When I started chatting travel and general nonsense to three Dutch girls in Khayelitsha, I never expected they would adopt me for an adventure road-trip on their last weekend in the country.
Even as I studiously concentrated on the guide book to South Africa, I struggled to get my head around the mammoth journey we were about to embark on; our first sleep was supposed to be Jeffrey’s Bay (JBay) = 765km away.
Following the picturesque N2 road from Khayelitsha we passed through the almost non existent Swellendam, avoided Mossel Bay with its reputation of being rather ugly and headed onwards for what seemed like forever in the cooking-pot car showing 35•C.
In our haste to reach JBay, our day was being melted away inside the vehicle as opposed to being out discovering idyllic beaches, jumping in the pounding white surf and chilling in a retro café in town. JBay is a surfers paradise; there is little point going unless you are planning on surfing, like watching it or have a few days to spend talking it, drinking it and learning it … we had none of the above and time was not on our side. We ended up falling short of our intended destination by some 200km, so by 6pm we began telephoning hostels in the surrounding areas … in the height of South Africa’s summer holiday season. Imagine heading to the beach on a bank holiday weekend …
Plettenberg Bay is one of the Garden Route’s major destinations. Backed by majestic mountains, it overlooks miles of sandy beaches and the moody tidal Keurbooms lagoon whose crystal waters say “snap” back at the sky. Our guide book warned us not to “judge a hostel by its looks” but we were just grateful to the four travellers who had cancelled their booking allowing us to seek refuge at such short notice.
With a patio overlooking the entire stretch of beach – all the way to St Francis Bay on a clear day, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to view the sunrise over the ocean at 05:10 the next morning, even after a deafening night of brain bashing, nightmare inducing dance music from the club opposite.
The hippy-esq market is small yet quaint, selling every type of souvenir or tasty morsel you might desire -perfectly representing the trendy and popular town.
Stopping at Knysna and taking a stroll in and around the Quays of Thesen’s Island, we really should have tickled our taste buds with the ocean-fresh Knysna oysters, however it was just long enough to break up our comparatively short journey through to Wilderness.
Set in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, Wilderness NP has birds, snakes, deer and other wildlife a plenty … as our trundle down the decked Pied Kingfisher Route to a waterfall proved; one Mole Snake, a little grey snake and a spiders nest the size of my head was enough to keep us on our toes.
An evening of indulging in the delights of lasagne and chocolate waffles at the Friday night market was in order before sleeping it off amongst the ants, dragonflies and mosquitoes which were quite apt for staying in ‘the wilderness’.
All too quickly it was over and we were starting our 485km journey back to the township taking a minor detour to the Cango Wildlife Park – a glorified zoo where you get to pay lots to stroke a cheetah, hold a snake, have pictures with a tiger and generally support the unnecessary caging of animals which don’t even belong in this country … needless to say I would suggest bypassing this and visiting Cango Caves instead!
What little we saw of the Garden Route acted as a wonderful break for me, but its towns and parks have been massively developed – not always for the best, and so I would agree with Lonely Planet when it states “so if you leave South Africa without having seen the Garden Route it isn’t a disaster. If you leave having only seen the Garden Route, it might be.”
• Be reasonable in your assumption with how far you can travel in one day
• Do not skimp on time in unusual places – this is not traveling, this is just ticking towns/countries off a list
• Check out whether it is the holiday season and how far in advance you may have to book
• If in doubt, stop and investigate – take a wander, say yes to the locals, live a little and make it an adventure
The Garden Route starts from Mossel Bay and continues for 200km on to Storms River Mouth. Plenty of accommodation on all levels throughout.
We stumbled upon this place when we took a wrong turn on a walk back from the funky shops on Kloof Street and ended up walking down Bree Street. A poster said there was jazz at 11 Breee Street that night so later we walked back and went up the long stairs. At the top we paid about £7 and entered a room that was decked out with a stage, fairy lights, candles and plastic chairs and tables dotted around. A small hatch in the side was the bar and we settled down for the show to start not knowing what to expect. What we got was Mike Rossi, one of the most amazing jazz saxophinists I've ever seen. The music was amazing and his sets were interspersed with Xhosa indigenous music from local musicians. Despite the horrific house wine (which was a surprise in South Africa) the evening was very special and rich. Highly, highly recommended
This small gem of a beach is much loved by locals, both human and penguin. Situated within a sanctuary for 3000 African Jackass penguins, the crescent of white sand is backed by dense vegetation in which the penguins nest. The sheltered bay is surrounded by huge boulders on which children love to climb and leap into the sea. Penguin couples waddle down the beach to cool off in the water and seem happy to swim among excited children, posing for photographs or playing Pied Piper as they lead curious kids into the rock crevices to explore. A fantastic family day out is on offer including a visit to the penguin breeding sanctuary or a delicious lunch at the restaurant adjacent to the free parking area where local traders sell African artifacts. An entrance fee to the beach is charged (about 50p) which helps fund the penguin conservation.
