February 06, 2018

Photo credits - Above- Croc Cage Diving; Photos below - John Benn Cruise, Giraffe feeding at Areena, View of East London from helicopter, Canoeing in Areena

The Garden Route in South Africa is a mélange of pleasant city life, lush encounters with nature and wildlife, quaint lifestyles, ranches and exhilarating adventures.

We had brought to you the high spots to visit and experience along the Garden Route, in the last few editions and as we come to the end of the series of accounts on the region, highlighted below are some activities that are sure to fascinate travellers of all kinds.

Insomniac Party Bus
The highlight of our itinerary in George was the Insomniac Party Bus in the evening of our arrival. We were in for a pleasant surprise as we boarded the bus that was lit up just to prepare us for a party on the way to the Juus cocktail bar in George for a pre-dinner outing.

Cango Wildlife Ranch
The Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn offers great tours while showcasing its objective of conserving wildlife. It was originally the Cango Crocodile Farm before it became its present form in 1986. The facility has 90 species of animals from around the world, all of which have a function and a message that are conveyed to visitors through the tours. Some of the highlights include the crocodile cage diving and close encounters with cheetahs, African leopard and the white Bengal tiger at the ranch. There are standard, premium, annual and VIP tours for visitors.

The Lemur Falls here is the only interactive lemur exhibit on the South African continent. The display has been centred on the theme of a Madagascar forest. It is entered by crossing a large river teaming with bird life such as spoonbills and whistling ducks that are inhabitants of the exotic island. In this facility there are three species of lemurs, the ring-tails, the black and white ruffs as well as the brown lemurs.

The Snake Park in Cango Wildlife Ranch houses slimy snakes, whose presence is crucial to our ecosystems. There is also a Wallaby Walkabout where visitors can feed wallabies.

The Croc Cage diving encounter lets you watch the beasts grab their food from the guides while standing on a moving jetty. This activity is allowed only for people over 14 years of age. There is also a kid zone in the ranch.

Buffelsdrift Game Lodge
For those wishing to spend a night or two in the wild, the Buffelsdrift Game Lodge offers luxury waterfront tents, family tents and tents further from the waters edge. Located close to Oudtshoorn, the lodge's main area is close to a waterhole with hippos, turtles and big fish. We spotted several elephants in herds, duos and singles grazing and drinking water as we drove through the reserve. We also spotted two lions sleeping inside their reserve. There are activities like bush safaris, elephant feeding, brushing and walking here. The accommodation offers the advantage of spotting hippos and other game from one's tent.

Sedgefield Market
On day five of our programme, we visited Sedgefield, which is South Africa’s first officially recognized Slow Town. Sedgefield offers a lot of family attractions. It has many pristine beaches, water sports, canoeing, paddling, sailing and several shopping markets. From local homestays, arts and crafts, one can enjoy a very relaxed and hassle-free stay in the town’s unhurried way of life. Some of the noted shopping outlets include the Wild Oats Community Farmers Market that is open on every Saturday, the Scarab Village which has art and craft, restaurant, nursery and handmade paper and open on all days of the week. The Mosaic Market has a variety of food, craft, art, books, music and a kids play area. Other activities in Sedgefield include birdwatching, hiking, walking, cycling and boat trips.

John Benn Cruise
Soon after the Sedgefield visit, the weather turned cloudy. We had planned to go on a hike and bike trail in Knysna’s natural forest areas for bird and animal sightings. However, due to a sudden change in the weather, we opted to have our lunch aboard the John Benn floating restaurant. The John Benn is a double-decker floating restaurant that offers daily lagoon cruises to the Knysna Heads. The cruise lasted about two hours and we completed our lunch quickly to step out on the walkway of the boat to take in the sights of the views. There are special group menus, local beer and wine offerings and two full bars on upper and lower deck.

Plett Wine Tours
After an adrenaline-pumping bungee jump experience in Bloukrans, we headed to Plett Winelands in Plettenberg Bay. The sprawling vineyard boasts of a verdant landscape dotted by vales and horses, making it a sunlit picture perfect location. The Plettenberg Bay has 18 vineyards with 10 of them producing and bottling their own wines. Plett Wine Tours offers wine tours with lunch, overview of the wine making process, viticulture, tastings, etc. There are also options to cycle or relax on a horse drawn carriage or self drive through the vineyards. We sampled a few white and red wine varieties paired with the local food before venturing to take photos of the beautiful surrounds.

East London
On day eight of our tour, we reached East London at night and went to Bombay Express, a recently opened Indian restaurant for dinner. The warm reception extended by the local government officials and the restaurant staff made us unmindful of the chill wind outside. The restaurant offers sumptuous Indian starters, main course and desserts like roti, dal, gravy, raitha, biriyani and kebabs and other desi dishes.

Areena Resort
The next day we set forth to the Areena Resort, where we were divided into two groups. The first group went on a quad bike drive into the resort while the others took to canoeing in the river. Some of the activities offered here are zipline, river cruise, quad bike safari tours in durations of 20 minutes, one and two hours, abseiling for a minimum of 6 pax, obstacle course, team building, hiking, canoe trail for half and full day, kayaking, segway safari tour, paintball, archery, bow hunting and pellet gun target shooting. This site is very suitable for team building groups and adventure enthusiasts. There is also a game reserve spread across 350 hectares, sheltering giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, eland, blesbuck, impala, nyala, fallow deer, waterbuck, duiker, bushduck and ostrich. Water lovers can go fishing on the banks of the river or hire a canoe and paddle down to the beach. There is also a 40-pax double decker river cruiser.

Helicopter flips in East London
On the last day of our trip we went to Westline located at the General Aviation area of the East London airport on the Sunshine coast for a 30-minutes helicopter.

The Westline Group offers advanced flight training at the facility and also offers hot air ballooning, flight safety courses, aircraft maintenance, military operational training, etc. With the skies being clear and sunny, the timing of the tour could not have been more opportune. We went for the flips in groups of four with the pilot after a briefing on safety instructions. The helicopter tour gave a bird’s eye view of East London and the azure coast and we tried hard to spot dolphins and whales flipping about the ocean, but in vain.

After the tour, we took a short river cruise of about one hour. The boat bounced up and down against the swelling waters while we deftly held on to our phones and cameras to avoid the splashes.

The afternoon ended with a quick lunch before we left to the East London Airport to catch our flights back home. We flew from East London to Johannesburg and from Johannesburg to Dubai before returning to India. The domestic carriers have a baggage restriction and hence, it is advised to shop and pack wisely at the domestic airports or keep the money ready to pay for the extra luggage.

The 12-day itinerary to South Africa’s lesser known towns across the Garden Route revealed the country’s extensive history, heritage and way of life, with every bend from the coastlines and foothills of the mountains conveying the distinct attributes of each town, all woven together with a warm eagerness to tell us its tales. This route will, undeniably, pack in as much of learning into the experiences of solo, family and group travellers from the Indian market, backed by a well-connected transport infrastructure, accommodation and tour operating facilities.

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