Exploring South Africa's beautiful Garden Route
27th May 2022
South Africa is a land so varied in its people, wildlife, culture and landscape that you can visit again and again, and only feel that you have just about scratched the surface after your second or third visit.
The Garden Route makes for a fantastic trip, with breath-taking views, dramatic coastlines, sandy beaches and lush greenery fringed by mountains - but this naturally makes it a very popular holiday destination.
The Kruger National Park and surrounding game reserves are perhaps South Africa’s most famous attractions, filled with an abundance of wildlife including the Big Five and vast herds of grazing animals. The only attraction that might pip them to the post is Table Mountain which looms majestically above the beautiful, bustling metropolis of Cape Town.
Perhaps you’ve been to South Africa before and are looking for where to explore next, or are planning your first trip but don’t want to come back with the same stories as every other returning holiday-maker? If that is the case, then here is our guide to how to get to the comparatively unknown places to visit in South Africa.
Now, this is relatively well known but it is up the wrong coast for most visitors to South Africa, and is arguably one of the most spectacular floral displays to be found on the planet. Each year, a rather barren, arid area of the countryside bursts into bloom with a fantastic carpet of clashing flowers. It is as though a child was given control of what colours the flowers should be and where they should grow – bright yellow daisies battle for space with vivid purple blooms, while splashes of orange are scattered merrily from horizon to horizon. Wander the tracks between the blooms (watch out for tortoises!) and just enjoy the beauty that stretches as far as the eye can see.
If you are staying in Cape Town, you don’t even need to venture as far as Namaqualand to take in the spectacle. Simply hire a car and drive for just over an hour to the Postberg Flower Reserve in the West Coast National Park. While the carpet of flowers isn’t quite as vast, it’s still utterly spectacular with a gorgeous, wild coastal backdrop.
The flowers are at their best from late August until about the middle of September, but will generally be around for the whole of those months. Make sure to try and visit on a sunny day, as the blooms will be wide open and looking their best, unlike on a cloudy day when they tend to hide away.
If awesome views float your boat, then make sure you go to Sani Pass. It’s a must-do, highly recommended by two TravelLocal employees who have both passed through on separate occasions – for each of them, years apart, it was utterly incredible. Don’t forget your passport, as it is one of several entrances into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho (pronounced 'Less-ooh-too').
It’s also advisable to have a decent 4x4 for this particular adventure, as the roads are bumpy, with heart-stopping twists and turns that take you steeply up the Drakensberg Mountains. The view from the top is absolutely worth it. Savour the moment as you stand surveying the valleys, recesses and cliffs of Lesotho that unfold like crumpled paper before you, buzzards and kites soaring on thermals below. Yes, you are that high.
This is no Kruger with its tarmacked roads, prowling lions and fiercely intelligent hyena. Instead, this is where to be if you want to spend time out and about on long bike rides or hikes with spectacular (and comparatively safe) flora and fauna surrounding you. You won’t find the Big Five here, but instead will see plenty of birds flitting through the fynbos, cape mountain zebra quietly grazing alongside ostrich and, at the right time of year, whales passing just metres from the coastline.
For the birders among you, keep your eyes peeled for waders as they ponderously scour the edges of the 'vlei' (shallow lakes) that are scattered throughout the reserve, and hike to the Potberg Mountains where you will find a colony of endangered Cape vultures.
From June to November, recline on the sand-dunes above the pristine white beaches and simply watch southern right whales (and sometimes their calves), feed, breach and play along the coast.
Both vast and peaceful, the Swartberg Nature Reserve is a fantastic place for hikers and botanists. It is flanked to the north by Gamkapoort Nature Reserve, and to the west by Towerkop Nature Reserve - neither of these are open to the public, but we don’t think you’ll find the 120,000 hectares that make up the Swartberg reserve too limiting, and the other two parks only add to the sense of space.
Swartberg Nature Reserve is a world heritage site, renowned for its biodiversity as well as the wonderful hiking trail that takes its name. For the trail, there are a couple of starting-point options, and it generally takes about five days to traverse. If you are a keen hiker (it’s a challenging walk) then this is a wonderful way to explore the reserve, taking you through exemplary fynbos and past blooming proteas. Pass each night in a simple but comfortable hut, fitted with beds and the bare necessities. Sit around the braai area with fellow walkers and swap stories and pictures from your trip so far, or simply lie back and stare at the stars. If it’s a cloudless night, we can guarantee they will be spectacular.
The trail takes you near to the Cango Caves, and while these are slightly more frequented by tourists, they are definitely worth popping in to see if you have the time. Generally, it is advised that you don’t hike the trail in winter (July and August) unless you are extremely experienced and have all the right equipment. It can get very, very cold and potentially stormy with rapidly changing weather.
Make it happen
If you would like to plan a trip to South Africa, get in touch with our local experts who are extremely knowledgeable on the destination and can plan your perfect holiday, be that on or off the beaten path. If you would like to speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.