The Garden Route stretches along the southern coast of South Africa, from Mossel Bay in the West along to Storms River in the East.
I was using the Basbaz as transport so couldn’t explore every town, but could explore all the ones that are worth exploring. Skipping Mossel Bay I headed straight to Oudtshoorn, which isn’t really part of the route as it’s much further inland, but it doesn’t belong in any other section so it’s here.
Oudtshoorn has a few bits and pieces to do, the Wildlife Ranch, the Caves and the many Ostrich Farms. Accessing these was a little bit tricky, but thankfully the well run hostel, Backpacker Paradise, offered a variety of trips to allow backpackers to get around and explore. It was the first time I saw a business really taking advantage of the captive market it had in backpackers. So the tours were mostly by bicycle with a man in a van to take you up the hill to start. I chose the high pass bike route, cycling down the long winding road back into the valley from the peak, very impressive views, but it did mean missing out on the caving. Then back in the van I rejoined the main group and were dropped off at the ostrich farm. A peculiar place to visit, but included a chance to sit on and ride an ostrich, an ostrich neck massage and some excellent guiding on why the farms were there and what use ostriches are in Africa. A short ride on was the recommended lunch stop, with swimming pool. A charming location, although the name is well forgotten, so you’ll have to stay at the hostel and ask them. On the route back home we passed the Wildlife Ranch and a few mountain bike trails that I just had to try (not too impressed)
The next day included a visit to the Wildlife Ranch, an impressive collection of animals, and the chance to meet and pet a few of them. This was done with animals born and raised in captivity, used to human contact and with no chance of being released to the wild. The ranch did run a breeding scheme as well, in a separate area of the park inaccesable to visitors ensuring those animals would be capable of surviving in the wild. I certainly felt that the animals were well kept with good enclosures and no cruelty. It was also an amazing experience to pet such gorgeous creatures.
The next stop along the route was Wilderness another pleasant little town, looking more European than African in many ways. Wandering along the tracks from The Beach House Backpackers leads to the ‘cave man’ a strange but friendly chap who has built an amazing home in a cave beside the old railway line. He hosts vagrants and refugees from all walks of life, so there’s usually some interesting people hanging around to speak to. The other side of town (and a long walk) is the Wilderness National Park where it’s possible to rent a canoe, head up river and explore the forest above. Following the path leads up to a nice waterfall area where a splash in the water is mandatory, and very cold! If you ask nicely the hostel can arrange transport for you, otherwise enjoy the stroll.
Continuing East is the town of Knysna, a strange place with a newly built gated island community and sparkling new waterfront retail area, while a few blocks back the town is suffering and looks somewhat run down. Try to stay at Island Vibe if you can, Highfields, while nice, was empty and very boring with no activities or options for a sole traveler. The walk to the The Heads was pleasant if a little long, although worth it for the views once there. You can also explore ‘leisure island’ on route, which appears to be the 1960s version of the gated community.
Plettenberg Bay was the next on the road, another pleasant town, a little more surf orientated than the previous few. Albergo for Backpackers is where I stayed, a lively and fun backpackers. The beach is where most people spend their time, either sunbathing or surfing, but there is the Robberg Nature Reserve which is another long walk away. A cool park to explore, it offers shoe filling sand dunes, cliffs, caves and boardwalks which lead to some very good views along the coast both East and West. I was lucky enough to catch a ride back to the town otherwise that walk would have ruined me.
A little inland, and into the forested Natures Valley the hippy haven of Wild Spirit Backpackers is a must stop. The hostel offers actual single beds (no bunks!) and is situated on a large area of land, with walks and waterfalls all around. While the weather was pretty bad, so the views were pretty lame, the atmosphere in the hostel was friendly and fun. Lots of music going on, and I got an opportunity to play the Melodica I’d picked up in Oudtshoorn.
The final point along the Garden Route for us was the Bloukrans Bridge Bungee where it was decided that the highest bungee done so far would have to be done. Overall a very professional experience, none of the sloppy attitudes and techniques that you may fear. At no point was I scared that the equipment would fail or someone would not do their job properly. The only thing I was scared of was jumping off a bridge 216 meters up.