Boulders Beach, about 45 minutes drive from Cape Town, close to Simonstown.
Google map: bit.ly/ubjLTM
Boulders is home to the adorable yet bizarre African 'Jackass' penguin. Just a walk down the road from Simonstown, near Cape Town, Boulders is wonderful for picnicing, surfing and building sandcastles. I first visited this bay when I was about eight years old with my family and some friends. It was nice to be so at-one with nature, yet still have a family holiday. The boulders the beach is named after are also great fun for climbing and jumping off into the warm ocean. The only thing I would be wary of is checking around your car before you leave, just incase one of the penguins has fallen asleep in the shade!
The Biodiversity garden is a precious, new jewel in the botanical crown of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is the smallest and hottest of biodiversity hotspots worldwide.
The Green Point Urban Park in Cape Town is oh-so-accessible, sandwiched between Signal Hill, the oldest lighthouse in South Africa, and the iconic football stadium of World Cup 2010 fame.
Set within this, the Biodiversity Garden celebrates all that is unique about the Cape and its flora, where wanderers are shown the interconnectedness of life and encouraged to 'Make a Difference'.
What’s not to love about this appeal? Perfect for a sunset amble or a morning wake up wander. Big enough to seriously stride around the large circular lawn area, pound the running paths, work out at the trim park or just meander along the wetland walk, among the more 300 local fynbos plant species.
Why the Biodiversity Garden works for me?
The garden is truly laid out ‘for all’ – ages, activities, levels of botanical interest as much as physical mobility …
The signs are crafted to casually inform, the storyboards are easy reads, the plants labels let everyone ‘get the picture’- effortlessly …
So much thought has gone into how the biodiversity message gets across – they ‘show’ things, and ‘tell’ stories, rather than facts …
Botanic biomes and endemic rarities are seamlessly woven into ‘demonstration gardens’, alongside responsible gardening practices …
Threats, like agriculture and alien invasive plants, are dealt with in bite size pieces, and drill down consequences …
Kirstenbosch Gardens, in Cape Town, lies at the foot of Table Mountain. Guinea fowl roam free, plants and trees are well labeled and there is a mix of ponds, streams, lawns and walkways. These walkways are paved so the walking is easy and there are free daily walking tours at 10am as well as two hikes up Table Mountain for the more serious walker.
In summer open air concerts take place on Sunday evenings (Nov – April). These are family friendly events with people getting there early with a picnic basket and blanket and making themselves comfortable on the grass. Few experiences can match sipping on good South African wine, listening to South African music and having Table Mountain as the backdrop for all of this.
Wynberg NU (2), Cape Town 7800, South Africa
+27 21 799 8783
Google map: bit.ly/jYHMd4
Covering 36 hectares, Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens is situated in Cape Town, South Africa at the foot of the eastern slopes of Table Mountain.
A well known exhibitor at Chelsea Flower show, displaying the floral diversity found in southern Africa, this natural paradise offers a comprehensive taste of the Cape's flora and fauna.
Enjoyed by locals walking their dogs and tourists alike, often seen picnicking on the manicured lawns which lead to ponds frequented by bird life, an afternoon can be had in the warmth of the sunshine and peaceful sound of Cape reeds moving in the breeze, perhaps only marginally dogged by inquisitive and noisy guineafowl.
Permanent Shona stone sculptures from Zimbabwe are positioned around the grounds while organised events including changing art exhibitions showcasing contemporary, local talent and botanical drawings can be viewed and purchased. During the year bonzai and orchid workshops are held as well as summer concerts in the warm evenings under starry, African skies.
Craft markets provide outlets for local communities to showcase their work while the deli and restaurant offer local specialities and champagne breakfasts. The ever popular tearoom refreshes hikers with cups of rooibos tea and tasty cakes.
Ancient cycads are housed in their own protective amphitheatre while rockeries and streams provide interest for youngsters. The shady camphor avenue offers some respite from the heat of the day and if you are lucky, the sighting of owls, almost hidden in the upper branches. This is near the conservatory, home to southern African succulents and cacti, the majestic baobab, the smaller kokerboom and rock plants.
Paths for children, the blind (sensory trail) and wheelchair users are all catered for while longer trails radiate into uncultivated areas and the surrounding Table Mountain National Park. These surrounding routes, enjoyed by dedicated walkers follow in the footsteps of historical figures such as General Smuts, leading to native silver trees which shimmer in the sunlight and the location of van Riebeeck's hedge on the slopes of the mountain - the Dutch national credited with establishing a refreshment station for seafarers at the tip of Africa in the1650s. Here the occasional mountain tortoise can be spotted ambling along on the hot, dusty sand.
