explorations around the tip of Africa. The complex also includes the Protea Hotel Mossel Bay, which dates back to 1846 and is thought to be the oldest building in town.

Mossel Bay is probably best known for its controversial and costly Mossgas development, initiated by the discovery of natural offshore gas fields.

The real charm of the settlement lies in its natural beauty, fine beaches and walks. The 15-km (9-mile) St Blaize Hiking Trail winds along an unspoiled stretch of coastline, while Santos Beach, the only north-facing beach in South Africa, guarantees sunny afternoons and safe swimming.

Regular cruises take visitors out to Seal Island, while White Shark Africa offers shark cage dives or snorkelling and certification diving courses.

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Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex

1 Market St # 9am–4:45pm Mon–Fri, 9am–3:45pm Sat & Sun ¢ Good Fri, 25 Dec diasmuseum.co.za

Did You Know?

One ostrich egg is equivalent to approximately 24 chicken’s eggs.

4

Oudtshoorn

n 80 Voortrekker St; www.oudtshoorn.com

The town of Oudtshoorn was established in 1847 at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains, to cater for the needs of the Little Karoo’s growing farming population. It gained prosperity when the demand for ostrich feathers – to support Victorian, and later Edwardian fashion trends – created a sharp rise in the industry in 1870–80.

The Karoo’s hot, dry climate proved suitable for big-scale ostrich farming; the loamy soils yielded extensive crops of lucerne, which forms a major part of the birds’ diet, and the ground was strewn with the small pebbles that are a vital aid to their somewhat unusual digestive processes (ostriches have neither teeth nor a crop in the oesophagus to store food, so they eat stones as a means of helping to grind and digest their food).

Oudtshoorn’s importance as an ostrich-farming centre continued for more than 40 years, and the town became renowned for its sandstone mansions built by wealthy ostrich barons. However, World War I and changes in fashion resulted in the industry’s decline, and many farmers went bankrupt. Ostrich farming eventually recovered in the 1940s with the establishment of the tanning industry, and Oudtshoorn remains known as the “ostrich capital of the world”. Today, ostrich products include eggs, leather, meat and bonemeal. The town also produces crops of tobacco, wheat and grapes.

5

George

~ @ n 124 York St; www.georgetourism.org.za

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t A hops field in George, a crop that flourishes in the farming valleys of the region

The wide streets of George were laid out in 1811 during the British occupation of the Cape. Named after King George III, the town is today the Garden Route’s largest centre, primarily serving the farming community.

The Outeniqua Transport Museum provides an insight into the history of steam train travel in South Africa. Nearby, the appealing Outeniqua Nature Reserve is the starting point for 12 day walks in the indigenous forest of the Outeniqua Mountains. At least 125 tree species grow here, and more than 30 forest birds have been recorded. The Tierkop Trail is a circular overnight route that covers 30 km (19 miles), while the difficult Outeniqua Trail between here and Knysna covers 108 km (67 miles) in seven days.

Outeniqua Nature Reserve

Witfontein, on R28 NW of George § 044 870 8323 # 7:30am–4pm daily

EXPERIENCE The Garden Route

Stay

Fancourt Hotel

Gracing a spectacular golfing estate below the Outeniqua Mountains, this elegant hotel features several pools and a tennis court.

Montague St, George fancourt.com

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Queens Hotel

This renovated, colonial-style hotel dates from 1880 and offers great service and a convenient location in the historic heart of town.

05 Baron van Rheede St, Oudtshoorn queenshotel.co.za

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Rosenhof Country House

Guests will delight in the period furnishings, pretty rose garden and scenic swimming pool at this sumptious boutique hotel.

264 Baron van Rheede St, Oudtshoorn rosenhof.co.za

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6

Wilderness

n Leila’s Lane; www.wildernessinfo.org

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t Walkers strolling along the water’s edge as the sun sets over a pristine Wilderness beach

Ten kilometres (6 miles) east of the city of George is South Africa’s lake district. This chain of salt- and fresh-water lakes at the foot of forested mountain slopes forms part of the Wilderness sector of the Garden Route National Park. Protecting some 30 km (19 miles) of unspoiled coastline, the park features two long white beaches: Wilderness and Leentjiesklip. Despite the appealing backdrop, note that swimming is not safe here due to the strong undercurrents.

