The Garden Route is the gem of South Africa. Emerald forests, clear rivers, pristine lakes and lagoons run down to the Indian Ocean. The weather is good, the air is fresh, the scenery is spectacular and virtually every outdoor activity you can think of is available. African Budget Safaris offer numerous trips along this gorgeous coastline.
Whether you’re an adrenaline-seeking speed freak or a gentle-amble-through-the-forest type, the Garden Route has adventures and activities that suit everybody. Stretching from Mossel Bay (just under 400 km drive from Cape Town) to Storms River, the area includes 300 km of pristine coastline (see map).
In early June, 2017, massive fires wreaked havoc across the southern Cape, the firestorm stretching from George all the way to Humansdorp. Seven people died, huge tracts of forest burned and in Knysna alone 846 houses were destroyed.
This, obviously, was not only a blow to the human spirit, but also to one of the Garden Route’s main sources of income: tourism. But this is South Africa and we’re a nation of strong people, of movers and shakers. The Garden Route is picking itself up and rising from the ashes, all Phoenix-like, and most activities have dusted themselves off and are up and running again.
To get the latest on what is and isn’t up and running contact the operators directly, or one of the tourism bureaus along the Garden Route:
It's impossible to list all of the incredible activities and adventures available along the Garden Route, but we've picked a few of our favourites and listed them below.
On the Water
Learn to Yacht, Knysna
Experience the thrill of sailing with Southern Yachting’s sailing courses. From beginner’s courses (5 hours) to advanced courses, you’ll be taught the skills of sailing: knot-making, steering, nautical terms etc.
Rigid Inflatable Boat Trips, Knysna
Explore the Knysna Lagoon and Estuary and then exit through The Heads (weather-permitting) and out into Indian Ocean in Knysna Rib Adventures’ 9-meter RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat). This one is for those who enjoy a bit of speed and exhilaration while getting to see the beauty of natural Knysna.
Catamaran Trip to The Heads, Knysna
A slightly more sedate experience, although the excitement factor increases if there is a bit of rough sea, the Heads Explorer catamaran takes you right to The Heads. Depending on the weather and sea conditions, you may go through The Heads and out into the Indian Ocean. If you’re lucky, you’ll see dolphins, seals and, in season, whales. All this accompanied by drinks and snacks.
Sea Kayaking, Plettenberg Bay
Dolphin Adventures pride themselves on providing guided sea kayaking (and rentals) that keep the conservation of this fragile environment at the forefront. With South African-made kayaks that are stable and easy to manoeuvre, even novices can enjoy the sea beyond the breakers. If you’re lucky, you may find yourself in the middle of a pod of playful dolphins or watching a whale breach!
Kayak and Lilo Adventure, Storms River Mouth
Explore the breath-taking Storms River Gorge on kayaks and lilos. Deep caves, quiet pools and ancient forests – unspoilt by humans – will delight on these eco-conscious trips into the heart of the Tsitsikamma. Untouched Adventures offer numerous other activities including scuba diving and snorkelling.
Surfing Everywhere, especially J-Bay and Vic Bay
With the incredible coastline of the Garden Route, it’s not surprising that surfing is big all along the coast. Jeffrey’s Bay, a little further along the coast in the Eastern Cape, is fondly referred to as J-Bay. It boasts one of the world’s most famous right hand beach breaks.
Vic Bay, a small cove between George and Wilderness is also a surfing paradise, with a consistent right point break that runs for 300 metres.
There are surf schools and places to hire boards all along the coast, such as Unravel in Mossel Bay; Surfari Backpacker’s in Vic Bay, which offers accommodation and surf lessons; and J-Bay Surf School and Wavecrest Surf School in J-Bay.
Catamaran Trips, Plettenberg Bay
Hang out on the Ocean Rhythm, a luxury 44-foot catamaran, and float about on the Indian Ocean off Plett. Ocean Sailing Charters offer a range of trips from sunset cruises sipping champagne to day trips fishing, snorkelling and swimming to sailing lessons. All with the added bonus of possible dolphin sightings.
Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, Storms River
Traverse through the indigenous Tsitsikamma rain forest canopy from platform to platform (ten of them) with Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours. Each platform is in a tree, mostly giant Outeniqua Yellowwoods, and the ‘foofy slides’ between them range in length, the longest being 100 m. With spectacular scenery and bird sightings, these guided, eco-conscious, 2.5- to 3-hour tours are unforgettable.
Mountain Biking, Garden Route
Unsurprisingly, mountain biking is huge throughout the Garden Route. It’d be insane not to be, considering the gorgeous mountainous scenery that is perfect for riding. Mountain bikes can be rented all along the Garden Route.
Knysna Cycle Works has a good range in Knysna and The Bike Shop has branches in both Plett and Harkerville – which has fantastic trails, most of which have been reopened since the fire. For those who’d prefer, numerous operators offered guided mountain biking.
