The Garden Route, one of the most popular touristic areas of South Africa, is a stretch of coastline from Mossel Bay to Nature’s Valley on the southern coast of the country. Despite the name, the area is mainly comprised of beach towns rather than lush jungle hideaways or manicured gardens. The towns themselves are well developed for tourism and feel very much like beach towns in Australia or Europe. In fact, sometimes it’s easy to forget that you’re in South Africa!
While I didn’t have enough time to visit all of the Garden Route towns, I did manage to visit 3 during the peak season (silly season as the locals call it) around Christmas and New Years: Wilderness, Knysna, and Nature’s Valley.
Wilderness feels very much like a beach resort town with some great surf beaches, nature walks, and the coolest house that money can’t buy (it’s in a cave!). There is a wide range of accommodation ranging from camping to posh resorts. And despite the long drive, it’s super popular with city dwellers from Johannesburg.
To reach the cave house, walk along the disused train tracks west towards Victoria Bay. After the first tunnel, there’ll be a cave on your right and a deck with a dining table on your left. If you’re lucky enough someone will be home and show you around the amazing hand built residence.
Knysna is even more popular with domestic and international tourists than Wilderness and features an amazingly shallow bay that’s perfect for water sports like kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. The beach on Leisure Island (yes, that’s the actual name) is really nice and easily accessible by bicycle or car from town.
The most popular thing to do in town is to head up to the Knysna Heads viewpoint. It’s perched high up at the edge of the bay and has a commanding view of the area. There’s a road that leads straight up to the top and is easy to find. Definitely worth the drive or, in my case, bike ride. Lastly, there’s also a huge shopping mall in town if you want to pick up some goodies.
Nature’s Valley is less developed compared to the rest of the Garden Route and features a long uncrowded beach, warm water lagoon, and lots of nature walks in the area. To be honest, there’s not much else here, and therein lies the beauty of it. I stayed at Wild Spirit Backpackers, which I would highly recommend to anyone travelling through this area. From drum circles to community dinners, this place has a great atmosphere and will easily find yourself staying a week after only planning to stay a day.