Explore Plettenberg Bay in the new BMW iX3

How does the dynamic of the Garden Route – a beautiful stretch of road for most modes of transportation – change from behind the wheel of an all-electric vehicle? Ian McLaren set course for Plettenberg Bay in the new BMW iX3.

As a youngster buckled into the back seat of my father’s Ford Sierra, I came to know the journey between Cape Town and Plettenberg Bay as a series of landmarks. With the summit of Sir Lowry’s signalling the unofficial start of our family holiday and a flash past the renowned Houw Hoek farm stall awakening the hunger games, I soon learnt to estimate our remaining travel time from the view out of my window, rather than troubling my parents for this information.

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I knew that we occasionally slowed through several quaint towns along the way and I’d anticipate the tension from the Ford’s front seats as my father inevitably misjudged the still surprisingly inconspicuous exit from the single lane highway heading into Mossel Bay to the dual carriage merging with the official start of the Garden Route. Then the mood would lift again at the sight of the Indian Ocean, set to trace a dramatic outline as we continued to our destination.

Now, my latest journey along this popular route marked the first time that I would need to stop for a refuel of sorts in Mossel Bay. Indeed, in preparation for driving an all-electric car to a weekend away in Plettenberg Bay, I’d committed a few more notable landmarks to memory: those of available public charging stations.

Launched in 2022, the BMW iX3 is a battery-electric version of one of this German brand’s best-selling global models. With its introduction, the locally available (and assembled) X3 SUV range is the first in South Africa to be offered with a choice of a petrol, a turbo-diesel or, indeed, an emissions-free derivative. Sharing its underpinnings and much of its impressively refined packaging with its combustion engine siblings, the iX3 features a 74kWh battery pack mounted below the passenger compartment. Forward momentum comes via a 210kW electric motor powering the front wheels.

The BMW iX3 offers a claimed operating range of up to 440km; a fully digital instrumentation display offers a comprehensive menu of charging and trip information; the refurbished Robberg Road links this thriving coastal town with its busier-than-ever airport.

Sprightly performance aside, the significant specification in terms of how successfully electric vehicles will eventually integrate into our lives is a claimed operating range in this BMW of up to 440km.

Following an impressively fast ‘fill her up’ charge courtesy of compatriot brand Audi’s new 150kW charging station located at Mossel Bay’s Langeberg Mall, guidance from our friendly guest house owner had us entering Plettenberg Bay via the delightful Robberg Road. Refurbished in 2017 with a view to more conveniently linking the town’s affluent southern suburbs with the N2, this picture-postcard road also affords easy access to the quaint airfield that services this area.

Public EV-charging infrastructure between Stellenbosch and Plettenberg Bay can currently be found at: Stellenbosch Square, Caledon, Buffeljagsrivier, Riversdale, Langeberg Mall (Mossel Bay), George Mall, Knysna Mall, Thesen Island and The Crags.

And service it does, with statistics suggesting that ‘Plett’ is currently one of the most popular destinations for families choosing to relocate away from the hustle of the country’s major hubs. Carrying tourists and commuters alike, this airport welcomes daily flights from both Cape Town and Gauteng.

Home to no fewer than six Blue Flag beaches, numerous water- and forest-based adventure activities and even a well-established polo scene, you get the sense while visiting Plettenberg Bay that its many businesses, tourist-focused and otherwise, have emerged from the pressures of coronavirus-mandated lockdown regulations with a newfound determination to succeed. While some of this refocused conviction has manifested in some keener-than-anticipated pricing on the likes of eat-out menus, a car enthusiast’s glance around the parking areas of some of these otherwise impressively varied establishments reveals a similarly high standard of personal transportation currently joining the dots around Plett.

From the charm of Keurboomstrand to the north to the escape of the popular nature reserve on Robberg Peninsula and even the relative bustle of Knysna a 30-minute drive away, the landscape of this area is neatly conducive to EV ownership. Together with the convenience of a home wall charging system that’s currently included in the asking price of most of the battery-electric vehicles currently available in South Africa, you’d surely never be very far away from an available recharge – including another Audi-branded station at The Crags.

Bidding farewell to our plush weekend-away accommodation, our return trip to Somerset West took a little longer than anticipated. This was thanks to a combination of stage 4 load shedding that temporarily disabled both Knysna-based charging stations and a fresh headwind eating into our available range – and resulting in an unscheduled stop in Caledon to ease the tension in the front seats…

Just like the broad rethink that’s enabled a town like Plettenberg Bay to emerge as a primary destination for those seeking a generally better quality of life, the inevitable move towards electric mobility in our market won’t be realised without its challenges. What’s notable, though, is the rate of evolution being offered by the automotive brands involved in this process. Indeed, how long before a family-focused holiday up the Garden Route is achievable via a single – ideally renewable energy-sourced – charge of an EV’s battery?

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