Diving along the N2 to Knysna, or any of the other Garden Route towns, is a beautiful journey. The 300km stretch of the Garden Route, which officially starts in Mossel Bay and ends at Storms River in the Eastern Cape, offers an unspoiled coastline, fringed by estuaries, rivers, and lakes, and a majestic mountain backdrop. This is one of South Africa’s most popular destinations and for good reason. But sometimes it’s a good idea to venture off the N2 and take the road less travelled to discover some gravel tracks and meandering paths that perhaps you never knew existed.
Here are five of the best scenic drives in the Garden Route:
The 7 Passes Route, which stretches from Knysna to George, is an excellent alternative to the N2 if you’ve driven the Garden Route numerous times. Meander down seven dirt passes, past winding rivers, dense forests, and the open fields of agricultural lands dotted with cows, donkeys, and horses.
The 75km route was completed in 1883 by Adam de Smidt, the brother-in-law of the famous pass builder Thomas Bain, as well as Bain himself. The road, which crosses 10 rivers and 7 gorges, was actually the main track connecting Knysna to George before the N2 was built. It remains almost unchanged to this day with the exception of the occasional modern signboard, a few short tar sections, and a new steel bridge that replaced one of the original timber structures which washed away in a flood in the 1900s.
The 7 Passes Route is also a fabulous day trip with plenty of places to stop for a coffee, a bite to eat, some amazing photo opportunities, and even a hike! One of our favorite stops is the Map of Africa near Wilderness where you can look out over the winding river which forms the shape of Africa.
Another great stop is the big Woodville tree near Hoekwil which is an excellent spot for a picnic or you can walk the 30min forest trail. Other great stops include the quaint towns of Rheenendal and Karatara and the Millwood gold fields. Here you can find a small museum, a number of walking trails, and an abandoned mine that is open to the public.
The Knysna Timber Route stretches from the lakes of Wilderness to the Garden of Eden, just east of Knysna. This self-drive tour should be done with a copy of the easy-to-follow Timber Route Map in hand (download your copy here). The fully illustrated map was put together by local historian, Margaret Parkes, and gives great insight into the history of the timber industry in this region of the Garden Route.
Learn all about the famous big trees of the Garden Route, such as Hoekwil’s 800-year-old giant yellowwood, discover some landmark buildings, and read all about Knysna’s maritime and gold rush history. With descriptions of various iconic tree species, the map is also useful to keep on hand when out on a hike in the forests of Knysna.
The Swartberg Pass, which connects Oudtshoorn to Prince Albert, is a wonderful day out and a favorite day trip for our guests from Beautiful Knysna Villas. For many South Africans, and travellers with an adventurous spirit, the Swartberg Pass is the epitome of gravel passes. The pass, which is actually a national monument, was the last, and possibly greatest, road built by Thomas Bain.
The 23,8km takes about an hour to drive, but you’ll want to factor in lots of extra time for picture taking, a stroll around the quaint town of Prince Albert, and possibly even a visit to the Cango Caves or an ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn. Birders will also want to set aside some time to look out for those Little Karoo lifers.
You can also to the Swartberg Pass as part of a circular route, returning via Meiringspoort to view some of the best examples of folded mountains in the world, in our opinion! This route crosses the river twenty-something times as it meanders through these exquisite Cape sandstone fold mountains.
You’ll be treated to a never-ending set of views, each one more magnificent than the next!
About two and a half hours from Knysna, the scenic Rooiberg Pass connects Calitzdorp to Van Wyksdorp. Although passable in a normal car, a high clearance vehicle is recommended for this gravel track.
Marked as one of the best passes in South Africa, Rooiberg Pass may just be 14km but is hallmarked by an incredible 69 bends including 6 hair-raising hairpins. Ideal for an unhurried day out, Rooiberg Pass will treat you to some spectacular views, while the dips and valleys allow you to get up close to flowering fynbos and orange-hued aloes.
