While the big game safari was a memorable adventure, anyone venturing to South Africa would be wise to dedicate the bulk of their time along the Garden Route to Cape Town. This small coastal region has something to offer everyone. The attractions include unparalleled coastal views, secluded beaches, world-class surfing, picturesque hikes, whale watching, relaxing wineries, abundant shopping (if you are into that) and fun outdoor activities (white water rafting, shark diving, bungy jumping, gorge swings, parasailing, abseiling, etc.).
We spent our first week relaxing in laidback Jeffreys Baai (J-Bay) – world-renowned for perfect surf swells and annual stop on the Billabong Pro Tour. We chilled out with our local host while we waited out some rain before heading to Tsitsikamma National Park where we’d begin South Africa’s premier multi-day hike, the Otter Trail. The beauty of this epic trek was matched by the challenging terrain. The parks authority imposes a 12-65 year age restriction on hikers due to its rigors and, after one of our fellow hikers broke an ankle, we realized this was for good reason, getting to help could be an all-day affair. The trail is nothing more than a narrow footpath that hugs the coastline but it led us through some of the most beautiful landscapes we’d ever seen — from sandy beaches to dense forest to steep seaside bluffs in a constant up-and-down traverse.
It had rained so heavily in the days prior to our hike that the groups in front of us had to be evacuated from the trail. We didn’t give this much thought until we encountered our first of four river crossings. Normally, there’s just one river that poses a challenge and needs to be crossed at low tide (the mighty Bloukrans). For us, it seemed like we were constantly assessing river depths, stripping down to our underwear and praying that our bags didn’t get wet. A wet sleeping bag is no fun. Rivers weren’t the only challenge we faced. On day 2 Joanna came face to face with a hungry baboon that had broken into our cabin and took off with some apples, energy bars and a bag of Doritos.
Despite these obstacles, the combination of undisturbed coastal views and the fulfillment of physical accomplishment made the Otter Trail one the greatest hikes we have ever done. We also had great company in Dave and Paul, who taught us a thing or two about braai (South African BBQ). If you’re getting inspired you better book in advance, there are only 12 spots available per day so dates often fill up a year in advance.
What turned out to be as rewarding as the hike were the resort amenities and beautiful wineries on our way to Cape Town. The geography Northeast of Cape Town is a diverse mix of high coastal bluffs, lush forests, steep mountains and arid warm wineries. The climate and geography are similar to the broader Bay Area (San Fran -> Palo Alto -> Napa). It is a fantastic area to travel through because every stop you feel like you have relocated to a new environment. It is a popular honey moon route for Europeans (and increasingly Americans) and it has our enthusiastic approval.
Top Attractions for Us:
- Watching surfers ride ‘super tubes’ in J-Bay
- 5 day Otter Trail hike in Tsitsikamma National Park
- Shark diving near Hermanus (see previous post)
- Bungy jumping off Bloukrans Bridge– the world’s highest bridge bungy
- Visiting the wineries of Franschhoek and Stollenbosch (try the pinotage!)
- Exploring Robberg Nature Preserve then feasting on a fresh seafood dinner at Fat Fish in Plettenberg Bay
Some Helpful Tips:
- Don’t underestimate the Otter Trail. It’s tough, especially after heavy rains
- Shark diving is worth it; exciting yet safe
- Hotels are cheap and of good quality. We cashed in various hotel points at luxury resorts
- Food and drinks are excellent yet cheap (particularly if you are used to NYC prices)
- Despite the general chaos you heard about S. Africa, this area is seemingly safe and people are friendly (they all seem to hate the politicians and blame them for the chaos)
- Driving was no issue once you got used to shifting with your left hand