Disappointed at the Garden Route.

We visited South Africa during a 3 months roadtrip through southern Africa
(South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland).
October - December 2014.

Average Exchange rate: 1€ = 14 Rands 

The Garden Route is a very famous tourist spot in South Africa.  

Maybe long time ago this route had some charm, but nowdays don´t expect “gardens” or green and wildness around; there are km of timber plantations, businesses and a few resorts towns more than forests and emptiness. 
The “route” follows most of the time the N2, a national road with a lot of traffic, trucks, buses and cars. 

From George to Jeffreys Bay, the Garden Route follows around 300 km. We did this route in 3 days.All the roads are tarred.

West of the route, the area is more populated, from George to Plettenberg Bay via Knysna (100 km), very tourist, typical and global holidays resort towns. Then further east, just a few small towns where the activities are.




We were disappointed by the Garden Route, it´s more an “activity route”, perfect if you want to do jumping, paragliding, kayaking, tubing, surfing, sandboarding, "sharking-cage”, sailing, etc. etc., -ING! Expect to pay around 100 € for most of the activities... so not really for low-cost travellers and real bacckpackers with a tight budget.
Just have a look in a tourist office, with so many activities booklets!

But the Garden Route is not such a special place for the landscape. Too many tourists around. We can´t say we like the Garden Route, other places in South Africa are much more interesting in our opinion! 

Very famous holiday destination for South Africans and also foreigners. Lots of organised groups, families. So keep it in mind, specially during Christmas holidays, as many places can be fully booked. Mid November it was fine, easy to find accommodation, specially at the campsites.

   PLACES TO VISIT AND THINGS TO DO ON THE GARDEN ROUTE  

  • Garden Route National Park.
    Managed by SAN (www.sanparks.org), there are different sections, each one with an different entrance fee (included if you have the Wild Card). Keep this in mind as the conservation fees are not always cheap. The sections are quite small, sometimes it´s just a camp and little more or a small forest and some are big tourist spots very popular. 

    The main sections are: Wilderness (106 R), Knysna Forests (104 R) and Tsitsikamma (168 R), from west to east (prices for foreigners). If you have to visit one, we recomend you to choose Tsitsikamma. But if you prefer saving the fee entrance... you don´t lose too much either... We can´t really recommend the Garden Route National Park, compared with other South Africa national parks like Drakensberg, or the game parks. And too many tourists around here!
  • Mossel Bay, a big port and resort town, at the west side of the Garden Route. It seems to be the “adventure town”: you can do “shark cage” in Mossel Bay, like in Gansbaai and also possible further north on the coast near Durban (South Coast), for around 100 € (bargain, you can get discounts). Also skydiving and sandboarding, etc. Many companies and backpackers. We didn´t go. You can find a big offer checking the internet.
  • Wilderness. Just a name… cause it´s not wild anymore, too close to George. Long dunes on the coast and lagoons inside, timber plantations around, and the N2 crossing the surrounds. There´s a small supermarket on the N2. Plenty of lodges and also a few backpackers.
  • Garden Route NP, Wildnerness section: Wilderness entrance fee, 106 R/pp (8€) foreigners, included with the wild card.  
    Lagoons, famous for birds and kayaking, camps. Timber plantations around and expensive houses.
    There are walks in the area between hides if you are a bird fan. 
    The most interesting walk follows a gorge and reaches a waterfall, there´s a control gate at the entrance (they control if you ´ve paid the fee). It´s Half Collared Kingfisher Trail, 3-4 h return to the waterfall. We did not go to the end, maybe if you camp there it can be interesting. 

    The SAN park offers different types of accommodation in this area. The cheapest is Ebb&Flor Campsite (170 R/2p + park entrance fee 106 R/pp), near a river, where many people kayak (100 R/h). We did not stay there. Very popular, lots of locals and foreigners. Complete information on the SAN website.
  • Sedgefield. There´s a very big lagoon and a long wild beach with dunes and cliffs (access is west, before town). Between Wilderness and Knysna.  
    Famous place for paragliding, many people jump from the hill to the beach. Around 550 R/pp (around 40 €) for a tandem flight (there are also other places on the Garden Route to do paragliding).
    Cheap accommodation: Many lodges (also backpackers), restaurants, supermarkets, shops in Sedgefield. There´s a “slow food” festival during Easter. 
    We stayed at the Swartvlei campsite (4 km from N2, west of Sedgefield town), 150 R/2p. Very quiet, on the shore of the lagoon, just a few minutes walk to the wild beach. Empty, beautiful. Recommended.
  • Knysna. Tourist town on the shores of a big lagoon, tourist and developed. Beaches a few km outside on the coast (like Buffalo Bay, we did not go). Many lodges, restaurants, marina, etc. and tourists. Knysna was famous because of the old train George-Knysna (not working now). Also famous for gays.