This historic pass between George and Oudtshoorn was declared a national monument in 1972. The pass is characterised by fynbos-covered hillsides and serpentine curves. Be sure to take it slow to enjoy the vistas along the way and plan a stop at the Toll-House.
Lovingly restored, the Toll-House is also a national monument and is an interesting place to stop for a coffee and some pancakes on a Saturday morning.
Although one of the biggest towns on the Garden Route, Knysna is home to an abundant array of birdlife. The birdlife here is rich and varied, with indigenous yellowwood forests, vast stretches of coastline, and calm estuaries. It’s also easily accessible, meaning it’s the perfect place for beginner birders and more experienced twitchers alike.
In fact, during your stay at Alkira Lodge, a short stroll around the property will offer a variety of birding opportunities. Our resident bird guide Tim Carr has years of experience working as a guide at some of the best game reserves in the country, and his birding knowledge in the Garden Route is wide-ranging. He can offer you a short guided walk around Alkira’s indigenous fynbos to introduce your family to some of the birds in the area, or custom make an itinerary, taking you out for the day to some of the area’s top birding sites which also happen to be beautiful for sightseeing, as you try to tick those lifers off your list.
The greater Knysna area is accessible for many of South Africa’s endemic birds, but did you know it is the only town in South Africa after which three endemic species are named? This includes the Knysna Warbler, Knysna Turaco, and Knysna Woodpecker.
When most people think of birding in this area, they naturally think of the gorgeous forest walks. Of course, the forest birding is what draws many visitors to the area with chances to see the Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-Throated Woodland Warbler, and Lemon Dove, to name a few. However, the absolute joy of Knysna is that it offers a variety of different birding opportunities in one area.
The marsh is home to many wetland bird species like the Giant Kingfisher, Grey Heron, White-Breasted Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, Yellow-Billed Duck, Red-Knobbed Coot, and more.
Then, if you decide to venture out to sea, you may expect fantastic pelagic birding with sightings of Sooty Shearwaters, Terns, Shy, Black-browed, and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, Giant Petrels, Wilson’s and European Storm Petrels, and hundreds of White-chinned Petrels.
Another great thing about Knysna is that it is central to many other accessible areas as day drives. The Swartberg pass can offer up mountain specials such as Rockjumpers, the Sentinel Rock Thrush, Protea Canary, Cape Siskin, as well as the Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird.
At Mossel Bay, less than an hour from Knysna, there is fantastic dry land birding with Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Southern Black Korhaan, Cape Clapper Lark, and Southern Tchagra, all frequently sighted. Then inland towards Oudtshoorn is the Little Karoo with all its special birds, including Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Cape Penduline Tit, Karoo Lark, and Rufous-eared Warbler.
As you can see, the options for birding are endless. So whether you’re an experienced birder looking for new experiences or a beginner looking for an introduction to birding, be sure to visit Knysna. Our team at Alkira Lodge and Beautiful Knysna Villas will work together with Tim to customise a birding experience that suits your needs.
The gorgeous Garden Route officially starts at Witsand in the Western Cape and stretches to Tsitsikamma or Storms River in the Eastern Cape, covering roughly 300 kilometers of the very best of South Africa’s coastline. It’s a region where wild, untamed forests, winding rivers, breathtaking mountains, and beautiful beaches reign supreme, but it’s also home to some of the best towns in South Africa.
Here is your guide to understanding the different towns of the Garden Route:
Wedged between the outstanding Outeniqua Mountains, indigenous yellowwood forests, and the sea, Knysna is the crowning glory of the Garden Route and one of the most visited towns in the region. Featuring the gorgeous Knysna lagoon at its heart, Knysna offers a wealth of attractions for travellers of all ages. The forests are a haven for cyclers and mountain bikers, and the town attracts shoppers and foodies who come from far and wide to sample the Knysna oysters. The waters here are home to the endangered Knysna seahorse and can be explored by sailing charter, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or even while kitesurfing. The lagoon channels through the iconic Knysna Heads, and a stay at Beacon House puts you in the center of the action with some of the best views in town, while the all-inclusive Alkira Lodge gives you a bird’s eye view of Knysna.
