A visit to the coastal towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay will return a sparkle to the eye, writes Minette Pieters.
As the pontoon cruised Knysna Lagoon, I took a moment to soak up the surroundings, glass of bubbly in hand. After an early start and a comfortable drive in the Ford Everest Sport, we had arrived in the Garden Route to explore two of South Africa’s most beautiful coastal towns.
Up ahead were the Knysna Heads, creating a picturesque frame for a sailboat floating in the distance. The lagoon is home to the endangered Knysna seahorse, and is flanked by an 18-hole championship golf course on the eastern side and the stunning Featherbed Nature Reserve on the western.
Upon arrival at our first destination, we checked into the quirky Turbine Boutique Hotel – a power station that has been transformed into luxury accommodation on Thesen Island. Its former incarnation is honoured through innovative architecture that showcases the original machinery. The industrial aesthetic juxtaposes playful artworks and exposed pipes in bright colours. At the hotel’s Island Café and Gastro Pub delicious dishes are complemented by live music, views of the canals and an extensive cocktail menu.
The Goudveld Forest was our next stop for a 9km hike among ancient trees and magical pools. The highlight was spotting an elusive Knysna turaco and watching it in wonder. If this route is too long, try the 3km Circles in a Forest Trail, where 800-year-old trees proudly guide you through their history. This forest is home to the tallest indigenous tree species in South Africa: the iconic yellowwood.
Other activities in the Knysna area include canoeing and cycling, rentals available from the Turbine Water Club, a spa treatment at the Turbine Spa or a meander through the coffee shops and boutiques of Thesen Island.
We bade Knysna adieu, but not being quite ready to let go yet, we took a detour to Knysna Ziplines. Here we zig-zagged along six cables over Kranshoek Gorge while taking in the stunning views of the Indian Ocean and forests below. Despite the zipline being 200m high, acrophobics need not worry as the guides are extremely accommodating and helpful. The morning’s adrenaline rush was tempered by the tranquillity of our next destination: Sky Villa Boutique Hotel, part of the Raw Africa Boutique Collection, in Plettenberg Bay.
Situated on a hill top in Baron’s View Estate, the hotel offers 360-degree views of the Indian Ocean, Tsitsikamma and Langkloof mountains, Keurbooms River and Plettenberg Lagoon. The five-star hotel has a fully equipped gym, a swimming pool, a snooker room, a small spa, an underground wine cellar, a fine art gallery and a restaurant that prides itself on serving only the best quality local produce and hotel-grown herbs and vegetables. I was escorted to one of their 14 luxury rooms, each with its own private terrace, to refresh before meeting my fellow travellers on the rooftop bar for a cocktail.
Plettenberg Bay has a host of activities to keep visitors happily occupied, but we chose to take on the walking trails of Robberg Nature Reserve, a breathtakingly beautiful peninsula. Whether you choose the 2.1km Gap Circuit, the 5.5km Witsand Circuit or the 9.2km Point Circuit, you can be sure to experience the best of this World Heritage Site. Look out for evidence of the Stone Age in the caves along the trails or spot some sea creatures – whales, dolphins, Cape fur seals and stingrays – swimming below.
For a post-hike lunch, we treated ourselves to an enjoyable meal at The Bungalow, Sky Villa’s sister property, on Hobie Beach. The freshly made sushi is sensational; vegan and other options are available on request.
Other activities to try in Plettenberg Bay are a stroll through Main Street’s boutiques, antique stores and quaint coffee shops, a stop at the local brewery, Barrington’s, or a visit to wine farms such as Bramon Wine Estate and Bitou Vineyards. Alternatively, do as we did on our final evening and dine at Sky Villa’s restaurant where Ecuadorian chef Balvina Aitkins delighted our party with an exceptional culinary experience.
The Garden Route is a wonderful escape, just five hours’ drive from Cape Town, that rejuvenates and inspires the soul. The region showed off its most precious gems to us and so, in return, we share these treasures with you. These towns are delightful and diverting, each in its own way, and are just waiting for you to come and be dazzled.