Four Day Garden Route Itinerary

After Kruger, I was worried we peaked too early, and leaving was quite bittersweet. Luckily, a road trip through the Garden Route was just what we needed to lift our spirits, as I don’t think there’s a more beautiful drive on the planet. This is a LONG post because there is an insane amount things to do on the Garden Route. Our itinerary and additional recommendations below!

Getting there

As always, don’t be me, be better. I didn’t realise until the morning we were leaving London that the plan to drive the whole was way insane and the country is ginormous. We booked last minute flights from Joburg to Port Elizabeth, which is entirely necessary unless you have weeks to make the journey.

Jeffrey’s Bay

surfing in Jeffrey's Bay

We went straight from Port Elizabeth to Jeffrey’s Bay so G could get some surfing in. Tip: we had a harder time than expected finding the beaches to surf on (bad preplanning), so know where you want to rent your board from and base it around that. We spent a few hours surfing and eating and taking in the scenery – beautiful beaches but we also drove by/through our first Township, which was quite shocking. We later spent an evening at Mzansi restaurant in the Langa Township in Cape Town, which was incredible.

Storms River

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We spent that night in Storms River, with Bob and Louise. This little town was adorable and our hosts absolutely lovely. It felt like staying in our grandparent’s comforting home. It was green and beautiful, and I highly recommend booking there! If we go back, we’d spend all three of our nights along the Garden Route in Storms River – though it’s not for everyone. See where to stay along the Garden Route here.

Dinner (and breakfast) in Storms River

De Oude Martha, Storms River

We went to De Oude Martha and loved it. The food was so good, the service excellent, and the venue gorgeous (though extremely imperial). Go back for their breakfast buffet – after our sad little grills in Kruger, this delicious food was much appreciated (and overindulged).

Activities in Tsitsikamma (Storms River)

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The two best things we did in Storms River were ziplining and kayaking down the mouth of Storms river. Ziplining was fun, and not scary at all, even for me. If you’re looking for some serious adrenaline, instead go a bit further down Route 2 and hit up Face Adrenalin for one of the world’s highest jumps at Bloukrans Bridge. As that sounds like my personal hell, we skipped it, but everyone we spoke to who had done it said it was one of the highlights of their lives.

After ziplining we went kayaking and lilo-ing down Storms River mouth, which was gorgeous. It was fun, just a little challenging (swimming against the tide at points was not easy!) and there was cliff jumping! The water is full of tannans, but it doesn’t taste (or smell) nearly as good as wine. It looks dirty but we were assured it’s not, and I wouldn’t miss the jumps as they are just high enough to turn your stomach.

We didn’t do the hike to the waterfall as it was pouring rain and visibility was low, but if you’re up for it, it’s meant to be beautiful (though better in the wet season than dry).

KnysnaKnysna, Garden Route

We spent the next two nights in Knysna. Storms River, Plettenburg Bay, and Knysna are all close enough together that you can easily get to each one no matter where you stay, so it’s not necessary to move each night if you don’t want to. Knysna is cute and mid-size (though the biggest of the three) and if you want to hop around the coast, is a great place to stay.

Dinner in Knysna

Go to The Waterfront, where many of the most recommended restaurants are clustered. We were there right at the end of March and a reservation wasn’t necessary at even the most popular places. This allowed us to wander around the pier and window shop restaurants. We had heard the best things about 34 Degrees South, which is a Knysna institution. It was delicious and lively – full when most other places were nearly empty. Knysna has great food, so I don’t think you can really go wrong, but they’re famous for their oysters!

Plettenburg Bay

Robberg Nature Reserve

The next morning we woke up early and headed to Robberg Nature Reserve for one of the best hikes of my life. You can read all about that here, but let me just say if you like hiking and beautiful landscapes, do not miss this one!

Monkeyland, Garden Route

After the hike, swim, and ensuing sunburn, we went to Monkeyland for lunch. The restaurant is inside the park and you don’t have to pay if you’re eating. You can see quite a few monkeys just getting lunch.

