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Why is South Africa's Garden Route so famous?

8 mins. read

The jump for me was a leap into the unknown, a realization best described in the words of Will Smith: ‘the best things in life are on the other side of fear’.

Published in the Sunday Indian Express Magazine - Eye on 03 March, 2024

If you had a chance to read my piece last week, it was a journey through the Seven Sisters of Incredible India, showcasing not only the vibrant colours and spiritual depth of the region but also highlighting the intricate mix of nature and culture that defines India. This week, let’s pivot our compass southward, towards the rugged landscapes and adventurous heart of South Africa, specifically, the famous Garden Route.

The Garden Route, a stretch along the southeastern coast of South Africa, is a world-renowned paradise that extends from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. Its a region that boasts an unparalleled diversity of experiences, from the adrenaline-pumping thrill of bungee jumping to the serene beauty of silent, early morning meerkat tours.

I had the chance to visit the Garden Route for the first time in 2018 and as you will see as we go through this piece, I was blown away! So today, I want to weave together a number of personal anecdotes, each a thread in the larger narrative of why the Garden Route has captured the hearts and imaginations of travellers all across the world. Let’s jump in.

First up and as always, let’s look at the region from a geographic lens. The Garden Route is a splendid showcase of South Africas diverse geography, running along the southeastern coast and encompassing several key towns and landmarks. Starting from Mossel Bay, the route winds its way through towns such as George, Wilderness, Knysna, and Plettenberg Bay before culminating at the Storms River in the Tsitsikamma National Park. Each town along the route offers its own unique charm, from the historic streets of Mossel Bay to the lagoon-side beauty of Knysna. The route is flanked by the Indian Ocean on one side and the mountainous terrains of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains on the other, creating a rich mix of natural wonders. The coastal stretches offer breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean, with rugged cliffs that give way to golden beaches and secluded coves. The routes numerous lagoons and rivers, such as those at Wilderness and Knysna, add to the scenic beauty, offering tranquil waters surrounded by dense greenery.

My journey along the Garden Route was an exhilarating blend of high-adventure and serene encounters with nature, beginning with the heart-stopping experience of bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bridge. My first ever bungee jump was the famous 43-meter drop at the Kawarau Bridge Bungee in Queenstown, New Zealand. The unique thing about that was that along with the jump, you have the option of getting drenched in the waters of the Kawarau River too. Compare that to the jump at Bloukrans Bridge, this one is a straight-up epic 216-meter jump, which for the longest time, was the highest bungee jump in the world (not anymore, it’s at #4 now). Just imagine yourself, standing on the edge of the Bloukrans Bridge, your heart pounding in your ears, as you prepare to take the plunge. The moment of free fall is pure adrenaline, a rush so intense, its akin to flying. The jump for me was a leap into the unknown, a realization best described in the words of Will Smith: ‘the best things in life are on the other side of fear’.

As we witnessed, the Garden Route is a playground for many such activities. Another highlight for me was tandem paragliding from the Cloud Base Paragliding site, which offered such a stunning birds-eye view of the coastline, that I decided to risk holding my phone to record a video. From the exhilarating to the calm, we had a chance to explore an experience known as the Meerkat tours too. Seated quietly, sipping on a hot cup of coffee, we watched as these fascinating Meerkats emerged from their burrows into the sunlight, going about their daily routines and social interactions. This experience, respectful and raw, was a very intimate and different encounter with the wild.

That wasn’t all, rather during our 12 day trip, every day had an activity or highlight that left a mark. This included the thrill of the Cango Caves Zipline, the awe-inspiring encounters on a bush safari at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, the adrenaline rush of the Adrenalin Addo Zipline and Giant Swing, and the unforgettable game drive in Addo Elephant National Park. Speaking of water activities, there was surfing at Victoria Bay, kayaking in the Knysna Lagoon, and whale watching off the coast of Hermanus. Each experience wove together a blend of memories that highlighted the diversity and beauty of the Garden Route.

To complement these activities, the Garden Route showcases its warm hospitality and offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every taste and budget. From luxury resorts and boutique hotels nestled in the heart of nature to cozy guesthouses and bed & breakfasts run by friendly locals, visitors are spoilt for choice. Many accommodations boast stunning views of the ocean, forests, or mountains, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the regions natural beauty.

Speaking of the culinary landscape, the Route’s local cuisine is a fusion of flavours, with influences ranging from indigenous Khoi and San to Dutch, British, and Malay, creating a unique and delicious blend of tastes. Seafood plays a starring role, with fresh catches from the Indian Ocean prepared in traditional and contemporary styles, from succulent oysters in Knysna to fish barbecues on the beach. The regions fertile lands produce a variety of fruits and vegetables, which feature prominently in local dishes, alongside locally reared meats and artisanal cheeses. Wine enthusiasts are in for a treat, as the Garden Route is close to some of South Africas premier wine-producing areas, offering opportunities for wine tasting and vineyard tours. One unique experience that I wanted to mention here is berry-picking. Along the Route, you can immerse yourself in the simple joy of hand-picking ripe, juicy berries under the South African sun. With baskets in hand, families, couples, and solo travellers wander through rows of strawberries, raspberries, and other berry varieties, each pluck a testament to the regions fertile soils and gentle climate. This experience, while serene, encapsulates the diverse offerings of the Garden Route, providing a palette-cleansing interlude to the adrenaline-fueled activities and a reminder of the simple pleasures that nature bestows. The hospitality of the Garden Route extends beyond mere accommodations; local communities welcome visitors with open arms, ready to share stories, cuisine, and the laid-back lifestyle that defines this part of South Africa.

A trip through the Garden Route confirms the region’s fame as a premier destination in South Africa. It offers an unparalleled blend of natural beauty, adventure, cultural richness, and culinary delights. Each experience contributes to a journey that is as diverse as it is memorable. In travelling through the heart of South Africa, Ive discovered that adventure, in its many forms, is a universal language. The Garden Route, with its unique blend of thrills and tranquillity, is a testament to the beauty of our world, a journey that transforms not just the traveller, but the way we view our planet. Have you been to the Garden Route of South Africa? What was your experience like? I would love to know, so do write to me at Until the next time, keep celebrating life!

March 02, 2024


Neil Patil
Neil Patil

Founder & Director, Veena World

More Blogs by Neil Patil

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