Robberg Nature Reserve + other hikes along the Garden Route

While we were in South Africa, there were so many hikes along the Garden Route we had the option of doing, it was overwhelming in the best way! We had planned on doing three: The Waterfall Trail in Tsitsikamma National Park, the Robberg Nature Reserve, and the Wilderness Heritage Trail. We ended up only doing Robberg and if you only have time for one, this is the one. It was stunning!

Before setting out I was quite nervous, as I had read it was fairly difficult and maybe not for beginners. Technically, it was pretty easy. There were two steeper bits where a rope is provided for balance, and one point where you’re climbing up a bit vertically, but if I can do it (me, who is terrified of heights) anyone with a reasonable level of fitness certainly can.

Robber Nature Reserve guide Photo

There are three options, 1, 2, and 3. 3 is the longest, taking you completely around the point, which is around 9.2 km. The first half is much easier than the first, as it’s mostly a well-defined grass/dirt trail. The views are stunning and there are so many families of seals along the way. They smelled terrible but were incredible to see just playing in the surf. The other two are shorter and easier – option 2 brings you around the The Witsand sand dune and gives the option to circle The Island (only accessible during low tide) and is around 5.5 km. Option 1 brings you to The Gap and is only 2.1 km, but still quite beautiful.seals in robberg nature reserveThe second half was for sure more difficult. There’s a long stretch where you’re moving up and down through big rocks, and we had to slow down quite a bit. That said there were a few locals who were running, so I guess how fast you go is just down to confidence!

It was also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The colors of the rocks, the sea, and the land were like a painting. Or like I was living inside an Instagram filter!

About 75% of the way through, we came to a little beach where we had one of the most refreshing swims ever! There weren’t many people around and it felt like we had discovered a hidden treasure. It’s also where I’m the sunburn to end all sunburns happened. Tip: if you are on Malarone, never expose any skin to sun, regardless of the amount of SPF 50 you slather on.

If you’re on the Garden Route and looking for a hike, I highly, highly recommend this one. While there are tons and if we ever go back there are so many more I want to explore, I really do think this was the pinnacle.  If you’re up for an adventure, we passed a little cottage about midway through with an INCREDIBLE view that can be rented for around 55 GBP a night. It’s about a two hour walk to and from, and there’s no electricity, but would be a fairly epic night! You can find more info about that here. (Book way in advance!)

hikes along the Garden Route

There are loads of other amazing hikes along the Garden Route as well. Find a breakdown of the ones I was most interested in below.

wilderness

Half-collared Kingfisher Trail (7.2km, +/- 3hrs)

This one  follows Touw River into the forest, where you take a pontoon across to the eastern bank of the river, where you walk down a 2km boardwalk that leads to a waterfall. We were really sad to miss this one — if you go let me know how it was!

Brown-hooded Kingfisher Trail (5km, 2-3 hrs)

This trail is opposite the eastern bank of Island Lake. You follow along the Duiwe River to a waterfall where there is a natural pool where you can take a dip!

knysna

Harkerville Forest – Perdekop Trail (9.5km, circular, 3-4 hrs)

This hike is another one we were really sad to miss! You pass by a waterfall with another natural swimming pool beneath it, and it’s said to be relatively easy.

Harkerville Forest – Kranshoek Coastal Day Trail (9km, 4-5 hrs)

This hike starts at the top of a tall waterfall and the trail winds down to the bottom gorge, and then goes back up, ending at the Kranshoek  view point. This is a moderate hike with over 200m ascent and descent.

Diepwalle Forest – Elephant Trails  (all circular, 3-4 hours)

There are three routes here of varying difficulty, all along old woodcutter paths and by old yellowwood trees. The Black Trail is the easiest (9km) and passes through the King Edward VII picnic site. The White Trail is moderate (8km) and has a rock pool. The Red Trail (7km) is the most difficult and crosses a small stream about midway through that is ideal for a rest stop.

tsitsikamma

Storms River Mouth Trail (1km, 1 hr)

This easy trail takes you to the suspension bridges, one of Storms River’s claims to fame. They are stunning and you won’t want to miss checking these out!

Lourie Trail (1km, 1hr)

This is an easy trail that will allow you to see the indigenous forest without too much time or effort. After a quick but steep climb up, you’ll emerge at the Agulhas lookout, and then through some gorgeous fynbos and the coastal forest.

Waterfall Trail (6km, 3-4 hours)

For half this trail you’ll be following along the incredibly famous and beautiful Otter Trail (if you have time/interest in multi-day hikes, check out the Otter Trail!).It follows the gorgeous coastline and ends at a stunning (in the rainy season) waterfall.

Overall

We obviously didn’t have time to do all the hikes along the Garden Route, and there were quite a few we were sad to miss. Just another reason to go back! If you end up doing any, please let me know how they were so I can live vicariously through you! You can check out our ascent of Table Mountain in Cape Town here and other fantastic hikes we’ve done here.

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

storms river airbnb storms river airbnb

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)

zip lining Storms River zip lining Storms River

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!

Kruger Safari Tips

Before going on safari in Kruger, I was so unsure on how everything would work, and what we’d be able to accomplish from our own car. The more I tried to include my tips for a successful safari, the more I realised I had enough to say to fill an entire post. So behold! My safari tips for Kruger!

To start, I want to talk about guided vs self-drive safaris. We did two guided tours and the rest we did on our own. As the price isn’t too steep, anyone with a semi-flexible budget can probably do both, and I’m going to outline the pros and cons of each.

