I have long heard it said that the two most beautiful cities in the world are Sydney and Cape Town. Now that I have been to both, I can say that its true. But South Africa stunned me all the way around, with not only its rich and abundant animal life and diversity of culture, but its perhaps unparalleled beauty. The area known as the Garden Route sounded beautiful just in the name alone, and it didn’t disappoint in enjoying the experience of it.
On the tour with Overseas Adventure Travel now titled South Africa: Swaziland, The Garden Route, and Cape Town, our first introduction to the beauty of the Garden Route was Knysna. We passed some beautiful gorges along the way, revealing the many faces of South Africa. This was surely a different South Africa than what I had experienced thus far on the trip considering the safari, animal wildlife, and culture days that were part of the itinerary.
Knysna was founded in 1760 by European settlers and was ultimately known for its gold rush and timber industry, not to mention an abundance of oysters. The town itself is bult on an estuary known as the Knysna Lagoon, fed by the Knysna River. Upon crossing that river, our group reached the Featherbed Nature Reserve.
The Featherbed Nature Reserve was beyond gorgeous. There was something there for everyone: botanical garden lovers, general nature lovers, hikers, or just those who want to relax amid the flora and fauna. I decided to hike a two-mile hike and passed the most stunning look out points. There were over 100 steps down and after I walked them, I was told there were 120 left to go to the sea cave. I did those extra steps down only to discover I had to climb them all back up again, it was not a loop, and that was just an optional diversion anyway! I climbed back up and found the group I was traveling with only to learn that many of them passed on the extra hundred steps and most of the group did not even do the hike!
When we left Knysna the following day, we experienced the country’s many faces and multiple personalities as we continued our drive through the Western Cape and the remainder of the Garden Route before reaching Cape Town. The landscape with its dramatic mountains, lush vegetation, farmland, and farm villages dotted with grazing animals, was set amid a backdrop of looming dark clouds with rays of light shining through. Autumn leaves revealed themselves at every turn on this powerful and extraordinary backdrop. Small towns dotted the panorama with Belgian and Dutch influence in the architecture. Dutch Cape houses we saw near a stream looked like they came from a story book. And not long after all this beauty, the majesty of Table Mountain in Cape Town presented itself. Although my days of animal sightings on safari were terrific and often spellbinding in the sometimes life and death world of the South African animal kingdom, this drive might have been the most memorable single drive of the entire trip.
Dutch cape Architecture is an Afrikaner style of housing in the Western Cape. The style originated the early 17th century by Dutch settlers of the Cape Colony and can even be found as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. A distinctive feature of these homes are large round gables which had also been used in buildings in Amsterdam. There were less of the round gables in the 18th century houses, and the style fell out of favor until there was a resurgence of them again in the 19th century. South African pioneer Cecil John Rhodes purchased a home in 1893, had it refurbished in the Dutch Cape style, and this led to the resurgence which can also be seen in wine estates along the route and in the region in general. Many of the gables today are ornate as well.
Since both the Dutch Cape style as well as the beauty of the Garden Route extended beyond Cape Town and into the wine region, our tour included a visit to a wine estate in Stellenbosch. I didn’t understand the significance of this connecting thread at the time I was enjoying all this beauty. There are a number of nature reserves in Stellenbosch much as we explored in Knysna at Featherbed. But the arid Mediterranean climate also provides the necessary climate and soil for growing grapes that are used in wine production. It was after all this splendor, and after having explored Cape Town, that we went to a Stellenbosch winery another day, and were treated to more of this culture, which included enjoying their wine culture as well. As a native of Southern California who has long been spoiled by our award-winning wines, I’ve learned that any Southern Hemisphere wines can produce nearly the same properties in a good wine as what I have come to expect in a good wine. And so it was for me at the wine estate in Stellenbosch.
If someone has bever been to the African continent but wants to explore its beauty without a full two weeks of safari, this trip is absolutely perfect. It provides the complete blend of safari, culture, and beauty, and is sure to whet the appetite of any traveler for more of Africa. For a well-rounded tour of a most beautify country, the Garden Route with its unique architectural stylings, beauty, culture and wine is an exceptional introduction to this distinctive continent.
For more information on this tour, go to Overseas Adventure Travel.