The Garden Route is described in many a tourist guide as a ‘hidden gem’. Of course, it’s anything but that. And all it took was a mid-week motorhome meander through this area in winter, the least popular time of year to visit, to understand how far it surpasses this worn-out cliché.
Barefoot, my feet tightly bound together, I shuffled towards the edge of the 216-metre drop. When my toes were dangling off the edge, the man next to me unpeeled himself from my clutches and told me to jump.
No, I hadn’t been kidnapped by a mob, and Gary, the man next to me, was no mobster. I was there by my own choice. As I teetered on the edge, I gazed down at the blur of rockery and greenery below. Looking up and ahead, I could see for kilometres. A wave of calm swept over me, in sharp contrast to the loud pop music blasting from the speakers above. Realising that there was no chance of turning back, I leaned forward into the void. The world’s highest bridge bungee jump offers equal parts of exhilaration and terror. After dangling upside down like a shaken-up rag doll, I couldn’t help wondering if assignments like this made my job the best, or the worst, in the world.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
The plan was to tour the Garden Route in winter and discover as much of it as we could in five days. Our ride, a luxury Vista 3 motorhome collected on the morning of our departure, was to be our home-on-wheels and means of getting around town for the next week; and it didn’t take long for the Vista 3 to prove a worthy touring companion. While not the biggest motorhome I’ve driven, this powerful 3-berth model built on a Fiat Ducato chassis gave us a smooth and comfortable drive the whole way, performing well on both the long-distance hauls as well as in short back-and-forth dashes. This didn’t come as a surprise, though; touring is what these mean machines are made for.
Visiting the Garden Route in the depths of winter isn’t as bad as it sounds. The area boasts an oceanic climate, with mild to warm summers, and mild to cool winters; so the temperature rarely falls below 10°C in winter and rarely climbs beyond 28°C in summer, making it an all-year-round destination. But, here’s the thing, most folk don’t know this – so the number of summer visitors far outweighs the winter ones.
We were lucky to experience only the occasional evening downpour or afternoon drizzle – a pleasant escape from the unrelenting doom and gloom of a Cape Town winter back home. Evenings were chilly, as expected, but having our own fully-equipped bathroom on board meant we could avoid midnight sprints to the ablution block! And if we arrived at our campsite after dark, or while it was raining, it didn’t matter either. Setting up was as simple as parking and plugging into the park’s power supply; our departures were just as simple.
The Garden Route stretches from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape, to Storms River in the far western reaches of the Eastern Cape, and is sandwiched between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains and the Indian Ocean. The area is a mosaic of different ecosystems, encompassing no less than ten nature reserves – including the world-renowned Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve, the Knysna Lake section, Southern Cape indigenous forests, and unique marine reserves. If you’ve ever visited this region, you’ll know that it offers a constant montage of landscapes and seascapes, ocean and mountain views, providing an ideal backdrop for a holiday that offers you a little of everything.
After setting off from Cape Town, our first stop was in George – the Garden Route’s largest city and main administrative centre. A place I’ve always simply driven past. We arrived just as the clouds cleared, allowing the sunlight to form a beautiful halo around the town. We began our morning with a classic cappuccino from the much-talked about Beans About Coffee bistro in the town centre, and with a new caffeine-induced spring in our step, proceeded to the Tourist Bureau to get some info on spots to visit.
Two friendly employees were happy to oblige. After they had related a brief history of The Old Slave Tree (an old English Oak tree outside the town’s old library which marks the 1834 ‘Emancipation of Slaves’) they loaded us up with pamphlets and brochures.
If, in the warmer months, you enter the farming area just outside George on the Geelhoutboom Road, you’ll come across rows and rows of strawberries on Redberry Farm. We enjoyed a morning on the farm, exploring the grounds. There’s a tea garden and a farm stall which has a selection of tasty strawberry- and deli products and souvenirs. There are train rides, a kiddies’ puzzle-park and maze, water sports (such as bumper boats) and a farm with animals and pony rides on offer, too. Positioned at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains, this is one spot the whole family can enjoy for a couple of hours.