From Oudtshoorn, we drove down to the Garden Route and our first destination was Victoria Bay. This is such a pretty bay and just the sort of place that we were expecting to come across along the coast. Coming from Jersey, where we have a ridiculous amount of stunning beaches and bays, it takes a lot to impress us. Victoria Bay Caravan Resort overlooks the bay and our pitch (number 39 if you ever visit) was in the perfect location. We were able to watch the surfers from dawn to dusk right from our van. We booked in for 2 nights at R210 per night. There was no town within walking distance so we made sure we were fully stocked up before coming. We found a huge shopping centre called the Garden Route Mall about 5 minutes drive from the campsite, in the direction of George. Cider and biltong purchased! In the bay there is a cafe that serves basic food and drinks from 9am to around 5pm. We were surprised to find that there was free wifi in the bay at a daily allowance of 250MB. Although there wasn’t much here to do it was the sort of place, that as long as the sun is shinning, you could stay for days. Unfortunately for us there was a long weekend coming up and the small caravan park was fully booked for the coming weekend.
The following day we drove along the coast to Buffalo Bay. It has a really long sandy beach with crashing waves and has a very laid back quiet feel to it. We took a walk around but it really is tiny with one shop and one pizza type restaurant. We asked to have a look around Buffalo Bay Caravan Park as they charge R380 per night (out of season!) and we wondered what was so special about it. The campsite is surrounded by the sea, which is lovely, but they didn’t seem to have many facilities to justify the price (no swimming pool, washing machines, wifi, etc). We moved onto Buffelskop Caravan Park, around the corner, who we had called in advance to check they had space due to the holiday weekend. The lady sounded surprised on the phone that I was calling to check if they had any vacancies, we soon found out why! The gate was wide open when we arrived and there was no sign of any kind of security. As we drove up along the winding road taking you past each pitch, there was nobody there. Not a soul. The views were amazing so why was the place completely empty?? When we got to the top of the campsite we found only one pitch taken. We promptly turned around and drove out. This place just gave us the heeebie jeebies.
We drove onto Knysna which is a bigger town. We made our way to Monks Caravan Park and were hesitant at first as their website said they charged R400 per night at this time of year but it is the only campsite within walking distance of town. Luckily we were only charged R250 per night, result! We wanted to stay within walking distance of town as the next day the forecast was for cloud and some rain. We chilled out at the campsite for the rest of the day.
The following day we woke up to cloud as expected. We put on our walking shoes and went into town. 15 minutes later we arrived to a town which was somewhat disappointing. For a town that was described in the Lonely Planet as one of the most famous on the garden route, it was run down, drab and as I remarked at the time ‘a bit naff’.
After walking around for about an hour only finding a few dingy pubs and some small shopping malls, we came across the Waterfront which was a delight compared to the rest of the town. I suppose it was a little more of what we were expecting and included a few bars and seafood restaurants (it is a seaside town after all!). We checked out Thesema Island which did have some similar style restaurants but the one we were interested in only mainly served dinner. So we headed back to the waterfront and ate lunch at Drydock which was nice enough and they had Leopards Leap wine (from a winery in Franschoek that we’d previously visited) on the menu so we were happy.
After leaving the caravan park we drove to Brenton-on Sea and the Heads of Knysna. There were fantastic views but the drive to Brenton-on-Sea was a fair bit longer than we expected. We then drove along the N2 turning off to visit Noetzie beach as recommended by the Lonely Planet guide. What it didn’t tell you is that you first drive through an ‘alternative accommodation’ area and that the road is gravel. If we hadn’t read the guide there was no way we would have turned off here, as our first thought was to lock the doors and turn around as quickly as possible. After a fair drive, you arrive at the carpark where you can walk down to the beach. One hundred and thirty three steps later (Bel counted them all) we arrived at a lovely sandy beach but the waves were pretty rough and not one where you would run into the sea for a leisurely dip.
Next we moved onto Plettenberg Bay. A large sandy beach with an inviting sea. A bit ‘resorty’ but a nice place for a day at the beach. We had fish and chips at Moby’s which was yummy whilst overlooking the beach and people watching.
Back into the van and off we went to Storms River. There is a national park and we were looking to stay at a campsite in the park. It turns out you can’t get to even look at the campsite to see if you like it without paying R200 each to enter. When you are on a budget, this is a lot of money for what might turn out to be a 10 minute trip. We called the campsite and found out they charge R390 a night! A quick turnaround out of there. It might well have been a lovely place to stay but after (Victoria Bay aside) the underwhelming places that we’d come across so far it was to expensive a risk to take.
We carried on along the N2 which is not the drive I initially thought it would be… Garden Route made it sound to me like it would be a winding road taking you through lush countryside but it is in fact a motorway. I perhaps should have researched a little more but I really wanted to have this vague sense of driving into the unknown, not planning and knowing every second of the trip.
