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The Garden Route is a popular scenic drive along a stretch of the southern coastline of South Africa. Although the Garden Route extends into the Western Cape, most of it is actually located in the Eastern Cape: a fantastic drive along the beautiful southern coastline, where ancient forests, surf spots, hiking and bungeejumping can all be combined within days.
The name comes from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast. The Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains are located inland of the coast. The Garden Route is in between the mountains and the Indian Ocean. The Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma indigenous forests are a unique mixture of Cape fynbos and temperate forest and offer hiking trails and other activities. Nearly 300 species of bird life are to be found in a variety of habitats ranging from fynbos to forest to wetlands and 10 nature reserves protect these biodiverse ecosystems of the area as well as unique marine reserves, home to coral reefs, dolphins, seals and many other forms of aquactic life. Various bays along the Garden Route are breeding grounds of the endangered Southern Right Whale which come there to calve in the winter and spring (July to December).
There are loads of cities, towns and small settlements along the Garden Route or its immediate vicinity. The major cities and towns include Mossel Bay, Knysna, Oudtshoorn (technically north of the Garden Route), Plettenberg Bay and George, the Garden Route's largest city and main administrative centre. The official start is in Heidelberg, Western Cape, the westernmost point.
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The world's third highest commercial bungy jump is located about 20 kilometres outside a small village of Storm's River. The jump on Bloukran's Bridge is 216 metres high, with about a six-second free fall. There is no public transport, but the Bazbus does stop in Storm's river, where your hostel/hotel can help organise transport. No pre-booking is required, and if you don't feel up for doing quite the jump, there is a flying fox wire below the bridge for a swing, connecting the two platforms.
The climate along much of the Garden Route is just perfect, with never really cold or hot conditions. Winters are mild, and frost or snow are unheard of, especially directly along the coast (the mountains some kilometres inland see more precipitation and lower temperatures). Summers are usually warm, dry and sunny with occasional showers and temperatures mostly in the 25-30 °C range and mild nights.
The main airport is in George, but it only serves some domestic destinations, including Johannesburg and Cape Town. The airports of both those cities have a wide range of flights to most continents, but it's about a day (Cape Town) or two days (Jo'burg) of driving. Check the articles of both cities to see options regarding flights and transport.
Shosholoza Meyl is the national railway, but rarely an efficient (yet adventurous!) way of getting to/from the Garden Route). The nearest station is in Oudtshoorn, with connections to Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and East London.
The Garden Route is easily reached by car from other parts of the Western and Eastern Cape provinces and the rest of the country, along decent wel paved roads. If you would like to travel by car, there are numerous car rental companies available from the airports and downtown locations. Just make sure that you have sufficient insurance to cover you if the need arises. Some of them offer the possibility to reduce excess (the amount you pay when involved in an accident) for a daily fee. Car hire companies include Avis, Imperial, CABS, First Car Rental as well as many other international and local ones. Usually, the local ones are cheaper but don't have the same standard as the international ones, which have more branches throughout the country and therefore are able to help you more quickly if needed.
Bus companies that offer buses to/from the Garden Route include Greyhound South Africa, Intercape and Translux. The Baz Bus is a bus where you can hop on and of and is mostly used by backpackers travelling on a budget. They are dropped off at hostels. There are three routes. One is running between Cape Town and Durban, partly along the Garden Route.
The Outeniqua Choo Tjoe originally linked the towns of George and Knysna in the Western Cape, South Africa. The 3-hour journey also stops in the towns of Wilderness, Goukamma, and Sedgefield. The scenic 67-kilometre route passes much of coastline of the Garden Route before ending by crossing a bridge over the lagoon in Knysna. Unfortunately, the operation ended in 2009 and hasn't been restarted since then.
The most popular way of getting around is of course by car. Although the driving itself only takes a (large) part of one day, it is best to explore slowly and take serveral days, a week if you include lots of activities and stops. Most cities and large towns have some rental car agencies, though you might find better deals in big cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg (see above for car rental options).
See the companies above.
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