This is the most famous coastal area of South Africa and we can see why. Besides being relatively close to Cape Town, it has the best of the 2 oceans: the Indian and Atlantic. The quaint and beautiful towns scattered across this coast are filled with life night and day; offering options of activities, food and entertainment for all kinds of people.
Plettenburg, or Plett (as the locals call it) is a popular stop on the coast. It's picturesque location on the beach surrounded by buildings, houses and restaurants make it a perfect destination for travelers of all genres!
From the streets down to the beach, it is packed from early morning to sun set and you can spot whales and dolphins in the distance. Diving is an option and we were very excited to do it here. However, the local shop, Pro Dive proved to be inefficient and unprepared with their equipment. Their staff were rude and unhelpful so this definitively discouraged us.
Instead you can enjoy a day on the beach, swim with seals or go searching for dolphins on ocean tours. If the weather is looking grey and you aren't brave enough to face the chilly ocean, the town also has a great selection of restaurants and shops, perfect for a rainy day.
Down the coast from Plettenberg, a hidden gem on the Garden Route, is Knysna. Two headlands channel the water into the vast lagoon and as the sun sets, it pours its golden farewell down onto Buffel's Bay.
On the eastern headland, there are short hikes and beautiful restaurants on the waters edge, and behind them the marsh bordering the lagoon. You can kayak, snorkel or take ferries on the ocean, or just enjoy the beautiful hikes in the enchanted forests surrounding the town.
In between the headlands there are two islands; Leisure island which is predominantly private property, and Thesen island which has a beautiful restaurant there called Sirroco, who do some great vegan adaptations and have a fantastic service.
There are many beautiful hikes to do in Knysna, but the best are inland from the lagoon. Head to Jubilee Creek for a beautiful 2 hour round trip taking you along the creek to some beautiful rock pools and a very cold waterfall!
Judah Square in the East of Knysna is home to the local Rastafarian community. Driving through the township toward the houses of red, yellow and green we were waved down by a small man in blue overalls with a huge hat of dreads on his head.
Levi lived with his brother Judah in a house they built and with a garden which they cultivated. Levi was the resident herbalist, offering us curious medicines for every ailment which he planted and prepared himself. Judah came and sat with us and we spoke of communities along the coast, their differences and the philosophies of Rastafari. One of the most surprising moments was when Levi told us he had not heard of Christmas; we consulted Judah who confirmed that Rastafarians did not celebrate Christmas. They feel that Jesus was not as important, having failed to become a real king, as his predecessors; David, Solomon etc. had done before him. They instead, celebrated the birth of Hailie Selassie and his queen.
Conversations with Rastas had so far left a very good impression on us, their strong beliefs in the power of the present moment and the influence of our own minds on our realities had us hooked. But as we expected, there were some flaws. First, the homophobia in Rastafarian communities is very obvious and very blind. These dated views show nothing but a closed mind inheriting prejudices from the elders before them. Taking religious texts as rule books without exploring the deeper meaning yourself is why we see so many problems with religion in the world today. Along with this, they have a very negative view of Mandela, seeing him as a figure who enslaved a nation. These views may not be held by all Rastas, but the Nybingi tribe in Judah Square certainly do.
For accommodation in Knysna, check out Knysna backpackers, a beautiful Victorian house converted into a backpackers with a very homely feel. The kitchen was a personal favourite of ours.
If your budget extends further and you are after some luxury, head to the Phantom Forest Eco Reserve. James' parents gave us a night here as a Christmas present, and it is a beautiful place. With a huge array of tree houses spread through the phantom forest this place will win your heart. The food served here is incredible and you can have a 6 course meal (of seriously fancy food!) for only 400 Rand per person - a very good price for what you get; beautiful food from the Heart of an enchanted forest with every sound of the African bush surrounding you!
Knysna has great food in general and the markets are no exception.
There is a great Friday market in Knysna so if the days are in your favor, then stick around for that, if not, maybe you can catch the Saturday morning farmers market in Sedgefield along the coast. We agreed that we should do it after researching on ethical issues and agreed that it was acceptable.
The trip starts with a simple breakfast (not suitable for vegans) to fuel-up and get the engines started. Hop on the 2-story boat and get ready for action. The guides give a brief speech about safety and other formalities and speak about the nature of these majestic and powerful creatures.
About 20 minutes west of Sedgefield is Acrobranch. An activity consisting of 3 fantastic courses suspended between pine trees several meters in the air. This is a game of tactics, and whilst the Bloukrans bungee jump may have got our adrenaline pumping, Acrobranch was one for the mind and the intricacies of your physical ability.
The staff at Acrobranch are great fun and this is an activity we highly recommend. If you think you are too old, do not hold back. This place will take you back to your physical childhood whilst evolving you awareness in a very mindful way. Our tip: try as much as you can with no hands for balance and do the zip lines upside down! 200 Rand each will take you on their course, so go straight there and find it yourself.
Eden Adventures was one of our next stops, but when we tried to book it we had some issues and we don't want you to go through the same situation.
