The temperate climate of the Garden Route makes it an ideal destination to visit at almost any time of the year, and it has been a favourite with local and overseas visitors for decades. Although the beaches are often promoted as the main attraction of the Cape Garden Route, it is the forests that inspired the naming of the regions. With their giant Outeniqua yellowwoods (podocarpus falcatus), bottomless gorges and impenetrable vines and ferns, the forests have long been an infatuation for those with a love of nature.
Much of their depths remain unexplored and, thankfully, unexploited. Perhaps their greatest treasure is that they are home to a handful of Knysna elephants.
Talking about elephants, the Garden Route has also seen the establishment of a number of top class game reserves in recent years. Made popular by their proximity to Cape Town, the have additional benefit of being in a malaria free area.
The Garden Route encompasses a large section of the Southern Cape coast. It is bookended by Witsand in the west and Nature’s Valley in the east. In between are the large towns of Mossel Bay and George, and the smaller destinations of Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Wilderness and Sedgefield.
The Garden Route is a narrow zone wedged between the Indian Ocean and the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains; and is one of great natural beauty.
There are gloriously long beaches, lush (by South African standards) forests, rugged coastlines, tranquil lagoons and amber rivers. (The rivers get their colouration from the tannins that leach out of the fynbos vegetation).
Rivers tumbling from the mountain slopes have carved the landscape into deep gorges and twisting valleys, shaded by steep slopes and plunging cliffs. The Keurbooms and Knysna rivers flow into tidal lagoons at Plettenberg Bay and Knysna respectively. Sedgefield Lagoon, which is open to the sea, is fed by Swartvlei, the biggest body of water in an area known as South Africa’s lake district. This chain of 5 lakes stretches from Sedgefield to Wilderness.
A large swathe of the region is protected within the Garden Route National Park. The park is made up of disjointed patches of land and therefore has no fixed beginning or end. The Wilderness National Park, the Tsitsikamma National Park and the Knysna National Lakes area are sections within the greater park.