Situated a 30-minute drive from Knysna, Plettenberg Bay is a small town that features an abundance of restaurants, shops, and activities to enjoy, from golfing to whale watching. The town is flanked by more than 20 kilometres of beaches and is the perfect place to enjoy those long romantic strolls on the sand. The Old Nick Village here is well worth a visit, while Plett, as locals call it, is also the gateway to The Crags with its variety of wildlife sanctuaries and adventure activities.
Wilderness is set on a stunning location on the banks of the Touws River Estuary. The lakes and rivers here are a paradise for birders who can look for the famed Knysna Loerie and others on foot or while meandering up the river in a canoe. On the other side of town, the beach stretches out for as far as the eye can see and offers a place of peace to experience some of the best sunsets in the Garden Route.
Time moves slowly in sleepy Sedgefield, located between Wilderness and Knysna on the largest inland saltwater lake in South Africa, the Swartvlei estuary. This is a great spot to enjoy some fishing. Every Saturday, the Wild Oats Community Farmers' Market takes place just outside town. If you visit one market on the Garden Route, this has to be it with its abundance of fresh farm products and locally made arts and crafts.
George is the administrative capital of the Garden Route and home to the airport, which services this region. The town itself is home to some fascinating museums and historical buildings while many picturesque golf courses are located here. The nearby Victoria Bay and Herold’s Bay are also well worth a visit. Victoria Bay is the Garden Route’s surfing mecca, while Herold’s Bay is a sheltered seaside resort with fabulous rock pools in which the kids can play.
If you love history and boats, then you don’t want to miss Mossel Bay. The town’s history links back to some of the most famous seafaring explorers of old, with various fascinating exhibits on display at the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex. You can also enjoy a historical walk through the town to enjoy the interesting architecture found here. Thrill-seekers can also go cage diving with Great White Sharks in Mossel Bay or enjoy a high-speed slide down the Mossel Bay Zipline - the longest over-the-ocean zip line in the world!
This is just a short guide to the major towns of the Garden Route; however, be sure to take your time visiting as there is so much more to discover. From the picturesque beaches of Nature’s Valley to the unspoiled nature of Little & Great Brak, to safari opportunities near Albertinia, and watersports at Witsand, the opportunities on the Garden Route are limitless!
When it comes to celebrating weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and bar mitzvahs, many of us have delayed, and 2020 celebrations were postponed indefinitely. This trend continues into 2021. However, there are still some treasured favorites and some new and spectacular ways that you can mark those memorable moments with your loved ones in a beautiful setting.
Here are some of our tips and tricks for celebrating milestones this year:
Create a magical feeling by getting out of town for your special celebration. Head to the magical Garden Route where pristine lagoons, otherworldly forests, majestic mountains, and stunning seascapes combine like nowhere else on earth. Here you can visit Alkira Lodge, you are surrounded by sky, mountains, waters of the ocean, rivers, and lakes, the freshest air, and endless horizons, or you can choose to visit one of our other beautiful apartments and villas, dotted in some of the best locations in Knysna.
Choose to dine by candlelight under the stars with your closest friends, mingle with canapes on the terrace enjoying the views with live music to soothe the soul or to get you grooving, or enjoy a romantic dinner for two at the fireside in your private apartment.
Either way, you can leave the stress and worries of your daily life at home when you get out of town for your celebration at Alkira Lodge, or any of the Beautiful Knysna Villas properties for that matter!
When it comes to feeling safe and secure this year, it's all about privacy and exclusivity. Avoid crowded venues and indoor locations and instead, look for destinations that can host you in a private restaurant.
