After we had spent 3 perfect days in Cape Town and on the Cape Peninsula, we started to make our way towards the famous Garden Route (Mossel Bay – Port Elizabeth). We left the peninsula towards Muizenberg via Boyes Drive – a scenic drive between Fish Hoek and Muizenberg overlooking False Bay. The advantage is that you skip the traffic in the villages at the bottom of the mountain and, simultaneously, get to enjoy the beautiful view. After Muizenberg we faced a detour – and, just one street to the left, found ourselves in the middle of the Township Mitchell’s Plain (one of the biggest townships in South Africa) – entering a completely different world.
It is unbelievable but according to the World Bank, half of South Africa’s urban population resides in townships. During Apartheid (racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa, 1948-1991), non-whites where forced to live in segregated spaces. That is how townships were formed – to keep colored people out of “white-only” areas. All challenges of socio-economically underdeveloped areas are also faced by people in townships – limited access to education and consequently high unemployment rates – a vicious circle that can barely be burst. Overpopulation, poor sewerage, poor access to electricity and clean water as well as overcrowded living in poorly constructed shacks are daily issues that people in townships are confronted with. Some townships have rapidly developed in the past twenty years and have become centers of creativity and entrepreneurial success stories – these, however, remain exceptions to the rule. Driving through Mitchell’s Plain has provided us a little glimpse of township life – just what we could see from the inside of our car – which remains an outsider’s view.
After our encounter with the other side of South Africa, we continued our way towards our final destination of that day – Hermanus. We drove one time around False Bay, passed the village of Gordon’s Bay and soon, we reached Betty’s Bay. Betty’s Bay is not very spectacular but the village has famous inhabitants – African Penguins. We decided to skip the famous Boulder’s Beach on the Cape Peninsula (only about 10-minutes drive from Simon’s Town) because the entry fee is more expensive than at Stony Point in Betty’s Bay and the penguins are the same. As soon as we approached the trail (it is really easy to find, just follow the “Penguin” sign), we spotted hundreds of sweet little penguins, lying in the sun and bathing in the sea. It takes about 10 minutes to complete the trail and, apart from penguins, you can see geckos, dassies (we even spotted cute little fury baby dassies) and various types of birds.
After we had seen enough penguins for the rest of the year, we continued the nice coastal drive for about 30 minutes – until we reached the little town Onrus. Our host in Simon’s Town had recommended it to us – and it is a really nice little village. The highlight is the river Onrus entering the ocean directly at the beach – kids really enjoy bathing and playing in the river where the water is warmer than in the ocean. We sat down at the beach with one of the best soft ice creams we have ever eaten (it is sold by an old man at parking space close to the beach) and watched the kids and families enjoying their weekend. In the late afternoon, we reached Hermanus – famous for Whale Watching and the Cliff Path Walking Trail. The cliff path walking trail is a real natural jewel – it leads from the New Harbor to Piet-se-Bos East. It runs 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) along the coast and brings you to beaches, whale spotting points (e.g. Kwaaiwater) and countless benches where you can just sit down and enjoy the endless beauty of the nature. We walked from Grotto Beach to Kwaaiwater and started the next day where we ended the previous at the Cliff Path Walking Trail and walked from Kwaaiwater to Kraal Rock, where you can find good whale-watching spots. We sat down on a bench and not even 5 minutes later we spotted the first whale – or more its fin. We walked for about a kilometer and saw many whales. Hermanus is famous for whale-watching, the special thing about it is that you can spot them from land – good for us, because we saved the money for the boat tour.
We continued our journey towards Mossel Bay, the beginning of the Garden Route where we had booked a room for the night. We visited Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa – a must-see for point tourists like us. The southernmost point is located at the entrance to the Cape Agulhas National Park where you can find numerous walking and hiking trails (e.g. the Rasperpunt Trail) with nice views on the coast. The highlight is the ship wreck of the Meisho Maru No 38 (a Japanese fishing vessel that overturned in the stormy waters of Cape Agulhas in 1982) that can be admired directly from the parking spot at the start of the Rasperpunt trail.
Our next day started in Mossel Bay, where we had spent the night in a train. Santos Express is an old train that is located at the beach in Mossel Bay. Guests spend the night in a tiny train compartment with beach view. It is highly recommendable – for the experience though, not the comfort.
Mossel Bay is the starting point of the famous Garden Route. Our first stop on our way to Plettenberg Bay (where we had our guesthouse for the night) was Buffel’s Bay – a little village with a seemingly endless beach. Buffel’s Bay is located in the Goukamma Nature Reserve, so for those whose thirst for activity is not satisfied by a beach walk, hiking trails can be found there as well. Just before entering Knysna, we did a little detour to Belvidere – a small village famous for its Anglican Church. The little church and the garden surrounding it are so cute – we just fell in love with it at the first sight. The benches in the church turned out to be the most comfortable church benches ever – so it’s the place to go for a little rest.
