The Garden Route: a lucky decision

We chose the Garden Route based upon the flimsiest information. I had read someplace it was a beautiful section of South Africa’s coast. We didn’t know much more. And so we added four days there to our itinerary. Sometimes you just get lucky.

After nearly three weeks traveling we were ready to slow down. Soaking up ocean views, hiking through a couple national parks and nature preserves and enjoying the laid back ambiance of Plettenberg was perfect!

The beaches all across this part of South Africa are broad and gorgeous with pounding surf in late October. Those lucky enough to be here during the right season and during calm seas could likely see whales. We didn’t. But we enjoyed walking the beaches anyway.

After driving past miles and miles of denuded or reforested timber lands, Tsitsikamma National Park offered a glimpse of this part of the world before logging became king. We had time for one hike to the suspension bridge, but you could spent a lot more time doing all the different hikes available. Actually there are three suspension bridges — one across the mouth of the Storms River and two smaller ones along the rocky shoreline. None of them are particularly scary.

Hiking shoes or good athletic shoes advised. The path is well maintained, but steep with awkwardly spaced stairways.

Sitting on the rocky shore, listening to the rocks rolling in the waves was mesmerizing, but also amazing as the rocks were substantial.

The ocean views and wildflowers competed for our attention. I was surprised to see wild calla lillies and geraniums.

We were tempted by the kayak tours. Looked like great fun to paddle up the Storms River, but we did note everyone on the trip wore a full wet suit and those who finished the trip definitely left wet footprints.

For a completely different hike, we chose the Robberg Nature Preserve with three or four routes, varying in length from a quick walk to an all day hike.

We settled upon the hike out to the Little Island which allowed us to avoid the steepest part of the trail to appease the acrophobes among us. Even this tamer hike offered spectacular views of the ocean with an occasional glimpse of seals fishing in the surf below. As a friend said, “Big Sur, without the crowds.” And a short, stunning beach walk that offered us a chance to go wading in the cold water, tempting to swim, but as the signs warned: strong rip tides and sharks.

At times the path was carved into the rocks with steep ups and downs and at other times a wooden boardwalk. At several points we had to shimmy through narrow openings between rocks. And at least a time or two the hike involved a bit of a scramble on all fours. Cool breezes off the ocean kept us comfortable. Again wildflowers vied with the oceanscapes for our attention.

At one point we walked past shallow, broad cave on the leeward side of the island. The soot blackened ceiling and the floor of midden suggested an early human dwelling. The sign announcing the archeological site was off limits was also a clue.

Beyond the history and views, the seabirds also seemed particularly interesting in this setting.

And then there was Plettenberg. Lots of restaurants (and a couple very good ones), a good coffee shop or two, a bookstore where we bought a decent map of the Garden Route and much more to supply the tourist trade. The city provides parking assistants who watch over your car after helping you park. We thanked them with several small coins.

The town is ringed with gorgeous villas and stunning estates–a playground for wealthy South Africans. As in the rest of South Africa with its huge disparity in wealth, these homes were usually surrounded by high walls topped with electrified fences.

Coming into to town along the main road were the shanty towns that provided the workers to maintain these homes. This is the a sad legacy of apartheid. But most of the people we talked with were optimistic and hopeful that things were changing for the better. After all, they said, it’s only been 25 years of democracy.

We only explored a small slice of the Garden Route. As we drove back to the airport in George we realized there were dozens of other seaside towns to explore. Who know what other idyllic spots you might find?

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