To say I had an epic time on the Garden Route would be an understatement. I spent eight glorious days in the most beautiful place in the world and had the adventure of a lifetime with five women. If you are planning to holiday in one of the natural wonders of South Africa, here are my three recommendations:
One thing you must try out in the Knysna area is mountain biking in the Harkerville Forest. Harkerville is considered the capital of mountain biking in the country with at least five routes for moderate to advanced riders.
We were all beginners but gave the 5km ride to the viewing point our best. Knysna is rated number one in biodiversity conservation. It’s picturesque and home to the Knysna seahorse, the Knysna gobi and many other species. The mountain bike ride can be followed by a relaxing afternoon boat cruise along the rich Thesen Island shores. The boat docks at the Featherbed Nature reserve, which recently burnt down in the much- publicised fires.
A hike up the Western Head will take you to a lookout with breathtaking views of the lagoon, Leisure Isle and Knysna.
This side of the head is privately owned. At the foot of it are dramatic caves which lead to the lagoon. Cocktails and dinner at the Whet restaurant along the estuary is the perfect way to end your day. If the weather is good, an outside table is ideal to take in as much as possible and enjoy the the fresh sea breeze.
The Storms River Rest Camp in the Tsitsikamma is undergoing a R17 million facelift to ensure entrance to the national park is done efficiently. The project is expected to be completed in the first half of next year.
Once inside, the waves crashing against the rocky coastline provide a magnificent scene for day and overnight visitors. Home to the famous Otter hiking trail, the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park is the only one in Africa with 12 green-flag status hiking trails. Beachfront log cabins line the coastline. The sound of breaking waves in the middle of the night will have you feeling like you are in heaven on earth.
Enjoy an early morning cup of tea on the balcony or go for an early morning jog or walk. Meals are self-catering and it’s a short drive to the Cattle Baron Restaurant on site.
Day activities include a hike up the mountain to the spectacular suspension bridge which hangs over the Storms River Mouth, spanning 77m.
It remains one of the most popular tourist attractions of the Tsitsikamma region of the Eastern Cape. Situated within the Tsitsikamma National Park, it was originally built in 1969, but has since been rebuilt by SA National Parks to ensure its stability and safety. It hangs just 7m above the churning waters of the river as it enters the foamy Indian Ocean.
Kayaking and Lillo Kayaking from the harbour directly onto the ocean seemed daunting at first but our guide calmed our nerves.
Normally, if sea conditions don’t allow for ocean paddling, many take a short guided hike through the Tsitsikamma forest and start the kayak trip from inside the river
mouth. But the sea looked calm enough for us to paddle to the flowing river to the beautiful Storms River Mouth suspension bridge.
Apparently this is where the true kayaking adventure began – paddling the Storms River but my arms were so tired. I was also having a spiritual moment because of the splendour of the whole experience.
We paddled into the Bat Cave and spent time gazing up at the magnificent and spectacular cliffs around us, all from the comfort of our kayaks.
At the low-water point we disembarked from the kayaks and jumped onto lilo-like inflatable craft, specially designed to access the narrow sections of the gorge. From there, we waded and floated over a short section of rocks, and then further up the river on the lilos. The views, while lying on a lilo and gazing up to cliffs that touch the sky, are stunning. Below the water is dark brown because of the tannin.
This is an experience I would recommend trying once in your life.
Before heading back to shore we had the the opportunity to leap off the overhanging cliff walls of the gorge into deep pools.
The cliff jump gives you a good dose of adrenalin for the trip back, as well as some good laughs, friendly encouragement and one- of-a-kind photograph opportunities so you can brag to all your buddies about it when you return home.
Don’t miss out on ziplining at Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour in the magnificent Tsitsikamma
indigenous rainforest. The platforms are built around giant Outeniqua yellowwood trees that are up to 700 years old.
Standing within the crown of these giant trees and looking down at the lush forest floor which is about 30 metres below is an experience of a lifetime.
WILDERNESS NATIONAL PARK
The Wilderness, like Knysna and the Tsitsikamma forest, has a water area. It is famous for its Wilderness lakes. There are water birds galore and dedicated bird hides to view some of the most fascinating birds such as the malachite kingfisher.
Log cabins, similar to those at the Storms River Mouth, are used for accommodation and overlook a wetland, especially for twitchers. More adventure awaited. My
favourite was the Segway through a nature trail. I have been on one in Durban but certainly not in the bush on uneven ground. It was a bit tricky to negotiate but also added to the adrenalin rush. Make sure you take the 5km hike to the waterfalls. The Segway adventure adds to the value of the trip. For breakfast try The Green Shed Coffee Roastery and for dinner, the Pomodoro restaurant. I was told about their mouthwatering award-winning cheese cake before I left Joburg.
Don’t forget a romantic stroll on the pristine beaches at sunset. It usually gets quite full on
weekends but it is well maintained. And all the best of luck with spotting those elusive Knysna elephants.