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Exploring the Garden Route

Annemarie’s Safari Route Map

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

I had the absolute privilege of chatting to Annemarie Barnes, a Canadian high school English teacher currently living in Switzerland, who spent two weeks travelling through South Africa with her husband in April 2015.

Together, the couple ventured to the most scenic parts of the Western Cape province, exploring Route 62 – which passes through the Klein Karoo and South Africa‘s leading wine regions, as well as the Garden Route – a scenic self-drive route stretching from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape.

This is how their safari unfolded.

Annemarie says that a two-week trip to Cape Town, Route 62 and the Garden Route had been on her agenda for many years, ever since she visited South Africa for the first time in 2003.

Annemarie and her husband prefer to organise their holidays in advance so that when they’re actually on the road we can relax and enjoy the ride more. After a bit of Googling, Annemarie contacted Megan Warrington at Discover Africa, who booked all their accommodation.

Annemarie’s SA safari

Four nights at the Sir David’s Guest House in Bloubergstrand

After a direct flight from Heathrow airport, Annemarie and her husband finally arrived in Cape Town just before 10.00 a.m. on Saturday, 4 April 2015.

They collected their rental vehicle from Dollar Car Rental, without a GPS though as they brought their own, already preloaded with all the South African maps they needed to seamlessly make their way around the country. But as luck would have it, it got infected with some sort of gremlin and became unusable.

Mapless, the couple jetted off towards their first accommodation of their South African tour, The Sir David Boutique Guesthouse situated close to the idyllic Small Bay beach in Bloubergstrand, which was their home for the next four nights.

Annemarie enjoyed sitting on the terrace in the evenings, looking out over the little bay across to Robben Island. She loved the fact that they were a mere five to ten-minute walk away from a number of excellent restaurants – the internationally recognised heritage site Ons Huisie (which means “Our Small Home”) as well as On the Rocks, a very popular seafood restaurant which offers breathtaking views of Table Mountain at sunset.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

On their first day, they visited the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, widely acclaimed as one of the great botanical gardens on the planet. Annemarie says she was blown away by the exotic vegetation, which really drove home the message that they were in Africa.

They also planned on taking a cable-car to the top of Table Mountain, however high winds prohibited them from doing so. Luckily, their online tickets were valid for 14 days, so they decided to drive up to Signal Hill, which gave them spectacular views of the Cape Town city centre and the Atlantic Seaboard before heading back to the guesthouse.

Day two started with a tour to the historic Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. What was particularly interesting for them was the fact that the tour was guided by an ex-prisoner.

Annemarie and her husband also managed to visit Bo-Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter, nestled on Signal Hill and home to an amazing array of brightly painted houses. During their time here, they were lucky enough to witness a large procession of beautifully dressed people having their wedding pictures taken. This wasn’t the last wedding they encountered on the day though, they also bumped into a Hindu wedding procession at the Company Gardens.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

On day three, the couple booked a guide to take them on a full day wine tasting tour. Annemarie says that this was one of the best decisions they made as they tasted about 35 wines! They also visited the wine estates of Simonsig, Anura and Glen Carlou in the Stellenbosch before having lunch at Dieu Donné in Franschhoek, where the best table on the terrace had been specially reserved for them.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

 

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

The highlight of their trip was their full day tour of the Cape Peninsula, driving around Clifton and Camps Bay, then to Hout Bay and from there along Chapmans Peak drive. Afterwards, they drove down to Cape Point visiting the lighthouse before walking down to the Cape of Good Hope, where they enjoyed an afternoon picnic.

After lunch, they travelled to Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town, which is home to a penguin colony and gave them a great opportunity to see these flightless birds at close range, watching them frolicking in the ocean before rushing out to dry themselves on the sand.

Aerial view of Diaz beach at Cape Point in Cape Town

They also managed to see the Cape Dutch colonial architecture in Simon’s Town before driving up to Chapman’s Peak to witness the South African sun setting over the 12 Apostles mountain range.

Before saying goodbye to Cape Town, they took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, which gave them stunning views of the 12 Apostles mountain range, the Cape of Good Hope, Robben Island and the city. Annemarie says it’s much better than the European ski lifts she’s been in!

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s Safari Adventure

Two nights at the Malherbe Guesthouse in Montagu

Annemarie and her husband left Cape Town at noon in the direction of the Malherbe Guesthouse situated in the small town of Montagu on Route 62, where they spent the next two nights.

Before arriving at their destination, they made a pitstop at the Rhebokskloof Wine Estate in Paarl Valley for lunch. On a shaded wooden deck overlooking a small lake, they dined on cheese, charcuterie, salad and one of the finest wines that the estate had to offer.

