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South Africa - Cape Town and Garden Route

The land of the untamed, uncharted and unbelievable experiences

Along with a group of close friends I decided to visit South Africa during the month of November in 2016. Starting from Cape Town for a couple of days followed by the enormous Garden Route trail was the plan for a trip of 10 days. Ethiopian airlines were a very suitable flight with total 9 hours journey from Mumbai to Johannesburg with a halt in Addis Ababa. From Joburg, there was a short connecting flight to Cape Town. It is highly recommended to book a self-drive car in advance for roaming in this country as most of the places have to be covered on road. Airbnb is also recommended for stay across various locations in SA as they offer more localized and economical accommodation (Refer to link at end of article). 

Cape Town (3 days)

Cape Town located at the South Western Cape of Africa is one of the most beautiful port cities in the world. A blend of nature, adventure, blue seas, wonderful skyline, beaches, windy atmosphere, affluent townships and lovely people is an alluring experience when visiting South Africa. Cape Town is a huge city divided into many pockets. Our apartment in Cape Town was located at a stone’s throw away from the main part of the city and had a mesmerizing view of the table mountain.

The most spectacular and popular attraction is the table mountain national park which each and every tourist visits without fail. There is a cable car which goes all the way up to the top from where incredible views of the city and coast can be seen. Few animals also can be found here like the Dassie Rat which is native rodent. There is a small café also up here.

V&A waterfront is a lively part of the town with an aquarium, a mall and restaurants and bars sprawling across. It is surrounded by as the name suggests a stunning waterfront. The beaches in the city like Camp’s Bay are spectacular and they have swimming zones allotted. There are a lot of excursions from Cape Town which are an essential part of the trip, hence as earlier said, car is a must. Starting from Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town which is an hour from Cape Town, it has a big colony of African Penguins. They can be seen up close in their natural environment swimming or just bathing in the sun with their families. 

Then head to Cape Point (Cape of Good Hope) where the two big giant oceans meet – Indian Ocean and the Atlantic. The waves crashing against each other and the power winds are a great experience. There is a funicular which heads to the lighthouse for offering the best views. It’s difficult to hold ground here as the winds are so strong. It’s easy to lose balance and fall. Definitely the camera and glasses should be worn carefully.       

Our first beach experience was quite unforgettable. After we were done with Cape Point, we were anxious to take a dip in the ocean and decided to visit Buffels Bay beach which was just fifteen minutes away from cape point. The water was rough however we we didn’t care. Such a beautiful beach, we went deeper and deeper. There was no one around which we found a bit strange. Then suddenly saw some blue things swimming near us and lot of them were lurking on the sand as well. One of our friends who was not in the water did a basic Google search and found, these things are called Portuguese Man of war (small kind of jellyfish) which are venomous and the stings can be fatal. We just ran out of the water and headed back to the car. We said let’s enjoy another beach which is more safe as we had more than half the trip ahead.   

Another very picturesque location to explore is Chapman’s peak, which can be easily routed while on the way back from Cape Point to main city. This place is again super windy but the views are thrilling. This would be a perfect sunset point for the trip in Cape Town. It’s a really nice drive too. There’s a small toll fee to enter this area. It offers views of valleys and the sea.

During our visit it was so windy that the cable car in Table Mountain was closed for the first two days. Only in our third day of the trip it started. There was a huge queue however we bought prepaid tickets online which helped us a bit in cutting of the line compared to others. Once we were through with this awesome place our road trip commenced towards the garden route.

Garden Route (6 days)

First stop was Mossel Bay (about five hours from Cape Town) which is a very well known shark cage diving spot as a lot of juvenile great white sharks are often lurking around the seal island. Shark cage diving was one of the main reasons to choose South Africa as a destination among other activities and it truly lived up to its promise. I had booked our activity through White Shark Africa who were very professional organizers with trained staff and interns. The cage diving was not fully immersed however was enough to see the giants in reality.  The experience was superb and the anxiety began right from the time we entered the boat. The seas are rough and water visibility is low, depending on weather but these guys have a maximum strike rate when it comes to seeing the great whites. The entire experience right from the time the chums are thrown into the water to lure these giants is surreal. Compared to main stream activities like sky diving, bungee jumping, whale watching, this is totally a must do.

