Garden Route & Winelands, South Africa
When to go
There’s no bad time to go, as the climate is Mediterranean and you’ll get about 300 days of sunshine a year. However, areas such as Plettenberg Bay can get crowded in peak season, particularly at Christmas and Easter. Winter days from March to November will still be warm but temperatures dip sharply at night. July to November is the best time for whale-watching.
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PlanesCape Town International airport (www.airports.co.za) is well served by international carriers; Virgin | BA and South African Airways fly direct | with flights taking 11–12 hours from London. Globespan has great-value flights from Manchester in high season (November–April). If you’re staying at the eastern end of the Route | you could also take the 50-minute domestic flight to George | or Port Elizabeth | a two-hour drive from Plettenberg Bay (aka ‘Plett’).
TrainsThere are limited public train services; you’re better off sticking to the road (see below). There is a vintage steam train that runs along the coast from George to Mossel Bay, the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe (+27 (0)44 801 8288), but it’s not exactly a commuter service.
AutomobilesHaving your own wheels (whether you prefer cars or motorbikes) is pretty much essential; whilst most hotels can arrange transfers and ferry you around | you’ll get far more by being independent | and car hire is cheap. The route is simple: take the N2 out of Cape Town and follow it all the way. If you’re making a detour to the winelands around Stellenbosch | take the R45. Driving is easy here (especially if you're British; they drive on the left) but watch out for speed cameras; the law is very strict and the fines will follow you home.
TaxisOut in the Garden Route towns, taxis are expensive and difficult to flag down. Find one in a taxi bay or ring ahead and book.
Drive from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth in the east, and the N2 takes you from city along the coast, via the Winelands. Meet lesser-known winemakers behind this region’s award-winning Bordeaux blends and elegant chenin blancs. Then, after a restful night’s sleep, get behind the wheel to wend your way sedate seaside towns where you can pause to take in the wildlife in inspiring landscapes. Since Knysna and Plett have drawn many artists to settle here, artisan workshops displaying the fruits of their looms, pottery wheels and palettes are also begging to be browsed.
At La Residence, this 30-acre working farm lets you sip the bounty of its beautiful Franschhoek Valley setting in true splendour. Tastings don’t get more exclusive than with the award-winning sommelier in the romantic private cellar of this château-style estate. Oenophiles will appreciate the double-volume, glass-fronted wine cellar at Ten Bompas, one of Joburg’s smartest addresses. It contains several thousand bottles of South African vintages and a large collection of auction wine purchased each year at the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction in Stellenbosch.
Move over big cats, we’re mad for the mighty pachyderms that are Africa’s largest land mammal. Visit The Crags Elephant Sanctuary and you can go on a walk with the ellies where they actually hold your hand with their trunks. Immerse yourself in their habitat around the clock with a spell at Gorah Elephant Camp. Addo National Park is home to the densest population of elephants, and Gorah is committed to the conservation of animal’s and their habitat.
Whether backdropped by lush untouched forests or taking a canopy tour through Tsitsikamma, monkey fans will enjoy all the characters that swing by to say hello along the way. Stay at Grand Café in Plettenberg and they can organise a guided trail through the mountains and fynbos at Hog Hollow on horseback. Or sign up for a whirl at Tsala Treetop Lodge and you can make like a glamorous Tarzan and Jane in your own luxe stilted hut in the forest.