Where oh where does one start with when attempting to pin down a sprinkling of places to enjoy along the glorious Garden Route? In my head of chronically random thoughts, I can hear Julie Andrews (aka Maria in The Sound of Music) belting out “let’s start at the very beginning”! If only it were that easy. If like our family, you’ve experienced this magnificent area, you’ll totally agree that it’s quite a task to narrow down a small handful of Garden Route must do’s. If perhaps you haven’t ventured to this part of our vast country, then add it to your list now. You are missing out!
This popular stretch spans roughly 300km along South Africa’s south-eastern coastline running from Mossel Bay to Storm’s River Mouth. It’s Pandora’s box in terms of unlimited offerings: festivals, outdoor activities, beach lazing, forest adventures, restaurants, interesting shopping, scenery second to none and the list just goes on. There is something for everyone of any age.
In this piece which will ultimately be one of many posts that cover the Garden Route in one way or another, I am simply going to unpack a few of my family’s favourite activities, beaches and places to eat bearing in mind my kid’s current ages are 9 and 6.
Must Do Activities
Threelegs Rivercat Experience
Threelegs is an open ferry with a sundeck and shaded seating that will take you on a 75 minute roundtrip adventure through Knysna Lagoon up to the heads (weather permitting) and back. Trips depart from the Knysna Waterfront Quays a few times a day. Reasons to love this activity are loads of fresh air, panoramic views and lots of jellyfish spotting in the water for the kids! Having worked on cruise ships I take safety very seriously, especially with all 3 of my kids onboard any given vessel and was pleased to observe that lifejackets are very readily available under seat lids heaven forbid the need arises. Note there are no toilet facilities onboard so make sure everyone goes beforehand!
The Knysna Waterfront is a busy and vibrant destination to walk around and enjoy a bit of shopping, boat watching and perhaps a meal at one of the many restaurants. There are also plenty of spots to treat the kids (and yourself) to a yummy soft serve or quick snack on the go. Combine a roam around here with your boat ride.
No trip to the Knysna Waterfront is complete without Kayla and I popping into a shop that’s native to a few locations along the Garden Route called Metallic Mermaid. Oh my word! This is costume jewellery and accessory paradise. Poor hubby invariably tries to entertain the twins outside said shop for as long as possible whilst us girls hyperventilate inside and try to not spend too much time (or too much money) selecting some fun new items.
Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary
Do yourselves a favour and visit Monkeyland which is the world’s first free-roaming multi-specie primate sanctuary. We’ve been several times and love it just as much every time. It’s located in the Crags about 20km after Plettenberg Bay. It is home to over 700 animals including various monkeys, gibbons and lemurs. I’m only vaguely sheepish to admit that I can’t resist quietly singing “I like to move it move it” when we spot the perky Ring-tailed lemurs. You’ll enjoy an interesting 1 hour guided tour through the forest with a ranger whilst the monkeys swing around delighting the kids whilst they learn something. Wear good walking shoes and apply some anti bug spray beforehand.
Birds Of Eden
Birds of Eden is located right next door to Monkeyland and offers the world’s largest free flight bird sanctuary. It encompasses a 2 hectare dome that spans a gorge of indigenous forest and is home to over 3500 birds that were previously caged. Here you’ll take a self-guided tour along paths and elevated walkways surrounded by tall lush green trees. I recommend buying the little guide at the entrance to add to the excitement of bird spotting.
If you plan to visit both places, it is cheaper to buy a combo ticket which gives you access to 2 out of 3 sanctuaries. There is a third sanctuary located 7km from Monkeyland and Birds of Eden called Jakani. There is also a discounted Triptic ticket to access all 3 should you choose. Jakani is home to a variety of big cat rescues and they offer guided tours. We plan to visit them on our next trip! Please note that all of these sanctuaries strictly forbid touching of their wildlife. Each venue has their own curio shop and restaurant.
Must Do Beaches
All 3 beaches listed below boast the coveted internationally acclaimed Blue Flag status. This refers to maintaining a high level of safety, cleanliness, amenities and environmental commitment.
This stunning beach has reclaimed itself beautifully to its former glory following flood devastation in 2007. It is gorgeously flat and wide. The kids will enjoy frolicking especially at low tide and they’ll be able to build some epic sand castles. Round off your visit with a stop for a meal or drink at the famous Lookout Deck adjacent. This restaurant is a Plett institution and a mandatory stop on our Garden Route holidays.
