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South Africa's Garden Route
A Great Holiday Value
by
Christine Roberts

South Africa's best-value-for-money holiday is undoubtedly the Garden Route. Apart from its indigenous forests, spectacular coastline and natural beauty, it is a destination that offers an unbelievable variety of attractions, outdoor adventures, hiking trails and comfortable accommodations to suit every pocket. And, there's no better time for foreign tourists to visit than now as it is fast becoming on of the world's favorite destinations - along with Cape Town.

I was very impressed with the standard of accommodations, the quality of the top restaurants and the friendliness of the residents.

The Garden Route incorporates the area bounded by Stilbaai and Tsitsikamma, and the coastline in between. In their marketing endeavors, the tourism marketing arm, Gartour, have always included the critical entry/exit points of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth which together form a comprehensive tourism package - the Greater Cape Route.

There is a plethora of activities for day trips. For instance, a visit to Oudtshoorn's ostrich farms in the Klein Karoo, with lunch at popular Jemima's restaurant down-town or Plettenberg Bay's white sandy beaches, whale-watching cruise or nearby Robberg Nature Reserve, especially on a guided tour with conservation expert Anthony Crawford Jones www.robbergwalks.homestead.com. Botlierskop Game Farm offers an exhilirating three-hour game drive to view some of their 500 resident animals. And, the stunning Stormsriver Mouth/Bridge area is not to be missed!

The best way to sightsee in the region is by car.  The roads are well signposted which helps not to get lost when discovering those interesting attractions off the beaten track! Nature's Valley is one hidden beauty spot with a pub that is well frequented by locals for sundowners. The Big Gum Tree is another diversion as is the beaches of Victoria and Herold's Bay, only five minutes from the town of George.

For those who prefer traveling on an organized tour, Brenton Blue Tours offers tailor-made and scheduled half-day and full-day tours.

Places to stay:-

PINE LODGE offers fully-equipped self-catering 1,2 or 3-bedroomed chalets in garden surroundings with private barbeque facilities, close to beaches, main shopping and several good restaurants in George.

KNYSNA RIVER CLUB has luxurious log chalets overlooking the Knysna Lagoon and is an easy walk to bustling Knysna Quays Waterfront. Modern, spacious and fully-equipped, each unit  includes TV's, oven, refrigerator, open-plan kitchenette, lounge and one or more bedrooms. Doors lead out to a balcony with comfortable chairs, table and a cooker. Cormorants and herons are frequently seen on the lagoon as are sun birds in the shrubs surrounding the units.

On this property, you have the choice to self-cater or dine at the independently-run River Club Cafe on the premises. Alternatively, you can opt to eat out at the Knysna Oyster Company's Tavern, or on the Waterfront.

The River Club Cafe is run by husband and wife team, Dave and Liz Hall, who've been serving scrumptious breakfasts and dinners here ince June 1998. Self-trained chef, Liz, hails from Durban and is well known for her curries (mild, and too hot!) and creative country cuisine. Talented daughter, Tatum, has enhanced the restaurant's interior with her fresh-looking, hand-painted wildlife table cloths and artwork which adorns the walls.

EIGHT BELLS MOUNTAIN INN  is a friendly country inn, conveniently situated at the foot of the Robinson Pass on Route 328, between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn. It boasts exhilarating "Rooster Walking Trails", two resident Cape Eagle Owls and outstanding meals.

Accommodations include en suite bedrooms, thatched rondavels and new, luxurious Swiss-style log cabins.

BRENTON-ON-SEA HOTEL has well-appointed self-catering chalets, cosy log cabins and VIP houses which command a magnificent sea view. As the only Knysna beachfront hotel, its main restaurants are housed in a central building, filled with magnificent wood structures. From here, you have an unbeatable view at sunset, whilst sipping sundowners.

STROMBOLIS INN is a charming country inn, conveniently situated outside the main shopping area of Plettenberg Bay, near to a host of attractions.

