The Heart of the Garden Route

The Heart of the Garden Route must be somewhere here among the lakes of Wilderness, hidden in the emerald green of the Goukamma valley or lurking in the waters of the lazy Knysna Lagoon. This is South Africa’s most popular holiday refuge, where pleasurable pursuits include paddling up the Touws River, trading softly through the Knysna forests in search of elephants, cruising serenely across the lagoon to the Knysna Heads, exploring the forest streams where gold was panned –  and where gold may still be found.

The name of the Kaaimans River, translated literally, would mean ‘cayman’ or ‘alligator’, suggesting that the river was once home to many crocodiles. The name is, however, more likely to be a corruption of Keeroms (turn around river). Three rivers join here, within just a few hundred metres of the coast – the Kaaimans River, the Swart River and one of its small tributaries – and each of the three runs through a steep-sided ravine. In the old days farmers and traders travelling by ox-wagon found it extremely difficult to cross the rivers, the Kaaimans in particular, and the track they followed twisted and turned around on itself many times – perhaps the origin of the unusual name.

Before reaching the sea the rivers form a small, romantic lagoon, notable for its unusually dark water and for the picturesque rocky walls of the narrow gorge that has formed where the Swart River twists away westwards from the Kaaimans. On the steep western bank of the lagoon there are several quaint holiday homes dating from the turn of the century, whose occupants still have to row across the water to reach their front doorsteps.

At the seaward end of the lagoon the opposing forces of outflowing river water and inflowing tides have formed an attractive sandy beach (scarcely visible as you drive past on the N2), and at the mouth there is a raised tail bridge, mounted on tall pylons, which carries the famed Outeniqua Choop-choo across the water twice a day on its round trip between George and Knysna. A short distance upstream there remains an old causeway, accessible from the N2, which crosses the Kaaimans just above the point where the Kaaimans and the Swart Rivers join. This leads to a small spit of land between the two rivers where members of the George Skiboat Club maintain a launch ramp under shady trees.

As you travel eastwards on the N2 you cross the Kaaimans on a broad, curving bridge, then you climb the coastal headland that forms the eastern bank of the lagoon. As you round the headland there are two parking areas alongside good view sites. Looking westwards from here you have a fine view down over the lagoon mouth and the rail bridge. Looking eastwards you are treated to a splendid vista: the holiday refuge of Wilderness, the Wilderness lakes in the distance, and along the coast as far as Walker Point.

Garden Route Lakes

South Africa can offer the traveler few vistas so serene and gentle as the view down from the coastal hills to the perfectly calm waters of Swartvlei, backed by rolling hills smothered in dark green pine forests, and with line after line of ever-higher hilltops stretching away into the hazy distance until the eye settles on the jagged blue-grey outline of the Outeniqua Mountains.

Swartvlei is the largest of a string of six lakes stretching for over 40 kilometres along the southern coast from Wilderness in the west to the Goukamma River valley in the east. From west to east they are the Touws River lagoon at Wilderness, Island Lake (also known as Lower Langvlei), Lanvlei, Rondevlei, Swartvlei and finally Groenvlei.

The lakes have existed in their present form only for some 2000 years, but they are a result of several million years geological vacillation, as the world swung back and forth between ice ages and interglacial warm spells. Each successive ice age saw a massive increase in the size of the polar icecaps, and as the water froze the level of the world’s oceans dropped dramatically. When the weather became warmer the ice melted and the level of the oceans rose again. Each movement of the sea built up a line of dunes along this stretch of coast, and the lakes were formed by various low-lying areas of land being blocked from the sea by the dunes. Langvlei, for example, is simply an inundated area caught between the dunes. Swartvlei is a drowned river valley. Rondvlei is thought to have been a shallow pan excavated by wind, which has gradually filled with water.

The lakes and the area surrounding them are now incorporated in the Wilderness National Lake Area, and the aim of the National Parks Board has been to zone the entire area in such a way that the goals of conservation and of holiday recreation are both adequately catered for, appealing not only to the nature lover and the conservationist but also to the angler, the board sailor and the yachtsman.

The Touws River lagoon and Island Lake have been set aside for predominantly recreational use. Langvlei and Rondevlei are zoned for wildlife conservation and together form the ‘conservation heart’ of the lake region. They offer an unspoiled world where coastal fynbos mixes with semi-aquatic reeds, sedges, rushes and water grasses, and they constitute one of thee richest refuges for waterfowl in the whole of South Africa: of the 95 species recorded throughout the country, 75 can be seen in this relatively tiny area. This is also one of the few places in the southern African region where both the marsh harrier and the grass owl are known to breed.

