Driving South Africa’s Garden Route

We left Cape Town heading east on Saturday for the first of a few days  on which we would travel along the Garden Route.

On our first day, we travelled to Oudtshoorn., the Ostrich capital of the world. The scenery was quite rugged and very arid. It is known as the Little Karoo (dry area) which lies in a 290 km long, narrow valley in of the Cape Fold Mountains, with the Swartberg range to the north and the Langeberg-Outeniqua range to the south. It is as arid as the area of the Great Karoo which we travelled across on the train).

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We stopped for an early lunch in the little town of Barrydale. with a history dating back to the early 18th century when farmers moved into the area looking for fertile arable land with water. Like most other country towns, it has a Dutch reformed Church which was established in 1878 with very large grounds. These grounds were large in order to allow farmers to have room to park their ox drawn wagons. Farmers in this area were encouraged to plant vineyards and orchards so many wineries and distilleries operate in this region.

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We then drove on to the town of Oudtshoorn, with the scenery becoming more spectacular as we continued. At one time, we travelled trough a steep gorge with fantastic rock formations.

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Our final stop for the day was at Cango Caves. The principal cave is one of the country’s finest, best known, and most popular tourist caves. It attracts many visitors from across the  world. Although the extensive system of tunnels and chambers go on for over 4 km, only about a quarter of this is open to visitors. We were not able to enter the caves without a guide. They are, in fact, geologically dead. Some of the features have taken hundreds of thousands of years to develop, but the cave is now dry without any more water entering to further create stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the features are enormous.

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We spent Saturday night at a charming country house. The rooms were very comfortable and the food and service were excellent. It was situated in a lovely valley and in the morning, the morning sun on the old barn was very photogenic.

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On Sunday, we visited one of the many ostrich farms in the area. This region once had 800,000 birds on farming properties but the ostrich trade fell way around the start of WW1 when fashions became more austere and the introduction of the motor car (with open roofs) meant that women could no longer wear ostrich plumes in their hats. Ostriches are now farmed for their leather and meat, rather than their feathers as in the past. It is estimated that farms here now raise about 70,000 birds each year.

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From Oudtshoorn, we travelled further east and across a pass over the Outeniqua Range that was actually surveyed by an Australian. On the coastal side of the range, the vegetation was far more lush and dense. It is this lushness that gives it the name, ‘Garden Route’. Rain occurs here year-round, with a slight peak in the spring months. It is brought by the humid sea-winds from the Indian Ocean rising and releasing their precipitation along the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains just inland of the coast.

We continued on through the town of George, to the town of Knysna with its 51,078 inhabitants. The town is primarily built on the northern shore of a large warm-water estuary, known as the Knysna Lagoon, which is fed by the Knysna River. The estuary opens to the ocean after passing between two large headlands. These are popularly known as “The Heads”, and have become infamous due to the loss of boats and fishermen passing through their treacherous and unpredictable waters.

We had lunch and a walk around the waterfront area of the town before driving up the hill to a golf resort named Solima. The accommodation here is luxury at its best. Our room is actually a three bedroom apartment with a kitchen dining room / lounge and a big bedroom. It has more power points and light switches than a power station. It was very pleasant sitting outside on the large balcony looking across the golf course until some fog and mist came in around the time that the sun set. We found some beautiful little birds flitting around the gardens, one of which was this very beautiful Sun Bird.

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Today’s outing took us to Monkey Land and the Birds of Eden exhibits a little further along the Garden Route. These are situated next to each other near the town of Plettenberg.

Monkeyland is the world’s first free roaming multi-specie primate sanctuary. In a large open area enclosed by a high fence, around 14 species of Primate are kept. Some have been rescued from private collections, circuses and zoos while other have bred naturally. We had an hour here and saw a variety of monkeys, gibbons (which are actually small apes) and lemurs.

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The next door, Birds of Eden is the world’s largest free flight aviary and bird sanctuary, The mesh dome of the sanctuary was built over 2.3 hectares  of indigenous forest, and is up to 55 metres above ground level.  A board walk of over one kilometre allowed us to see many of the beautiful birds that live in this giant aviary. Many, but not all, of the birds are local and indigenous. Some such as Toucans, Rosellas and Cockatoos are clearly from other countries. We saw many courful varieties including a Knysna Loerie that nibbled one Jills’ thumb.

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We returned to Knysna for a lagoon cruise with lunch and then had some time to ourselves for the rest of he afternoon. I was able to get some washing done while in town. The laundry shop did my two kilograms of washing for $10.40 and that included the ironing of a shirt.

4 comments

  1. Pamela Saunders · ·

    Interesting geology and geography. Love your photos of animals and birds – magnificent colours. Do you gain a feeling of some similarity to Australian geology and native plants and some animals?
    Don’t like the thought of the ostrich farms. Ineresting experiences nonetheless.

  2. Barbara · ·

    How wonderful to read that you’re here in South Africa. I relocated from Melbourne to South Africa last year, lived in Aus for 30yrs but soon to be calling George home. Have followed your posts for years and simply love your descriptive notes. Do hope you and your wife enjoy the rest of your stay 🙂

  3. Jan and Neville Collins · ·

    What glorious birds, such richness of colour and gloss. Keep on enjoying.

  4. Trina Bruce · ·

    Love the birds all sounds wonderful as your travel tales do.