The coastal area east of Cape Town is called the “Garden Route” and is one of the most scenic spots in all of South Africa. Surrounded by the majestic Outeniqua Mountains, the Garden Route is a grandiose nature reserve with many rivers, mountain passes, lagoons, lakes and beaches, waterfalls, dunes and cliffs in all its pristine beauty. In this article, we will discuss the best cities to visit or stay at along your way.
Location: According to novelist Anthony Trollope, George is “the prettiest village on the face of the earth”. The town is located just below the Outeniqua Mountains, halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
History: The sixth oldest town in South Africa, George was originally a woodcutter’s post for the Dutch East India Company. It was named after the monarch of the time, George III.
Arts and Culture: Of historical interest is an old oak tree known as the Slave Tree, because it was to this tree that slaves were chained before they were auctioned. There is an ancient length of chain and padlock still embedded in its trunk. Also of interest are the many museums in George for the visitor to explore.
The Railway Museum features the most extensive collection of steam trains, while the Church of St Peter and St Paul is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa. Other cultural places of interest include the Anglican Church of St Mark with its many stained-glass windows, and the George Museum dating back to 1968 with its central theme of the indigenous timber and its many uses.
Science and Nature: George, being along the Garden Route, has a Mediterranean maritime climate, with moderately hot summers, and mild to chilly winters. It has a high rainfall pattern, occurring mainly in the winter months, brought by the humid sea-winds from the Indian Ocean. It’s great to visit any time of the year, either as a hot holiday retreat or a cozy getaway in the winter months.
Sport: The Links golf course at Fancourt is well known as it hosted the Presidents Cup, where world-class golfers Tiger Woods and Ernie Els came head-to-head for the singles matches. More recently, the course was the venue for the inaugural Women’s World Cup of Golf.
But that’s not all the sporty visitors can do; canyoning, ATVs, paragliding, hang-gliding, canoeing, and sailing are some of the exciting alternatives. There are so many adventures around George that it reminded me of Phong Nha, the adventure capital of Vietnam.
Interesting fact: George is the only district in the country that grows hops and as such, supplies most of the country’s beer-brewing needs.
Where to stay:
Loerie Guest Lodge is where you can enjoy an overnight stay or holiday in a friendly and cozy atmosphere. This centrally located accommodation within walking distance from town offers an affordable stay with home-cooked breakfast, warm, nice guest lounge with TV, pub, swimming pool, and sun deck. It’s also close to George and Fancourt Golf Courses. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor or the prices directly on Booking.com
Location: This Indian Ocean coastal village and harbor is situated along the Garden Route, halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
History: Mossel Bay has a rich association with the Portuguese explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries who first came into contact with the Khoe-San people. That’s how bartering between the cultures began. Khoe-San are indigenous peoples of Southern Africa, just like endemic tribes in Tanzania.
Arts and Culture: Visitors can peruse the town’s history by visiting the Bartolomeu Dias Museum complex. The Khoe-San cave contains artifacts dating back eighty-thousand years. Visitors can experience the local culture in the Khoe-style village, which includes an open-air museum of Khoe culture, a curio shop, and traditional dancing.
Entertainment: The indoor flea market is great entertainment for the family, as is the Botlierskop game drive.
Sport: The excellent wind-protected beaches of Mossel Bay make surfing a popular activity, while other sporting activities include deep-sea fishing, diving, golf, and tennis.
Where to stay:
Amzee Bokmakierie Guest House
It’s an affordable and lovely self-catering guesthouse with a spectacular Indian Ocean view. There is a pool and barbecue on site and it’s just 8 mins to the city centre. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor or the prices directly on Booking.com
Location: Known as the Bay of Sleeping Beauty, Stilbaai is part of the Garden Route and is situated 26km away from the N2 between Mossel Bay and Riversdale.
History: The history of the village goes back to 1894 when the first residential stands were surveyed.
Arts and Culture: Tourists can see remnants of the ancient fishing cultures at the many “visvywers” (fishtraps). These are circular stone structures that the Khoe-San created hundreds of years ago to catch fish at low tide, and interestingly some of these traps are still maintained and used today.
Other cultural curios include Middle Stone Age artifacts and artifacts replicas of the world-famous Blombos Cave at the Tourism Bureau. While in Jongensfontein, the historic little White House serves as a local museum and information center. At the Palinggat Homestead, tourists can visit the Stilbaai Tourism Bureau, where the only tame eels in South Africa can be viewed!