Swartvlei is not only the largest of the lakes but also the deepest – and many would judge it the most beautiful, having a distinctive grandeur of its own. Although the reed beds that fill the floodplain at its eastern end are zoned as a conservation area, the main body of the lake has been set aside for recreational use.

In some ways the most interesting of the lakes in Groenvlei. Several thousand years ago Groenvlei was linked to Swartvlei but the two were eventually separated by windblown sand. Groenvlei then converted gradually to a freshwater lake, the only one in the region. Algae growing in the freshwater environment give the lake a greenish tint – hence its name. It was formerly also known as Lake Pleasant. Another consequence of its being fresh water is that it has become home to a large population of the North American black bass, the prized quarry of local and visiting anglers.

At the western end of Groenvlei there is a stylish old hotel and a large holiday resort, both of which retain the old name of Lake Pleasant. Immediately behind the hotel you will find a gravel track that leads south over the coastal hills and that brings you after 4 kilometres to a small parking area overlooking a wild stretch of beach at Platbank – also known locally as Groenvlei Beach. Wooden steps lead down to the beach, which is especially popular with surf anglers.

The N2 runs along the crest of the huge dunes that separate most of the lakes from the sea, and it offers splendid views. But it is also possible to explore the region more intimately by following any of a network of mostly gravel roads leading among the lakes then climbing the forested hills behind them.

Summer is around the corner

Beautiful sunset at Brenton-on-Sea, Eden, Western Cape, South Africa.

Passes Route

The first gravel road linking George and Knysna was laid in the 1860’s along a rough wagon trail. The road remained the principal route between the towns until the trunk road was built after the Second World War. The modern road follows the coast, while the old road, known as the Passes Route, runs inland. It is a delightful 82 kilometre drive through lushly forested areas.

Where the route crosses the Swart River it rises to a pass through the forest, then winds from a plateau to the Kaaimans ‘crocodile’ River and the bridge over the Silver River. At Ginnesville a branch road leads to Wilderness. The ravine crossing of the Touws River (river of the ford) is another of the passes on the Passes Route.

After crossing the Kleinkeur River the old road reaches Woodville forest station. A permit can be obtained here to explore a circular drive to Bergplaats and Kleinplaat forestry stations.

The Passes Route again crosses the Swart River and climbs to a plateau beyond Karatara, where there is another forestry station. East of Karatara River, is Barrington, with the forestry reserve of Farleigh to its north.

The road now enters the forest of the Homtini Pass and winds to the bottom of the turbulent Homtini River gorge.

Beyond the eastern summit of the pass a turn-off leads to the abandoned gold town of Millwood.

The road forks again after passing the forestry settlement of Rheenendal and the left-hand gravel road leads through the Phantom Pass to a steep but easy road from which glorious views of the Knysna River valley can be seen.

The Magic of the Garden Route

From Mossel Bay to the Storms River is a necklace of bays, beaches, cliffs and rocky capes strung together along a line of pounding white surf. The mountain ranges crowd close to the shoreline and, with a rainfall of around 2 500 millimetres on the peaks, bring a plentiful water supply to the narrow coastal terrace. Here every square metre of soil seems to nourish jumble of trees and flowering plants that a cultivated garden would pale into insignificance in comparison.

The 227 kilometres of this coastline is the Garden Route, a region of eternal freshness and greenery.

The climate is mild and equable. Rainfall is scattered throughout the year, most of it falling at night. A blight of most of the African continent is thus avoided – rainfall concentrated into a short season of floods followed by months so dry that rivers become sand and the vegetation so dead that it is simply a fire waiting to be started.

From the time of its first discovery by man this coastal terrace has delighted visitors. The French explorer, François Le Vaillant, passed this way in the 1780s, and the description he has left might well apply today: “The land bears the name Outeniqua, which in the Hottentot tongue means ‘a man laden with honey’. The flowers grow there in millions, the mixture of pleasant scents which arises from them, their colour, their variety, the pure an fresh air which on breathers there, all make one stop and think nature has made an enchanted abode of this beautiful place.”

Seldom cooler than 20°C, the coastal waters teem with game fish. Divers find a magic world of brilliantly coloured sea plants, molluscs and vast shoals of little fish. Suddenly, a rocky shoreline will give way to a secluded, sandy beach. Victoria Bay is renowned as one of the world’s best surfing beaches. The rivers, deeply stained with the amber colour of the soil have lovely stretches navigable by small boats; the wild flowers and the high forests offer long, cool drives down tunnels of shade beneath the trees; there is a mining ghost town to explore, and gold still to be panned in several steams.

Along the Garden Route is little to harm man other than his own folly. For the continent of Africa this is indeed a rare pleasure. There are no malarial mosquitoes, no bilharzia worms in the rivers, no crocodiles or other predatory animals and save leopards which keep to themselves in the mountains. A few elephants still survive in the depths of the Knysna Forest, but are seldom seen.

