Cape Town - South Africa is blessed with a spectacular coastline from the Western Cape's moody, often mindbogglingly beautiful West Coast all the way through to the golden, sun-kissed bliss of the KwaZulu-Natal's East Coast.
But just where the Western and Eastern Cape begin to meld into each other you'll find a rare string of pearls. A coastline hugged by landscapes fashioned in such unique ruggedness that it's very far and few between that you have visitors to South Africa not planning a Garden Route road trip within their round-tour of the best of South Africa.
Yes, the Garden Route has pretty much become synonymous with SA must-dos such as the Big Five and Table Mountain. For locals too, it has become the go-to long weekend escape or epic end-of-year adventure.
We recently caught up with the folks behind @GardenRoute Instagram account, created by @deancothill and run by @sharynhodges.
Says Hodges, "I have been living in Plett (Local for Plettenberg Bay) for about 20 years and I am SOOO passionate about the Garden Route."
The images shared on the account with some 16 000 followers are of people that have either visited or local Instagrammers that are equally as passionate about the #GardenRoute. See their handles in the captions below.
With that said, we asked Hodges to share some of her lesser-known yet must-do things in this magical part of South Africa.
"To answer your question, wow this is a difficult one, the Garden Route has so much to offer and depending on how much time you have. The beaches are probably the beach in South Africa.
"We have the highest Bungee Jump in the world, some of the best hikes, which includes Robberg Nature Reserve (my special place), Stormsriver, Witfontein, Kranshoek Hike, when the tides are right Gerickes Point in Sedgefield is like something from another planet and so much more. The magical Knysna forest and the majestic Outeniqua Mountains. I really could go on forever."
Just solidifying why we really do need to visit this Eden district over and over again. If you've been toying with the idea of going, these allow these ten instagram shots of Garden Route wanderlust to kick-start that next road trip.
1. The Knysna Heads
The most recognisable landmark of this Garden Route town, the Knysna Heads sandstone cliffs act as buffers between the Knysna Lagoon and the Indian Ocean. The easier of the two to visit is the eastern head were you'll enjoy some spectacular views. The western head however is part of the privately owned Featherbed Nature Reserve - a visit via ferry however is highly recommended.
SEE: Featherbed Nature Reserve: A sacred inheritance
2. Keurbooms River Nature Reserve
Forming part of CapeNature, Keurbooms River Nature Reserve is a World Heritage Site and these 740 hectares makes up a peaceful unspoilt part of the Garden Route. Located just outside Plettenberg Bay, here you can experience of indigenous forests, unspoilt river gorge, and protected kloofs. Water adventurers will love this.
SEE: Keurbooms: a paddle through paradise
3. The Outeniqua Pass
The Outeniqua Pass connects the coastal town of George with Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo.
It was first built in 1951 to provide an alternative to the Montagu Pass and has been widened and modernized several times since then according to Mountain Passes South Africa. This pass has played host to the snowy winter wonders of late and under those conditions this pass can be dangerous, especially due to the volume of commercial traffic that it carries.
SEE: Langkloof Wonders: road trip sojourns
There is a special part of Sedgefield and forms one of five great vlei areas of the Garden Route - specifically Groenvlei, RondeVlei, Langevlei and Eilandvlei. Swartvlei is unique though in that it embraces a lake, lagoon and estuary and is clearly divided into a fresh water section in its upper region and a salt water section. As you row along the vlei, the soft ebb and flow with ocean is distinct making this a water sport haven and staying at its banks at the likes of Lakeside Lodge offers up hours of water fun - swimming, catch-and-release fishing, stand-up paddling or peaceful bird-watching is the order of the day.
There are the popular spots in the Garden Route obviously but the little, lesser-known pods of this mermaids purse include the likes of Brenton-on-Sea. Part of the Eden district, it is just 16km form the hotspots of Knysna for instance. The best way to make the most of this natural wonderland garden of Eden so to speak is by foot, enjoy the Brenton on Sea Beach Walks to Buffalo Bay, or the Fishermans Walk for a scenic cliff top path to check out the passing dolphins or whales.
SEE: 9 Secret Beaches along the Garden Route
6. Kaaimans River
The Kaaimans River, also known as Keerom River, lies near Wilderness. Trails leading to the Kaaimans River Gorge is the perfect adventurer's escape. This is also where you'll spot the recognisable Kaaimans River cottages from the N2, which allows for the perfect private-beach like escape and is a great launch pad for water-based activities such as whitewater kayaking swimming near the Kaaimans Waterfall, all adding another level of outdoor wildness.
SEE: 25+ lesser known rivers of South Africa, and why they’re awesome
7. The Tsitsikamma National Park
As part of the greater Garden Route National Park, the Tsitsikamma is set for extensive R17m upgrades, starting at the Storms River Rest Camp
. This is also where you kick-start your iconic Otter Trail adventure. As one of the most popular hiking routes in South Africa - with its name derived from the Cape Clawless Otter - which resides along the trail, this hike stretches from the Storms River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma to Nature’s Valley. The total distance of the trail is 42.5km and SANParks recommends spreading the journey over 5 days and 4 nights - advanced booking and planning is highly recommended.
SEE: 4 Exceptional Hiking trails to tackle in 2016
8. Plettenberg Bay
Plettenberg Bay or Plett is largely associated with the end-of-year madness of high-school kids and is probably SA's equivalent of the US's Hamptons. It is also a launchpad for SA's iconic Bloukrans bungee jump. Added to this, soon you'll be able to cycle from Cape Town to the Plett with an exciting new cycling route planned to showcase the most scenic parts of the Western Cape.
SEE: New Cape to Plett Cycle route gets R4m boost
Definitely a lesser-known part of the Garden Route, situated between Mossel Bay and George. This up-and-coming coastal town is for the beach-lovers and considering that the rest of the Garden Route is within a day-trip's drive from here, it's the ideal base if you want to avoid the seasonal busyness.
SEE: 8 things to love about the Explorer’s Garden Route
We also love Wilderness for its less-busy atmosphere, although the entire Garden Route pays homage to slow living in one form or another. From its equally beautiful beaches to the Map of Africa viewpoint and its appeal for the world's paragliding swallows you descend on the Garden Route for seasonal adventures, don't make the mistake of overlooking this Garden Route nook.
SEE: 4 Garden Route adventures to try this winter
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