When you’re in the heart of South Africa's famous Garden Route – activities are centred on the beauty and eccentricities of nature. It’s a convergence of lakes, rivers, estuaries and beaches all hugged by dramatic forests and rugged mountains.
From the Touw River mouth to the Swartvlei estuary and beyond, where it links with the Goukamma Nature Reserve, offering up five vlei areas and the Serpentine, which is the winding strip of water that snakes parallel to the Indian Ocean - water forms a big part of the experience here.
I recently got to spend a mini-break on the banks of the Swartvlei and found myself wondering what on earth they do here, as I went on a solo drive through the connect-the-dot villages of Wilderness and Sedgedfield. There seemed to be so little when measured by my Cape Town metropolis standards. And then as I relaxed into it, coming to grips with the slow-drip of patchy connectivity in the region, I accepted that this is outdoor country.
The only thing to do is set your inner-body clock to the rhythm of sunrise and sunset. Rise as early as possible and lap up as much of the country air freshness as you can.
Our base was The Lakeside Lodge and Spa. The huge signs from the N2 to the lodge, which is less than two-years-old, are hard to miss. It forms part of the Benguela Cove trio, along with properties in Hermanus and Somerset West.
Once you turn off the busy highway, the drive enchants as you head to this secluded part of the Sedgefield Valley. We visited just after the Knysna Oyster Festival, yet the place was still busy with its great selection of wine pairings on offer - They even have a cruise wine-pairing option on the weekends. The in-house spa also kept things busy, so you’d be wise to book in order to avoid disappointment if you do go.
And while the staff are an exceptional asset to this little piece of Garden Route magic, as they go out of their way to accommodate all manner of requests from finicky youngsters – the waterside experience is by far the biggest draw-card for me.
The Swartvlei is the most beautiful sight just beyond the amphitheatre of the Lakeside Lodge, which plays hosts to a number of musical and sporting events. As I said, staff go out of their way to accommodate family requests from nut-free chocolate milkshakes all the way through to dredging for tiny prawn as bait for a spot of catch-and-release fishing. They’ll even rustle up a fish dinner if you do want to eat what you catch.
Walking straight out of your boutique-styled suite onto the green lawn and the water’s edge mere metres away, means there is no mistaking your holiday vibe. The garden is decked with comfortable loungers that will have you toying with the idea of soaking up the sun with a good book, feline style.
Otherwise, you'll be temped to head down to the quay for a spot of stand-up paddling, canoeing, or a row out onto the vlei – but be warned it’s not as easy as it looks.
This is the Garden Route and you certainly cannot confine yourself to one part of it since the other top attractions are mostly within an hour- to half-an-hour’s drive away. Whether you decide to go hiking in the Robberg Nature Reserve, or to head out to the likes of Dolphin Viewpoint or Storms River Bridge after stocking up at the Wild Oats weekend farmers market – it’s great to be able to retreat back to the peace and seclusion offered by Lakeside along the Swartvlei.
We indulged in the Benguela Cove wine and dine food pairing evening at the in-house Benguela Brasserie restaurant on one of our nights there, with our boys literally right next door in our family suite enjoying their own dinner and a movie. It was a surprise hassle-free, date night in the midst of a family vacation. Just lovely.
Our only complaint of the stay? It was way too short.
Want to visit the Garden Route?
GARDEN ROUTE ADVENTURE SPOTTERS CHECK-LIST:
The Garden Route is one big outdoor adventure waiting for you to rise and shine to make the most of it - this includes hiking trails a plenty, along with the opportunity to spot some of SA’s most prolific birdlife.
You can also choose to canoe or bicycle, abseil or kloof the gorgeous Kaaimans waterfalls and rock pools as well as an ocean teaming with tropical fish and wildlife just waiting for you to come and enjoy it all.
Why not keep this checklist of things to spot as recommended by SANParks on hand and add some more fun to your family holiday...
- Dolphins and porpoises can be seen from the many look-out points along the beaches,otherwise take a boat trip to ensure you see them frolicking live and direct in the waves
- The African Black Oystercatcher is one of South Africa’s most threatened bird species so if you do spot one consider yourself fortunate and be sure not to disturb it
- The Knysna Lourie is a beautiful bird with a gruff call, often spotted in the surrounding Tsitsikamma reserve, also keep an eye out for the, Pied Kingfisher or Grey Heron
- Cape Clawless Otter, the namesake of the iconic Otter Trail, is shy and elusive but you might spot it hunting crabs along the park’s coastline and rivers
- You may catch a glimpse of the Blue Duiker, a miniature antelope found in the forests of the Knysna
- While walking along the shoreline, see if you can spot the Knysna Seahorse or Pansy Shell
Events worth checking out at the Lakeside Lodge and Spa:
Wine Tasting on the Lake
When: Every Saturday and Sunday
Time: 12:00 - 17:00
Enjoy a scenic boat cruise and experience the beautiful views and sunsets the Garden Route has to offer from the picturesque Swartvlei Lake. The cruise on the Lady Giselle pontoon boat also includes a tasting of 5 Benguela Cove wines. Guests can book for Wine Tasting on the Lake every Saturday and Sunday.
Cost: R150pp. Maximum group size, 6 people per cruise.
When: From May to end September 2017
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