We’re well into our second course at the beautiful Afrikaan kitchen at Augusta de Mist Inn in Swellendam. Henk and Mitchell, our gracious hosts are making sure we are well taken care of. Tonight is not the night they usually open to serve dinner guests. But for us, they have made an exception, because of no reason. Maybe they just like us! Tonight it is a four course dinner plated and served by Mitchell, as Henk works the stove animatedly (he reminds me of Cameron from Modern Family). We have poppadums and raita as a special add-on to the menu , to make sure we feel at home! Somewhere during the course of dinner they modestly mention an article in the NYTimes that rates this Afrikaan kitchen as one of the top gastronomic experiences in SA.
We’re in Swellendam. The heart of the Garden route of South Africa. This town is a perfect night stop enroute and we just had to stay at the lovely Augusta de Mist property . There are no rooms. Everyone gets an independent suite, with double beds, couches, and all the frills such as bathtubs, a bottle of port and electric blankets. It’s a place where you unwind, stare at the misty mountains in the distance, sip on hot coffee and chat with Henk and Mitchell on life in South Africa, and somewhere we understand their challenges in finding acceptance in the countryside in rural SA as a same sex couple.
It has been a few years since our trip to South Africa, but I always recommend the Garden Route to anyone who asks me what they should do. Get to know the real South Africa through this route. Garden route is a misnomer; this is an exhilarating ocean road, with endless possibilities. This is a road where you start your journey in Eastern South Africa – in Plettenberg Bay watching whales, snorkeling, skydiving, and then start driving Westwards to go ride an ostrich and eat ostrich egg omelets in Oudtshoorn . Only to return to sunny beaches in the south in Mossel Bay, mountains in Swellendam, and finally get a little tipsy in Stellenbosch wine country tasting SA wines, as you finally make your way into bustling Cape Town.
There are lovely inns and B&Bs to stay in along this route. Each property we stayed at was beautiful, the hosts were warm and welcoming and the food Zagat standard. And the drive is stunning .“ Here is where car commercials are shot” I heard a local remark proudly. It makes sense – winding roads hugging the cliffside with the waves crashing down and merging back with the blue, blue ocean. In places such as Hermanus, you may be lucky enough to even spot a whale breaching as you drive along the road. This journey of 600kms always has interesting stops – such as Ronnie’s sex shop where the restaurant owner laughs and tells you that it had nothing to do with sex at all, just great food and an interesting décor. And a sign that gets your attention (you bet!).
In an 8 hour drive, the Garden route gives you an insight into SA as never before – That SA is not just for wildlife – it’s for the people, scenic beauty, beaches, good food and adventure travel.
And that slowly but surely, the people here are opening their homes, hearts and kitchens to the world.
Garden Route Map
- Best time to travel: The summer months (Nov-Feb) are ideal. You might find the shoulder seasons rather cold, and high windchill in certain areas veers the car off the road, making it difficult to control. Also, most of the towns on the garden route are seaside, so weather plays a big role.
- Travel Route: Ideally, you should finish with the Kruger area before heading south. The entire garden route is based in the south and is around 600+ kms. The origin could be Port Elizabeth, or George from where you drive westwards towards Cape Town, which is your final destination. Assuming you get into Port Elizabeth, stay a night, and start your journey the next morning:
- Plettenberg Bay (Plett) should be your first stop which is just about 2 hours west from Port Elizabeth.
- From Plett, drive to Knysna, around 45 minutes. Stay overnight or a few days in Knysna.
- Go northwest towards Oudtshoorn into ostrich area. The topography changes as you enter a more arid side of the country but it’s well worth it.
- Head south to Mossel Bay for fantastic beaches and seafood. Stay a night if you plan on watersports.
- Or head to Swellendam for mountains, and a lovely retreat like experience.
- The next stop for those looking for Shark cage diving should Gans Bay. This is a small town so get in just for this activity, not staying a night.
- You have several options after this. You either head to Cape Town stopping at Hermanus for a bit. Hermanus is the whale capital of South Africa. Or you get further into the countryside with a night halt at Stellenbosch for the fantastic wineries.
- Stellenbosch is in the outskirts of Cape Town so a short drive away. This is the final leg of the journey as you leave the countryside and get back into the buzzing city.
- Places to stay:
- Ideal Duration:
- Must Do’s:
- Plettenberg Bay: Seal colony, skydiving, paragliding
- Knysna: Snorkelling at the heads
- Oudtshoorn: Ostrich colony and limestone caves
- Ideal Budget: My travel style is not backpacking. It’s mid-range and adventure based. For this style of travel, i recommend a budget of INR 2,50,000 per person.
, Garden Route
, Must Do
, road trip
, South Africa
, Western cape