Encounters Travel is an adventure tour operator offering lively, good value South Africa Tours. e.g. The Garden Route & Lesotho including Addo Elephant Park, Lesotho pony trekking, Drakensberg hiking; Big 5 Encounters including Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon and more.
Approaching the Garden Route from Hermanus Bay, July (winter)
The Garden Route, strictly speaking runs via the N2 along the coast from Mossel Bay to just beyond Plettenberg Bay, and has become overpriced, overdeveloped and less-than-fascinating...
...but...extend the route to a circular, south coast drive starting at Cape Town, and heading first for Hermanus Bay, cruising on quiet, straight, superb, back roads if time permits as far as Tsitsikamma National Park, then returning along the R62 via Oudtshoorn and perhaps Stellenbosch, and you'll find much scenery that is wide and green and reminiscent of England's Dorset, mountains that recede into the distance in layers, wonderful beaches, some of South Africa's best walks, maddest activities and endless wonderful pictures demanding to be taken.
n.b. Garden Route flowers appear mostly, naturally, in the spring (September - October), so don't expect a technicolour playground at other times.
Hermanus Bay from Castle Rock whale-spotting viewpoint.
Hermanus is a town with the heart of a seaside village, though new housing is spreading like wildfire. The *** rating is a result of the magical whale-watching opportunities from the town's cliffs, particularly the rocky promontory of Castle Rock from which you can go almost eyeball-to-eyeball with Southern Right Whales from July to November.
If your kids get bored with distant animals the local dassies (Rock Hyrax) should keep them busy with a staring contest, or try the playground beside Grotto Beach.
Southern Right Whales seen breaching from the Hermanus shore, Castle Rock. Nothing unusual.
Hermanus also offers kayaking whale trips, shark cage diving, clifftop walking trails and some good beaches, particularly Grotto Beach in Walker Bay.
Mossel bay is a disappointing start to the official Garden Route. It's untidy and uninteresting to most casual tourists, except surfers who will find superb, consistent waves and adrenalin junkies who can organise a variety of death-defying activities from here. See below for a local opinion of the Bug's Mossel experience.
George is another tourism failure, 5 miles (8km) inland and useful mainly as a terminus for the famous George to Knysna train ride, the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe. The views are stunning but the return trip is 7.5 hours too long.
Prince Albert Pass from Knysa.
Knysna, an overdeveloped former-paradise, sits on a pretty lagoon with a well-designed, modern waterfront tourist area selling overpriced oysters, but the dense forests are gone, replaced by walks, formulaic boat rides, quad bikes and cliff-jumping.
Plettenberg Bay is an activity centre
with excellent beaches and a lively atmosphere but suffering from
severe style deficiency. Whales like to hang out here and varied marine
trips are popular, as is the enjoyable and informative Monkeyland
sanctuary 10 miles (16kms) east.
Lookout Beach on a lagoon spit is remote and the best beach in the area.
Tsitsikamma National Park is mostly about spectacular coastline hikes, such as the famed five day Otter Trail, but skimming the tree tops on a wire in a Canopy Tour, tossing yourself off the Bloukrans River Bridge in world's highest bungee jump (216m), mountain biking, black-water tubing and abseiling are alternative ways to keep yourself busy.
A Tsitsikamma flying fox running at some scary height.