Energetic visitors can walk past beds of ericas and proteas to embark on a winding route up Nursery Ravine to Castle Rock, the imposing stone hunk above the gardens and admire the vegetation or fynbos, as it is called, from above. You might be lucky to spot a disa orchid, indigenous frogs or just admire the sunbirds and sugarbirds darting around dipping their long beaks into nectar rich blooms.
The Neighbourhood Goods Market is Cape Town’s answer to Borough Market. It is housed in an old Victorian Warehouse at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. This trendy, bustling market has over 100 speciality traders and one can find anything from cupcakes to chutneys, beers, organic local wine and beer, biltong, various mushroom varieties, pastries, meat, vegetables, bread (sold out of an open trailer) and, and, and ... Grab a coffee and sit on one of the long tables that are set up down the centre to soak up the atmosphere. It does get busy so best to get there early.
Saturdays 9am - 2pm.
Goudini is a self-catering resort based around three oudoor thermally heated swimming pools (each one is a different temperature) and one indoor pool. The main pool also has a super tube. There are various accommodation options including four bed rondavels with brai (bbq) facilities as well as duplex flats. Other facilities include trampolines, putting, volleyball, hiking trails and a games arcade. It's a great family resort and with such lovely mountain surroundings and beautiful warm pools you will never want to leave! If you can tear yourself away for a day visit the malaria free Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve or visit a few wine estates.
Located one hour from Capetown on the Route 62 wine route,then off the N1 just North of Paarl.
Wyzersdrift Road, Rawsonville, 6845, Capetown SA
Google map: bit.ly/e6swvf
This public outdoor swimming pool complex is set below a raised promenade off Beach Road in Sea Point, Cape Town, South Africa. Situated between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean it comprises an Olympic sized, filtered seawater pool, two splash pools and a diving pool.
Above and alongside the sea, the spray from breaking waves that occasionally land over the boundary railing reminded us of our location, at the southern end of the African continent.
The sound of seagulls overhead, the visual pleasure of seemingly limitless open ocean as you cool off on a hot Cape summer's day and the imposing yet restful backdrop of Table Mountain make this outdoor pool quite special.
The aromas from BBQs on the adjacent grassed area encourage locals and tourists from all walks of life and is the ideal spot to relax after a refreshing dip beneath blue skies.
Whatever your swimming level it is an affordable day out and costs adults around R9,50 while children pay R6,00. Die-hard swimmers meet in the winter months as it is open all year round from mid-April to mid-October (08:30 -17:00) and in the more popular summer season from mid-October to mid-April (07:00 -19:00) when swimming just prior to sunset and the onset of the evening precede a lazy stroll along the paved coastal path, ice-cream in hand.
Sea Point Pavilion, Cape Town
Address: Beach Road, Sea Point, Cape Town, South Africa
Phone: (+ 27) 021 434 3341
Google map: tinyurl.com/32momns
Strictly Coffee is a specialist, boutique coffee house situated in Robertson valley in the Cape. The friendly owner Hanno Schwartz takes his coffee roasting very seriously and is always on hand for a chat and to share his infectious passion for coffee roasting. The atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed. The selection of coffee is vast, with a bean for all tastes.
Escape from the crowds and head to Kalk Bay. The Polana restaurant is one of the best places to watch a winter storm head in across the bay whilst cosying up around the warm fire with a glass of local red in your hand.
There are some lovely local markets in and around Cape Town, that offer unique crafts, books, delicious things to eat, or places to just hang out. Try Hout Bay market, the Montebello Design Centre or the slow market at Willowbrige.
Cape Town is beautiful in winter. If you are going for this year's World Cup then check out some of these options, all with great views of the city, from distinctive Cape Town style to easy-going family fare.
Baia Seafood Restaurant
A Portuguese take on seafood, with great views of the V&A Waterfront’s harbor.
Shop 6262, upper level, V&A Waterfront: +27 21 421 0935
Cape to Cuba
Eclectic Cuban restaurant with fishing-harbour views and armfuls of esoteric Cuban collectables.
Main Road, Kalk Bay: +27 21 788 1566
Poised at the foot of Chapman’s Peak, take in the expanse of Hout Bay and enjoy a large seafood collection – it’s famed for its calamari.
Main Road, Hout Bay: +27 21 790 1036
Elegant upmarket seafood restaurant with endless sea views of the Kalk Bay Harbour and beyond.
Kalk Bay Harbour, Main Road, Kalk Bay: +27 21 788 4133
Vista Lounge & Bar
Hotel bar to Sol Kerzner’s One & Only, this spot looks out on a marina and the backdrop of Table Mountain. They serve light snacks throughout the day and turn into a cocktail bar by night.
V&A Waterfront: +27 21 431 5800
On The Rocks
Get the picture-postcard view of Table Mountain at this West Coast favourite.