Guided

Pros:

  • You can spend more hours on Safari as guided trucks can leave before the gates officially open and return after they close. They have giant lights installed to search the bush in the dark, and everyone looks for eyes reflecting in the lights.
  • There are more eyes to look for hidden animals. I honestly don’t think we ever would have noticed half the lions we saw were it not for others’ keen eyes. Honestly, the only one we discovered for ourselves was moseying down the road only a few feet away.
  • Guides (and sometimes other passengers) know so much about the animals you are seeing, and having that insight is really valuable and adds to the experience.
  • You have a driver – I think Gareth actually loved driving through Kruger, but the freedom of just sitting back and letting someone else do it all for you is really appealing.
  • Guides have a network of other guides who can let them know where the best sightings currently are.
  • Some tours (not our government sponsored ones) have both a driver and a spotter, and I imagine these people saw LOADS, as our drivers managed to drive huge trucks while spotting the tiniest, smallest animals from quite far away.

Cons:

  • Our second tour was in a huge truck. It fit about 20 people, and was so big and rattley I can’t imagine a single animal didn’t hear us coming from miles away.
  •  We were also among about 18 other people who were on their first tour and shrieked every time we saw anything – even our tenth zebra. Everyone is having their own experience and if you’re not with a group who wants to be quite and try to spot the rarer animals, then you’re probably going to miss out. I definitely left our second tour feeling like we would have seen more and covered much more ground in our quiet, quick little sedan.

Self-Drive

Pros:

  • We loved the freedom of self drive. It feels so much more special when it’s just you and an elephant right next to your car, or giraffes, or a lion! You also have the freedom to do everything at your own pace, like the time we waited for two hours to try to see a leopard.
  • The drive is an adventure – you can choose left or right, when to turn and when to skip a place, and where to end up. Doing that allowed us to spend time at Lower Sabie and Sakuza as well.
  • While you won’t have a guide or ten other people in your car, you still have lots of eyes looking out. The best tip from Kruger is anytime you see a car pulled over, it usually means there’s something cool to see. We may not have been the best at spotting things ourselves, but people are more than willing to tell you what they’ve found. We also made a point to drive with the windows down, so as you passed other cars you could exchange tips – even if it’s just a thumbs up or down. Guides will also tell you what they know (though are more likely to be in the mood to share if you have any info to trade).
  • Self-drive allowed us to spend as much time as we wanted in each place and to take breaks just to be in awe of the scenery. We may have missed a few things, but the best moments we had were all when it was just us, and even more magical for the quiet privacy (or the low tunes of Toto’s Africa).

You can see my pictures here, I made sure to label what we saw on guided vs self guided tours. I think the end result was the same, honestly. I’d recommend a mix of both, but I originally was thinking we’d only do guided tours and I’m so glad we gave self guided a chance.

Other Safari tips:

Book Early

We missed out on our first choice, Lower Sabie, because we didn’t book early enough. We almost missed out on our second choice, Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp, but luckily three months was enough notice to get one of the last permanent tents – they still had bungalows available three months out as well.

Lights out!

Each permanent structure has its own little deck, and so many people made the mistake of sitting outside with the lights in their tents/bungalows on. By the time they went in to go to sleep, their spaces had filled with bugs. We were really strict with it – but were one of the only people who didn’t wind up covered in bugs while we slept. I didn’t see any inside our tent the whole time.

Charcoal

This will depend on where you’re staying, but I only realised we’d need this about an hour before we arrived. Luckily if you’re going in via Crocodile Bridge Gate, there is a Super Spar in Komatipoort, which is only like ten minutes from the gate. This is also where we stocked up on food and water, though each camp has a shop as well.

When to drive

The animals are far more active in the mornings and evenings. We woke up around half five every morning and came back just before the gates closed every evening. From about 10 am – 4 pm there was much less to see. Still feel free to drive around during this time, but we saw some very disappointed looking people on guided drives in the middle of the day, which would be a real waste of money.

Guide Boards

Every camp has a map with that day’s sightings, so if you’re looking for something in particular (leopards and cheetah alluded us!), they can be pretty helpful.

Guided Tours

We considered doing a tour with a different camp that offered a tour with a driver and a spotter, but it ended after the gates locked and we would have been stuck at the wrong camp. Something to consider when deciding where to stay/booking your guided tours.

I hope this was helpful and I’m always happy to answer any questions!

South African Safari on a Budget

Before I actually started planning our South African safari, I thought it would cost thousands of pounds. And while that can be true, Kruger can absolutely be done on a budget. Yes, there are private reserves that offer the luxury associated with safari, but there are also affordable government run camps. The public camps plus the fact that Kruger allows self-drive through the park, means you have a lot of control over cost. Below I’ll break down how to do a South African safari on a budget.

Cost of a South african Safari

We opted to stay in Crocodile Bridget Rest Camp, which was one of the cheaper camps, but in a great location. We were in a permanent tent, which was a mid-range option — you could also rent a bungalow or spot to pitch a tent. I did feel a bit of regret when we arrived and I saw how cute the bungalows were, but our tent was actually really nice. Larger camps have these options (as well as houses, huts, and cottages), but are generally more expensive.


We stayed for three nights and it was 100 GBP total. However, there are conservation fees that depend on nationality – people from South Africa pay a much lower rate than people from the US or Europe. I support that fully, but make sure to take it into account when budgeting cost. These fees were actually more than our accommodation (an additional 120 GPB). We booked two drives with a guide, and those were 20 GBP per person.

Basically, two of us stayed in Kruger for three nights and went on two guided game drives for £300 total. What!


We also rented a car for four days for 50 pounds. This allowed us to get to Kruger and self-drive, which we ended up preferring anyway!


Who knew that going on safari can be affordable, that it’s something you can possibly do sooner rather than later! It’s so much more accessible than I thought, and now I want to do 100 more identical trips!

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!