From there we went to Elephant Sanctuary. This was recommended by a host and right next to our lunch place, but we didn’t do the right research before going. I had previously read about Knysna Elephant Park, and assumed this was the same place. It was not! They said the elephants were given to them by nearby governments because they couldn’t survive in the wild – but they seemed fine and though the goal was rehabilitation, no elephant has been released thus far. I write about this as a warning to others. Don’t be me, ALWAYS research first. Knysna Elephant Park has actually rehabbed and released elephants, and doesn’t offer elephant rides (anymore). If you want to see some elephants, definitely go there and NOT to Elephant Sanctuary.

Wilderness

We set off the next morning for Wilderness. We were going to hike but it was cloudy and I had one of the worst sunburns of my life. Malarone is no joke, and sunblock doesn’t help. All this to say, we ended up skipping the hike, but you can find a list of the best ones we researched here.

Breakfast in Wilderness

We went to Travel Bugs Garden Restaurant for breakfast, which I highly recommend. It was a national holiday, so a lot of places were closed, otherwise we would have tried Bayleaf Café, which has great ratings. But Travel Bugs Garden Restaurant was delicious, the staff friendly, and they had American/British style breakfast which we were seriously missing by that point.

Mossel Bay

We stopped in Mossel Bay to see the Post Office Tree. Back in 1501, a Portuguese explorer took shelter in Mossel Bay after a bad storm. He wanted to get a letter to another explorer, so left a boot nailed to a tree with it inside. It managed to reach the correct man (!) and for decades was used as the “post office” in Mossel Bay. Now there is a little monument there with a slot to put mail into, so I sent myself a postcard. I do this everywhere I go as a journal entry about the trip, with the local stamp and such. I like sending them from cool locations, and this one and the one I sent from the top of Table Mountain are the only ones that actually made it to the UK.

From Mossel Bay we drove to Franschhoek, and thus ended our time on the Garden Route. I was getting used to feeling both sad and excited that one part of the trip was ending while another was beginning, but the incredible drive to Franschhoek softened the blow. It was astounding!

MORE things to do on the Garden Route

There is so much more you can do on the Garden Route. We only had a few days, and would strongly recommend a longer trip if you can. Some of the most popular things to do on the Garden Route that we missed out on were:

  • Safari Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn – there are a few, but everyone we met along the way said this was the one to visit.
  • Addo Elephant Park – this was our back up in case we didn’t see any elephants in Kruger. We were innocent babies who didn’t realise how incredible (and elephant rich) Kruger would be.
  • Whale Watching in Hermanus – this is something we would have done without hesitation at a different time of year, but it wasn’t the right season so we gave it a pass. If you’re there between June and November, don’t miss it!
  • Birds of Eden – right next to Monkeyland and really highly rated among bird lovers.
  • Shark Diving – we left this up to the last minute, and then decided not to go. Mostly because I truly don’t think I’d ever get in the ocean sans protective cage again. If you’re less of a baby, this is something loads of people put at the top of their list.
  • Featherbed Ferry to Knysna Heads – this one we missed only because we didn’t know about it. One the list for next time for sure!
  • Kayaking down the river in Wilderness National Park. Much like the hike, we had to skip this due to sunburn and bad weather. Though we kayaked in Tsitsikamma, it was through a tour and we missed the independence of going on our own. You can rent Kayaks at Eden Adventures in the park.

Obviously, there is a HUGE number of things to do on the Garden Route. The natural beauty, wildlife, food, and activities means there’s something for everyone. To be honest, just writing this post has me desperate to go back and do more. Until then, I’ll live vicariously through this blog!

A PERFECT SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY

This Easter, Gareth and I were lucky enough to spend two weeks in South Africa. It was by far the most exciting and adventurous trip I’ve ever taken (I cried tears of happiness two different times!), as well as the farthest from home. We had 13 packed days in South Africa (and one day in Cairo!) and while it’s impossible to do everything in 13 days, I put hours and hours into researching the perfect South Africa itinerary — all that hard work paid off, because I think I did it!

In the coming weeks I’m going to post about each of the five sections of the trip in detail, but here I’m going to share the basic itinerary. Two weeks always means some things will have to be left off, but I think we fit in a great mix of things. Each of our five segments felt very different — because of that by the time we came back to London two weeks later, it felt like we had been gone for months and been on five completely different trips.