Of the five lakes in this region, the three westernmost ones – Island Lake, Langvlei and Rondevlei – are all linked and fed by the Touws River via a natural water channel called the Serpentine. Swartvlei is the largest and deepest lake, and it is connected to the sea by an estuary, although its mouth silts up for six months of the year. Groenvlei, which is the only lake not located within the park, is not fed by any river and has no link to the sea. Instead, it receives its water through springs and rainfall; as a result, it is the least brackish.

Birdlife viewing in the park is excellent, with as many as 79 of the country’s waterbird species having been recorded here. Five species of kingfisher can be spotted – pied, giant, half-collared, brown-hooded and malachite. The area is also popular for angling and a variety of watersports, and a scenic drive starting at Wilderness runs along Lakes Road, which skirts the lake chain and meets up with the N2 at Swartvlei.

There are many hiking trails in and around Wilderness. With the magnificent Outeniqua range stretched along the northern perimeter of the area, visitors can ramble through natural forests on routes that cover a range of durations and difficulty levels, including the Brown-Hooded Kingfisher Trail, the five-day Biking & Hiking Trail or the three-day Canoe & Hiking Trail.

Horse trails can also be followed, and more extreme activities such as paragliding and abseiling are offered as well. For the most daring visitors, one-day paragliding courses or short tandem flights are available at Cloudbase Paragliding. At Wilderness Heights is the Map of Africa, a forested area shaped like the African continent and offering splendid river valley views.

Off the N2, between Wilderness and Sedgefield, is Timberlake Farm Village, a collection of charming wooden cabins with a café, a seafood tapas bar, a country deli and a wine shop. Numerous activities are available here, including a quad bike course, a mountain bike trail, a delightful fairy-themed garden, an adventure playground for children and a zipline cable ride in the trees.

The Goukamma Nature Reserve borders on the Garden Route National Park and supports grysbok and blue duiker. Resident Cape clawless otters are also present, though seldom seen. Of the several hiking trails, the circular Bush Pig Trail runs along a fynbos-covered ridge of dunes with fine views of the ocean, and returns via a milkwood forest. Kayak and pedalo hire and guided horse riding along the beach are also on offer.

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t Scenically located chalets along the banks of the Touws River

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Timberlake Farm Village

N2 between Wilderness and Sedgefield # 8am–5pm daily timberlakeorganic.co.za

Goukamma Nature Reserve

8 km (5 miles) from the N2 on Buffalo Bay Rd § 044 383 0042 # 8am–6pm daily

EXPERIENCE The Garden Route

The endemic Knysna Seahorse

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Listed as Endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the Knysna seahorse possesses a chameleon-like capacity to change colour to reflect its mood and environment. Native to the Garden Route, it is known only from the Keurbooms River Estuary, Swartvlei Estuary and Knysna Lagoon, placing it at high risk of extinction.

EXPERIENCE The Garden Route

EAT & stay

Pomodoro

The terrace at this Italian joint is a local favourite, with the family-friendly menu offering something for everyone.

George Rd, Wilderness pomodoro.co.za

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The Old Trading Post

This charming guesthouse features a lush garden where plenty of birdlife can be observed.

Vleie Rd, Wilderness oldtradingpost.co.za

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7

Knysna

@ n 40 Main Rd; www.visitknysna.co.za

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t The popular Knysna Quays district, bristling with shops and restaurants

A significant figure in Knysna’s history was George Rex, who, according to local legend, was the son of Britain’s King George III and his first wife Hannah Lightfoot, a Quaker. The claim, made as a result of Rex’s opulent lifestyle, was never proved, but he played a key role in developing the harbour and was a prominent landowner in the area.

Today, Knysna is one of the Garden Route’s most popular tourist destinations. The Knysna Quays is a modern complex developed around the old harbour, packed with restaurants, boutiques and souvenir shops. A marina has been built on Thesen Island, linked to the town by a causeway, which has a man-made beach and a pleasant park with bird hides.