On the way to Cape St Francis Bel made a call to the campsite in our guide only to be told they no longer offer camping services and that we would need to continue along the coast to Jeffreys Bay. This was not what we wanted to hear as we had now been driving for a fair while.
We Googled campsites in Jeffreys Bay and came across Jeffreys Bay Caravan Park. It looked great as it was right next to the beach and within walking distance of town. Unfortunately, everything in town was closed this afternoon as it was a Sunday. A lot of these places seem to turn into a ghost town on a Sunday! The campsite is a municipal campsite which means it is basic. It was run down and without wanting to sound snobby, it had a council estate feel to it. One night there to rest our heads was enough for us.
We were planning to go to the Addo Elephant National Park the following day and tried to book accommodation online. If you are from SA or have been here before, you will be belly laughing about this now. FAT CHANCE! Every single place in the park is fully booked for the next two weeks as there is a public holiday coming up and then it is the school’s easter break. What a disappointment. We didn’t think to book in advance as we didn’t know when we would be here but it seems that our timing was pretty shocking. But not to worry, we managed to book ourselves into a campsite attached to a B&B called Homestaed, 13km outside Addo.
We drove from Jeffreys Bay to Addo. The Garden Route takes you along the motorway until you turn off to head up the R335 which is the road that takes you to the main entrance of the national park. What travel guide books don’t tell you about is the appalling state of some of the areas you drive through to get to these tourist spots. The beginning of the R335 had a large settlement of alternative accommodation and the surrounding grassy areas are sadly completely littered. But continue along the bumpy road, being careful not to run over the dogs that run across the road, and you come to the town Addo, which is rather small. The surrounding area has guest houses and lodges galore for those who were not lucky enough to book well enough in advance to secure a place in the accommodation actually in the national park. Major tip – If you know when you are going to be in the Addo area, book your accommodation in advance if you want to stay in the national park.
In 1931 when the area was declared a national park they only had 11 elephants . Now they have somewhere in the region of 600 and we were lucky enough to see 50-60 of them! We drove ourselves around using a map provided by the park which sets out the tracks you can drive and lookout points. You are allowed to leave your car only at these lookout points but at your own risk. You are on the animals’ turf and there is nothing stopping a lion coming to say hello when you are trying to take a photo of the scenic view! We spent 7 hours, in a sweltering 38 degrees, driving around pretty much every track there is looking out for animals and stopping to take photos and videos once we found them. My favourites were the elephants, zebras and warthogs. It cost about R500 in park entrance fees for the two of us. There are guided tours or your can hire a guide to come in your car with you for an extra fee, but I don’t feel that it’s necessary as we saw a lot of wildlife on our own.
After leaving Addo we headed back to the Garden Route and travelled west, planning to stop at some places that we missed out first time round. We stopped for a couple of nights at Keurbooms Lagoon Caravan Park, just outside of Plettenberg Bay. The weather was a little grey so we visited the tourist attractions of Jukani and Monkeyland. Jukani was like a retirement home for cats that had been rescued from various circus’, zoos and private collections over the years. There were lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, pumas, etc etc. which whilst it was nice to see the various cats they didn’t have the biggest of enclosures and were all a little lethargic.
Monkeyland on the other hand was full of energy. You enter into one huge enclosure that encompasses the whole forest. There are what felt like hundreds of monkeys, with many different species from around the world, all living together in harmony (apparently!). It was great to see them all chasing each other round and swinging from tree to tree. They looked like they were having a great time and I’m not sure who felt more of the tourist attraction us or the monkeys!
To cap off our rather touristy day we went for lunch in town at a lovely Portuguese/Mozambique restaurant called LM in Plett. The garlicy prawns and slow cooked bbq rib combo was really nice and as per all other Portuguese restaurants I’ve been to in the past the portions were huge!
The following day we drove to Mossel Bay and stayed at Dibiki Caravan Park, just outside of Mossel Bay near a town called Hartenbos. We took a drive into Mossel Bay as we’d heard that it was a lovely place. As we drove through town I noticed that we were driving along a road named Bland Street. For me it couldn’t have been named any better! We did a circuit of town and then left to drink wine in the van back at the campsite!
Our final day on the Garden Route was spent at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, 20 minutes drive or so from Mossel Bay. It was a 3 hour long guided game drive which was really informative. There is a vast range of wildlife, including rhinos, lions, buffalo, zebra and many different species of dear. It was great to see the rhinos and lions that we weren’t able to spot whilst driving around the Addo Elephant National Park. At around R450 per person it was a little bit pricey for our budget but in my eyes it was well worth being able to see these amazing animals roaming around the countryside.