ROBBERG NATURE RESERVE, PLETTENBERG BAY
On the border of the popular coastal town of Plettenberg Bay, lies the magnificent Robberg Nature Reserve which is a national monument and a hiker’s paradise with a variety of trails and views. Sitting on a 4km long peninsula, at the foot of the Mountain of the Seal, some of the rocks date back 120 million years while caves show evidence of prehistoric man.
The reserve is an important breeding area for many water birds, while in season, hikers may spot whales and dolphins. Seals bask on the beaches and can be seen dipping in the crashing surf. Other predators that lurk in these waters are Great white sharks as well as Hammerhead sharks.
The visitor centre at the parking lot offers informative information on the local flora and fauna. From here, hiking trails lead through the peninsula and range in difficulty and length, starting from a gentle 2km stroll to the challenging 10km hike around the rocky and rugged point past pristine beaches and along precipitous sea cliffs.
STORMS RIVER SUSPENSION BRIDGE
Within the magnificent coastal reserve of Tsitsikamma National Park, is the Storms River Suspension Bridge. The 77m bridge spans the churning waters of the river mouth as they merge with the Indian Ocean. Standing on the bridge, less than 7m above the water, one can feel the invigorating force of nature all around them.
A must for all hiking enthusiast’s is the challenging 42km Otter Trail that runs between Storms River Mouth and Nature’s Valley. Overnight accommodation along the route is offered in huts.
This section of Garden Route National Park is also home to many species of birds, monkeys, smaller antelopes, and diverse marine life such as dolphins and whales. Close to Storms River is the famous Big Tree, a gigantic yellowwood said to be 800 years old, making it South Africa’s oldest and largest tree. Adrenaline lovers can experience an aerial view of these ancient forests on a Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour.
Over the gorge of the Bloukrans River, which forms the border between the Western Cape and Eastern Cape Provinces, lies the world’s highest commercial bungee jump and operates from the world’s highest bungee bridge. Even crossing the bridge can bring butterflies to the stomach, yet adrenaline seekers take the brave leap and dive 216 meters into the never-ending gorge below. A bird’s-eye view can be captured on their own GoPro, but videos and photos of the jump are available for purchase after the plunge.
KNYSNA HEADS & THE KNYSNA FOREST
Sitting on a lagoon between expansive forests and the shimmering sea, Knysna is one of the most popular towns on the Garden Route. On the seaward side, two giant crags, called the Knysna Heads, flank the mouth of the lagoon. The area may be explored from the water on a cruise or along walkways with plenty of panoramic viewpoints.
Local seafood should be sampled on the patios of Cafés as one soaks up the spectacular views.
Scenic trails within the depths of lush forests meander along rivers and waterfalls, where large herds of elephant once roamed. Among the flora are giant yellowwood trees, some of them between 400 and 800 years old, as well as stinkwoods and the pretty pink-flowered Cape chestnut
Another great area for hikers includes the Circles in the Forest; the 3.4km Jubilee Creek trail; and the 5.6km Millwood Mine Walk, which leads to the remains of a gold diggers’ settlement. A diversity of birds may be spotted including the well-known Knysna Loerie with its magnificent colouring.
OUDTSHOORN OSTRICH FARMS
The largest town on the Little Karoo, is Oudtshoorn, the world’s principal ostrich-breeding centre. Many visitors following the Garden Route make a side trip inland for about 70km to admire the scenic surrounds of the Outeniqua and Swartberg Mountains with the highlight being a visit to an ostrich farm. Educational and fun tours are offered at Highgate Ostrich Show Farm, Safari Ostrich Show Farm and Cango Ostrich Show Farm. Here visitors can learn about ostrich breeding, test the strength of an egg by standing on it or try your hand at riding an ostrich.
Moving north of Oudtshoorn for about 29km, are the impressive Cango Caves positioned at the foot of the Great Swartberg mountains. Centuries ago, these dripstone caverns were home to local Bushmen. Choose between a Heritage Tour or Adventure Tour, both take visitors into a series of huge chambers with imposing stalactites and stalagmites enhanced by breath-taking lighting effects.
WILDERNESS NATIONAL PARK
Lying between the Garden Route towns of Knysna and George and extending from the mouth of the Trouw River in the west to Sedgefield in the east, this beautiful park is bounded by the Outeniqua Mountains in the North and descends to the Indian Ocean in the south. Comprising of lakes, estuaries and wetlands interconnecting with each other producing a mix of salt and fresh water, results in amazingly diverse flora and fauna.
This paradise for water birds includes five species of kingfishers as well as the grey heron. Accommodation of stilted log cabins and campsites are on offer as well as water sport facilities on the lakes which include fishing, sailing, canoeing and windsurfing. There are tours to explore the park.
A few kilometres east of Wilderness National Park, spans the estuary of the Goukamma River with rolling dunes, characteristic bird life and walking trails forming the Goukamma Nature Reserve. A popular day walk is the Kingfisher Trail which crosses an intertidal zone to a waterfall. The region comes alive in spring when wildflowers dot the landscapes.
GONDWANA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE
The only game reserve on the Garden Route is Gondwana Private Game Reserve. For visitors with limited time in South Africa and just visiting the southern area, this will be the closest safari option.
48 kilometres from Mossel Bay, the 11,000-hectare private game reserve can be visited on a day trip or overnight stay. There are guided safari drives through the reserve which boasts the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo), as well as many other animals such as zebras, giraffes and cheetahs.