Sunday, 30 March 2014

A beginners guide to a different version of the Garden Route

We have been back in London for three weeks now and I am still feeling twinges of the dreaded post holiday blues. It is only to be expected after two weeks exploring one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but expected or not, it doesn't make the transition back to the normal working routine very easy.  I have met so many people in the last few years who have always expressed a strong interest in visiting South Africa, but often have very real concerns over personal safety and security.  In light of this, this post is dedicated to showing off the beauty of the Garden Route and highlight the fact that really, if you travel safely and wisely, touring parts of South Africa really needn't be something to fear or worry over.

Where to stay


The official Garden Route is along the coast between Mossel Bay and Storms River.  I knew from the get go that I wanted us to spend a night in Knysna which is pretty much smack bang in the middle of the route and a great place to base yourself if you wanted to spend a few days exploring all the region has to offer. We were on a tight-ish schedule and unfortunately only had the night to spare in Knysna. We stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast called Candlewood Lodge. The rooms were spacious, impeccably clean and luxurious and the views overlooking the lagoon and the famous Knysna heads from the balcony were spectacular. The BnB is run by an English couple and the breakfasts certainly reflect this - nothing beats a true English Breakfast - delicious! I will definitely return to Candlewood Lodge in the future. 

Our room at Candlewood Lodge
View from our balcony - pretty nice!
African sunset from the balcony
As mentioned above, even though the official Garden Route is along the coast, at my dads suggestion we deviated from this slightly and after Kynsna we went inland through the most stunning mountain pass, the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert in the little Karoo. Doing this route allows you to stop over in Oudsthoorn where you can see the ostriches and also goes right past the famous Cango Caves before climbing into the mountain pass where you are treated to views that will take your breath away. One word of warning, the road through the pass is a dirt road and while regular cars should be able to get through without any problems in good weather, we were in a Range Rover 4x4 and this made the ride a lot more comfortable so we were able to fully enjoy the views without worrying about the road/car.

Long windy roads!

Prince Albert

Once through the pass, it is only a few miles until you are in the quaintest little town, Prince Albert.  Prince Albert exists in the stark but hauntingly beautiful barren landscape of the Karoo and it seems like it is the town that time forgot, I could have spent days there.  We spent the night at another brilliant BnB, the Saxe-Coburg Lodge. This Victorian house dates back to around 1865 and the property is beautifully maintained with lush green lawns and an inviting swimming pool set against the backdrop of the Swartberg mountains – what more could you ask for? Aside from the beautiful and very central location, the owner, Regina, was incredibly helpful and thanks to her recommendation and reservation- making, we had one of the most enjoyable dinners of my life to date.

What to do

Storms River/Tsitsikamma

 Storms River mouth which is situated in the Tsitsikamma National Park is the start of the 5 day Otter Trail walk, which I have heard is a must-do, and is also the home of many other day and overnight trails. We went on a lovely walk to the suspension bridges over the river mouth and while my brother and dad continued up a steep and rocky climb nearby, Hamish and I {not wearing suitable shoes for the rocky walk} played around in the water of a little cove nearby and just enjoyed spending some much needed time in the sun. The dramatic coastline and views surrounding us didn't hurt either.

Cango Caves

Despite the fact that this was not my first visit to the caves, I was seriously impressed with them. They are massive, beautiful, magical and creepy all at the same time. There are two different tours you can take through the caves, the Heritage Tour or the Adventure Tour. We stuck to the Heritage tour, partly because it was slightly shorter and partly because after indulging in so much delicious South African food, we were worried our expanded waistlines might find the tight spaces of the Tunnel of Love, Post Box and Coffin sections of the Adventure Tour just a bit too cosy.

This picture puts into perspective just how big the caves really are


This tiny town in the middle of the Little Karoo is a must-see. We opted to simply pop in for tea on our way from Prince Albert  through to Cape Town, but you could certainly make it an overnight trip and stay in the historic Lord Milner Hotel.  The British influence in this town is overwhelming, from a red double decker London bus on the main street to the cakes and scones in the coffee shop, if you forgot the very non-English sounding name and the hot weather, you might think you were in 1900 England. I loved the character of this town, I highly recommend it on on any itinerary.

What to eat

South African food has to be, without a doubt, the best food in the world. I am not just saying that because I am biased, it really is true.  Nowhere else in the world have I tasted such reasonably priced, exceptionally fresh, tasty and delicious food.  The steaks and salads have to be my personal favourites. I have eaten steak in Argentina and South African steak trumps it, hands down. The salads on offer at all South African restaurants  make me question why I live in England where they seem to believe a salad consists of sweetcorn, tomato and carrots - seriously. For a salad lover like me, England does not suffice.  Aside from the steaks and salads, we ate the BEST meal EVER at a little restaurant in Prince Albert called the Karoo Kombuis. Unfortunately I was so busy stuffing my face with deliciousness I didn't take any pictures. The restaurant was split across two rooms in a traditional Karoo style house, with a total of 5 tables. Booking is therefore essential. The staff/owners are such characters and an absolute delight and the BYOB adds to the experience. They had three main courses on  the menu which you could have individually or  there was the option of tasters of all three on one plate. I had all three, the Boboti (a traditional South African dish), Karoo Lamb (best Lamb ever) and chicken pie, served with fresh veggies. I am drooling now thinking how tasty that meal was, we were all in agreement that the Karoo Kombuis was onto some seriously winning recipes.  I won't even start on the desserts on offer, in particular the rich, sweet, juicy, warm Malva pudding, you need to take my word for it and visit this restaurant. Do it, you won't regret it.

This unsuspecting house is the home of the best meal you will find in the Karoo.  (image via)
Overall, we had the most amazing few days travelling through this beautiful region.  The area is well suited to tourists and perfectly safe, I cannot recommend this part of the world enough.I have only touched on a few of the things we did {on account of how long this post has turned out to be!} but if anyone wants anymore information on any of the places we stayed at or visited, please be in touch I would love to answer any questions.

  • A pint of beer in South Africa costs GBP 0.99

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