Traveling the world: First stop – The Garden Route, South Africa

 

 

Traveling the world

By John Dickens : Photographs by  John Dickens

Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to travel around a fair portion of the globe, and I think that it’s about time that I shared some of my travel experiences online. There is an ancient Chinese quote that goes something along the lines of – “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step,” so here it goes, my first step into the world of travel writing!

Sedgefield; a name that conjures up images of bright lights, bustling streets and party’s that go on till the early hours of the morning… sorry about that, I seem to have misplaced a sentence from an article on Bangkok. Ah right, Sedgefield; a tiny town with about 8000 permanent residents, one set of traffic lights, three petrol stations, two grocery stores, a handful of restaurants and more real estate agents than you can shake a stick at. It is situated on the southern coast of South Africa, in an area known as the Garden Route, nestled between Knysna and George; well, between Knysna and Wilderness, which is an equally small town.

So why am I writing about this funny little place that most people in South Africa, let alone the rest of the world, have never heard of, if not preceded by the words “I drove through…?” Well, Sedgefield is my home, or at least it has been for nearly a decade. I am starting off this first blog with a baby step into the world. A step over the threshold, out the front door and into my neighbourhood.

After all, how can you explore the rest of the world if you don’t even know what is down the road from your home?!

The Garden Route is a region along South Africa’s southern coastline, stretching from Heidelberg to Storms River, and also encompassing a few inland towns, the most notable of which is Oudtshoorn. The summers are hot and sunny, providing perfect beach weather, while the winters are often cool and wet, with the occasional snowfall on the very peaks of the Outeniqua Mountains. The beaches are white and pristine, the forests are green and lush (most of the year) and the sea is a beautiful blue. It is honestly one of the most picturesque places on South Africa’s coastline (I am trying to be as objective as possible!).

There are a plethora of activities to keep you busy if you visit this incredible part of the country, whether you are a beach bum, shopaholic, outdoor/nature enthusiast, adrenaline junky, or just an overworked individual in need of some peace and quiet.

If I tried hard enough, I could probably type out a reasonably large book of things to do between George and Pletternberg bay alone, but I am not ambitious enough to tackle a project like that at this stage and, to be honest, I would rather be out exploring and taking photos! So, I’ll narrow it down to a few of the things that I enjoy doing in the area.
Firstly, a day on the beach. What better way to spend a nice hot summer’s day than swimming, surfing, and lounging around on one of the beautiful sandy beaches in the area? The biggest headache is deciding which one to choose. Buffalo Bay, Swartvlei, Brenton on Sea, Wilderness beach, Victoria Bay, Herolds Bay, it is always quite an ordeal, and these are just a few of the ones between Knysna and George.
Buffalo Bay, found between Knysna and Sedgefield is one of the nicest swimming beaches in the area, with few currents and, usually, gentle waves in the bay, with larger, surfable waves a bit further down the beach.
Swartvlei beach is just past Sedgefield on the way to George, and is home to one of the oldest fossilized sand dunes in Southern Africa, Gericke’s point. With a bit of imagination and if you stand in the right place, Gericke’s looks just like the Sphinx in Egypt… well it looks vaguely like the Sphinx, you’ll have to see for yourself and let me know what you think.
Victoria bay, the last beach that I’ll mention, used to be one of my favorites, however over the past few years it has been getting busier and busier and during the summer season it is so packed with tourists and locals that it is not even worth going to look at. Quite a pity, as it is a really great surfing spot and has a great atmosphere. Still worth a look during the quieter months between February and April, after that the sea gets rather cold.
Next up; the Wild Oats Market in Sedgefield. Every Saturday morning hundreds of people descend upon little old Sedgefield to buy fresh produce and a variety of arts and crafts. Organically grown vegetables and fruit are sold alongside fantastic baked goods, fresh fish, meat, cheese, herbs and spices and almost any other culinary delicacies that you might be looking for! A breakfast of pancakes topped off with a fresh cup of coffee will keep you going for the morning. On the crafts side of things, there is clothing, hand made jewelry, old books, antiques and intricate wood turned art. It’s definitely worth a visit!
For the lovers of the great outdoors, there are some spectacular hikes in the area. Some of the best ones are in the Knysna forest; Jubilee Creek is a very pretty area with a web of trails leading off from it, and the Circles in the Forest hike meanders through the indigenous forest in the shadows of some massive Outeniqua Yellowwood trees, a few of which are over 600 years old. There are a hundred and one other hiking and walking trails along the Garden Route and there is a lot of information on them online.
If you are feeling active and want to take to the air, get in touch with one of the paragliding companies in the area. Sedgefield and Wilderness have some great launch pads and you can fly in tandem with a qualified instructor, without having any prior flying experience. Heights not your thing? Then have a look at some water sports; canoeing and kayaking are popular options, either on the lakes or out at sea. I’ve already mentioned that there are some very good surfing spots, but kite surfing and paddle skiing are also great fun! There is a bit of diving too, but the visibility is usually not that good… well compared to the Seychelles or Thailand. For a real adrenaline rush have a look at the Great White shark cage diving center in Mosselbay and come face to face with one of the most amazing animals in the sea. There are other ways to get close to wild animals, between Knysna and Plettenberg bay you can feed an elephant at the Knysna Elephant Park, have an owl perch on your head at Radical Raptors, walk with cheetahs and a few other big cats at the Cheetah center (on the other side of Plettenberg bay) and stroll through one of the largest aviaries in the world at Birds of Eden. Oh, and between July and October, or there abouts, you can take a trip out to sea to watch the Right and Humpback whales as they make their way down the coast.
So many things to keep you busy, and I haven’t even mentioned the fishing, bird watching, mountain biking, trail running… the list goes on and on!

If I am not careful I will end up writing a full guide book, so I think I’ll stop here.

 

I must apologize for not going to go into huge amounts of detail on each and every place in this short article. The wonderful thing about the technology now a days is that a quick Google search will provide you with more information on a place than you can take in, so if I mention a place name, give it a quick search.

 

Swartvlei Beach

Photograph : John Dickens

 

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