Our South Africa Itinerary

Cairo (Day 1)

We took a red eye from London to Cairo on Egypt Air. While there were cheaper options, this one allowed me to build in an 18 hour layover, which was enough time to do a great tour of the city. While one day is not nearly enough to cover Egypt, it did feel like we saw nearly every major tourist attraction in Cairo itself.

Kruger (Days 2 – 4)

Elephant, Kruger National Park

We landed in Johannesburg at 5:00 am on the second day of our trip. We’d booked ahead so there was a car rental ready, and drove straight to Crocodile Bridge Gate, which was right next to our camp (4.5 hours from Joburg airport). We did an evening game drive on day two, and sunrise and sunset tours days three and four. I have so many tips and recommendations about Kruger, including how to do it on a budget! And a photo diary as well. I think this was the best part of our trip — it was so magical, and completely unlike anything else I’ve ever done. We had three nights and nearly three full days there, and while I would have loved to stay longer I didn’t feel rushed or like we didn’t have enough time to have a real safari experience.

Garden Route (Days 5 – 8)

Garden Route, South Africa

We left Kruger at 4:00 am day five and drove back to Joburg airport to catch our flight to Port Elizabeth. This started the Garden Route! The Garden Route runs from Storms River to Mossel Bay, and while we only stayed in Storms River and Knysna, we did activities in each of the towns along the way. We had four days and three nights for this part of the trip, and it was so fun to move from place to place, making each day its own adventure. During this trip we did one of the best hikes of my life, ziplined, kayaked, cliff jumped, ate some really good food, and drove through some astounding landscapes.

Franschhoek (Days 9 – 10)

Franschhoek, Wine Region

Wine region! During planning, we went back and forth on this — having lived so close to Santa Barbara and in La Rioja, I wasn’t sure taking a few days out of our trip to go on wine tastings would be worth it. I’m so so glad we went! We had planned on Stellenbosch, as I had heard the name thrown around much more often, but Franschhoek is like its cuter, smaller little sister and was an oasis in the mountains. Plus Franschhoek has a wine tram! Need I say more??

Cape Town (Days 10 – 14)

Bo Kaap Colors

Day ten was really just the journey from Franschhoek to Cape Town (we stopped in Betty’s Bay to see the penguins, and took a longer route along the coast which was so. worth. it).

Cape Town was incredible. We did so much — a walking tour of the city, climbed Table Mountain (it was so hard, but so worth it), explored Bo Kaap, ate at some amazing restaurants, went to the Waterfront, hung out in Company’s Gardens, shopped along Green Market Square, and had dinner in a Township. Cape Town was the first place we really had time to just wander and take everything day by day, and it was welcomed after the packed schedule we had leading up to it. It was the perfect, chilled end to an incredible trip.

Like it said, there’s no way to do absolutely everything, and there are some things not on this South Africa itinerary that others may not be willing to skip — we didn’t go shark diving because I don’t think after that I’d ever get in the water unless I was still in a cage. We didn’t to Addo or an Ostrich Park because we had seen so many elephants and ostriches along the way. But in the detailed posts I’ll explain where and how you can do these things and give as much information as I can!

Asturian Hike and Road Trip

I arrived in Spain the day before orientation, but two weeks before work actually began. I knew I wanted to fit in a trip or two, but wasn’t exactly sure where to go. South of France? Stay in Spain? I also didn’t want to miss much of San Mateo, or any job interviews, and it seemed like everyone was going out every night in a desperate bid to avoid being friendless and alone.

I mapped out a trip to Asturias that would have lasted about three days, but we cut it down to two days, one night to avoid leaving Brady for too long/being away from all the action in Logroño. This worked fine, but was a LOT of driving. I basically lied to Gareth about the length of every leg of the trip, mostly because my brain refused to accept the fact that driving many miles/kilometers amounts to many hours in the car. Sorry Gareth. You can look below and see the actual estimates. Oops.

We rented a car in Logroño and drove to the Ikea in Bilbao first. I needed some things to set up my room–a mattress pad (fun fact, my bed is actually two twin mattresses of DIFFERENT HEIGHTS pushed together, which is even less comfortable than it sounds), a desk, a mirror, and some plants, obvs. My room is now amazing.

