Garden Route See And Do
Stormsriver Village, next to Tsitsikamma National Park, is the epicenter for adrenaline sports. Land Rovers line up outside small B&Bs catering to backpackers, and adventure companies offer zip-lining and river tubing. Stormsriver Adventures offers a Tsitsikamma Canopy tour consisting of ten zip lines (called "slides" here) that take you between ten platforms 100 feet up in the indigenous forest. Half an hour away on the N2, an unmissable sign exhorts you to "Face Your Fear" by taking what's said to be the highest bungee jump in the world, courtesy of Face Adrenalin. Anyone not wanting to weigh in for the 700-foot free fall off the Bloukrans River Bridge can try the Flying Fox, a 600-foot cable zip line onto the arch underneath, or a bridge walking tour.
Long, often desolate beaches are the signature of the Garden Route, although you might miss some of the best—Keurbooms, Nature's Valley, and Buffalo Bay—if you don't detour off the N2. Victoria Bay, near George, is a tiny but renowned surfing destination and often hosts international events. Though Plett's popular Lookout Beach was wiped away by raging storms in 2007, it still has Robberg Beach, which ends in Robberg Nature Preserve, a wildlife sanctuary on a rocky peninsula teeming with seals. Both magical and off the beaten track is Noetzie, a few miles outside Knysna, which has a half dozen stone castles dating from the 1930s located next to the Noetzie River mouth. Two of the castles have been turned into luxury villas by the famed Pezula resort.
Addo Heights Road
Addo Elephant National Park
Tel: 27 44 532 7818
Gorah Elephant Camp occupies more than 12,000 acres of private preserve within state-owned Addo Elephant National Park, between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown. It was opened in 2000 by Ian Hunter of Hunter Hotels, who also owns Hunter's Country House and Tsala Treetop Lodge outside Plettenberg Bay. The camp's luxury tents are a fabulous place to stay while watching the wildlife. Addo itself was created in 1931 on approximately 5,000 acres to save the last 11 elephants in the Eastern Cape and now has an elephant population in excess of 450 that ranges over 400,000 acres.
40 Main Street
Tel: 27 44 382 5510
Before continuing to Plettenberg Bay, the N2 motorway briefly metamorphoses into Knysna's Main Street. The village was once known as a sleepy-hollow hippie hideout, but a steady stream of tourists has made it a mini-destination of its own. Fortunately, the old town itself—with its wide, tree-lined streets and Victorian houses—has been preserved.
Great Fish River Valley
Tel: 888 882 3742 (toll-free)
Tel: 27 46 603 3400
Opened in October 2001 in the Great Fish River Valley, at the heart of the Eastern Cape, this game reserve hosts more than 7,000 animals. The buffalo, lions, cheetahs, rhinos (white and black), giraffes, wild dogs, and elephants were introduced to their new home in a massive translocation exercise that cost upward of $10 million. More diverse than Gorah, the landscape here includes dense thicket and open, river-crossed savannah. Accommodation choices at the reserve include two Relais & Châteaux safari lodges and Melton Manor, run by luxury safari outfitters &Beyond; day and night wildlife viewing trips are offered.
Plettenberg Bay Tourism Centre
Mellville's Corner Centre, Main Street
Tel: 27 44 533 4065
Roughly a 30-minute drive east of Noetzie Beach and Conservancy lies posh Plettenberg Bay (everyone calls it "Plett"), where hundreds of Johannesburg's wealthy families have built grand vacation homes. Like the view, Plett's town hasn't changed over the years: Lookout Beach, an enormous sand spit, remains the best for surfing and sunbathing and is still the least crowded. The town bursts into life at 8 a.m. every Saturday morning and shuts promptly at 1 p.m., when folks head for the beach.
Tel: 27 44 533 2125
A sweeping peninsula five miles south of Plettenberg Bay, Robberg has some of the best hiking in the area. It takes about four hours to circumnavigate along narrow cliff-top paths and down sweeping drifts of powder-fine sand. Your rewards: incredible views of the bay, the colonies of Cape fur seals at the base of the cliffs, and dolphins and whales swimming close to shore. Word to the wise: Rain is commonplace all year, and storms can strike with very little warning at this wild and wonderful place.
Tsitsikamma National Park
Tel: 27 42 281 1607
Some of the Garden Route's best-known hiking trails are in this park, which comprises 50 miles of coastline, forests, and mountains. The most famous hike is the five-day, 26-mile Otter Trail, which winds through forests, alongside rivers and waterfalls, and skirts coves and beaches, with huts along the way for spending the night. Be forewarned, however, that only 12 people a day are allowed on the trail, so you need to book at least a year in advance. Nature's Valley, adjacent to the park, is itself a peaceful place to disappear for a day, with a three-mile beach and a quiet lagoon at the mouth of the Groot River.
About a 90-minute drive east of Cape Town, Hermanus was once a poor fishing village, then a wealthy retirement village, and is now the whale-watching capital of South Africa. Each season (May to November), southern right whales wallow in Walker Bay, where thousands of admirers watch from winding cliff paths high above the rocky shoreline. It's a tidy industry, with a horn-blowing town crier directing visitors to the best viewing points, information kiosks, and a tiny museum on the quayside that highlights the town's now-extinct fishing industry. Plettenberg Bay also offers great viewing of humpback and Bryde's whales, as well as dolphins and seals, through outfitters such as Ocean Blue Adventures. Boats leave from Central Beach, next to the Beacon Isle hotel. While calving season is usually in July, whales are easy to spot through November.