The Unconventional Garden Route (Part II)

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From Knysna to Franschhoek

After spending a couple of nights in Knysna, we hit the road again. Ultimately, our destination was Franschhoek, a charming town set in the famous vineyards of South Africa. Soon, we passed by Mossel Bay, where the ‘official’ Garden Route starts (or ends) and headed west with some ‘unconventional’ stops along the way.

Detour to Cape Agulhas

Well-rested, after exploring Knysna, we decided to drive to Hermanus, roughly 415 kilometers (250 miles) away. That meant we drove for almost a whole day, mainly on the N2 highway. After Mossel Bay, the road made its way towards the hilly inland of the Western Cape, leaving the Indian Ocean behind.

However, we weren’t ready to say goodbye to its warm waters yet. We, therefore, made an hour-long detour to Cape Agulhas. The cape is not only the southernmost tip of the African continent. It is also the place where the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean meet. A stone marker indicates the border.

Because of the direct ocean exposure, the coast is very windy. Its storms and rough waves have allegedly buried more than a hundred ships throughout the years. The climate created spectacular rocky beaches and unique alkaline soils with great floral diversity.

For what is more, the 18 meters long Southernmost Tip Monument, that reflects a surface map of Africa perfectly fits into the surrounding nature.

For the panoramic view of the entire area, we visited the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse. Although it was so windy that we struggled to hold our cameras, the view over the coastline of both oceans was phenomenal.

Good to know: There are several hiking trails in the area. We only had about two hours for our visit. So we walked around the Southernmost Tip Monument, where there’s a small free parking area. For the adjacent National Park, there is an entrance fee. For more information, visit the Agulhas National Park website: www.sanparks.org/parks/agulhas

Hermanus

After saying goodbye to the Indian Ocean and an almost whole day on the road, we reached Hermanus, a town set on a cliff above the Atlantic Ocean, just before sunset. We managed to enjoy a couple of meters of the famous Hermanus Cliff Path during the golden hour.

It is an easy paved walking trail above the rugged rocky coast, where we even got a splash from the wild cold Atlantic beneath us. During whale season (mid-June to mid-November), the gentle giants can be seen directly from the path. 

Detour to the penguins in Betty’s Bay

The next day, we followed the Atlantic coast to the holiday town Betty’s Bay, where we explored the Stony Point Nature Reserve. The boulders of the marine protected area are home to one of the largest breeding colonies of African penguins in the world.

Besides the smelly black and white flightless birdies, we observed several cormorant species and cute dassies (rock hyrax | Procavia capensis) looking for food among the birds.

The wooden boardwalk built above the beach allows wildlife enthusiasts to watch the animals in their natural habitat without disturbing them. 

Tip: There’s a parking area with restroom facilities adjacent to the reserve’s entrance point. A small conservation fee is required to enter the park. Before leaving, visitors should look underneath their car, as penguins sometimes hide there. For more information and opening times, visit the CapeNature website: www.capenature.co.za/reserves/stony-point-nature-reserve

Franschhoek

From the Atlantic coast at Betty’s Bay, the road took us to the mountain passes of the famous South African wine region. Our destination for the following two nights was the town of Franschhoek with its countless wineries, chick restaurants, and laid-back atmosphere. There, we left the car at our hotel and explored the wine valley on foot or aboard the famous Franschhoek Wine Tram.

Franschhoek belongs to South Africa’s oldest municipalities. At the end of the 17th century, French Huguenots, who came to the country as religious refugees, began to populate the area, established estates, and named them after the places of their origins in France. As a result of construction restrictions, the original Cape Dutch architecture dominates the town to this day.

The Wine Tram Adventure

The Wine Tram takes its passengers to several wine estates in the Franschhoek valley. Visitors can choose from eight lines and visit the wineries on a hop-on, hop-off basis.

Wine enthusiasts can book a curated tour with a guided visit of three wineries, a possibility to taste rare wines, lunch, and a knowledgeable guide. On our curated tour, we visited three historic wine estates: Rickety Bridge, Grande Provence, and La Bri, where we learned all about the history of wine production in the area.

Good to know: It is impossible to visit all wineries in one day. Choose at most 5 estates for one wine-tasting day. Bring enough water and drink plenty of it in-between tastings. For timetables, booking options and extended information visit the Wine Tram website: winetram.co.za/tours

Franschhoek is also a paradise for foodies. The restaurants offer everything from a beerhouse lunch to chic dining experience. There’s plenty to choose from. We liked the high-end steak at Rueben’s as well as the tasty burger combined with excellent craft beer at The Franschhoek Beer Co.

Our Garden Route road trip facts:
Total Distance: 640 kilometers (ca. 400 miles) incl. detours
Driving time: 8 hours
Total time: 4 days
Road conditions: Mostly very good paved roads
Route: Knysna – Cape Agulhas – Hermanus – Betty’s Bay – Franschhoek (https://bit.ly/2xiBDYy via Google Maps) 

Our unconventional Garden Route began on the shores of the Indian Ocean and ended in South Africa’s oldest wine estates. We observed elephants from close proximity in Addo National Park, watched dolphins chasing surfers in J-Bay, walked under 1000-years-old trees in Knysna, stood on the southernmost tip of the African continent, took countless penguin pictures in Betty’s Bay, and tasted unique wines in Franschhoek valley. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you choose our or the conventional way to get to know South Africa’s southern coast. We’re sure you’ll have the time of your life.

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