The picturesque stretch of South Africa’s coastline between Mossel Bay and Jefferys Bay is dotted with quaint seaside towns that are rapidly expanding as more and more tourists discover this not-so-secret gem and locals flock to the oceans, lagoons and forests of the Garden Route to retire, get away from the daily grind or simply escape for a weekend.
As a South African you are bound to have explored this postcard-perfect coastline at one stage or another and maybe you think you have done it all, but there are a few hidden gems along the Garden Route that we bet you never even knew existed! Here are just a few of them:
Authentic wining and dining in Knysna
There are so many fantastic places to shuck oysters and sip bubbly in Knysna but finding a place that is truly authentic can be tricky. We don’t blame you for not knowing our favourite two spots in town, considering they are just a couple week’s old. Bazala is the newest addition to the Waterfront and offers an authentic African flair with potjie style meals and firm local favourites like peppermint crisp desert – all served in classic jars, tin cups or pots! The Mount Knysna is a newly-opened guesthouse situated at the top of the Coney Glen hill that opens its intimate restaurant up to the public if it’s not already full with in-house guests. The guesthouse used to be someone’s private home and the small restaurant is located in the dining room, with panoramic views of the heads. The chef prepares your meal just metres away from your table while chatting to you from the island style kitchen!
Fair Trade wildlife sanctuaries
You probably already know of the Monkeyland and Birds of Eden wildlife sanctuaries but did you know they are the only Fair Trade certified animal facilities in South Africa? The South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA) has also recently acquired the Jukani sanctuary for predators that used to be found just before Mossel Bay and set up these big cats with new and improved homes in the Crags area. These magnificent, and mind-blowingly large spaces provide a home and second chance for many rescued creatures and their hands-off approach to the wildlife by is definitely to be commended. Between the three sanctuaries, you can walk in the forest while lemurs and gibbons dance around you, squeal with delight as macaws and louries fly overhead in a natural forest or marvel at jaguars, lions, and tigers safe in the knowledge that the cats are not being exploited. These are definitely rescue and rehabilitation centres worth supporting!
Harness the power of the wind on Lake Brenton
You probably already know that you can go for a sail in the Knysna lagoon by either chartering a hobie cat for the day or hopping on a chartered catamaran tour. But did you know that you can harness the wind with sails of a different kind? Head down to the Lake Brenton area on the other side of the lagoon and you’ll find a spot that is perfect for learning to kitesurf or keep following the winding road along that peninsula of coastline and you’ll land up at Buffelsbaai beach – an endless windswept stretch of sand that is perfect for blokarting. This odd contraption that sits somewhere between a sailing boat and go kart provides the ultimate adrenaline experience!
Get dirty on the Garden Route
The views from the N2 along the Garden Route sure are pretty but if you’ve travelled this route more times than you can remember then consider swapping the tar for some gravel and veering off at George to explore the Seven Passes Route. Bump and grind through scenic forested areas, miles of farmland and mountain passes on this series of dirt roads that run parallel to the highway. You can make your way back to any of the Garden Route towns at the end of each pass or complete the entire journey and pop out just before the bridge at the Knysna lagoon.
A taste of the wild side
A popular ending for a Garden Route meander is Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth and a safari to not only see elephants but also lions and a myriad of antelope species. But if you can’t dedicate that much time to the bush then Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve provides the perfect alternative for a quick two-hour game drive, horse safari or an overnight stay. The reserve is home to a resident herd of rescue elephants, rhinos, bontebok, waterbuck, springbok, zebra and eland while lions, cheetahs and wild dogs are kept separately. Located within easy reach of Plett, the reserve provides the safari experience without the extra schlep!