For the pro’s and the wanna-be pro’s there are a number of MTB races in the region throughout the year. While routes may have to be adjusted after the fire, the majority are still happening. These include:
- GR300 MTB Stage Race: the ultimate 3-day race which showcases the best of Knysna’s MTB trails. It’s tough but beautiful. A ‘Lite’ version for the less professional riders is also offered.
- 7 Passes MTB: Through heavy, lush indigenous forest, this 79 km race follows the old route that used to link George and Knysna. Usually in June, it was cancelled this year because of the fires. It will hopefully be back up and running for 2018.
- Transbaviaans MTB 24hr Ultra-Marathon: A 24-hour, 230 km, single stage race from Willowmore, through the Baviaanskloof, finishing in Jeffrey’s Bay. This one is usually in August and is billed as ‘the original and toughest single stage race in the world.’
Hiking & Biking, Knysna
If you’re not looking for adrenaline junkie experiences, but like the outdoors and the good things in life, Knysna locals, Anne and Mandy, of Knysna Hike & Bike have just the thing. They take you on customised walks and riding routes to the places you want to see and the things you want to do. Whether you’re keen to stroll on a beach, walk through cool misty forests or pedal toward a gourmet food and wine tasting experience, Knysna Hike & Bike will deliver your ‘leisure and pleasure’ needs.
Otter Trail, Garden Route National Park
One of South Africa’s most spectacular hiking trails, the Otter Trail is a 45 km, 5 day/4 night hike that follows the coast from Storms River to Nature’s Valley. Not to be taken lightly, a certain fitness level is needed but it’s well worth the training to experience this pristine coastal environment.
For those adrenaline junkies who’re into trail running, the annual Otter African Trail Run happens each year in October. All 45 km, including rough terrain, steep hills and river crossings is completed in one day! We say crazy, they say ‘Bring it on!’
Monster Scooter Tours, Knysna
Monster Mountain Scooters. Yip, you read that right. These fat-tyred, non-motorised (so eco-friendly) scooters are the perfect way to enjoy an exhilarating downhill track through indigenous forest. Get picked up in town and taken by bus up to a couple of routes and feel the fresh air in your hair as you hurtle down paths through the forest.
Oyster Festival & Adventure Races, Knysna
This annual event in June sees Knysna packed to the gills with oyster enthusiasts, mountain bikers, adventurers and runners. For a week, the Oyster Festival offers an enormous range of activities, not least every version of oyster delight known to man.
For the more active and adventurous, there’s the BIG5 Sports Challenge, the Momentum Knysna Cycle Tour MTB and Road Races, Simola Phantom Night Run, Momentum Knysna Forest Marathon and Half Marathon and Pick n Pay Women’s Walk. Many of these had their routes adjusted in 2017 due to the fires.
Kloofing, Canyoning & Abseiling, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay
Just outside Plett lies The Crags, a gorgeous area of hidden valleys, waterfalls and rivers. It’s perfect adventure country and AfriCanyon offers adventures to suit any level of skill. Think abseiling down waterfalls, clambering up cliffs and swimming in cool, fern-edged pools – or jumping into deeper ones from the cliffs above, if you like things a little more exciting!
In the Air
See the Garden Route as the birds see it, and you'll realise why they’re such happy birds. Based in Sedgefield, but with various sites along the Garden Route, Fly Time offers tandem paragliding, introductory through to licence courses and motorised trike flights.
Bloukrans Bungy Jump, near Plett
About 40 km east of Plettenberg Bay, lies the spectacular Bloukrans River gorge. The view from the bridge is gorgeous and you could just gaze at that if you like. If you’re partial to a rush of adrenaline, however, Face Adrenaline will help you throw yourself off it (attached to all the necessary safety gear, of course) and free fall the more than 200 metres down towards the river. It’s the world’s highest commercial natural jump at 216 metres.
Rock the Route, based in Knysna, is a small, owner-run company offering tailor-made day trips (and longer) by people who know the area – where to find the secret spots, who to visit to get the stories and where to find the best the area has to offer. Sight see, visit the local breweries and sample their fare, watch live music, encounter African wild life, pub crawl in costumes, surf the secret spots or overnight in a cave …
Rock the Route are truly rocking the route!
Wine (It deserves its own heading)
While Cape Town is South Africa’s most well-known wine-growing region, there’s a (relatively) new kid on the block when it comes to winemaking. The Plett Wine Route is SA’s smallest winegrowing region with just 58 hectares of the 100 000 hectares throughout South Africa. Stretching over 57 km from Harkerville to The Crags, this wine region has grown from the first estate – Bramon – which was started in 2000, to an impressive 16 vineyards.
Specialising in MCC’s, the route is referred to as the ‘Bubby Route’ and now has three farms that do the processing and bottling of their own wines, and the others bottle theirs at Bramon. While some farms require appointments, many are open to the public. Check out their website and plan your route!
So, despite the fires in June, the Garden Route is back up and running and offering its visitors a smorgasbord of activities! Contact one of our ABS consultants and book your trip now!