I want to preface this post by saying that I am incredibly devastated at the damage that Knysna and the greater Garden Route has experienced. I can’t personally imagine what it must be like to loose all your personal belongings, everything that has sentimental value to you. On top of that residents had to do a dangerous and uncomfortable evacuation not just of their home, but the general area.
What I do know is that Knysna needs our help to rebuild. Whilst donations help, ultimately a large part of the area relies on tourism for an income. And they need that income now more than ever. Please don’t let the destruction keep you away as the incredibly beautiful area still has so much to offer. There are so many amazing properties available to book in areas largely untouched by the flames. There is no excuse for not visiting. If you need further motivation, please scroll down.
I was incredibly lucky to be invited to join SA Tourism on a journey through South Africa’s Garden Route. This is an area of our country that I was largely unfamiliar with. I’ve only driven through the region once when we attended a wedding in Port Elizabeth as students. On that trip we spent one evening in Knysna on a very tight budget, so I was keen to return and see what the area really has to offer.
The first stop was Port Elizabeth, where we took a quick historical tour. Port Elizabeth doesn’t look like much from the N1, but don’t let that fool you. This historical port town is steeped in history and boasts quite a few historical buildings of architectural note.
We did a walking tour of PE’s central district, called the Donkin Heritage Trail. The highlight on the hour-long walking trail was definitely the beautiful Victorian buildings and statues. I am surprised by how little I knew of the city’s rich history. Our guide was passionate and definitely made the experience so much more special than it would have been otherwise. I’d highly recommend you get someone to show you around. Make sure they take you into the Opera House and the beautiful Cathedral Church of Saint Mary the Virgin.
Jeffrey’s Bay and Cape St Francis
This was followed by a quick stop in the surfer’s paradise that is Jeffrey’s Bay. We had a lovely lunch overlooking the ocean at the Kitchen Windows Beach restaurant before moving on the millionaire’s playground that is Cape St Francis. I had my first taste of calamari at Port St Francis. Everyone else raved about it, but at the ripe age of 28 I discovered that I am not big on seafood.
We ended off the first of three days with a sunset canal cruise in Cape St Francis (thanks to BriSan on the Canals). Afterwards we retreated to the Cape St Francis Resort for dinner and bed in one of the self-catering homes. I must give a shout-out to the Joe Fish Restaurant as I had a very memorable chicken and spinach dish. I still sometimes crave it and have tried to recreate multiple times.
The next morning we set out for the Tsitsikamma, an adventurer’s dream. We started the day off with ziplining at Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures. I enthusiastically observed from the deck and wiped my sweaty palms on my pants any time someone went over the edge. I did however participate in the segway tour and was surprised to find how easy it was with the proper training provided before hand.
Although we definitely didn’t have enough time to do everything the region has to offer, I feel like these activities gave a glimpse of its natural beauty. I’d love to return and complete a few hiking trails. If you’re planning a trip, I can highly recommend the quaint Tsitsikamma Village Inn. The location is perfect for a night out with beer tasting and a 60’s diner right next-door. The inn consists of various smaller buildings, all recently converted into comfortable bedrooms with on-suites and each beautiful with a unique architectural style.
For our final full day, we went to Knysna, where I mentioned earlier I’d been before. As students we were on a strict budget back then and no boat cruises made the cut. This time I mroe than made up for the missed opportunity and went on no less than two!
The first cruise for the day took us over to the Featherbed Nature Reserve (the eco-experience) where I completed an hour long hike in jeans and sandals (we weren’t prepped). Luckily the breathtaking views kept me distracted from my blisters. Sadly large parts of the reserve, including the restaurant, has apparently been damaged in the fire. Luckily the Cape’s fauna and flora can take quite a beating, and often excels because of this.
The morning’s trip over was followed by a short break at the Harbour before we embarked on a sunset cruise (a Paddle Cruiser Experience). This is where I’d like to add that their piña coladas were amazing! I’d encourage everyone to at least try one. In keeping with my seafood aversion, I skipped the raw shell fish known as oysters. We spent the night at the Premier Resort The Moorings, which offers all that you need in a place of such beauty and incredibly is also rather budget friendly.
Our final day in the Garden Route was spent in George, before our afternoon departure from the small airport. On the aforementioned trip we did a short hike in the Wilderness. On this occasion I got to paddle up the river in the beautiful area thanks to Eden Adventures. We didn’t even mind the fact that it meant we’d have to board the plane wet!
If I were travelling on my own dime, I’d definitely consider driving back from George to Cape Town. It is such a beautiful route! And taking into consideration boarding and flights times, flying is probably not even that much faster than driving. I honestly can’t wait to return to this beautiful region and neither should you!