The Garden Route (part one), Western Cape, South Africa.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela.

High on my must-do list for South Africa was a journey along the Garden Route. I was extremely nervous about driving here but the Garden Route is probably one of the more ‘safer’ routes in South Africa. Caution is still required and I chose not to drive at night. It’s possible to do the journey on public transport but you are very much restricted with times and destinations. I preferred the freedom of a car and, with hindsight, I’m very pleased I did it this way.

You can’t help but be seduced by the glorious natural beauty of the Garden Route, it is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The distance from Mosel Bay in the west to Storms River in the east is just over 200km, yet the range of topography, vegetation, wildlife and outdoor activities are amazing.

The coast is dotted with excellent beaches, while inland there are picturesque lagoons and lakes, rolling hills and eventually the mountains of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma ranges that divide the verdant Garden Route from the arid Little Karoo.

Mosel Bay. Pop 30,000.

Cape Town to Mosel Bay is about 390 kilometres; it was an easy and extremely enjoyable drive of about 4.5 hours.

At first glance Mossel Bay is the ugly sister of the Garden Route. It was a hugely popular destination until the 1980s, when the building of the world’s largest gas-to-oil refinery and the resultant industrial sprawl uglified it, and it fell into a slump. But beyond the unimpressive approach road, you find some fine beaches, gnarly surf spots, a wealth of activities and great places to stay – Mosel Bay Backpackers being one of them.

George. Pop 114,000.

George, founded in 1811, is the largest town on the Garden Route yet remains little more than a commercial centre and transport hub with not much to keep visitors for long. The only reason for my impromptu stop was to visit the transport museum.

Outeniqua Transport Museum is definitely worth a visit even if you remotely interested in trains. A dozen locomotives and 15 carriages, as well as many detailed models, have found a retirement home here, including a carriage used by the British royal family in the 1940s. There’s also an impressive collection of classic cars.

Oudtshoorn. Pop 29,000.

In the late 1860s, no self-respecting society lady in the Western world would be seen dead without an ostrich plume adorning her headgear. The fashion lasted until the slump of 1914 and during this time the ‘feather barons’ of Oudtshoorn made their fortunes.

You can still see their gracious homes, along with other architectural pointers to Oudtshoorn’s former wealth such as the CP Nel Museum (formerly a school). The town remains the ‘ostrich capital of the world’ and is now the prosperous tourist centre of the Little Karoo. I stayed in a glorious B&B – Villa Ora Guesthouse – great value for money and extremely enjoyable.

30 km north of Oudtshoorn are the Cango Caves. Named after the Khoe-San word for ‘a wet place’. The Cango Caves are quite possibly the most impressive that I have ever seen. The one-hour tour gives you just a glimpse, while the 90-minute ‘Adventure Tour’ lets you explore deeper into the caves. It does involve crawling through tight and damp places, so is not recommended for the claustrophobic or unfit. The caves are 30km north of Oudtshoorn.

It’s also well worth a visit to one of the nearby ostrich farms. I chose Safari Ostrich Show Farm.

Next stage: Garden Route (part two) Wilderness, Knysna, and Addo.

Mosel Bay.

Glorious beaches along the Garden Route.

The transport museum in George.

About Richard Griffith

My first independent travel experience was a trip to Israel, in 1997, it was here that I caught the 'travel' bug! In 2001 I took an 8-month sabbatical and traveled around South East Asia. Since then I have managed to visit most of Eastern Europe along with India, Bangladesh, and a few other destinations in between. I love travel and I love meeting new people.
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