One of our most requested itineraries is the Garden Route. But most of our clients don’t really know what the Garden Route really is, and far fewer give it the time it really deserves. Four our family of 4, the week we spent traversing the Garden Route probably provided the highest fun factor of our 2+ week visit to South Africa. And, it provided some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.
Our Garden Route expedition began with our arrival at Port Elizabeth. And while George would have been a more convenient city to fly into, the drive from PE to Plett (as locals refer to both) was just over 2 hours on nice roads so it wasn’t a big deal. We planned to self-drive this week-long portion of our trip and it took just a few minutes for me to remember how to drive on the left side of the road, although a bit longer to stop hitting the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal. Our accommodation was Hog Hollow, a cozy boutique property in the Crags, an area of lush vegetation sandwiched between the large Tsitsikamma National Park and the town of Plettenberg Bay. The Crags is all mountains, valleys and forests and is perfectly located to enjoy both the nature and thrill activities of the Tsitsikamma area and the rugged coastline and white sand beaches of Plettenberg Bay.
There are so many family friendly activities in this area; we could have stayed the whole week here. Since time was limited, we chose Monkeyland and Birds of Eden. Both were big hits, with Monkeyland probably getting the edge for all the entertaining inhabitants from squirrel monkeys to gibbons to lemurs. At Birds of Eden , Grady (8) and Tate (7) most enjoyed blue cranes doing a mating dance and colorful golden pheasants picking on the ground. Anyone familiar with the above mentioned species will realize that none of them are endemic to the area. Both facilities are refuges for abandoned animals whether they are native to South Africa or not, as are many of the other attractions such as the nearby wolf sanctuary. This, combined with all the other roadside attractions, gives the area a touristy feel and although it’s not what many Americans might expect, “it is what it is” and our kids loved it. Other family and adventure activities offered in the area include bungee jumps, canopy walks, forest hikes, sea kayaking, fishing, and much more.
On Day 2 in Plett, we explored the beaches and sea. Our 2-hour whale tour unfortunately produced no whales, but we had great fun trying and did get to see plenty of Cape fur seals and sea otters. The boat captain claimed that 95% of guests see whales, even during the off-season, along with one or more species of dolphins. From June to November, chances are very good to see some of the Southern Right Whales who travel up from Antarctica to give birth to their young in the waters off Africa. A unique aspect of whale trips in the area is that the boat launches and lands on the white sand beach with use of tractor and trailer–very fun. After lunch in popular Knysna, we returned to Plett to explore more of the white sand beaches. In South Africa’s winter, the water is very cold and the beaches empty, which suited our boys just fine. They spent hours building sand castles, playing soccer on the sand and daring to get waist deep in the frigid water. Even though the food at Hog Hollow was delicious, we decided to cook our own this night and it was fun to go to the market and pick our favorites and have a “normal” family dinner.
We were able to cook our own dinner because we were lucky enough to be in the owner’s villa at Hog Hollow. While the standard rooms here are very nice and are perfectly great for families with small kids, the owner’s villa stands apart, featuring huge family room with TV and fireplace, large kitchen, master bedroom with 5-piece bath, large deck and private pool (also quite cold at this time of year). Upstairs are two large bedrooms with en-suite facilities along with a game room featuring pool table, ping pong and games. There are many other self-catering facilities in the area, along with bed & breakfasts, boutique hotels, country lodges and larger hotels.
Day 3 began with a much-longer-than-expected and much-more-expensive-than-expected stop at Porcupine Potters. I’d like to say we stayed so long because the boys were having fun creating clay animals at the kid’s table, however it was really because Kelly was picking out a new ceramic washbasin which we lugged back as one of our pieces of luggage to save on the VAT (see future blog for tips on getting tax refunds before leaving South Africa). Then, we drove several hours over mountain passes and through the long, flat, dry valleys of the Klein Karoo to the ostrich capital of South Africa, and probably the world…Oudtshoorn.