At some time or another, nearly every South African with the means to go on holiday spends some time on this coast. For visitors to the country it is one of the highlights of a complete tour. The region is excellently served by roads and has a delightful branch railway from George to Knysna still (and it is hoped for years to come) worked by steam locomotives. The region has numerous places of accommodation, caravan parks and camping grounds.

In the heart of the Garden Route is a quaint little town called Brenton-on-Sea. This small town lies on the edge of the shoreline a few kilometres from Knysna. For more information to buy vacant land or a house, please call Sophie Joubert on 082 572 2729.

Things to do and see

Angling
Musselcracker are prolific in Mossel Bay. Along the entire coast elf, kob and leervis run in autumn and winter and off the cliffs are many big rock feeders. Knysna lagoon offers sport for the fisherman with light tackle – galjoen, hottentot, roman, grunter and kob.
Plettenberg Bay is a favourite of fishermen. Gillies – or guides – can be hired. Large rock feeders are common. In autumn there are shoals of elf and notably large yellowtail. Big catchers are often taken.

Canoeing
The rivers of the Garden Route are ideal for canoes. The upper reaches simply lose themselves in forest. The Kaaimans waterfall can only be reached by canoe. The chain of lakes between Wilderness and Knysna is linked by serpentine waterways.

Camping and caravanning
There are caravan and camping grounds within easy access of all towns listed in this section.

Diving
Marine plants are rich along the coast, matching the beauty of the flora on shore. Small fish are numerous and many sea-horses live in Knysna lagoon.

Rail journeys
A pleasant way to see the wonders of the Garden Route is from the windows of a train. The line from George to Knysna passes through marvellous scenery. The trip from George over the Outeniqua Mountains to Camfer and Oudtshoorn includes one of the grandest railway passes in Africa, with tunnels, cuttings and tremendous views.

Surfing
The waves at Victoria Bay are majestic, especially in winter. There is also surfing in Mossel Bay and Buffalo Bay.

Swimming
The beaches at Plettenberg Bay are particularly safe. Mossel Bay also has fine swimming beaches with little trouble from sharks. The rivers of the Garden Route, free of the parasites of tropical rivers, provide excellent fresh-water swimming.

Walking
The whole Garden Route is memorable walking country. The walker sees the best of it. One of the most rewarding of all South African wilderness trails is the Outeniqua Trail. It takes 7 to 14 days to complete. The Otter Trail in the Tsitsikama national park is a 3-day hike.
Exploring any part of the high forests by foot takes the walker along scenic paths, silent, solitary, cool and lovely.

Millwood

In the late 1870’s alluvial gold was found in the forest streams west of the Knysna River. It took a while to assess the value of the find but by 1887 the rush was on. Where once there had stood only a small water-powered sawmill in the forests, suddenly there appeared a town with six hotels, three competing newspapers, over twenty shops and banks, and a population estimated at more than 700 fortune-seekers.

There was gold, both alluvial and reef gold, but not very much of it. After a few exciting years the mines began to close, the diggers moved on to the Witwatersrand and the site of the short-lived boom town returned to nature. Today it is almost impossible to believe that a town once existed here. What was once its main street is just another track through the forest.

To explore the old goldfields, take the Rheenendal road and immediately after passing through the village turn right onto a gravel road signposted Bibby’s Hoek. This brings you to the shady picnic site of Krisjan-se-nek in the heart of the indigenous forest. Driving on from here, keep left where the road divides, and at the second fork go left again. This road leads down into Jubilee Creek, an attractive picnic and braai area and one of the streams where alluvial gold was found. A footpath leads upstream along the right bank, bringing you eventually to several old mine openings and a small pool at the foot of a waterfall.

When you drive back from Jubilee Creek turn left at the first fork. After about 4 kilometres you reach the site of Millwood, passing on your right a road to the old town cemetery, and then reaching a fork. The road leading left here, merely a forest track now, was once Millwood’s main street. If you take the road leading right, and at the next fork go right again, you will eventually reach the boiler of an old steam engine in a clearing on your left; this was the site of the stamp battery for the old Bendigo mine.

A sign her points downhill to the opening of the main Bendigo tunnel, which you can reach most easily by driving back the way you came and taking the first turn to your left. The tunnel reaches 200 metres into the hillside but is too dangerous to explore.

