South Africa, March 2019: The Garden Route
Wilderness | South Africa | Ciao Fabello

The heartbreak of bidding farewell to Cape Town was assuaged by the excitement of what lay ahead between us and Addo, a route known as the Garden Route. Driving straight through to Addo on the quickest route would take about 9 hours, but we broke the drive up over 8 days, taking scenic detours when possible and spending some time by the beach and at other noteworthy destinations along the way.

Our first stop was the Cape Winelands, barely an hour outside of Cape Town. If Constantia is a preview of what South Africa’s wine country has to offer, then the Cape Winelands is a feature film, showing the best of the country’s vineyard scenery, wine culture, and culinary proficiency. After a scenic drive over Helshoogte Road, we emerged at Babylonstoren, a Cape Dutch farm whose grounds and vistas one could imagine adorning the cover of a travel guidebook. We browsed the farm shop, watched the bakers bake bread, appreciated the characteristic architecture, and walked through their picturesque garden, where a fragrant scent of herbs hangs in the air.

We finished with lunch at the Greenhouse (halloumi, pesto, and chutney sandwiches with lemonade) before heading to the charming and sophisticated town of Franschhoek, where we grabbed dinner at Cafe des Arts (cauliflower steak, mashed potatoes, veggie penne) and stayed at The Corner House Guest House. (Many would argue that Franschhoek is South Africa’s foodiest town, and it is indeed home to some of South Africa’s finest restaurants, but their menus are not usually vegetarian-friendly.)

Babylonstoren | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Babylonstoren | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Babylonstoren | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
IMG_9065.jpg

In the morning we drove via Franschhoek Pass (scenic mountain road) and Clarence Drive (scenic coastal road) down and around the eastern shore of False Bay. We stopped at Steenbras Nature Reserve for the tranquil Crystal Pools hike that follows the Steenbras River into a gorge and eventually to a collection of ponds and waterfalls for which the hike is named. The reserve allows only a few dozen people on the trail each day, so despite its proximity to the R44 and Cape Town, we felt a world away. (Note that you must book permits at least two working days ahead of your hike.)

After the hike we continued our drive to the southeast, stopping at Hermanus for dinner at Pear Tree Bistro (cauliflower steak, garden salad with labneh) and a much-needed night’s rest at Auberge Burgundy.

Franschhoek Pass | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Crystal Pools, Steenbras Nature Reserve | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Crystal Pools, Steenbras Nature Reserve | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Crystal Pools, Steenbras Nature Reserve | South Africa | Ciao Fabello

The following morning, we set off on the five-hour drive to Wilderness (the longest of the trip). The most direct route is about 1 hour 20 minutes quicker, but we opted for a more scenic one: we took the N2 to Swellendam, turned off onto the R324 for lunch at rustic Paradise Organic in Suurbraak (meze platter) and a scenic drive over Tradouw Pass, and then followed the R62 all the way to Oudtshoorn before heading back toward the coast to get to Wilderness.

We stayed at Cinnamon Boutique Guest House in Wilderness for 4 nights. Our main goal in Wilderness was rest and relaxation. We spent parts of each day at the town’s expansive beach on the Indian Ocean, which offers enough space to ensure every beachgoer a private space. The sea around the southern tip of Africa is quite rough, with strong currents and large waves thanks to the meeting of the Benguela and Agulhas currents.

You really get a sense of Southern Africa’s infinite stretches of beach-fringed coastline from Dolphin’s Point, where you can appreciate views in one direction of the coastline and in the other of the Kaaimans River Railway Bridge. A short drive up Hoogte Road brings you above town to the Map of Africa viewpoint, where you can look over a landscape of the Kaaimans River, the surrounding forest, and the mountainous Witfontein Nature Reserve in the distance that vaguely resembles the shape of the African continent. While you’re in the area, don’t miss the views down to the ocean from the adjacent paragliding launch spot at -33.993884, 22.559562.

Wilderness | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Wilderness | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Wilderness | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Wilderness | South Africa | Ciao Fabello

We broke the beach time up with a day-trip to Knysna, where we gawked at the views of the dramatic rocky coastline from a viewpoint at The Heads (park at -34.078945, 23.062604). Back toward the center of town, we perused the beautiful collection of home goods at Weylandts on Thesen Island. On our way back to Wilderness, we detoured to Buffelsbaai to visit the beach at -34.084779, 22.959444 for a walk along the water and among the jagged rock formations.

Knysna | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Knysna | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Knysna | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Buffelsbaai | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Buffelsbaai | South Africa | Ciao Fabello

Wilderness is home to several tasty restaurants, most with a bohemian beach town vibe. We had dinners at laidback Flava Cafe (veggie Hawaiian burger, brownie sundae), rural Zucchini Restaurant (veggie burger, spicy pesto pasta, milk tart chocolate roll), and last but not least, upscale Serendipity (potato salad, tomato tea soup, lemon slurpy, beetroot risotto with pumpkin dhaltjies, malva pudding), which deserves all the praise it receives and, in our opinion, is an essential Garden Route dinner stop. And as a bonus, we came home to complimentary fudge on our pillows in our hotel room each evening!

Wilderness | South Africa | Ciao Fabello

After 4 nights in Wilderness, we set off eastward for the last leg of our road trip. Robberg Nature Reserve is set on a rocky peninsula just outside Plettenberg Bay and offers three hiking trails: the Gap (2.1km / 1.3mi), Witsand (5.5km / 3.4mi), and the Point (9.2km / 5.7mi). We opted for the middle hike, which first brought us along the north side of the peninsula with views down to the sparkling turquoise water (and dozens of seals floating about!). About halfway out, the trail meets with a large sand dune that cuts across the peninsula; we followed the dune down to a dramatic isthmus-like beach and island on the south side of the reserve. From there we clambered over the rocky southern-side path back toward the trail head.

Robberg Nature Reserve | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Robberg Nature Reserve | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Robberg Nature Reserve | South Africa | Ciao Fabello
Robberg Nature Reserve | South Africa | Ciao Fabello

That afternoon we arrived at Assegaaibosch Country Lodge for a one-night stay to break up the drive. In hindsight, we wish we just powered through to Addo because the hotel felt like it was out of the Twilight Zone and we would have preferred a full morning at the Elephant House.

Why would more time at the Elephant House and around Addo have been nice? Stay tuned for our final post to find out!