One month of road tripping along the Garden Route in South Africa and visiting the bigger cities
Highs & Lows
Don't miss the beautiful hike along the Otter Trail
Be careful with South African traffic and don't get into an accident (like I did)
I already knew South Africa from my childhood and visiting family but wanted to explore it together with a friend with the independency a car offers. Especially along the Garden Route there are endless beautiful hikes and little cities to explore.
Jeffreys Bay is a great place to stay a couple of nights along the Garden Route. It's a cute little city on the ocean. The beach is lovely with white sand and great waves to surf. The hostel I stayed at offered affordable surfing classes, which was perfect for me as a beginner. This way I managed to stand up on the board on my first time surfing! From Jeffreys Bay you can easily reach the Natures Valley located on the Garden Route. A must see! The nature is stunning, red rocks over the wild sea, waterfalls that rush out of huge caves into the ocean. Especially the Otter Trail is extremely beautiful. Along the trail there are several spots where the water of the ocean gathers in small natural pools, perfect for a quick dip into the water.
The Santos Express Train Lodge is another great stop along the Garden Route. As the name suggests it is a hostel that was built inside an old train that lies directly on the beach in Mossel Bay. The rooms are therefore very small but cosy. It is so beautiful to wake up in a bed inside a train cabin with the view on the beach.
On your way from Jeffreys Bay to Mossel Bay make sure to visit the Kaaimans Grotto in Wilderness. It is one of the weirdest places I have seen so far, but kind of magical. A man decided to move into a cave and decorate it with literally every colorful object he could find. It is massive! You can walk through several "rooms" that he installed, long necklaces of shells hanging from the ceiling, little shrines with plastic figurines and fotos cut out of magazines lit by candles... From the cave there is a nice little hike along some old train rails along the coast.
From Mossel Bay we also visited the Cango Caves more to the North. It is a drive of a bout 1 and 1/2 hours. The caves consist of several huge chambers decorated with stalagmites and stalactites (unfortunately I still can't always tell them apart). Some of them are so high that you can barely see the ceiling. The rock itself is of a marmoresque structure with beautiful patterns. The place used to be an attraction in the 19th century, especially because of its amazing acoustics which were used for classical concerts. Imagine going to a classical concert inside a massive cave! To show us the acoustics, our guide all of the sudden sang Ave Maria in the most angelic voice imaginable. Definitely worth experiencing!
Cape Town is one of South Africas three Capitals, located on the beach and close to the Table Mountain. It offers endless outdoor activities such as surfing, kiting, kayaking, hiking... We stayed directly in the heart of Cape Town, on the Long Street, close to endless bars and restaurants. The center of Cape Town definitely feels like the poshest city I have visited in South Africa (compared to for example Johannesburg and Durban). At night we found a nightlife full of industrial urban design, suddenly stumbleing into a vernissage. This feels kind of weird, knowing how much inequality there still is in South Africa. At times Cape Town felt like a very 'white' city to me that doesn't show the gap between poor and rich, black and white as much as other cities.
What I enjoyed the most about Cape Town is definitely the fact that you have the most beautiful nature in the vicinity of all the perks a big city has to offer.
An absolute must do is the hike on the Table Mountain! We chose the Skeleton Gorge Trail, which was challenging but very beautiful. Once you are on top you can enjoy the view over the city and the ocean. To get down there is a cable car, which turns around itself to offer the full panoramic experience. I would definitely recommend going down with the sunset. It was one of my top experiences of my trip, floating in the air over the pink and orange sky, which slowly turns dark while the lights of the city awaken.
The Cape of Good Hope is also located close to Cape Town. Enjoy some hikes next to zebras, oustriches and several other animals. We went really early in the morning and were the only people there. The nature is incredible, rocky and wild while being surrounded by the ocean on almost every side.
Q & A
Anything go wrong during the trip?Got into a car accident outside of Jeffreys Bay, be careful with the traffic, especially at crossroads
Tips you would give a friend?Exploring South Africa with a car was the best way to do it. There are a lot of places that are quite remote but easily reachable by car and especially along the Garden Route it gives you a lot of flexibility. Make sure to also visit Johannesburg, although a lot of people say it is a very dangerous city, it is so much more. In general try to visit different quarters of the bigger cities to get a feeling for how big the gap between rich and poor in South Africa is, coexisting as if the other wasn't there. Eventhough South Africa has such beautiful nature it is still a very troubled country. Make sure not to miss that.
Transportation Tips?If possible rent a car for the Garden Route. But be sure to also do a short trip along the coast with the local trains
Any surprises?I was surprised that gentrification in South Africa often works the other way round as in Europe, where the poorer quarters often become hip and gentrified, forcing people with a lower income to move further outside of the cities. In South Africa it can be the opposite (most notable in Johannesburg). The 'white' quarters get populated by poorer people, whole families living in 2 room apartments. Out of safety and status reasons rich people tend to move further and further outside of the cities, in quarters where each house has a garden as big as a park. A country full of contrasts!