They also visited the Afrikaanse Taalmonument, sitting on a hill in Paarl, erected in 1975 to honour the South African Afrikaans language.

“There’s so much eye-candy in this country!”

The couple finally arrived at the Malherbe Guesthouse, run by a Dutch couple, who moved to South Africa over a decade ago. Upon arrival, the owner, Joop, recommended the Simply Delicious restaurant to them as a dinner option. Annemarie and her husband enjoyed the three-course dinner so much that they booked their spot for the next night as well!

The next morning, they set out on foot to explore Montagu a little bit more, visiting a little museum and one of the earliest houses in the town. It was quite hot, so they decided to stop at Viljoensdrift, where they enjoyed a hour-long boat trip down the Breede River – while feasting on a delicious deli picnic on deck.

One night at the De Opstal Country Lodge in Oudtshoorn

The couple then found themselves heading to Oudtshoorn via Route 62 – which Annemarie says reminded her of the American West.

Before arriving at their next destination, there was time for coffee at Ronnie’s Sex Shop, situated just outside Barrydale. Annemarie was fascinated by the story of how the shop was opened – apparently, Ronnie was going bankrupt some years back when a buddy of his hung up a pair of knickers and a bra from the bar, and the rest is history. The coffee was good too!

They also managed to squeeze in a visit to the Safari Ostrich Farm – where they found out that an ostrich eyeball weighs 60 grams (much bigger than its brain) and that they don’t actually bury their heads in the sand!

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

After exploring the town of Oudtshoorn a little more, the couple eventually arrived at De Opstal Country Lodge, set in the Schoemanshoek Valley. Annemarie loved the setting, with the Swartberg Mountains towering behind them.

Before dinner, they decided to go for a walk, passing the local ostrich, cattle and tobacco farms in the fertile valley.

One night at the Lily Pond Country Lodge in Tsitsikamma

After a hearty breakfast, Annemarie and her husband headed for De Rust on the N2, stopping every now and then to see ostriches before turning off towards the coast across Prince Alfred Pass, travelling on a gravel road for a few hours.

They stopped halfway at a quaint little tea-shop for tea and scones (served by a quirky but friendly waiter) before visiting Monkeyland and Birds of Eden in Plettenberg Bay, where they saw hundreds of monkeys and apes as well as the world’s largest free-flight aviary.

Later in the day, the couple arrived at their next accommodation — the Lily Pond Country Lodge, situated in Nature’s Valley on the edge of Tsitsikamma National Park.

Located next to a huge lilypond (hence the name), Annemarie says the lodge is an architect’s dream! Beautiful lines, tastefully decorated rooms, surrounded by exotic plants and boasted a stunning infinity pool!

“A wonderful prelude of peace and tranquility”

Their room was even more impressive, it had a private deck overlooking the lily pond, where they enjoyed drinks and a memorable four-course meal.

The following morning, they drove down to the beach at Nature’s Valley lagoon, which was completely enveloped in fog, despite the bright sunny skies above them at the lodge. Unfazed, they went for an invigorating half-hour walk on the driftwood-strewn beach.

The couple then stopped at the Bloukrans Bridge, famed for being the world’s highest commercial bridge bungy at a whopping 216 metres (709 ft) above the Bloukrans River. They spent some time watching fearless young people bungy jumping off the bridge before driving towards the gates of the Tsitsikamma National Park.

Unfortunately, the fog returned while they were walking towards the Storms River Mouth suspension bridge, so they couldn’t see much. However, it wasn’t long before things cleared up and provided them with stunning views of the coastline.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s Safari Adventure

With their sense of adventure in full swing, they made their way up to a viewpoint 175 metres above them. The trek was a steep one, but once they’re reached the top it was well worth it. From above, they watched dolphins leaping and cavorting in the churning waters below them.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

After making their way down once more, they took a boat ride into the Storms River Gorge, which was very narrow with towering cliffs on either side of them. Annemarie says it was great fun and so exhilarating!

Two nights at the Woodall Country House in Addo

Annemarie and her husband were loath to leave the Tsitsikamma but soon found themselves headed on a 200-kilometre drive to the luxurious Woodall Country House Set on a citrus farm a stone’s throw away from Addo Elephant National Park.

She loved their rooms, which had two sitting rooms and a four-sectioned bathroom with an outside shower! It was also littered with brilliant little touches – freshly picked flowers and little personal notes.

They also found drinks and snacks waiting for them on their outside deck, which was very welcome as they’d skipped lunch. Their hunger didn’t last long though, as they enjoyed a sumptuous five-course dinner with different wines.

