The garden route is a must-see for any visitor to South Africa. Lakes, lagoons and long, white beaches are dotted along the route and from Wilderness to Knysna, indigenous forests offer a different kind of allure. When my sister planned to visit South Africa from the UK, she wanted to take a trip down the garden route.
Staying in Sedgefield
We had booked accommodation in Sedgefield for the week because of its proximity to both the Wilderness area and Knysna. Sedgefield is a small village but it is growing rapidly as the more popular towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay become increasingly expensive and crowded, particularly during holiday season. On our arrival in Sedgefield, we drove alongside the lagoon to our self-catering cottage in Pelican Street. On a walk around the area, we discovered that many of the streets are named after birds. A beautiful sunset over the lagoon was the first sight that had us reaching for our cameras. The next day was rainy and overcast so we meandered around the little town of Sedgefield, drank hot chocolate and browsed through the Scarab craft market that’s open on a daily basis. The very popular Wild Oats Market in Sedgefield is only open on a Saturday morning.
Strolling around in Knysna
Knysna, one of the most popular towns on the garden route, is not far from Sedgefield. We drove to Leisure Isle on the far side of Knysna and took a walk alongside the sea towards the lagoon. The houses on this peaceful little island embody the coastal lifestyle and make one imagine lingering on the porch and drinking sundowners while admiring the view.
Then we were off to the Knysna waterfront for lunch – less appealing to us as it can be overcrowded with tourists but fascinating if you enjoy watching people. We enjoyed listening to all the different languages being spoken around us as we ate our lunch. After lunch, our attention was drawn by a display of artwork next to the harbor and soon we were strolling along looking at all the boats and yachts moored there. We spotted several ferries that take people on tours around the harbor and across to the other side of the lagoon. A group of rays languidly flapped around in the shallow water next to the boats.
Paragliding in Wilderness
The next day we decided to travel back towards the Wilderness area. My sister had persuaded me to take a Segway ride through the Wilderness National Park. I was quite nervous at the prospect but ready to challenge myself and move out of my comfort zones.
As we arrived in Wilderness rather early, we sat on a bench overlooking the Wilderness beach far below and watched as people jumped off the cliff with paragliders. We saw a novice struggling to land, his skinny little legs weaving around as he tried to control the large glider. We couldn’t believe it when he took off again and admired his courage as he floated along over our heads.
We watched another two young men who obviously had more experience catching the thermals and swooping around the coastline and over the sea.
Segwaying in Wilderness National Park
When we arrived at the Wilderness National Park we had to wait for another party of five to arrive for the tour. We were given about 15 minutes of training on how to operate the Segway. When it was my turn I grasped the handlebar and gingerly inched one foot and then another up onto the body of the machine whereupon it started to rock wildly. I shot forward and when I tried to use my arms to turn, I crashed into the hedge. We all found that first minute a little difficult but soon realized that the machine moves with your body – lean forward to go forward, stand up straight to stop and lean to the left or right to take the turns. As I became accustomed to the movement I began to enjoy myself and we headed out on the Kingfisher trail. The route was full of potholes and you couldn’t let your attention wander for a second. I wanted to look at the surroundings but I didn’t dare. Eventually we reached a stretch of grass where we could go faster. At the half way point, we relaxed with a bottle of cold water before tackling the return route. Finally, we were speeding along down the park roads and over fields of grass alongside the river. My mother was sitting in the car waiting for us and she said we were both wearing wide smiles as we rode back up to the starting point. As we had paid to enter the National Park, we decided to take the opportunity to picnic at the riverside and spent an idyllic afternoon lazily sitting and watching canoes go past. I decided that I would be back with a tent and a canoe on my next visit.
Swimming at Buffalo Bay and the castle at Noetsie
The rest of the week went by quickly. We spent a day on the beach at Buffalo Bay and bravely swam in the ice-cold water. This is a lovely swimming beach and we saw several young surfers having lessons. We also visited Noetsie, just outside of Knysna, where you drive past derelect shacks and go some distance before coming upon the most spectacular scenery with huge houses hidden amongst the fynbos. We went down some steep steps to the pristine beach and looked up at the ruins of an old castle.
In the afternoon we went to an organic market where we browsed through the stalls. We saw saw rhinos, elephants and even some Mongooses (or is that Mongeese?) crafted out of bits of wood and nails. My sister tried her first oyster ever and we enjoyed the relaxed vibe as we sat and listened to live music.
On our way back to Somerset West, we took a detour to visit the coastal village of Witsand, the scene of many happy boating and camping memories. My sister was determined to see a whale while she was in South Africa and she had missed out on a whale watching tour while we were in Knysna. We sat at the beach café and saw a few fins at a disappointing distance. I remembered the time when we had seen so many whales in the bay that we could not count them all. Perhaps it was a little too late in the season – we usually start seeing whales from about June.
Back home again, I realized once again that we live in a country of awesome natural beauty. It was wonderful to travel the garden route once again and see it afresh through the eyes of my sister who has been living in the UK for two and a half years. Next time I am sure I won’t take much persuading to go on a canopy tour in the forest or go on a whale watching adventure.
Watch the video my sister made of our holiday below.