Soon we reached Knysna and its lagoon. We wanted to explore the lagoon by boat and as Tom is totally in love with sailing boats, we chose the Catamaran Tour with the Featherbed Company. Before we actually hit the boat, we had some time left, which we decided to spent with coffee and cake at Caffé Mario. Lonely Planet says the cakes are delicious – so they gotta be. They truly are – Bianca had the Chocolate Mousse Cake and Tom the Tiramisu (not as good as Bianca’s homemade Tiramisu but that’s not possible anyways). Then our boat tour started – we were really lucky because we were the only ones that had booked the tour, so we had the entire 46 feet sailing catamaran including three skippers – just for ourselves. We felt like real rich bitches, newly rich yuppies – yes, it felt damn good. Not that we would really need this feeling every day but sometimes and almost for free – why not. We totally enjoyed the 75-minute tour through the lagoon and on the open water – it was a perfect South African afternoon. After that we continued our journey to the final destination of the day – Plettenberg Bay. We took the route via the Prince Albert’s Pass which provides a panoramic view of South African mountain madness – actually a gravel road in moderate condition that leads through a lot of nothingness – we actually didn’t know South Africa was that alpine along the Garden Route. If you take this route make sure you take the exit to Plettenberg Bay – if you drive until Avontuur, you drove too far and it will be a long way to Plettenberg Bay.
After one night in Plettenberg Bay and a delicious breakfast at our guesthouse, we headed towards the Tsitsikamma National Park. This National Park is part of the Garden Route National Park and emcompasses a marine reserve, deep gorges and forests. It is also home to the famous Otter Trail – a 41 kilometers (25 miles) hiking trail along the Garden Route Coast. As it takes 5 days with 4 overnight stays to complete the trail, we decided not to do and visit the National Park for one day instead. The park offers lots of entertainment opportunities also for day visitors such as Bungee Jumping from the Bloukrans Bridge (we did not do it because Tom already jumped from “Europabrücke” and it is pretty much the only thing that is not on Bianca’s lifetime bucket list because of just too much fear of free fall in combination with hanging upside down), Kayaking the Storms River Gorge or Hiking. We decided to go with the hiking part of the bright offering – and did the Suspension Bridge and Lookout Trail. This is an easy 45-minute (one-way) trail that leads along the coast line (beautiful view on the ocean guaranteed at all times) and through the forest. At the end you cross the Storms River via three Suspension Bridges where you can also watch people kayaking the gorge. Just when you get off the bridge there is a little bay that is the perfect spot for a little snack break. We enjoyed the view on the ocean, watched the waves hitting the rugged coast and discovered a little sea otter playing in the waves. The Lookout Trail leads you a little up the mountain so you get a panoramic view on the ocean – highly recommended.
Garden Route for parents and kids
All activities – including the hikes and walks – are also family friendly and can easily be done with kids (even the really young ones). The beaches are not really for bathing (at some spots it is even forbidden) as the water tends to be cold and the waves more the supertube-type of waves – so it’s more a paradise for surfers. However, many guesthouses and hotels have pool areas. There are many easy hikes and walks available – we even saw a couple jogging with their baby in the buggy along the Cliff Path Walking Trail in Hermanus.
Our overnight stays
We booked all our stays in South Africa on booking.com – we compared the prices with common platforms for guesthouses and they did not differ. Many guesthouses are on booking, so you won’t miss anything. We like booking because it is comfortable when travelling having all overnight stays in one common app.
Casa Del Mar Guesthouse, Hermanus
The guesthouse is located close to Grotto Beach, where the Cliff Path Walking Trail can be entered. The terrace of the guesthouse offers a beautiful view on the ocean – if you are lucky you can spot whales while you enjoy your breakfast. The room is clean and includes a good breakfast (cereals, muffins, fresh fruit, yoghurt and coffee).
Santos Express, Mossel Bay
As already mentioned above – this is a MUST-DO when passing Mossel Bay. The room is tiny but clean, bathroom and toilets have to be shared with the entire carriage but it’s totally worth the experience. The breakfast was really good and the view from the terrace on the beach unbeatable.
Anchorage Guesthouse, Plettenberg Bay
Our favorite – the guesthouse is huge (we passed it twice before we actually found it because we thought it was a hotel) and the owners are the BEST. The advantage about this guesthouse is that you can check-in until 9:30 PM. Usually we had to check-in around 6-7 PM – so this was really comfortable. We arrived late and hungry so the owner ordered pizza for us. He gave us lots of tips, told us funny stories (one was about a human encounter with a black mamba and if Bianca can laugh about a story about a dangerous, fast, black, disgusting, up to 4 meters long and highly lethal snake the story must have been a completely sensational blast), helped us to carry the bags to the room (so Bianca did not have to carry her heavy bag) and even valet parked our car. The breakfast was awesome (there was even a breakfast menu!) and everything was just perfect.
The Chapman Hotel, Port Elizabeth
This is one of only two hotels we had booked for our stay in South Africa and Lesotho. We could not find an affordable nice guesthouse in PE so we decided to go down the hotel route. The worst thing about this hotel is that it is located right next to a super-upscale luxury hotel – so we entered the street and thought this was our hotel. We quickly noticed it wasn’t and when we saw the Chapman Hotel Bianca was very disappointed. However, the hotel is still nice it’s neighboring hotel is just a little nicer. The room was clean and spacious, had a little balcony, a big glass front and offered sea view. The included breakfast was very rich with eggs, bacon, fried mushrooms, sausages (Bianca loves sausages for breakfast – but only on vacation, not at home), toast and coffee.