This friendly, family-run lodge is renowned for its excellent meals and homely atmosphere. Accommodations are in comfortable cottages in a garden setting, where you feel very much at home with the resident pets - ducks and two dogs.

KNYSNA LOG INN is the largest log structure in the southern hemisphere. This multi-award winner is ideally situated 250 meters from the town's centre, close to the Waterfront. All their ensuite rooms are luxuriously furnished,  there is a swimming pool and a popular restaurant.

I briefly visited the five-star Fancourt Hotel & Country Club Estate, renowned for its world-class golf courses and accommodations. Lake Pleasant resort hotel is another exquisite property, also five-star, set in a stunning scenic area overlooking a lake, with abundant birdlife, horse-riding and leisurely walks, among other activities.

Kynsna is the heart of the Garden Route with plenty of fun-filled things to occupy the entire family. The luxury 40-foot Zakat - Voyager yacht takes a maximum of 12 guests on their cruises and is highly recommended. Skipper, Kevin, takes his superb ocean-going vessel out of Kynsna Quays, with a selection of cruises offered. The evening trip is extended by an hour and includes oysters and champagne.

The passage through the narrow entrance between the two towering rocky Heads can be a dangerous one, but he handled the vessel very smoothly and after a short while headed back to port.

Only ocean-going  vessels such as the Zakat - no ferry boats - are permitted to traverse the treacherous waters of this channel.

Not far from The Heads is the privately owned Featherbed Reserve. Rivercat Ferries make regular trips here and the tour includes a ride in a 4x4 trailer to the summit on the Western Head. This is followed by a panoramic walk back to the restaurant for lunch, or you can opt to return by trailer, with an opportunity to view the elusive Knysna Loerie and Blue Duiker close-up.

An exclusive new golf resort has opened in Knysna, the Sparrebosch Golf and Country Club, with a resort and residential stands located high above The Heads.

Cafes in Knysna's main shopping area are in abundance, but the Coffee Connection was my favorite due to the king-size cappuccinos and delicious, hot, blueberry muffins.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

* Watch local jockeys participate in a colorful Ostrich Race at the Safari Farm in Oudtshoorn. You can sit on, or even ride one

*  Visit Mossel Bay's Dias Museum Complex. See the Maritime, Shell & Aquarium and Culture Museums. View the 500-year old Post  Office Tree, a massive milkwood and South Africa's first post office. Early explorers left their letters beneath this tree. http://diasmuseum.museum.com.

* Take a memorable sundowner cruise on the Keurbooms River with Keurbooms River Ferries. Spot darter birds, cormorants, herons and enjoy a picnic break on a river beach.

*Go whale and dolphin-watching. More than 37 species of whale have   been recorded off the coast of Plettenberg Bay. The biggest   professional whale and dolphin-watching company on the Garden Route   is Ocean Safaris who are officially affiliated to an active marine mammal research institute.

* Adventure lovers can have the time of their lives on a tree top tour, or canoeing, cycling, kloofing, abseiling, bass fishing, scuba-diving and mountain biking. See www.stormsriver.com.

* A day visit to one of the malaria-free game reserves - Buffalo Hills, some 15km from Plettenberg Bay.  The cost of R250 (US$25) includes breakfast, lunch or dinner, a walking trail or game drive and a Mampoer Tour of the Reserve's distillery.

* Take a guided safari with a ranger at Monkeyland. Be sure to allocate half a day, if you can, to enjoy this unique primate sanctuary. Safaris view a wide variety of primate species including several varieties of lemur.

Many have suffered untold cruelty or been robbed of their habitat resulting in an ever-expanding endangered list. At Monkeyland, the sanctuary provides resident primates with a stable environment without any exploitation.

* A useful complimentary tourist brochure produced by the Region is "Garden Route and Klein Karoo". For more details consult the website http://www.gartour.co.za.

Or, e-mail Gartour member and Monkeyland curator, Lara Mostert at monkeys@global.co.za.

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Email:  Christine Roberts

 

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