South Africa’s Garden Route is made famous not only because of the scenic beauty of its coastline, picturesque townships, the divergent vegetation that keeps varying along the route and the many exciting experiences that the region offers, but also an opportunity to look beyond the Big 5, that is discover the Big 7 Safari (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo, great white shark and whale) in a unique holiday experience.
The Garden Route covers towns like George, Oudtshoorn, Mossel Bay, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Nature’s Valley. The ‘Gateway to the Garden Route’ is the picturesque town of George in the Western Cape which offers stunning views of the Outeniqua Mountains. About 59 km from George is Oudtshoorn that has two major tourist attractions of the region – Cango Caves and the ostrich farms. Famous as the ostrich capital of the world, Oudtshoorn is as well known for its ostrich farms as the Ostrich Palaces – the many grand residences built by those who had made their fortunes in ostrich farming in the past. While the flourishing enterprises ended in the first half of the 20th century their grand residences are reminders of an erstwhile opulent era. Visit to one of the ostrich showfarms will acquaint you with world’s largest bird and maybe even ride on it! At a short distance are the Cango Caves. The limestone caves that are more than 20 million years old were once inhabited by bushmen who have left their art behind for posterity. While most tourists opt for the standard tour, those looking for more excitement can choose the adventure tour. At the entrance of the caves is the spectacular Van Zyl’s Hall. The 90 metres long hall is the most interesting feature of the caves, followed by the interesting limestone formations of the Botha’s Hall.
Enroute from George to Knysna the road passes through the picturesque seaside town of Wilderness and the sleepy little Sedgefield town. The Knysna lagoon is a beautiful vista you can enjoy as you enter the township. The lagoon is the home of the Knysna sea horse that is found only in three places in the world and grows upto 13 cms. Sharks also sometimes visit the lagoon however there have been no shark attacks despite the fact that people have been living in the area for 200 years. Whales also come from the Antarctica at certain times of the year. The lagoon is safe for swimming and water sports. Knysna has the third oldest yacht club in South Africa – almost 101 years old, which you can see while you take the ferry to the Featherbed Nature Reserve. A four-hour excursion through the forest and sea caves is an enthralling experience because of the sheer beauty of the views – the Knysna lagoon and the expansive Indian Ocean that lays beyond the sandstone cliffs.
Knysna used to be a commercial harbour is today one of Garden Route’s best tourist draws. It is a haven for the adventure buffs. The activities range from para gliding to scuba diving to quad biking, abseiling, etc. The high point is however bungee jumping at Blaaukranz. From a height of 216 metres this is the recorded highest bungee jump in the world from a bridge. Then there is the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, an eco-adventure activity where you guided through the forest suspended from cables 30 metres above the ground, across platforms put up around tree trunks. The whole tour takes about three hours and is much more than an adventure activity as it gives you a greater insight into the ecology of the area.
Enroute to Plettenberg Bay is the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre where you can interact with wild cats. The visitors can get that one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enter the enclosure of a cheetah, walk with them, or interact with lesser known cats like servals, African wild cats, caracals and meercats. Almost a decade back the founders Len and Mandy Freeman had started bringing in injured animals and taking care of them in the centre. Today their committed efforts makes it possible for visitors to not only see these amazing animals from close quarters but also get a deeper understanding of their behaviour and the concern areas of their survival.
The Plettenberg Bay is well known as a colony for breeding seas gulls. The white sandy beaches of the area attract a lot of tourists during the summer months of November to January. The popular beaches frequented by tourists are – Robberg Beach, Lookout Beach, Central Beach and Keurboomstrand. Plettenberg Bay is one of the best locations in South Africa for seeing whales, seals and dolphins. Between the months of May and November the waters of the bay is frequented by the Southern Right Whales, which come there to calve. You can have a close encounter with these magnificent mammals by opting for a marine/ boat tour. The bay also attracts humpback whales and killer whales.
Following whale watching if you want an encounter with another amazing creature – the white lion – then Pumba Private Game Reserve is the best location to head to. The Pumba Private Game Reserve and Safari Lodge is an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. The luxurious game reserve offers two types of accommodation – Water Lodge and Bush Lodge and many interesting activities. The safaris will give you an opportunity to see the Big 5 without which no trip to South Africa can be complete.