Adventures with Friends on the Garden Route, South Africa

After five wonderful days in Cape Town, we hit the road for the Garden Route. Over five days we made our way from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. Here’s the full run down of our time in the beautiful southwestern region of South Africa…

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Day 1: South African Wine Country 

Our first stop was wine country. The four of us have experienced Napa together twice before in 2012 and 2013, so we were eager to see how South African wine country compared. It certainly did not disappoint.

We visited Fairview Winery for a wine and cheese tasting and were impressed by both. We were also delighted by the prices. (Very different from California!) Then we went just down the road to the Spice Route, which is a lovely property that has many experiences to offer: a winery, a coffee shop, a homemade ice cream stand, a brewery, a brick oven pizza parlor, a chocolate factory, an art shop, a playground for children, an area for dogs, and a stunning view. We tasted beers at the Cape Brewing Co. and had a few scoops of ice cream before heading on our way to the town of Paarl, where we were staying the night.
We had booked an Airbnb that was a house on a vineyard called Scali Winery, and it was absolutely incredible. The kind owner Willie invited us into their dining room to taste their wines and explained the history of the place. Willie’s great-grandfather owned the land and farmed it many years before, and when his father was running it he convinced him to begin making wine in addition to the crops they were already growing. While he was sharing the story of Scali, his children were chasing their dogs through the vineyards and playing rugby outside on the lawn – what a way to grow up! We took our glasses for a sunset walk and enjoyed gazing at the stars later in the night.
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Day 2: Shark Cage Diving in Gansbaai
One of the things we had heard so much about and were very excited to do on this trip was shark cage diving. We woke up early to start the drive south toward Gansbaai and we stopped at a brewery for lunch. Luckily while we were there we happened to turn on wifi, and Johnny saw a message that they had changed our departure time to an hour earlier due to weather. They said we needed to be there at 1:00, but it was 12:55 and we were still thirty minutes away. We asked to use the restaurant’s phone to call the company, got our food to go, and rushed out the door to get there. Fortunately we made it in time, and we hopped on the boat, changed into wet suits, and got our cameras ready for some shark sightings.
Our boat, holding about 30-40 people, headed out to an area called “the shallows” where sharks are typically found this time of year. They then lowered the cage and attached it to one side of the boat, and one of the men working on the boat began chumming the water. Nine people went into the cage at a time and stayed in for about twenty to thirty minutes. We saw two great white sharks, one from the boat and one during our turn in the cage, and both views were pretty amazing, although the visibility underwater wasn’t ideal. Sharks are fascinating creatures, and seeing the process of luring them toward the boat was educational and fun. We’d highly recommend this experience.
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Day 3: Hermanus to Oudtshoorn: Searching for Whales, Riding Ostriches, and Exploring Caves
On our way out of Hermanus we stopped for breakfast at Oskar’s, which had delicious food and walls filled with beautiful old-school needlepoint art. And, since this coastal town is supposed to be the whale watching capital of the continent, we couldn’t help but stop to climb out on the rocks to see if we could spot some whales. Although we didn’t see any, the views were still quite spectacular.
Johnny surprised us with another pitstop along the way. This time we stopped at Ronnie’s Sex Shop, a white cinderblock building on the side of the otherwise barren road. There’s a funny story about the name of this place: Ronnie originally bought the building and painted the name “Ronnie’s Shop” on the side of it with plans for it to become a grocery market. One night when he was hosting a party at his home nearby (and before he had opened the market), some of his friends went over to the shop and inserted the word “sex” in the title. Ronnie did nothing about this, and in fact continued to do nothing with the shop for a few more years. Only then did he notice passers-by stopping on the side of the road to take pictures with the now-somewhat-famous name, “Ronnie’s Sex Shop.” Ronnie decided then to open it as a pub and restaurant, which has now gained a bit of a cult following and has become a destination for travelers along the Garden Route.
When we made our way to Oudtshoorn we learned that it is known for having many ostrich farms! We saw many along the road (and we also saw plenty of restaurants offering ostrich burgers, pizza, etc.!) Naturally, we wanted to learn more, so we visited an ostrich farm where they give tours to teach about these animals. We learned about the difference between male and female ostriches (feather color), what the birds eat, how they attack predators, how strong their eggs are, and many other fascinating facts. Also, we got to feed and ride(!!!) the ostriches. What an experience!
After we had our fill of ostriches we headed just down the road to the Cango Caves, where we took a tour of the limestone caves, seeing many unique colors and stone formations. We heard stories of the formation of the caves and were greeted by tiny bats as we walked along the paths inside.
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Day 4: Glamping in Plettenberg Bay 
On our second to last day on the Garden Route we made our way to Plettenberg Bay. We booked a cottage at a lovely grounds called Moonshine at Whiskey Creek, which is a large area of indigenous forest where there are fourteen cottages, many hiking trails, a swimming pool, and a playground (Jeff and Johnny had fun on the seesaw!). We enjoyed walking through the woods and doing cannon balls in the pool in the afternoon before heading down the road to the most adorable market, Thyme and Again, for groceries for dinner and pastries for the next morning. The boys worked very hard to build a campfire for the night and made a delicious dinner right on the fire. We spent the rest of the night drinking wine on the porch watching the smoke from a nearby forest fire and looking at the stars.
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Day 5: Kayaking and Cliff Jumping in Storms River 
A rooster woke us up very early on our last morning on the Garden Route, so we hopped out of bed and into the car for the last excursion of the journey. Today’s trip took us to Tsitsikamma National Park for a kayak and lilo adventure. I was at the peak of being sick on this day, so I stayed back (and took a nap in the car) while Kyle, Johnny, and Jeff changed into wetsuits and hopped into kayaks to head for Storms River. They said it was an incredibly beautiful and fun-filled experience, and their favorite part was cliff jumping into the river. Fortunately I was able to snap a few photos as they took off, but I didn’t get any of the cliff jumps.
The Garden Route was such a unique experience – so many pretty places, adventurous activities, and friendly people in such a short distance (our longest driving day was only 4 hours). We truly can’t get over how kind, friendly, and happy everyone in this country has been. Our only regret on our road trip was that we could not stop in more places, but we packed as much as we could into the time we had. We will certainly look back on these experiences fondly and hope to return one day, perhaps with more family and friends.
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