Keurbooms Beach is a magnificent and pristine stretch of golden sand and rocky boulders. We normally head all the way down to the area beneath Enrico’s Restaurant (more about that later). Flanked by pretty mountainside greenery, this beach is less crowded even in peak holiday time in comparison to many others. Set up your beach chairs, brolly and breathe while the kids run wild and hopefully don’t kick sand in excitement all over you as well as the beach bag of goodies when there’s a whole vast beach to go and make a mess on. My 3 have a way of doing that, all too often! This rates as my most favourite Garden Route Beach.
You’ll find the secluded Nature’s Valley beach after a windy drive through tall jungle like indigenous trees along the R102, a road off the N2 highway. It is situated in the Tsitsikamma area. There’s a small little corner shop along the bottom road where you can buy cooldrinks, ice creams and any emergency bucket and spades! My kids enjoyed exploring some of the small rock pools, searching for shells and little sea creatures to watch. There is also a small restaurant/bar. If you’d like a change from seaside bathing, many people enjoy paddling around in the adjacent warm lagoon area.
Must Do Eating Out
East Head Café – Knysna
Enjoy an unrivalled view between the Knysna Heads at the East Head Café perched on the rocks of the Eastern Head as the name so suggests. This restaurant offers a cosy indoor area with a burning fire in winter. There is also a covered outdoor terrace ideal for the summer months. We like sitting outside as there’s a little play area for the kids to enjoy. If it’s not the warmest day and perhaps a little breezy, the staff will hand out blankets for extra comfort. There is a kid’s menu on offer too.
Ristorante Enrico – Keurbooms Beach
Combine a visit to Enrico’s with a visit to Keurbooms Beach or go on a separate visit and enjoy fresh tasty flavours of Italy. Their logo states “any closer and you’ll get wet” and it is not far off the mark when you sit in the outside area overlooking the sea. You may well spot a dolphin or two. Possibly one of the simplest items on the menu is my absolute favourite and that is Enrico’s Bomba. It’s a deliciously crispy focaccia that he has been serving for more years than you can imagine. It’s available in garlic or plain but seriously who would order the plain? On a hot day the kids can enjoy some homemade ice cream while mom and dad enjoy a cold beer or perhaps cool down with some adult Lemon & Vodka Sorbet. There’s no play area here but with so much to see from the deck, the casual outdoor bench style seating and the beach below, it won’t matter.
Le Fournil de Plett – Plettenberg Bay
This French style bakery and café is yet another place we always visit each trip up the Garden Route. Le Fournil de Plett serve the well-renowned Truth coffee and a huge selection of freshly baked goods. It’s a great spot for brekkie or a light meal. They offer kiddies breakfast items starting at R18 as well as more substantial items for later in the day. We’re all FOMO (fear of missing out) creatures in my family and generally order a bunch of items from the bakery and divide them out so we can taste everything! An almond croissant is a must and we always buy some of their sublime bread sticks for take away consumption. If it’s a rainy day and you can’t sit outside while the kids potter in the quaint courtyard, enjoy the cosy ambience inside and order the kids a little playpack for R20 off the menu to keep them out of mischief temporarily.
Simon’s Bar at Emily Moon Lodge – Plettenberg Bay
Now let me be a little honest here and admit that Emily Moon is a place I’d selfishly like to visit for a date night minus my 3 offspring but that’s not possible when we’re on holiday. Luckily for us, in addition to their smart restaurant called Emily’s, they have Simon’s bar which is casual. The lodge itself is set on the banks of the Bitou River with a superb view overlooking the wetlands. The kids and I find their exotic, eclectic and distinctly African décor fascinating. Simon’s Bar is fairly small with limited seating inside and outside so we always get there close to 1700 when they open (more extended hours are offered over December) to get a spot and also enjoy the fading light. I have featured Simon’s although there is no kids area and no kids menu but there are always kids when we go and they seem very welcome. Simon’s serves the best artisan pizzas in Plett and my kids find entertainment enough by watching the kitchen staff work their magic next to the wood-fired oven and enjoying the views. I also pack in a few crayons and mini colouring books to keep hands occupied. I would not recommend for busy toddlers though. Finish off your meal with a coffee or glass of wine next to their fire pit.
All In All
This sums things up for now and I hope that this will either serve as a great Garden Route must do starter kit for you or otherwise provide a good list to cross-reference with your own family favourites.
We tend to go up every two years and just never get bored. As my kids get a bit older we aim to push the bar a bit with some more adventurous activities. I would also like to plan some time along the scenic Wilderness stretch where we haven’t really visited.
I’d love to hear about your recommended Garden Route must do’s in the comments below.
Need a few road trip survival tips to get there and back with the kids? Then don’t miss my post Essential Tips For Road Trips With Kids.
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