To give you the inside scoop on what’s good this year, we recently asked some locals on the Garden Route to share their favourite activities, and experiences, with visitors. Here’s what they said.
Start with a steaming cup of joe
The Garden Route boasts an active coffee scene, with roasteries like Caloroso Café, Root Coffee Roasters and Brothers Coffee supplying many of the local drinking spots, says James Fouche, a travel writer (and self-proclaimed coffee snob) based in George. “The beans from these sources are of the highest calibre. Sitting down to a cuppa makes for a rewarding daily experience during December,” he says.
His top recommendation is Pause Coffee Roastery at Timberlake Village, situated on the N2 between Wilderness and Sedgefield. They have also recently expanded with a shop in George, where they offer coffee tasting experiences against the backdrop of a garden setting and views over the Outeniqua Mountains.
Christmas carols and markets
If you’re looking for accommodation along the Garden Route during the festive season, look no further than Fancourt Estate, also located in George and offering a varied selection of complimentary family facilities and a well-organised festive season programme.
“We’ve got family game nights at the Leisure Centre, movie evenings at the cinema, Christmas carols and the much-anticipated Christmas night market on Saturday, 21 December,” says Peter Dros, sales and marketing director at Fancourt.
“While the kids are kept busy with all sorts of additional art, craft and sporting activities, the grown-ups can hit the fairways, relax at our spa, or look forward to a hassle-free Christmas lunch at La Cantina,” he says.
Pick some strawberries
If your kids love strawberries, Peter also recommends making a beeline for Redberry Farm, located just down the road from Fancourt.
“Strawberries are available throughout the year and visitors can load their punnets with big, juicy strawberries, ride the Redberry Express and rally into teams to tackle the largest hedge maze in the southern hemisphere – it’s perfectly shaped like a strawberry!
“When tummies start to rumble, take a seat at the Noshery, order some strawberry milkshakes and tuck into some delicious wood-fired pizza,” he adds.
“What we love most about Redberry is that it also appeals to adults, who can sprawl out and indulge in some wine pairings and beer tastings at Houtbosch Wine & Craft Beer, which is located on-site.”
Go play with the fairies
If you don’t believe in fairies, a visit to the Sulina Faerie Sanctuary in Swellendam might just change your mind. Run by South African sculptor, Ian Sulin and his wife, Minky, this quirky locale will intrigue anyone who visits, young and old alike.
“The sanctuary consists of a garden filled with fairies, gnomes, dwarves and dragons,” says Sakkie Nel, local dairy farmer and editor of visitswellendam.co.za. “There’s a play area for the kids, a dedicated shop (with more fairies) and a tea and coffee area for moms and dads.”
If you grew up in South Africa you will know who Dawie the Kabouter is, and you’ll likely find him here at Sulina’s, but you’ll need to be very quiet…” he cautions with a wink.
Walk the labyrinth at Stonehill River Lodge
While in Swellendam, you can walk the labyrinth at Stonehill River Lodge, purpose built by Terry De Vries, known as the local “labyrinth guru”.
According to Debra Nutter, general manager of Stonehill River Lodge, it was modelled on the one found at Chartres Cathedral near Paris, France. “Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has no blind alleys or dead ends,” she explains. “It is unicursal, which means it only has one path to its centre and back out.”
Labyrinth walking is an ancient practice used by many different faiths for spiritual
contemplation and prayer. When entering the serpentine path of a labyrinth, you should walk slowly, quietening the mind and focusing on a spiritual question or prayer.
Browse the craft stalls and farmers’ markets
Simone Verhoog, who captures her family’s adventures on her blog, Mamma to the Power of 4, visits family on the Garden Route a few times a year.
If you’re wanting to do some Christmas shopping during the festive season, she recommends a visit to the Scarab Village Craft Market. She also encourages families to stop in at the Wild Oats Community Farmers’ Market. “You’ll find live music, a variety of eats, crafts and even locally-brewed coffee and craft beer. Our kids enjoy the large play area, but overall we love the cheerful, eclectic vibe of the place!”
Both are open on Saturday mornings and located within close proximity to each other on the outskirts of Sedgefield.
Meet monkeys and meerkats
Local blogger Julie Glück says the activity that tops her family’s list is a visit to Monkeyland in the Crags, near Plettenberg Bay. “It’s an ethical sanctuary where families can walk through a canopy of trees, learning about primates while they swing and cavort around you,” she says.
You can also head to the outskirts of Oudsthoorn and discover a one-of-a-kind reserve called Meerkat Magic. Here you can join a guided tour of the meerkat colonies to learn about their habit.
In the spirit of the season you can even adopt a meerkat for 12 months by donating to the research facility. You won’t be able to take one of these little furry guys home with you of course, but you will receive a special adoption certificate!
Admire some colourful kites
Our friends at Jurni, a South African Travel and Tourism Data Management Company, have also recommended that visitors to the Garden Route support the 5th Eden Kite Festival this year.
It takes place on 14 December at the Sasol Highway Garage in George and on 15 and 16 December at Knysna High sports field.
“The programme includes entertainment for all ages, and there’s a gorgeous art and craft market which really showcases the creativity of some of the locals, ” says Dr Nomvuselelo Songelwa, Jurni’s CEO.
“Building on the success of previous events, and in the spirit of giving during Christmas, the event will continue to aid Masithandane’s Bursary Fund, ensuring disadvantaged children can attend school by providing transport, stationery, clothing and toiletries,” she adds.
Email [email protected] or call 082 046 0463.
Go birding in Knysna’s forests
Julie also recommends visiting a familiar favourite along the Garden Route during December,the charming lagoon town of Knysna. It will appeal to anyone who loves nature (and oysters).
“Stretching from Mossel Bay to Harkerville, the indigenous forests of Knysna cover about 45 000 ha of state and private land. Among the 125 species of trees found here, there’s also 230 species of bird to be discovered,” she says.
If you see a flash of crimson skirting through the bush and hear a high pitched “kek-kek” alarm call, then you’ll have been lucky enough to witness a rare sighting of the Knysna lourie (now renamed the Knysna turaco). While out exploring, keep your eyes peeled for Knysna woodpeckers, red-billed wood hoopoes and lesser double-collared sunbirds, too.
Head out for a hike at Robberg
The Garden Route is a hiker’s paradise with long and short hikes amid some of the world’s most beautiful scenery.
Sara Essop, who writes for her own local blog, In Africa and Beyond, explains that The Otter Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the region. “This 5-day trail follows the scenic Garden Route coastline, but you need to book in advance, as there’s up to a year’s waiting list ,” she says.
For shorter hikes during December, she recommends packing a picnic and planning a day to explore Robberg Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site situated 8km south of Plettenberg Bay. “While on your hike here, you may be lucky enough to see seals, dolphins, great white sharks and humpback whales,” she adds.
Robberg Nature Reserve cost:
- Ticket prices for adults: R50
- Ticket prices for children: R30
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