When I started chatting travel and general nonsense to three Dutch girls in Khayelitsha, South Africa, I never expected they would adopt me for an adventure road trip on their last weekend in the country.
Even as I studiously concentrated on the guide book, I struggled to get my head around the mammoth journey we were about to embark on; our first sleep was supposed to be Jeffrey’s Bay (JBay) = 765km away.
Following the picturesque N2 road from Khayelitsha, we passed through the almost non-existent Swellendam, avoided Mossel Bay with its reputation of being rather ugly, and headed onwards for what seemed like forever in the cooking-pot car showing 35oC.
In our haste to reach JBay, our day was being melted away inside the vehicle as opposed to being out discovering idyllic beaches, jumping in the pounding white surf and chilling in a retro café in town. JBay is a surfer’s paradise; there is little point going unless you are planning on surfing, like watching it or have a few days to spend talking it, drinking it and learning it - we had none of the above and time was not on our side.
We ended up falling short of our intended destination by some 200km, so by 6pm we began telephoning hostels in the surrounding areas in the height of South Africa’s summer holiday season. Imagine heading to the beach on a bank holiday weekend and that’s what it’s like…
View of Wilderness Beach from Dolphin Point
Plettenberg Bay is one of the Garden Route’s major destinations. Backed by majestic mountains, it overlooks miles of sandy beaches and the moody tidal Keurbooms lagoon whose crystal waters say “snap” back at the sky. Our guide book warned us not to “judge a hostel by its looks” but we were just grateful to the four travellers who had cancelled their booking allowing us to seek refuge at such short notice.
With a patio overlooking the entire stretch of beach - all the way to St Francis Bay on a clear day - we couldn’t miss the opportunity to view the sunrise over the ocean at 05:10 the next morning, even after a deafening night of brain bashing, nightmare inducing dance music from the club opposite. Sunrise from the patio of Plett Backpackers, Plettenberg Bay
The hippy-esq market is small yet quaint, selling every type of souvenir or tasty morsel you might desire -perfectly representing the trendy and popular town. The market at Plettenberg Bay
Stopping at Knysna and taking a stroll in and around the Quays of Thesen’s Island, we really should have tickled our taste buds with the ocean-fresh Knysna oysters. However, it was just long enough to break up our comparatively short journey through to Wilderness.
Set in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, Wilderness NP has birds, snakes, deer and other wildlife a plenty, as our trundle down the decked Pied Kingfisher Route to a waterfall proved; one Mole Snake, a little grey snake and a spiders nest the size of my head was enough to keep us on our toes. The snake en route to the waterfall
An evening of indulging in the delights of lasagne and chocolate waffles at the Friday night market was in order before sleeping it off among the ants, dragonflies and mosquitoes, which were quite apt for staying in ‘the wilderness’. Fairy Knowe Backpackers, Wilderness
All too quickly it was over and we were starting our 485km journey back to the township taking a minor detour to the Cango Wildlife Park - a glorified zoo where you get to pay lots to stroke a cheetah, hold a snake, have pictures with a tiger and generally support the unnecessary caging of animals which don’t even belong in this country. Needless to say I would suggest bypassing this and visiting Cango Caves instead! An alternative, economic way to travel along the Garden Route?
What little we saw of the Garden Route acted as a wonderful break for me, but its towns and parks have been massively developed - not always for the best, and so I would agree with Lonely Planet when it states “so if you leave South Africa without having seen the Garden Route it isn’t a disaster. If you leave having only seen the Garden Route, it might be.”
• Be reasonable in your assumption with how far you can travel in one day
• Do not skimp on time in unusual places - this is not travelling, this is just ticking towns/countries off a list
• Check out whether it is the holiday season and how far in advance you may have to book
• If in doubt, stop and investigate - take a wander, say yes to the locals, live a little and make it an adventure