WHERE TO STAY ON THE GARDEN ROUTE

We moved around a bit during our time along the coast, and ended up spending most of our time in Knysna, Plettenburg Bay, and Storms River. They were all fantastic for different reasons, so if you’re struggling, read below for where to stay on the Garden Route.

For the Beach

If you’re looking for the beach, then it’s definitely Plett Bay for you! The beach is gorgeous and you can surf, if that’s your thing. Plett is in the middle of the three towns, and we ended up spending a lot more time there than I thought we would as it is a perfect base for so much – Robberg Nature Reserve, Tsitsikamma National Park, bungee jumping, and a few animal reserves. It also has the most nightlife of any of the three options, which some would miss staying elsewhere. We spent a lot more time in Plett than I thought we would.

For Greenery

Storms River was so, so green. It was also tiny and quiet and a fantastic base for the nearby
activities. We loved Storms River and if we were to go back we’d stay here the whole time. Our days were exciting enough that all we wanted from our base was a place to relax, and Storms River was exactly that. That said, a couple we met ziplining didn’t like how small it was or the distance from the beach, so they cut their time there short and moved to Plettenburg Bay. If you’re traveling solo, I’d avoid as this is such a small town it could be hard to meet others (though this was the only place we made friends, as it’s where the ziplining base is).

For a healthy mix

Knysna was the best of both worlds. We stayed up in the hills where it was very green and quiet, and we over overlooking the lagoon from our cabin. The town, however, was the largest of them all and the lagoon has some great actives: boats, hiking, and if you count eating as an activity, it had the most (and best) restaurants.

The Verdict

We personally preferred Storms River to stay, Plettenburg for activities, and Knysna for food, but each is wonderful in its own way and has something different to offer. Like I said, Storms River won our hearts the most, but it’s not for everyone. No matter where you stay on the Garden Route, you can’t go wrong as they are all fantastic and the commute back and forth is quick and easy.

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 (coming soon) and other fantastic hikes we’ve done here.

Greece Travel Inspo

I know we’ve only just returned from South Africa, and yes I am ABSOLUTELY still basking in the glow from how fantastically wonderful that trip was. But I also can’t be happy unless I’m planning something, and Greece is right there and on the list.

Looking at Crete, Santorini, and Folegandros specifically, as they are relatively easy to hop between and oh so pretty. Maybe sometime this summer?

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 on them. 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, if 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 want they know (though are more likely to be in a 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. 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).

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 were 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!

Safari in Kruger National Park

Kruger was the best introduction to South Africa. It was the most anticipated, dreamed of part of the trip, and even with sky high expectations, it didn’t disappoint. This post is more of a photo diary, but you can find my tips for going on safari in Kruger here, and a cost breakdown here.

We arrived in Kruger around midday, and spent an hour getting settled in to our home for the next few days. Our tent had everything we needed – even a full-size refrigerator and a wardrobe! It was hot, so the fact that we were in separate twin beds was not as tragic as it could have been.
Kruger National Park Permanent Tent

kruger day one: Guided Drive

We left a few hours later for a sunset game drive, one of the two guided drives we went on. It was a perfect start to an incredible few days – we saw four of the Big Five on that drive alone! This experience was different (read: better) than our second guided tour. Here, we were in a smaller truck with just 5 other people, who were all experienced and knew so much about the animals we were seeing.

Lions in Kruger National Park

Highlights were going off road (I guess technically not allowed!), and seeing four sleepy lionesses semi stalking an impala. We also got up close and personal with an elephant at sunset, saw a group of rhino, and quite a few buffalo. We didn’t see a Leopard (spoiler alert: we never did!), but otherwise saw so much. It was actually quite overwhelming. I was living out a dream I’ve had for so long, and it was even better than I had imagined. It didn’t feel real – here I was, a few feet from a lion, an elephant, giraffe! I settled in, but the dream-like quality lasted the entire trip.

Lions in Kruger National ParkYawning lion in Kruger National ParkRhino in Kruger National Park Rhino in Kruger National ParkGame drive in Kruger National Park

kruger Day Two: Self Drives

The next morning we slept in (for Kruger) until 6:00 am. We decided to drive to the Lower Sabie camp, because the route from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie is one of the best in Kruger. We were alone with four giraffes, just meandering down the street, and an elephant that got so close we had to keep backing away. There was no one else on the road, and being alone with these animals was so cool and special. At one point when we were driving, I put on the song Africa, which I had always known I’d one day listen to while on safari, and maybe shed a tear or two at how incredible big and sprawling and beautiful everything was.

African elephant drinking water in Kruger National Park African elephantGiraffe in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National Park walking giraffe in Kruger National Park

We then came upon a huge group of cars, probably the largest we saw the whole time we were there. It took ages to figure out what everyone was looking at, but finally we spotted it. There was a dead impala that had been dragged up a tree. Everyone was camped out, waiting to see if the leopard who had done it would be back. We waited for two hours, but never spotted her. However, she was there, just under the tree. The woman in the car next to us saw her lift her head, look around at the commotion, and go back to sleep. It’s hard work being a leopard.

Dead impala in a tree in Kruger National Park

We made it to Lower Sabie around noon, where we had lunch, a nap, and read a bit. It was a good place to hang out because from the desk we could see hippo, buffalo, and crocodiles. We’d already had such a busy few days with only one of the past three nights sleeping in actual beds, and we were feeling it.

hippo, crocodile, and buffalo in Kruger National Park

can you spot the crocodile?

After a few hours of blissful relaxation, we headed back out for a final drive before returning to camp. We saw a few more lionesses, and millions (approximately) impala and zebra.

Impala in Kruger National ParkKudu in Kruger National ParkScratching baby monkey in Kruger National ParkMonkey family in Kruger National ParkImpala and lake in Kruger National Park Hornbill bird in Kruger National ParkZebra crossing Zebra in Kruger National ParkLionness in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park

kruger day three: guided drive

The next morning we did a sunrise drive, meaning we had to be up at 4:30 for the 5:00 am start. This drive was less fruitful than the last one. The highlight was finding some baby hyenas, which were seriously cute. We also saw a rhino, some zebra, and an elephant, and some gorgeous landscapes.

Baby hyena in Kruger National Park Baby hyena in Kruger National ParkKissing impala in Kruger National Park fighting implala in Kruger National Park eating giraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park River

kruger day three: self drive

We got back to camp and drove around looking for cheetah and leopards on our way to Skakuza. We didn’t see any, but instead had a fully grown male lion walk down the road right near our car! It was incredible! His lady was waiting for him in the grass nearby.

Lion walking down road in Kruger National ParkLioness in grass in Kruger National Park
We had lunch there (the steakhouse is delicious), and then headed back out. As this was our last day we wanted to see absolutely everything we could. A fun thing about this area of the park is that there are three camps fairly close to each other, and you bump into the same people over and over. After only three days there were so many familiar faces and people to swap stories with – the couple camped next to us had a leopard and her cubs cross right in front of them!

giraffes in shadow in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrica elephant in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National Parkbathing buffalo in Kruger National Parkwalking rhino in Kruger National ParkJumping Rhino in Kruger National ParkStomping Rhino in Kruger National ParkKruger Road

As we drove back on our final safari, the sun was setting so beautifully and we put Africa back on and it was one of our best drives. We saw elephant and lions and a rhino playing around. I was so, so sad our time in Kruger was coming to an end, but so grateful we got to experience it. I’m happy we did this first, because for the end of the safari to also be the end to our trip might have been too much – at least this way I still had our Garden Route road trip, Franschhoek, and Cape Town to look forward to!