Goukamma Nature Reserve and Buffalo Bay

The new tarred access road to Buffalo Bay undulates for several kilometres through the brilliant green valley of the Goukamma River, crosses several lines of scrub-covered sand dunes, and then runs in a south-easterly direction along the coast past two beautiful golden strands. The first is the long beach at the mouth of the Goukamma, the second is the attractive curved and gently sloping beach of Walker’s Bay. Eventually you reach the little village of Buffalo Bay, a tight cluster of holiday homes set on the narrow promontory of Walker Point.

Here visitors enjoy a surfeit of fine sandy beaches. In addition to those at Walker’s Bay and the Goukamma, a lovely beach sweeps eastwards from Walker Point along the entire coast to Brenton-on-Sea and the back of Knysna’s western head. This is a popular beach for both swimmers and surfers, and is particularly scenic also, forming a great curving ribbon of gold, backed by the green hills of Brenton.

Walker Point itself is rocky, with numerous fascinating rock pools to be explored at low tide. On its eastern side, where Buffalo Bay’s beach meets the first stretch of stony shore, there is a particularly gentle bay and a slipway for powerboat fishermen. On its western side ridges of rock run toughly parallel to the shore creating deep-water gullies and offering many vantage points to anglers fishing from the rocks. Several hundred metres to the west, from the smaller rocky promontory that forms the western limit of Walker’s Bay, there is a striking view along the coast past Gericke’s Point to the distant bulk of the Outeniqua Mountains.

Buffalo Bay village abuts directly on the eastern end of the Goukamma Nature Reserve, which incorporates the lagoon at the mouth of the Goukamma River and the entire coastal strip stretching westwards to Groenvlei. The eastern ban of the pretty lagoon has been developed as an attractively lawned picnic area with stone tables and seats, braai places, drinking water and toilets. From the northern end of this picnic area you can walk across a long suspension footbridge over the dark water of the river, then take any of a variety of footpaths leading through the western section of the reserve. The principal hiking trail through the reserve leads to a stretch of coast known as Oesterbank: an area of surf-battered rocks that is home to the indigenous oyster Crassostrea Margaritacea.

The reserve contains a wild region of scrub-covered sand dunes, the whole of Groenvlei, and many kilometres of unspoilt coastline. It is noted particularly for the variety of bird species that can be spotted here – roughly 150, including the African fish eagle and the marsh harrier.

Brenton-on-Sea houses and stands

Should you fancy an upmarket modern house on the shores of South Africa, Brenton-on-Sea offers spectacular sea views and beautiful sceneries. To buy a house or stand, contact Sophie Joubert today!

726sqm Land for sale

R 850 000

Land Area: 726 m²
Rates: R 1600

Flat corner stand with stunning sea view available in Brenton-on-Sea, popular seaside village approximately 15km from Knysna in the beautiful Garden Route in the Western Cape of South Africa. Situated in a prime and secure neighbourhood.

Ideal for multi-level building. One of only a few left.

Priced to go!

Slideshow: 726sqm Land for sale

Goukamma Marine Protected Area

The Goukamma MPA was proclaimed in 1990 and is 10 kilometres west of Knysna. It has a coastline of approximately 16km that extends east from Buffels Bay to Platbank and one nautical mile out to sea.

The Goukamma MPA supports a mixture of warm temperate species, including many that are endemic to South Africa’s south coast. The Goukamma estuary is one of a small number of semi open closed estuaries and functions naturally with no artificial opening or closing of the mouth.  The fact that it has a large catchment area for the length of the river makes this estuary somewhat unique.

The MPA is an important breeding area for the rare African black oystercatcher and many other sea birds that frequent this area.

Globally-threatened sea turtles, including loggerhead, green, hawksbill and leatherback, also visit these shores. Many other marine mammal species have been sighted in this MPA, including various types of dolphin, whales, sharks and seals.

Goukamma MPA consists of approximately 5.5 km of sandy shores, 5 km of rocky shores and 3.5 km of mixed rocky/sandy shore. It has important offshore reefs which provide habitat to commercially important species, such as hake and endemic fish species, such as red steenbras. Furthermore, the offshore soft sediment areas close inshore between the offshore reefs is important areas for east coast sole.

Length of coastline protected:
16 km

Area of ocean protected:
32 km²

Objectives:

  • To conserve and manage biodiversity and natural processes representative of Southern Cape terrestrial and marine ecological systems;
  • To improve the reach and quality of biodiversity management;
  • To create environmental awareness;
  • To expand and secure the conservation estate;
  • To provide appropriate opportunities and facilities for recreation;
  • To promote social and economic opportunities and sustainable utilisation; and
  • To effectively conserve our cultural heritage attributes.

Sophie’s Properties

Brenton-on-Sea is a beautiful town just outside of Knysna. It offers scenic ocean views its residents. Would you like to own a house in Brenton-on-Sea? Say no more… Contact Sophie on 082 572 2729 today!