Next stop was Knysna which is known for surfing, paragliding activities and the famous Robberg Island. We stayed at Plettenburg Bay which was just twenty minutes from Robberg Island. This island is all about exploring the wilderness naturally without vehicle and on foot. It’s a huge island with very minimal wild life and there is a bay where seals can be seen in their natural habitat. The island is surrounded by beautiful beaches and since it’s a protected reserve, there are very few people you see around. Also it would take an entire day to cover the entire island on foot. 

On the garden route there are so many activities, it becomes difficult which to choose. Apart from adventure sports like Bungee Jumping at Bloukrans Bridge, skydiving, paragliding, scuba, kayaking & snorkelling in Storms River and zip lining in Tsitsikamma National Park, there are still tonnes of things to do. The Ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn is a cool place where these birds can be fed and experienced up-close. Then there is Cango wildlife ranch very close to it where there is a small sanctuary and crocodile cage diving. We chose to go to Zukani Wildlife Park as there enclosures were quite big so the habitat seems to be more natural to experience the big predators. We saw the White Tiger, Siberian Tiger, Royal Bengal Tiger, African Lions with cubs, Cheetahs, Leopards, Black Panther, Jaguars, Mountain Lion, Hyenas, wild dogs and so on. So mainly all the big cats can be found in one place.

Also very close to it is a snake farm called the Lawnwood Sanctuary where the tour is spectacular. The guide gave a proper tour of the farm showing each and every kind of reptile. Also they let you hold certain non-venomous snakes to let go all your anxieties. We didn’t get a good glance at the Black Mamba and the King Cobra, so the owner himself took us very close and showed us how the snakes are led back into their space once the farm is closed. Was a very close experience, even snakes are moody, didn’t know that.

There are a lot of private wildlife enclosures spread across the garden route; one of them is Scotia Sanctuary which provides a great experience. However we wanted the most natural African bush experience hence opted for Addo Elephant National Park which is near Port Elizabeth (our last stop in Garden Route). It is a national park well protected with very strict rules. We got a fantastic guide with his own personal Land Rover which allowed us to see all the animals from a good height. I didn’t see the big five all together, but saw the big African Elephant up close along with the Wilder Beast. Lot of Warthogs, tortoises, zebras, jackals, ostriches were seen in their natural habitat from a good distance so they are not disturbed.

Port Elizabeth is a good cosy stop to end the garden route and there are direct flights to Joburg to catch the main international flights back home. It’s a silent town with a massive casino and a good number of activities in the day. Whale watching arranged by Raggy Charters is recommended. Also snorkelling in the beaches can be done. 

Though all these activities and information mentioned seem to be synchronized and in order, we had not planned it the same way. We stayed at the main hub of Garden Route which is Knysna only for a day and then headed to Port Elizabeth for four days. So we had to do back and forth (two hour drive) for a couple of activities. The roads were awesome and the drive was superb but the main location of accommodation in Garden Route should be planned in Kynsna or Plettenberg Bay as all main activities are close by to these.

Anyways the garden route offered a thrilling experience, where one can do activities as per particular tastes and fancies. There are many other things like the walk with the Cheetah, Cango caves, and Stellenbosch vineyards and so on. If Kruger national park near Joburg can be added to Garden Route Itinerary with Cape Town, it will be a complete vacation. Nevertheless it was the best adventure trip ever.

Essential Info:
  • Accommodation in Airbnb:
  • Make sure when booking a car, also rent a GPS
  • Safety not an issue in Cape Town and Garden Route, if not driving too late in the night. Walking and strolling in the night however not recommended.
  • Everywhere South African currency Rand is universally accepted. Do not transact in dollars or  euros as it may lead to loss in conversion. Lot of local foreign exchange currency dealers are  there in Cape Town who charge less commission and no tax like banks
  • Food choices are many, spicy food made in peri peri sauce available all around - Nandos is a must try chain

This post first appeared on Cestovatel Diare, please read the originial post: here

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South Africa - Cape Town and Garden Route


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