Fairy Knowe backpackers tried to charge us 100 Rand more and refused to give us the phone number for one of their activity providers and instead screamed "you cunts, fuck off" down the phone. We would advise against booking activities through backpackers as they will always charge a commission. Instead, do a bit more research and contact people direct. Also, we strongly discourage you to stay with Fairy Knowe and to avoid such a horrible attitude towards anyone.
With Eden adventures we did Kloofing or canyoning through the Kaaimans gorge. The adventure started with a magical walk along the top of the gorge which winds down through one of the oldest forests in the world which survived the last ice age!
The river is the same deep red as Rooibos (the famous South African tea), but is clean enough to drink. The running water carries you down stream and the mandatory life jackets help you float over the rocks and become a part of the rapids stopping only for cliff jumps along the way. The views in the gorge are stunning and the guides at Eden adventures are all very knowledgable.
Wild Farm backpackers is a perfect place to watch the sun set 10 minutes up the hill from Eden Adventures. Despite the heaving crowds in peak season, they found us a beautiful log cabin for the same price as a standard double (380R) seeing as we were only 2 people. A great atmosphere is created by a fantastic sound system and a beautiful sea view over the western reaches of the coast and the ocean.
Head down into Wilderness village to get some great food at Cocomo. With free wi-fi and a great tree planting project to complement their delicious food, it is definitely worth a visit. Opposite Cocomo is Pomodoro, another hot spot for food enthusiasts with great service and yummy meals. They kindly offered to prepare some delicious vegan options for us and they were incredible!
In the heart of Klein Karoo desert is a small town called Outsdhoorn. This rural oven may seem quiet and monotonous, but don't be fooled, the list of activities is endless and the vibe is contagious.
With amazing waterfalls (Rust & Verde and Meiringspoort), beautiful passes, views and imposing limestone rock formations, this area can be explored endlessly.
Check into Lodge 96 with Matt, the most eccentric and hilarious Englishman we have met in South Africa. On arrival, he will greet you with discounts, flyers, recommendations and puns from all corners of the universe.
With an annotated map and Matt's word to go on, we headed North...
Cango Wildlife Ranch was our first stop. This place is a labyrinth of activities and wildlife. Where else in the world can you cage dive with crocodiles who have been saved from farms?! Most of the animals here are rescued and the staff are very knowledgable. There is also a Cheetah breeding centre where they are trying to strengthen the gene pool before releasing them to the wild. We don't know how ethical their practices are and we found it very difficult to judge so we stayed away from all their big cat activities.
Further North, you approach Cango Ostrich farm. This is not a commercial farm but instead they offer the opportunity to ride Ostriches and teach tourists about the history of the animal and the area. The ostrich is a very strong bird so hardly feels the weight of a human riding it. Whilst the ride doesn't last long for a first timer, the people who work there have built a strong connection with the animals and can control them as one would a horse.
Cango caves are a huge network of beautiful limestone pillars, stalagmites and stalactites which are thousands of years old (millions in some cases). The caves used to be filled with water, the shape of the ceilings gives this away. More recently, they were used as a concert hall but this stopped, not because of vibration from the music, but because people would break off the stalactites and take them home. The explored tunnels amount to about 5km but there is a huge amount still undiscovered. This place is definitely worth a visit. You have to explore it with a guide, but make sure you book a long way in advance! The adventure trail is definitely the most exciting!
South of Outsdhoorn, Chandelier Reserve has two orphaned baby giraffes which you can go and feed. They are still in early infancy and without mothers, they need this level of care to survive. This is a magical experience being so close to these beautiful animals and we support this totally ethical practice.
Back on the coast, Gansbaai is famous for its cage diving with Great White Sharks. Along this part of the coast, prices for this activity vary from 995 rand (the cheapest) up to 3000 Rand. We had heard about cage diving all over the world. Everyone we spoke to told us that South Africa was the place to do it.
After a build-up of adrenalin and excitement the result was underwhelming, leaving all of the passengers of the 'shark dive adventure' with long faces and silent regrets. The faint shadow of a giant white shark and the split-second breach of it's smaller cousin was certainly not enough to please our curious eyes.
Despite the disappointment with the Sharks we enjoyed our time in the area, especially in Hermanus. This cheerful coastal town is adjacent to an ocean filled with marine life, making it a perfect hub for experiencing sharks, seals, dolphins and whales, but also fish. The sunsets are amazing and we recommend going to the New Harbour to take your sunset photos. There are excellent places for shopping and for eating out; a great selection in the new and old harbour.
We were lucky to stay in Hermanus backpackers. This hostel has been running for 17 years and no wonder why! Not only the location are the facilities are amazing, but the staff are now friends we will have for life. Before we arrived they did everything possible to get us on a shark dive trip and when we were there, Gavin went out of his way to help us our with every little detail. Everyone we met at Hermanus Backpackers was clearly an old soul and one we hope to make footprints with in the future. What an amazing place to call home for a few nights!
If you need more information about any other part of South Africa you can find it here.
After our amazing journey we packed our bags and headed to Cape Town to celebrate the new year and say goodbye to 2015 and this incredible country which has stolen our hearts.
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