    In Knysna, there´s another section of the Garden Route SAN National Park. Part of the lagoon is a protected (you don´t expect that when you see the marina and the tourist boats).  Many timber plantations around but also a small protected area up in the hills (entrance fee, original trees and walks). There´s also SAN parks accommodation avalaible in Knysna (minimum price for camping is 170 R/2p+conservation fee, which is104 R/pp, for foreigners). 
    We didn´t find a special charm in Knysna.The marina is very tourist, nice but one more place. The surrounds are not so impressive.
    In Knysna, you can find supermarkets, shops, banks, etc.
  • Plettensberg Bay. On the coast, the town is spread out around different hills. Many resorts. You can find everything needed.  Popular beach destination, there are long beaches north and small rocky and sandy beaches around the hills. Top south, there´s a rocky peninsula, Robberg Reserve (we didn´t go). We found the area quite normal, quite crowded and packed.
    Looking for a different experience? There´s a backpackers in a township out of Plett offering basic and cheap accommodation in a different neighborhood.
    We met the manager, Amos, through Couchsurfing (you can stay there too if member of the community) and he presented us his project. www.unjani-art-house.com
     NOTE: if heading east on the "garden route", no more real towns til Jeffreys Bay (160 km away). If you need cash or shopping...
  • Nature´s Valley. Off N2, taking the old R102 at The Crags (gas station) when coming from Plett and then continuing east to go back to N2 (different road up and down).
  • Quiet place, with long beach and river mouth. Just a few streets with beautiful houses, lodges, calm atmosphere. Nice, "wilder" than the other western areas. No supermarket in Nature´s Valley, only a small shop. 
    There´s a Garden Route National Park section, but it´s just a camp as you don´t need to pay the conservation fees if just hiking around (a few walks). 
    Otter Trail: from Nature´s Valley to Tsitsikamma, 5 days walking trail. Very popular with white South Africans.

    Cheap accommodation: There are a couple of backpackers near The Crags, in the middle of nowhere, but not far from the N2 (the backpackers vans stop usually there).  
    We stayed at Nature´s Valley campsite (SAN): 190 R/2p + fee 76 R/pp for foreigners (included with Wild Card). Fine, quiet place.

     
  • Bungy Jumping at Tsitsikamma-Storms River.  There´s a toll gate (40 R, 3 €) just west of Bloukrans bridge, west of the bungy bridge, the park section and tourist town. 
    Bloukrans Bungy: the highest bungy lumping in the world. It´s free to have a look (there´s a lookout, handicraft shops, no entrance fee). Impressive!
    Price: bungy costs 850 R (60 €), bridge walking tour is 120 R (8€). Complete information on the website Face Adrenalin
    There´s also a backpackers there, but you are in the middle of nowhere.
     
  • Tsitsikamma section SAN Garden Route National Park. 10 km from the N2, access is a few km west of Storms River village and east of the Bloukrans Bridge. Rocky coast with a gorge nearby. Timber plantations in the surrounds.
  • Entrance fee: 168 R (12 €) for foreigners, included at the wild card. 

    Lots of tourists, cars, buses… We can´t imagine how more crowded it can get during the holidays. The place is quite small. No beaches, just rocky coast and a few places where you could try to swim (the sea is quite rough). The biggest interest is the gorge and the bridges.
    Not bad but not amazing, in our opinion Tsitsikamma is not such a special place and crowded tourist spot. The small treck (you can´t get lost, follow the people) and the views are nice.
    There´s a big tourist information point, handicraft shops, restaurant, etc. And also private activities (even if you are in a national park!), but quite expensive.
     


    There´s a walk east to the gorge passing a suspension bridge. Now a new smaller bridge to do a loop back. Around 1h30 return. Also possible to continue up the hill crossing the main bridge (steep, we did not go). 
    Another walk goes west (beginning of Otter Trail) to a waterfall (3 h return).
    Activities: one of the more popular ones is kayaking in the gorge. But only with an organised tour, not possible to rent a kayak. Around 400 R (30 €) for 2-3h. Complete information Untouched Adventures
     Several SAN accommodation. The campsite is 280 R/2p (+entrance fee), not so cheap. We didn´t stayed there. You can check and book in the San Website
     
  • Storms River. It´s a 100% tourist village, just on the edge of N2, not far from the Tsitsikamma section. Many lodges, backpackers, huge golf course, etc. We didn´t stay there.
    Near Storms River, on the other side of the road, there´s another small section, Big Tree, with short walks and guess what, a big tree. Entrance fee is 35 R (included with the Wild Card). Only if you have time and the wild card, if not, we don´t recomend specially that visit.

  • Jeffrey´s Bay. It´s the surf capital of South Africa, the “supertubes”. When we were there, end of November, it was raining… and the ocean was flat… Long beach. 
  • Empty of tourists out of season. It´s quite a big town, with many supermarkets, surfing shops, banks, etc.

    Lots of accommodation. Campsites and backpackers are the cheapest on offer. We stayed at Jeffreys Bay Backpackers (www.jeffreysbaybackpackers.co.za), they have dorm for 100 R/pp. Correct, clean. Kitchen, small pool, free wifi. Nice commun area. We stayed there as it was raining (no camping).

At the end of the Garden Route is Port Elizabeth, just 80 km east of Jeffrey´s, we skiped it and went directly to Addo Elephant National Park.
 

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