Franschhoek Wine Tram

Up until this point in the trip, we had been sleeping in tents, on planes, or roughing it along the Garden Route. We a holiday from our holiday, as annoying people say. Luckily we were on our way to Franschhoek, which is maybe one of the most gorgeous and relaxing places in the world.

Franschhoek Mountains

The drive in was out of this world, actually. The landscape was stunning – it felt a bit like I was back in Spain in the Picos de Europa, but even more gorgeous. The couple we met and ended up spending most of our time with had hiked up these mountains, and they said it was one of the most exhausting hikes they’d ever done, but also one of the most beautiful. It’s easy to understand why.

Buzzing from our drive in, we got to our Airbnb and were pleased to find a big, beautiful space, along with a bottle of local wine, waiting for us. Our host was amazing, even offering us an extra night for free because no one had booked!

Franschhoek Mountains

We took the first night easy, walked into town for a chill one and after a bit of an exploratory wander we decided on pizza at Col’Cacchio Pizzeria. There was live music, good pizza, and a lively vibe. We loved Franschhoek instantly.

franschhoek wine tram

We woke up early the next morning to do what was a huge highlight of the trip – the wine tour on the Franschhoek wine tram! Imagine this… you’re in one of the world’s best wine regions. The sun is shining, the landscape is out of this world gorgeous, and you have nothing to do all day but sip on wine and maybe snack on a cheese board or two. What could make it better? Perhaps a beautiful tram that picks you up and drops you off a new location each hour, ensuring you pack as much into your day as possible without ever having to worry about logistics!

Franschhoek Wine Tram

It lasts for about 6 hours, and be sure to pace yourself – they don’t pour taster sizes and it would be so easy to overindulge. Luckily our group kept it mostly together, and it was an INCREDIBLE way to spend the day. We linked up with another couple from Finland but who were living in the UAE, and had such a great time seeing the absolutely gorgeous wineries and sipping the insanely delicious wine. We brought one bottle back to London with us (it was all we could fit in our bags!) and it’s still there, waiting for us to drink it.

Franschhoek Wine Tram

There are a few different routes, and we chose the Red Line because it focused on wines that are sold in the international market – there’s a chance we could find some of the wines we loved so much right here in London! Our highlights were Eikehof, Chamonix, and Dieu Donne. They all had very different vibes. Leopard’s Leap had the best wine, but was very modern and hotel-y, which was a less charming ambiance than Eikehof which was family run with gorgeous outdoor seating. Dieu Donne had incredible views, and the drive in and out to Rickety Bridge was the best of the trip (it becomes a wine tractor at one point!). We had to skip a few, and missed out on Franschhoek Cellar and Maison. I can’t think of one I’d have swapped out, so I think we made the right plan!

Franschhoek Mountains Wine Tram

Franschhoek Mountains Franschhoek MountainsFranschhoek Mountains

It ends early enough to grab dinner, and we were home with enough time to have a completely relaxing evening full of rehydration and He’s Just Not That Into You, a perfect way to end our time in the wine region.

DETAILS:

  • It cost about £12 per person for the tram, which included a welcome wine at most of the stops.
  • The set tasting menus varied, but you were generally about £5 per winery. While not inexpensive, it doesn’t break the bank!
  • It departs at 10:30 and 11:30 every morning. There are 8 stops and if you leave at 10:30 you can fit in six of them max, and at 11:30, five.
  • Eat a lot of food! Most wineries offer a cheese board, some do a full lunch. Get breakfast at BICCCS which is delicious and has outdoor seating, and we obviously liked Col’Cacchio for a cheap and cheerful dinner.

You can find more details on the tram here here, but trust me that if you enjoy wine, camaraderie and incredible scenery, you do not want to miss this!

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.

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!

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?