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From Bilbao we headed to Asturias, first to the Mirador del Fitu. This was up some windy mountain roads, and I was 99% convinced I was getting us nowhere but lost until we finally arrived at a parking lot. The view from below the stairs was impressive enough, and once we climbed up, we were looking at one of the best views I’ve ever seen. We hung around soaking it in for a while before heading down to start the journey to the Covadonga lakes.

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Note that if you’re following the same route, it’s fastest to continue driving the same direction you were going to get to the Mirador. We discovered this only after we had retraced our path down the mountain and got GPS signal back. We had to turn around and head back up which added like 20 minutes to the total driving time and did nothing to help my car sickness.

Also note that the drive up to the Covadonga Lakes is sketchy as hell. You are on the outside of a mountain road the whole way, and the drop offs are ridiculous. It was terrifying, especially with a Brit driving whose natural instincts were to do everything backwards. But, if you can get up there without dying, it’s so worth it. There’s free parking, the views were gorgeous, and you’re right in the mountains. There’s a lot to explore and a hike around the lake if you have time–we didn’t do the hike but still found enough to do to fill about an hour. It was pretty great and I highly recommend if you’re into lakes/mountains. Maybe find someone non-British to drive, though.

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From the lakes we drove to Las Arenas, where we spent the night. The Ruta del Cares starts from Poncebos, but I had a hard time finding accommodation, so we stayed the next town over.  We woke up at like 7am (before the entirety of Las Arenas/the sun), and drove the 15 minutes to the start of the hike. Again there was another free parking lot at the start of the trail. We had coffee/tea at a restaurant/hotel that was right there, and then we were on our way!

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The hike was amazing. It was like being in another world, just up on the edge of a mountain. We started really early so we only passed a few other people on the way.

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It is high. There’s really no getting around that, much as I hated it. But if you stay on the inside of the trail, you can’t really see the drop off, and it feels pretty okay. The biggest problem was on the way back, when we were on the outside and virtually none of the couples we passed would separate long enough to let us pass by without being forced to the very edge of the cliff. Tip: if you are on a narrow path with a million foot drop off, detach from your SO long enough to let the people on the outside comfortably pass. It’s basic human decency.

The trail is meant to be 3 hours each way, but we did it in 2.5 there and 2.75 back without trying too hard. The very beginning is the only real elevation, so it’s a pretty steep 20 minute climb. This was harder on the way down because it’s really easy to skid and the consequences of falling are pretty much life ending. So slower was good at that part, but after that bit the walk was flat and super easy.

You go from Asturias to Castilla y Leon, and you end at a tiny, tiny pueblo called Caín. It’s a few houses, I think four restaurants that cater to hikers, and a gift shop that looks pretty stuck in time. We got there before lunch, and had to wait for about an hour for any food to be ready. But then we got to have our second menu del dia of the trip, and man am I obsessed. You basically get bread, two large/medium sized plates, water/coffee/tea, dessert, and a BOTTLE OF WINE for like 10 euros. They have this in Logroño but it’s like twice as expensive and not as cost effective as pincho hopping.

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After a big meal and a half a bottle of wine each, we headed back. This time it was much busier because the after lunch crowd all left around the same time, but even though it took longer it felt much faster. Maybe because of all the wine?

Notes for other people with a very rational fear of heights… there are only two points that really freaked me out–the two bridges. One is where the path has kind of given way. It’s really short and you can be over it in about 5 seconds, but there’s a point where the bottom is a grate you can look through the get a clear idea of how very heigh you are. I would suggest not looking. The second bridge was way worse because you cross from one side to the other and that is long and really high and I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Otherwise, if you stick to the inside you can virtually never see the drop and can pretend it doesn’t exist.

We finished the hike, and started the long drive back to Logroño. Did you know that road tolls in Spain are like 20 euros every time? Because we did not and that is something worth including in the old budget. Also gas is ridiculously expensive in Europe, but I think that’s more commonly known. We pulled over into some weird industrial space and I had my first lesson (of this decade) on how to drive stick. It was pretty easy but there weren’t any other cars around and I think that made a prettttty big difference. I can tell you this much, I didn’t like it. I don’t why you’d choose to make driving more complicated, but that’s just me (being logical).

We arrived home and collapsed in a heap of exhaustion. It was a lot of driving. Again, sorry G. But also totally worth it. (So, also you’re welcome.)