Garden Route highlights
Although we have written already about some of our favorite spots along the Garden Route, we barely have scratched the surface of the many wonderful things to do along the Cape’s magnificent coastline. In no particular order, here are a few more of our favorites.
Driving East to West, Tsisikamma National Park is the Garden Route’s first major attraction. Stretching along the coastline from Storms River to Nature’s Valley, Tsisikamma straddles both the Eastern and Western Cape. The park’s trails traverse the wooded hills that hug coastline, offering both challenging hiking and some of South Africa’s most dramatic ocean views. Of these, the five-day Otter Trail, which runs the length of the park and must be booked a year in advance, is the most famous and sought after.
Of course, we neither had five days at our disposal nor the inclination to embark on a serious, multi-day trek with two little tykes. We settled for a day visit to the park, hiking the accessible 2km trail from the parking lot to the Storms River suspension river. Having driven over the river considerably higher up in the craggy hills the previous day, it was neat to see it empty out into the ocean.
The walk in Tsisikamma was also a good warm-up for the longer Robberg Peninsula hike we did a few days later. Munchkin hiked the entire length of the trail without stopping, though the last quarter-kilometer was admittedly challenging. He was excited to see the suspension bridge from up on high, knowing that it marked the end of the walk. When we arrived at the bridge, however, he balked before eventually letting D convince him that it was perfectly safe to cross. After hiking the trail on his own, Munchkin held on tightly to D’s hand, drawing in his breath whenever the bridge swayed.
After spending several days along the coast, we took a slight detour into the Cape’s foothills, staying two nights at the Teniqua Treetops. The lodge took a novel approach, constructing cabins on stilts to situate them in the foliage. We did not spend too much time exploring the actual forest that rings Teniqua, but the morning of our departure completely validated our stay. A large family of the endemic Knysna turacos stopped by our cabin on their way through the forest, literally sitting on our porch an arm’s reach away.
We spent our last day before leaving the Garden Route in Goukamma Nature Reserve, which opens onto a scenic beach. One of the challenges of visiting the Cape is finding beaches that are both beautiful and safe. Goukamma certainly checked the first box, but there were numerous signs warning of rip currents. We found a rock-sheltered pool for Munchkin to splash in, but even there, in ankle-deep water, it was possible to feel the fierce tug of the ocean.
On the way back to the main road, we stopped for lunch at a riverside restaurant and wound up staying there until dinner. There was a sandy playground, kayaks for rent, and the calm waters of the Goukamma River to swim in. Munchkin, who had been reluctant to even approach a pool for months before the trip, put on his floatie and swam across the river on his own.
We would have happily spent more time along the Garden Route, but all good things eventually come to an end, and Goukamma marked the end of our visit to South Africa’s Big Sur. Not that we need a reason to go back, but we missed the whale season, which runs from June to November, so we started plotting our return almost as soon as we turned the car inland and watched the Garden Route recede in our rearview mirror.