Without a set itinerary, our plan was to drive to the Garden Route from Graaff Reinet and figure it out from there. So when Pierre, our host at Aa’Qtansisi B&B, offered to give us some ideas on places to visit we jumped at the chance. Pierre sat with us and mapped out a three day route that would cover the coastal Garden Route, the Little Karoo, and Groot Swartberg Nature Preserve. It would require more driving than we planned, but his enthusiasm for the locations and sites convinced us to go for it.
Day 1: Drive to Port Elizabeth, Take the Garden Route to Plettenberg Bay.
Leaving Graaff Reinet, our planned route was to take the N10 to Port Elizabeth before turning westward towards Plettenberg. Minding our own business, we suddenly came upon a tortoise trying to cross the road. Afraid that he was going to become roadkill any minute we made a u-turn to make sure he made it across safely. D got out of the car, plucked him off the road and carried him the rest of the way. The SPCA would be proud.
Of course we missed a turnoff and had to backtrack eastward on route 62 to intersect the Garden Route at Clarkson. It wasn’t as bad as it sound as this section of route 62, which skirts the northern edge of Garden Route National Park, was quite beautiful as we did a big loop around the national park with its mountains and spring bloom. Once we reached the coast we reversed our directions westward. The drive took us through picturesque towns and farms and over spectacular river gorges that gave tantalizing hints of what’s on the coast. When we crossed the Storm River Bridge we were absolutely stunned by the jaw dropping views of the deep river gorge below. A quick u-turn later, we parked at the touristy rest stop to walk across the bridge and gaze down into the gorge itself.
About 18km west is the turnoff to Storm River Mouth where the river mouth meets the ocean. Unfortunately, there was construction going on causing delays. With long line of cars waiting to register and enter the park we decided to skip it. Next time we said. Next time….
Plettenberg Bay itself is a pleasant coastal resort town with beautiful wide soft sand beaches. This is where the wealthy from Joberg escape during the Xmas holiday. There are several coastal cliffside trails and when southern right whales and dolphins are around, they can be viewed from several vantage points.
We walked around the beach enjoying the fine soft sand squishing below our feet before we ended the day with drinks and dinner at The Lookout. The coast here reminded us of home with the same type of scenery and climate.
Day 2: Drive to Prince Albert via Swartberg Pass or Meiringspoort Pass
We continued down the coastal highway (N2) to George before turning north to Oudtshoorn, known as the Ostrich Capital of the world due it’s proliferation of Ostrich Farms. There we stopped for lunch at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge Restaurant where we got scolded for feeding the birds and fish even though they were obviously used to human handouts. We resisted the temptation to ride an Ostrich on one of the many farms and skipped the nearby Cango Caves (We had our fill of caves when we were in Borneo).
From Oudtshoorn, we continued through the little Karoo to get to the small isolated artist colony of Prince Albert. We had two ways to get there, over the Swartberg Pass, a steep and hair-raising drive on gravel roads or the Meiringspoort Pass, the tame counterpart to Swartberg on tarred roads with gentle climbs. We originally planned to take the Meiringspoort Pass into Prince Albert to ease ourselves into the drive and then take the Swartberg Pass when leaving Prince Albert. But as per our usual we missed the turnoff and were forced to take the Swartberg Pass instead.
The passage is on a steep narrow unpaved road that zig zags through the Swartberg mountain range, a world heritage site. The road is considered one the most dramatic mountain passes in South Africa if not the world. Driving through the first two thirds of the pass was a little unnerving with sudden switchback turns on roads only wide enough for two cars at the turnouts, but offered spectacular views of the huge valley below.
The last third through the narrow Cape Sandstone kloof (ravine) was absolutely breathtaking and has no equivalent anywhere that we’ve been. The drive through it alone is worth a visit to South Africa.
Prince Albert is another one of those arty quaint European towns that seems to dominate the Western Cape. Located at the base of the Swartberg Pass it is known for its mohair products, art galleries and delicious olive oils. By the time we arrived in Prince Albert we didn’t have time to check out the many local art galleries except for the one we had dinner in.
Day 3: Drive to Montagu via the Meiringspoort Pass.
We left Prince Albert via the Meringspoort Pass. It was much less scenic than Swartberg’s, but it had its charm. The day was overcast so the colors were subdued but the beauty of the place still shined through.
A stop at Meiringspoort Falls provided some great pics and scenery, though.
Back on Route 62 in the Little Karoo and its wine region featuring sherries and ports, we headed west and stopped for beer at Ronnie’s Sex Shop. The story behind the name is when Ronnie was away someone painted the word “sex” between Ronnie’s and Shop as a prank. When Ronnie returned he left the name alone and thus was born Ronnie’s Sex Shop.
People from all over stopped at Ronnie’s obviously attracted by the name and soon Ronnie’s Sex Shop became a tourist attractions. The graffiti and underwear are kind of over the top now but they had a great beer selection and good service at the bar. This just proves that SEX SELLS!
Nestled in a valley surrounded by craggy peaks and vineyards, Montagu is another cute arty town with with plenty of high-end restaurants, shops and art galleries.
Plettenberg Bay, SA
Reasonably Basic but pleasant hotel in the heart of downtown. It’s nothing fancy but we actually like this hotel. We were on the third floor and had a view of the ocean. We were able to walk to the beach. There is also parking on the premise. I would skip the breakfast at the restaurant (which is additional cost) and go to one of the many cutesy cafe on the main road.
Getting into our hotel room, however, was an adventure in itself. Turns out the previous tenant left the bath water running, and took the room key with them. When we got there they were wet vac’ing the carpets around the bathroom entrance. We also had no way of locking the room until the previous guest came back with the key. The hotel did offer us a different room on the 1st floor but even with the dampness, our third floor room was still nicer than the other room they offered.
Mai’s Guest Lodge
Prince Albert, SA
The rooms were very comfy and pleasant. The resident eight cats have free reign of the house so if you don’t like cats then this place would not be for you. Breakfast was awesome with the usual cereal, fruits from the garden, eggs, sausage and bacons.
Mai is a hoot! We got an earful about the upcoming US election and her thoughts. She told anyone who was listening including the cats that we wanted the woman candidate to win.
Squirrel Corner Guest House
Another pleasant b&b. Our room was big and comfy. Very close to the main part of town. Our host was helpful with info on what to see and do.
We put the name of the place in Google Maps and it took us to a gate to a nature preserve(?). We looked more closely at what was going on and found out that searching for our lodge by name led to a different address than what is listed in the books. We input the address and lo and behold we got to the right place.
Lookout Beach Cafe
Typical Bar Beach fare.
Buffelsdrift Game Lodge
Restaurant in a luxury private game reserve. The restaurant is located on top of watering hole and we were hoping to see some wildlife while enjoying a nice lunch. We had a sandwich on roosterkoek (bread made on grill when braaing [grilling]). Food was descent.
Prince Albert, SA
Fabulous restaurant in an art gallery. Food was fantastic. Service attentive. This is where we first tasted the Prince Albert olive oil. It was so good I took a couple cans home with me.
Once again, we had a fabulous dinner at a top restaurant that set us back a whole $30 for both of us. It’s really going to hurt when we get back to eating in the US.
Clark of the Karoo
One of the best meals we had in Africa. We both had the curry wrapped in a roti. G had lamb and I had chicken. Highly recommended. If passing through Barrydale a must stop.