Science and Nature: Stilbaai has fascinating rock formations along the coast, most bizarre of which is the interesting “preekstoel” (pulpit), about 3km east of the village.
Entertainment: Annual festivals include the Food and Wine Festival in December and the Stilbaai Strandloper Festival in September. Visitors will enjoy the sun and the safe waters of the river, endless beaches and swimming, snorkeling and diving. It’s almost like scuba diving in Florida but less crowded by tourists.
Sport: For the outdoor enthusiast, five hiking trails of between 2 and 5 hours, along the coast, next to the river and through the Nature Reserve are available.
Interesting fact: The oldest piece of jewelry, a necklace made of pierced seashells, was found in the Blombos cave of Stilbaai. It is 75000 years old.
Where to stay:
Stillbay River Lodge – here you can relax in a gracious lodge set on 370 acres of land. Enjoy the gentle sound of the waves on the beach that is only 5 minutes away. There are canoes and bikes available for rent for active visitors. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.
Location: Just inland from Witsand and 276km from Cape Town, this town is a center for sheep and wheat farming.
History: Heidelberg, named after the German city, was established on the banks of the Duivenhoks River in 1855 as a church farm. The town offers numerous historical buildings and lovely trails around it.
Science & Nature: The Bushbuck Trail and Boosmansbos Wilderness offer breathtaking hiking, and the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, 22km north-west of Heidelberg, comprises a 250ha indigenous forest. Blue Crane birds can be viewed along the road, and you can visit ostrich farms surrounding the town.
Where to stay:
Honeywood Guest Cottages – is a magnificent honey farm nestling in the foothills of the Langeberg offering traditional SA hospitality. Situated alongside Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, they offer lodges and campsites that provide comfortable country experience for larger groups. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.
Location: This pass and the Ruiterbos Valley lie along the R328, between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn.
Science & Nature: The area is noted for its scenic beauty and is ideal for bird-watching and hiking through pristine fynbos and indigenous forests.
Sport: Activities include mountain biking, 4×4 trails, quad biking, horse-riding, and game-viewing.
Where to stay:
Cranes Crest Guest Farm is an Outeniqua Mountain retreat with hiking trails through fynbos to waterfalls, river pools, indigenous forest, and Bushman paintings. It’s nature and bird lovers’ paradise.
Location: This friendly town is located at the mouth of the Breede River.
History: This quaint fishing village dates back nearly 200 years. The rich historical heritage includes the Barry Church built in 1859, a national monument. Sea and river activities offer endless fun in a safe, peaceful, and beautiful environment.
Interesting walks along the unspoiled beach and river edge, ostrich show farms, 4X4 trails, river cruises, boat hire, and kiteboarding are among the many activities on offer. There is an abundance of bird and wildlife. 42km upriver at Malagas, you will find the last hand-operated pont in South Africa, waiting to take you across to your next destination.
Interesting fact: Witsand, is officially known as the Southern Right whale nursery of South Africa.
Where to stay:
Big Cob Chalets (Breede River Mouth) – feel at home in a charming self-catering chalet with private braai facilities. Fishing, sailing, and whale watching opportunities are available as well. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor or the prices directly on Booking.com
Location: This tranquil Garden Route village, adjacent to Mossel Bay, has sparkling white beaches, calm seas, and a Mediterranean climate.
History: The Hartenbos Museum houses dioramas that recall the way of life during the Great Boer Trek of 1838. Steam train enthusiasts should visit the Voorbaai Locomotive Yard – the most important center for restoring and maintaining steam locomotives on the South African rail network.
Science & Nature: There is an abundance of birdlife, especially near the river mouth, as well as whale, dolphin, and seal watching.
Sports: Besides the usual beach activities, there is a waterpark, swimming pools, supertube, bowling, and tennis courts.
Where to stay:
Hartenbos Beach is perfect accommodation on the water. Knysna and Oudtshoorn are approximately 1 hour’s drive away. In close proximity to numerous golf courses, a game farm offering game drives, hiking trails, fishing, and much more to explore. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.
Written by Inna Nedostupenko from the Executive Thrillseeker, an adventure travel blog that will teach you how to travel smarter, cheaper and longer!
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