Annemarie says the next morning’s breakfast was as scrumptious as their dinner the night before. At 08:30 a.m. they hopped into the back of a game vehicle with a ranger on board and headed towards the Addo Elephant National Park. Annemarie and her husband spent the next five hours spotting kudu, wildebeest, zebra, warthogs and elephants.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

 

The following day started quite early as well, at 05:30 a.m. They’d booked a hop-on guide to take them on a three-hour self-drive through the Addo Elephant National Park once more. Annemarie says the experience was almost as memorable as the previous day’s, as they spotted a 60-strong herd of buffalo crossing the dirt road they were on.

They returned to the lodge for breakfast before packing their bags and leaving for the next chapter of their safari.

Three nights at the Leisure Isle Lodge in Knysna

Annemarie and her husband then drove back along the N2 road towards Plettenberg Bay, before stopping for a walk along the cliffs in the Robberg Marine Reserve, which provided them with spectacular views of the Garden Route. They also spotted so many of Cape fur seals lazing about on the rocks and swimming in the swirling waters below them.

A 30-minute drive later and they found themselves at their guesthouse for the next three nights, the Leisure Isle Lodge, set on an island in the Knysna Lagoon.

Annemarie says the lodge was very luxurious and comfortable. They stayed in the honeymoon suite, which had huge windows looking across the Bollard Bay Beach towards the Featherbed Nature Reserve and the picturesque Knysna Heads. Fortunately, the lodge has a small restaurant with an amazing chef, so they didn’t have to go out again.

Unperturbed by rainy weather forecasts predicted, the couple drove to the Knysna waterfront and boarded a boat to the Featherbed Nature Reserve. They were dropped off on the other side of the lagoon – in the reserve – before being escorted to the top via a tractor.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

There was no tractor for the journey down though, as they spent two hours walking back, soaking up the stunning views of the Indian Ocean and beyond. When they finally got back to the jetty, a tasty buffet was laid out for them in a restaurant set underneath a colossal milkwood tree.

The couple returned to the wharf around 2:00 p.m. before meeting up with a guy called Mawande, who would take them on a guided township tour.

Mawande, who owns a home-stay and a restaurant, told them that the main reason behind his tours is to show people that the townships are changing, people are becoming more prosperous, and that there are many success stories like his!

The weather cleared up the following day and they made the most of it with a one and a half hour walk along Jubilee Creek, situated next to the Goudveld Forest, which was once the site of a gold rush in the 1880’s.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

After an early breakfast, they said their final goodbyes to the Leisure Isle Lodge but left under a cloud – with heavy rain threatening to fall at any moment.

One night at the Bloomestate Guesthouse in Swellendam

By the time Annemarie and her husband reached the N2 road, the rain was bucketing down. However, lady luck was on their side and within one hour, things cleared up.

They made a number of stops along the way, enjoying the stunning Garden Route coastline one more time, visiting Herold’s Bay, the Bartholomeu Dias museum in Mossel Bay – aptly named after the Portuguese navigator who first landed there in 1488 – as well as The Point, watching the waves crash against the dramatic rocky beach from a lighthouse.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

From Mossel Bay, they headed on Route 62 towards Swellendam, stopping at the Drostdy Museum, which is a large collection of old Cape Dutch buildings was built by the Dutch East India Company in 1747 to serve as a residence and headquarters.

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

Annemarie and her husband checked into their last accommodation of their South African tour later in the day – the Bloomestate Guesthouse situated in the foothills of the Overberg mountains. The couple were sorry that they didn’t have a few more days of holiday left to use it as a base for perhaps a day trip to De Hoop Nature Reserve, a favourite for hikers, cyclists, bird and whale watchers.

After relaxing in the garden jacuzzi, they went to one of the finest restaurants in Swellendam – La Sosta – where the couple says they had the best meal of their South African trip.

The next morning, Annemarie woke up a little sad. It was the last day of their tour, but they planned on making the most of it.

They headed onto the N2 once more in the direction of Hermanus, following the Whale Route all along the coast of Gordon’s Bay before stopping at Betty’s Bay to see the penguins.

African penguin at Stoney Point penguin colony in Betts Bay

Annemarie says the best part of the drive was the road on the east side of False Bay, rating it just as amazing as the Chapman’s Peak Drive. They stopped at one of the viewpoints, where they met a friendly local couple who told them to go to the top of the mountain to get one of the most stunning views of False Bay. It was a good suggestion, as the views from above were spectacular!

Exploring the Garden Route - Annemarie’s South African safari

They filled the gas tank once more before deciding to go for one last wine tasting at Asara – a winery in Stellenbosch that served food as well. As they sat there, Annemarie said that they already started thinking about their next African adventure!

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