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Driving South Africa’s Garden Route

Published 30 March 2016

Neil J Barnes

Neil J Barnes

The Garden Route is a stunning stretch of coastline in South Africa. It has an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna and is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the whole of Africa. Botany and wildlife aside, the region is also perfect for road trips, due to its beautiful scenery and well maintained infrastructure. Neil Barnes drove the Garden Route in 2005 and in this post he tells us all about it.

A bridge overlooking the ocean along the Garden Route

Generally believed to stretch from Mossel Bay to Jeferrys bay along the southern coastline bordering the Indian Ocean, most travellers usually fly into either Cape Town or Port Elizabeth and access the route from there. Its an amazing drive, one I was lucky enough to undertake in 2005 having first completed a 5 week volunteer placement in Port Elizabeth. Following the completion of said volunteer placement I spent just over 2 weeks driving the Garden Route through to Cape Town.

Mossel Bay

Fast becoming a holiday hot spot, due in no small part to its mild, all year round climate and stunning scenery.  Historically Mossel Bay is the capital of the Garden Route, rich in history this coastal village hosts a number of different museums, the majority of which focus upon the sea, sea life and sailing.  Mossel Bay is well worth a stop if you are the fan of the sea.  Watersports enthusiasts wont know which way to turn what with all the activities on offer.  If you’re not a fan of the water however, fear not!  Based around the peninsula a host of land based activities are also on offer.  This is definitely a spot for the active!

Mossel Bay is so called because in 1601 the Dutch captain Caerden could only find mussels when looking to replenish his crews meat supplies, and so he dubbed the area Mossel Bay.   Believe it or not, one of the most famous attractions within the town is the Post Office.   Believed to be over 800 years old, the Mossel Bay Post Office has been declared a National Monument.  Its not your conventional Post Office though so you can forget royal mail.  The ancient Post Office is actually a tree, a very 0ld milkward tree.  The tree is intricately linked to the maritime history of South Africa.

My residing memory of Mossel Bay is staying one of the coolest hostels ever, located just metres from the beach and a working rail-line I slept in an old converted train.  Pretty cool if you ask me.

Knysna

Already one of the Southern Cape coast’s best known and most popular holiday destinations, Knysna is well known as a scenic beauty spot.  A large portion of my time here was spent at the Knysna Elephant Park where I was able to get up close and personal with the gentle giants.

‘The Heads’ – two large headlands – draw visitors for the stunning views, but they also have a dark side, they are historically known for a large number of lost boats and fisherman who have both tried and failed to navigate their dangerous waters.  The two headlands do protect the famous lagoon however.  The lagoon and their backdrop of the impressive Outeniqua Mountains are very camera friendly.

Plettenberg Bay

Plettenberg Bay was one of my favourite stops on the Garden Route.  This part of the Garden Route wasnt dubbed “Bahia  Formosa” (beautiful bay) by early Portuguese settlers for nothing.  The people, the food, the beach, all spot on. But, I was in Plettenberg Bay for one reason, to jump out of a plane. Yep, Plett is sky diving country.  But it doesn’t stop at just sky diving, this is another stop along the Garden Route that is perfect for the active amongst us.  Just down the road, why not take on the Bloukrans Bridge Bungy, at 216m its the worlds highest commercial bridge bungy.  From personal experience I can tell you it is both terrifying and awesome, but you could probably have guessed that anyway.

Jefferys bay

The nations surfing mecca and often refereed to as J-BAY. Either get in the water and catch some waves, or get in the outlet shops and bag yourself a few surf related bargains. I picked up some really nice Quicksilver gear for next to nothing on a day it was too rough to surf. I usually hate shopping (with a passion), but new boardies always make me a happy bunny.

Jefferys Bay is so named somewhat unimaginatively but also quite brilliantly after the first person believed to have settled in the area, his name … yep, Jeffery.  Honestly you couldn’t write this stuff!

Renowned as a hippie hangout back in the 60’s due to its chilled out and relaxing vibe, the bay still an air of chill about it, but when the surf pumps this place and those in the line up get serious!

So there you have in, the Garden Route is clearly a route you should consider taking if you ever find yourself in South Africa.  The drive along the route, and from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town (or vice-versa) isn’t relatively straight forward and the distance between destination not too taxing on the driver.  I drove the Garden Route at 21, making the most of all the adventure activities on offer, jumping off bridges and out of planes, but its not just a young, active persons destination.  If you’re a foodie, water lover, nature buff or sun-seeker there’s plenty for you to get involved with along the Garden Route.

Expert tip

Obviously sky diving is subject to conditions beyond any individual’s control. You may have to hang around for a day or two before you are able to fling yourself out of an aircraft. If you do find yourself in this position and find yourself twiddling your thumbs, don’t! Get yourself on a sea kayaking tour. It’s relatively inexpensive and there is a high chance of seeing some giant whales.

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