One of Knysna’s most attractive features is the 17-km (11-mile) Knysna Lagoon, which is protected from the sea by two sandstone cliffs, the Knysna Heads. George Rex Drive provides access to the Eastern Head, from where there are superb views. On the Western Head, accessible via a ferry, is the private Featherbed Nature Reserve. A four-hour excursion there includes the boat trip, a guided nature walk called the Bushbuck Trail, a short 4WD ride to the top of the Western Knysna Head and a buffet lunch.

South Africa’s largest commercial oyster-farming centre is based at Knysna Lagoon. Pacific oysters can be sampled on tasting tours, or at one of the restaurants on Thesen Island. Another popular culinary activity is a guided tour of Mitchell’s Brewery, which prides itself on producing natural beers without the addition of artificial preservatives or chemicals.

Only 200 m (656 ft) from Knysna’s main road, the Pledge Nature Reserve is an urban reclamation project comprising a former brickfield. Created in 1991, the reserve has been restored to near pristine condition due to the planting of indigenous trees and the creation of dams to purify streams. Criss-crossed by a network of wheelchair-friendly footpaths offering lovely views to the lagoon and Knysna Heads, the reserve contains more than 250 plant species, while a checklist of 80 bird species includes forest specialists such as Knysna loerie and olive bush shrike.

East of Knysna, a turnoff to Noetzie ends at a clifftop parking area. From here visitors can descend a path to a secluded bay with a pristine beach and an estuary guarded by five castles, all of which are now private homes.

Surrounding Knysna is some of South Africa’s most magnificent indigenous forest, which supports many impressively old Outeniqua ironwood, yellowwood and stinkwood trees. Plenty of wildlife also inhabits the forest, including the elusive Knysna elephant – this is the last free-ranging population in South Africa, with only half a dozen individuals surviving.

A scenic drive north of Knysna leads to the Diepwalle Forest Station, home to both the circular Elephant Walk and the King Edward Tree, a gigantic Outeniqua yellowwood that is approximately 650 years old.

East of Knysna, Harkerville Forest is traversed by a set of mountain bike trails that emerge from the trees to reveal some dramatic coastal scenery. The nearby Kranshoek Trail is surely a contender for South Africa’s loveliest coastal day hike; only 9 km (6 miles) long, it passes through an exceptional variety of habitats, including rocky seashore and patches of Protea-studded coastal fynbos. On the north side of the N2, shortly after it exits Harkerville Forest, lies Knysna Elephant Park, a refuge and rehabilitation centre for unwanted elephants: orphans, individuals rescued from culls, former circus animals. The park is a particular hit with children, who delight in feeding or walking with these relaxed animals.

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t Some of the residents of Knysna Elephant Park, cavorting in the sunshine

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Mitchell’s Brewery

10 New St # 11am–9pm Mon-Sat mitchellsbrewing.com

Pledge Nature Reserve

Bond St # Summer: 7am–6pm daily; winter: 8am–5pm daily pledgenaturereserve.org

Diepwalle Forest Station

R339 § 044 382 9762 # 6am–6pm daily

Harkerville Forest

N2 § 044 532 7770 # 6am–6pm daily

Knysna Elephant Park

N2 # 9am–3pm daily knysnaelephantpark.co.za

50,000

The average number of attendees at Knysna’s annual oyster festival.

Pink Loerie Mardi Gras and ARTS FESTIVAL

Established in 2001 to attract visitors during the quiet month of May, Knysna’s LGBTQ+ carnival has a celebratory atmosphere and an inclusive ethos. Behind the glam façade, it aims to empower the local LGBTQ+ community and to raise awareness of the damage caused by bullying, violence and hate crime.

EXPERIENCE The Garden Route

EAT & stay

Drydock Food Company

This lovely lagoon-side restaurant offers tasty dishes and is an ideal spot for sundowners.

Knysna Quays, Knysna drydock.co.za

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St James of Knysna

A five-star country hotel set in a sprawling landscaped estate facing the Knysna Heads.

The Point, Knysna stjames.co.za

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8

Plettenberg Bay

@ Shell Ultra City, Marine Way n Melville’s Corner, Main St; www.pletttourism.co.za

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t The dramatic coastal Robberg Nature Reserve

Upmarket Plettenberg Bay, 30 km (19 miles) east of Knysna, is a holiday playground of the wealthy. A coast of rivers, lagoons and white beaches, “Plett”, as it is called by the locals, earned the name Bahia Formosa (“beautiful bay”) from early Portuguese sailors.