45 Stadler Road, Blouberg: +27 21 554 1988
• Cities are always best seen on foot, and Cape Town is no exception - enjoy modern creative Cape Town or an historical City tour.
• Enjoy a local theatre production with music ranging from opera, to swing, jazz, kwaito and hip-hop.
• With the Cape Town Design Route guide you can explore the city’s top design shops and art galleries.
• A Cape Malay Cooking Safari involves a visit to the Bo-Kaap museum, a tour through this historical area and cooking course and lunch in a local resident’s home.
• Get into the groove on a Cape Town Jazz Safari.
• Abseil off the top of Table Mountain.
• Party the night away at a shebeen and stay over in a local bed and breakfast in the townships.
• Shriek all the way to the bottom when you go sand-boarding.
• Take in the breath-taking views from the top of Table Mountain (weather permitting).
• Visit the District Six Museum and immerse yourself in the memories of what was one of Cape Town’s most colourful communities before residents were subjected to forced removals during the Apartheid era.
• Stop, shop, have a bite to eat or explore the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront.
• Begin your evening with sundowners on the Camps Bay strip or at the fireside at one of the city’s award winning restaurants and end off by catching some live music on Long Street in the City Centre
A fascinating window into the dynamics of South African life, townships are bustling centres of energy, creativity and entrepreneuralism. They are also where you are likely to have one of your most authentic experiences during your visit to South Africa.
You should always book through a reputable agent. Check out www.capetown.travel
A good travel accommodation motto is "never settle for less than what you have at home." Staying at Acorn House doesn't compromise that maxim; indeed, it's better than staying at home due to the enthusiasm and professionalism of its staff to help you get the most from your holiday. Acorn House was originally built for the the Editor of the Cape Times, early in the 20th century and was converted to its present form about 10 years ago. It's full of original features and sits high above Montrose Avenue, looking down across Cape Town and Table Bay. The Manager, Stewart (ably assisted by Jade), was incredibly helpful with advice on what to do, where to go and eat, where to park, etc. We had an excellent room on the ground-floor, with our own terrace next to the herb garden. There's a plunge pool if the heat gets too much, and a beautiful terrace for taking afternoon tea and breakfast. The latter was the best we had in South Africa with an extensive buffet and a daily-changing hot dish. The area is very quiet and it's close enough to the city centre to walk to restaurants on Kloof Street etc. The good thing about staying in a guest house is that you have more interaction with your fellow guests than you would staying in a hotel - we picked up lots of tips about Cape Town and other places on our itinerary. We had a great time and can't recommend Acorn House enough.
Situated off the national road within easy driving distance of Cape Town in Somerset West, is Vergelegen Wine Estate.
Picnic among some of the Cape's oldest camphor and yellowwood trees in the extensive grounds that showcase South Africa's chequered history and Cape Dutch architecture. Experience the sensory beauty of the cultivated rose and herb gardens, the original Van der Stel Winery, the Library, mill, ruins and Slave Lodge as well as authentic Pigeon House.
Breakfast al fresco at The Rose Terrace Bistro, open November to April or sample the fish, meat and vegetarian dishes which are served in the Lady Phillips restaurant together with a selection of premium Vergelegen wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz varieties. Cellar tours are also offered.
Combined with good weather an outing to Vergelegen is well worth its R10 entrance fee. As it is very popular, booking is advised. It is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and well worth a visit especially if heading from Cape Town to Hermanus to enjoy some whale watching.
Phone : +27 21 847 1334
Address: Lourensford Road, Somerset West, South Africa
This upmarket Cape Town Hotel, spa and restaurant offers uninterrupted sea views of the Atlantic Ocean and is positioned beneath the slopes of the Twelve Apostles mountain range on the Cape peninsula amidst a backdrop of unspoilt fynbos vegetation. The Twelve Apostles Hotel has no immediate neighbours yet is less than a 30 minute drive from the heart of bustling Cape Town along one of this coast's most scenic roads.
The location caters for those seeking tranquillity and offers every comfort including five star facilities and a private cinema for after dinner screenings. Besides the Leopard Room bar, popular for sunset cocktails and an envious collection of vodka and port, a café offering light meals, or the option of afternoon tea, the main draw card is the Azure Restaurant which promotes cape-fusion cuisine utilising indigenous plants known as fynbos, herbs, seasonal ingredients and local seafood. It also offers visitors the opportunity to sample pickled fish, incorporating Cape Malay style cooking, a favourite of the BoKaap. It has won acclaim as one of the best places to stay in the world and is on the Conde Nast Traveller Gold list for 2010.
The view of the ocean, Lion's Head and the craggy Twelve Apostles to the rear in wild surroundings makes this luxurious establishment well worth a visit.
+27 (0) 21 437 9000
Victoria Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town, South Africa
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