When is the best time of year to explore the Garden Route and what are some of the interesting activities i can find along the route?

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Answered by: olufemi, An Expert in the Countries in Africa - South Africa Category
South Africa’s Garden Route is a spectacular stretch of coastal road that begins in Western Cape Province and ends 200 kilometers away in the neighboring Eastern Cape. To the north, running from West to East along much of its length, are two roughly contiguous mountain ranges: the Outeniquas and the Tsitsikammas. To the south is the sea, or the wild coast as it is known for its fiercely chill waters and immense waves.

In addition to great vistas, the Garden route offers excellent food and, with small detours, ready opportunities to visit wine farms for tasting. There is also a chance to view game in the numerous private reserves in the vicinity and even to tour ostrich farms. And of course there are literally hundreds of beaches along the littoral, many of them pristine, utterly empty, and optimal for surfing, kite-surfing, wind-surfing and other water sports.

Those visitors intrepid enough to bathe will notice that the water grows warmer the further East one goes, as the balmier Indian Ocean current begins to dominate. In fact, a common misconception is that the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet at Cape Point whereas the confluence actually occurs at Cape Agulhas. Agulhas, a fishing community, is Africa’s southernmost tip (it was named by Portuguese explorers; Agulhas means needles) and it lies a considerable distance East of Cape Town.

Although the seas are too cold for many, terrestrial temperatures are mild year round and there is no unfavorable time to explore the Garden Route. That said, springtime and early summer, that is, September through November, are ideal for several reasons:

Southern Right Whales begin their breeding migration in August and, are in the vicinity of the Cape of Good Hope as late as October and November on their southward journey. The town of Hermanus draws thousands of visitors every year, and is the epicenter of whale spotting in the Western Cape. There’s even a “whale crier” on the cliffs over the small bay and he blows a Kelp Horn to signal that whales have been sighted. However, whales can be seen in great numbers from the southern suburbs of Cape Town all the way along the coast as far as the Eastern Cape during the springtime.

Once December comes around, the Garden route coastline becomes quite congested with visitors, both international tourists as well as holidaymakers down from Johannesburg, many of whom own second homes in the region. Whereas in October and November, the weather is perfectly fine and travelers will have many attractions to themselves.

The fynbos, or fine bush, evergreen vegetation of the Cape Floral Kingdom, much of which is found nowhere else on earth, blooms in September and October.

There are, broadly speaking, two ways of seeing the Garden Route: from one of the luxury trains that depart Johannesburg and Cape Town and terminate in George or Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. The train is a simple option and obviates the need to arrange accommodation and find restaurants. There is of course less flexibility with respect to a traveling itinerary by this mode of transport, and no scope to linger in any place that takes one’s fancy.

If time is not a concern then renting a car and going at one’s own pace is the better option. The roads are in excellent condition and maps can help with choosing where to overnight. Even many of the smallest towns and villages offer excellent accommodation.

In either case, any visit to the Western Cape should include an exploration of at least some portion of the Garden Route.

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