Whether you choose to explore a beautiful stretch of coastline or take that long-awaited road trip with friends, why not end your ‘lockdowner’ with a holiday? It could be a chance to create some good memories this summer.
Let’s face it. The past few months of being housebound have been tough on us all. But, with local travel restrictions now lifted, the travel industry is buzzing with excitement and hungry for your business. Are you ready for a taste of freedom?
Go for the Garden Route!
The Garden Route is the most dramatic and beautiful coastline you’re ever likely to explore. The route officially starts in Stormsrivier and ends in Mossel Bay (300km), but you can extend your trip by starting in Port Elizabeth and ending off in Cape Town or vice versa (750km).
The Tsitsikamma region, between Plettenberg Bay and Humansdorp, offers incredible adventure activities. One of the best is to take an ocean kayak tour right past southern right whales and then into the Storms River mouth and up through the gorge. Nothing can prepare you for how tiny you’ll feel floating in the shadows of those towering, awe-inspiring cliffs.
If walking is more your pace, Tsitsikamma has everything from 45-minute nature trails to the incredible five-day Otter Trail. For the very brave, there’s Bloukrans Bridge and the world’s highest bungee jump – guaranteed to blast away any remaining lockdown cobwebs.
Plettenberg Bay offers a welcome respite from adrenaline. With its trendy restaurants, magnificent beaches and outlying wine farms, it’s the perfect place to relax and take a bracing swim before continuing your journey. If you have time, you can book a tour on a boat to get a view of the seals at Robberg Nature Reserve.
Next up is Knysna. Built overlooking a sheltered lagoon and surrounded by Harkerville, it is the location South Africa’s largest remaining indigenous forest. Ancient and mystical, it’s the perfect place for a meander that will reconnect you with nature. Just be sure to stop and hug the infamous Big Tree. And, if you want a hug from your better half, a sunset lagoon cruise through the Knysna Heads – with a chilled bottle of Cap Classique and a dozen oysters – will certainly do the trick.
Twenty minutes from Knysna is the cozy beach town of Sedgefield. The pace slows down in this quiet part of the world. With its long, white sandy beach and peaceful lagoon, this is the perfect place for chilling, running on the beach or swimming.
The unspoiled splendour of Wilderness is definitely worth a stop. From hiking, fishing, windsurfing, paragliding and canoeing, you can definitely explore the adventurous side of your soul. On to George, the biggest town on the Garden Route. If you need to stock up on supplies, this is a good place to stop. If you have the time, play a few rounds of golf on its world-class golf course.
In between your drive from George and Mossel Bay, you will find the beautiful Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. With an abundance of activities for day visitors, you can spend the entire day entertained, but be sure to book in advance. The last official stop along the Garden Route is Mossel Bay. Here, adrenaline junkies will thrive with shark cave diving and skydiving on the agenda. If you’re not the thrill-seeking type, grab a coffee and relax at the Blue Shed Coffee Roastery.
Small town attractions
As you wind your way down to Cape Town, there are many charming small towns along the route, depending on which road you choose. Here are some we love:
Still Bay, also known as the Bay of Sleeping Beauty, is a tranquil place to unwind or to pop in for a visit at the Inverroche Distillery, the southernmost distillery in Africa, or Kasselhoop’s cheese factory. Swellendam, in the Overberg, is home to some of the most interesting museums and exquisite churches. The Bukkenburg pottery studio is also worth a visit. If you’ve brought your bike with you, why not bike around this quiet little town?
The Waenhuiskrans Caves are a key attraction in Arniston – you can explore the caves at low tide and explore the waves crashing on the rocks. The village of L’Agulhas is the perfect stop for relishing fish-and-chips in the open air and other seafood.
The fishing haven of Gansbaai welcomes you with bracing sea air and the chance to put on some boots or trainers and take a hiking or running trail through the Milkwood forests or along a pristine beach.
Hermanus is ideal if you enjoy whale watching, good wine – try Domaine des Dieux boutique wine farm – and chilled walks along the beach. If you’re looking for a touch of culture, try Hemmingway’s Bookshop for rare books and other literary treasures.
The road less travelled – Durban to Clarens
If you’re after a road trip with a difference, the route from Durban to Clarens is often the road less travelled. Along the way, you’ll see idyllic rolling green hills, ocean-like dams, majestic mountains and more than your fair share of quirky characters.
Durban is an incredibly underrated city. Its distinct Asian character is palpable and its unique blend of nightlife, restaurants, shopping and adventure activities is definitely worth exploring. Before setting off on your road trip, make sure you walk the Golden Mile that is Durban’s beachfront, check out Victoria Street Market for an authentic Indian shopping experience.
If you’re a music lover, you could also squeeze in a visit one of the many live music and jazz venues like The Centre for Jazz, Zack’s or the BAT Centre. If you’re feeling lucky, try a game of chance at the Sun Coast Casino. And feeding the sharks or swimming in an aquarium tank at uShaka Marine World is also a fun option.
Once you’ve pulled yourself away from Durbs, head to Howick. This is the start of the Midlands Meander. Distinctly pastoral, its misty hills and valleys are nothing short of magical and filled with things to see and do. Make sure you visit Nelson Mandela’s capture site, the Midmar Dam and Howick Falls before meandering deeper.
A large part of the Midlands Meander is the arts and crafts scene. Make sure you pick up a souvenir or two and support the incredible talent of the emerging artists dotted along the way. Definitely worth a stop are Dargle Valley Pottery, the eerie wind chime shop at Calamoya, Heavenly Hammocks, and Shuttleworth Weavers for a beautifully bespoke mohair rug.
An adventurer’s paradise
The Midlands is also an adventurer’s paradise. From hiking and horseback riding to bike tours and rock-climbing, there’s something for everyone. The highlight of which is the Karkloof Canopy Tour. This incredible network of zip lines will make exhilarate you while exploring SA’s second biggest indigenous forest from above.
If you’re into good food and drink, the Midlands is also a culinary adventure you won’t soon forget. Exciting restaurants, artisanal food producers and quirky farm stalls are around every corner. Be sure to save some space for the Marrakesh Cheese Farm, Chocolate Heaven, Highgate Wine Farm; and of course, The Nottingham Road Brewery.
When you’ve had your fill of foodie delights, get back into your car and prepare yourself for the majesty that is the Drakensberg. If you have time, the incredible Cathedral Peak and Giant’s Castle in Central and Southern Drakensberg is worth a detour. If you don’t, rejoin he N3, turn off at Winterton and follow the R74 to the Royal Natal National Park. Besides the dramatic Drakensberg amphitheatre, it’s also where you’ll find the Tugela Falls and Mon-aux-Sources – where the Tugela, Elands and ultimately Orange Rivers all begin their journeys.
The Royal Natal National Park offers activities like horse riding trails, swimming and trout fishing, but by far the most popular activity is hiking. The self-guided Otto’s Walk is a great experience for beginners. For more of a challenge, try the Tugela Gorge trail which ends with a chain ladder climb to a spectacular view of the falls.
When you’re ready to say goodbye to the park, get back onto the R74. This route will take you through the Sterkfontein Nature Reserve and past the Sterkfontein dam. The drive is nothing short of spectacular and will leave you marvelling at humankind’s ability to shape nature.
From here on out it’s a relatively short drive through the Freestate and on to Clarens. Although fairly touristy, Clarens is a lovely little town set around a village square. It’s great restaurants, bars, galleries and shops are a great way to relax and reflect on a truly epic road trip.