The town is perched on red sandstone cliffs that rise above the coastline. To its south, the Robberg Nature Reserve juts out into the sea, its cliffs rising to 148 m (486 ft) in places. The three trails on offer range from a 30-minute stroll to a four-hour hike, all offering fantastic views of the dramatically churning seas and pristine secluded bays. The reserve also extends 2 km (1 mile) offshore, protecting a range of vulnerable fish species, and dolphins and whales are often seen in spring.

Situated south of the N2, about 10 km (6 miles) east of Plettenberg Bay, Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary – part of the award-winning South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA) – is a refuge for carnivores rescued from breeding facilities and other non-viable circumstances. Indigenous animals such as lion, leopard, cheetah, honey-badger and spotted hyena are all present, along with a few exotic creatures such as a white tiger and a jaguar. Expert-led guided tours take around 90 minutes.

Further east is the popular Monkeyland, the world’s first multispecies free-roaming primate sanctuary. It is home to more than a dozen primate species, including baboons from South Africa, athletic squirrel monkeys from South America and Madagascan lemurs, all rescued from domestic captivity.

Birds of Eden, situated right alongside Monkeyland, is the world’s largest free-flight aviary. Its enormous dome spans a gorge and is divided by a walkway and suspension bridge. It is inhabited by more than 3,500 individual birds, from colourful, forest-loving macaws, toucans and turacos to majestic blue cranes (the national bird of South Africa) and 30 types of waterfowl.

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t Dolphins can often be glimpsed

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Robberg Nature Reserve

Robberg Rd § 044 533 2125 # 7am–5pm daily (to 8pm Dec & Jan)

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Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary

The Crags # 9am–4pm daily jukani.co.za

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Monkeyland

The Crags # 8am–5pm daily monkeyland.co.za

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Birds of Eden

The Crags # 8am–5pm daily birdsofeden.co.za

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Hidden Gem

Keurbooms River Nature Reserve

East of Plettenberg Bay, this reserve includes the headwaters of the Keurbooms River. Hire a canoe and voyage upstream to enjoy the unspoiled gorgeside beauty and birdlife.

9

Nature’s Valley

Tucked away in a forested gorge about 10 km (6 m) south of the N2, Nature’s Valley is one of the prettiest but least-visited villages on the Garden Route. It runs down to a magnificent sandy beach separated from the eastern border of the Garden Route’s Tsitsikamma Sector by a wide lagoon whose surface is usually as calm as the forested surrounds. The village lies at the centre of a 50-km (31-mile) network of day trails that lead deep into an ancient forest, which is inhabited by a wealth of colourful birds, along with several types of antelope.

Non-hikers who want to explore the scenic forest can cruise slowly along a looping pair of backroads that connect Nature’s Valley to the N2. Nearby, the Bloukrans River Bridge marks the provincial boundary between the Western and Eastern capes, and is also the platform used for the world’s third-highest commercial bungee jump.

10

Sedgefield

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t Holidaymakers enjoying safe swimming and surfing at Sedgefield’s picturesque beach

Located between Wilderness and Knysna, the small coastal town of Sedgefield can be a useful base for visitors planning a visit to the Goukamma Nature Reserve. The town also has a variety of its own attractions, and this has resulted in some resort-type developments being built along the previously unspoiled beach front.

Sedgefield Beach offers safe swimming (perfect for families), and bass fishing opportunities at Cola Beach, Myoli Beach, Swartvlei Beach or Gerike’s Point. In addition to the several lakes and beaches, there are a variety of pretty forest and lakeside walking trails.

EXPERIENCE The Garden Route

shop

Lugro Ostrich Leather Products

Superbly crafted belts, handbags and other accessories made from eco-friendly ostrich leather.

133 Langenhoven Rd, Oudtshoorn lugro-ostrich.co.za


Scarab Village

This arts and crafts market specializes in locally made items – including paper made from elephant dung. Head here early on a Saturday morning.

Off the N2, Sedgefield scarabvillage.co.za


Global Village

Established in the 1980s, this family-run boutique stocks South African artworks, fabrics and handicrafts. Break afterwards in the cheerful café.

Off the N2, Sedgefield # scarabvillage.co.za

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