At Alkira Lodge or our Beautiful Knysna Villas properties, you don't just need to eat in the dining area, you can choose to dine in a beautiful setting of your choice. In addition, because you've got the kitchen, discrete staff, and talented chefs to yourself you can enjoy a delicious menu designed in consultation with you to include your personal favourites!
Spending the night will make your special celebration last that little bit longer and means you can really enjoy that quality time with family and friends that you missed out on last year.
Our rooms are en-suite and have a private patio and unique views so that you can really connect with the natural world and relax and enjoy your time away. The entire lodge can also be booked as an exclusive getaway for up to 12 people with plenty of room for everyone in our multiple lounges, bars, and patios. We also have a pizza oven, bbq options for all-weather, fire pit, pool, Jacuzzi hot tub, and extensive gardens for you to enjoy!
The beautiful Garden Route town of Knysna is flanked by the iconic heads that guard the entrance
of the ocean to the peaceful estuary waters. The Eastern Head is well-known and visited by many tourists who come to soak up the views and enjoy a drink or a meal at the popular waterside East Head Cafe. However, the Western Head remains relatively untouched, home to the expansive Featherbed Nature Reserve and other wonderful discoveries. It is also on this peninsula that one will find the quaint resort of Brenton on Sea.
Brenton on Sea sits on top of a hill, overlooking the ocean, and stretches down to the long sandy
beach. The beach here stretches all the way to Buffalo Bay and has been heralded with Blue Flag status which means it meets a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria. The beach is loved by sunbathers who also look out for passing whales and dolphins. During low tide, ancient fossilised dunes can also be explored. Locals love to walk between Brenton and Buffalo Bay, or Buffelsbaai, and enjoy a refreshing drink and something to eat while taking in the spectacular views from the restaurants found on either end before heading back (or meeting a lift). Buffalo Bay is a surfer’s paradise and has a slipway for the launching of powerboats and fishing vessels.
The Brenton on Sea area was named after Sir Jahleel Brenton. Sir Jahleel Brenton was a British officer in the Royal Navy. Brenton served the Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and was rewarded with a baronetcy and a knighthood for his bravery. In 1814 he became naval commissioner at the Cape of Good Hope. During his time in the position, he oversaw the expansion of the dockyard at Simon's Town and became a prominent advocate for the rights of black dockyard workers and the native Khoikhoi population. He was the man responsible for declaring Knysna a harbour in 1818 making Knysna the 3rd oldest harbour in South Africa. It is also the 2nd largest wetland in southern Africa! A little known fact.
It is only here that you will find the tiny Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve. Proclaimed in 2003, this special nature reserve was declared to protect an endangered, indigenous, and tiny species of butterfly found only in this one place on the planet. The reserve is also home to many other butterflies, birds, mammals, and a variety of fynbos and thicket plants. The large population of a small plant in the pea family with pretty pink flowers is the major food source for the Brenton Blue butterfly. Although the reserve is not open to the general public, guided tours are occasionally run by butterfly specialists during the months of November to February when the butterfly is prevalent and the next-door Brenton Community Hall shows videos showing the butterfly's life history. Due to the protection of this endangered butterfly, large parts of the Brenton area have been left undeveloped in order to ensure the last breeding colonies of this butterfly have access to the natural environment.
There is in fact, a massive commitment from local landowners to keep the fynbos pristine and conserve the area surrounding Brenton on Sea and the Western Head. Covering much of Knysna's Western Head, the Featherbed Nature Reserve is a privately owned reserve that can only be visited via a ferry ride, paddle cruiser, sailing catamaran, or as a private guest of Alkira Lodge. Here you can enjoy a 4x4 drive up the head as well as a 2km hike along the Bushbuck trail or a leisurely meal under the milkwood trees. The reserve is a sanctuary for the local flora as well as bushbuck, the rare blue duiker, and breeding pairs of oystercatcher birds.
Featherbed got its name from the sailors who found refuge in the tranquil bay after many months on
rough seas and referred to their nights spent here as akin to “sleeping on a feather bed". The land that makes up the nature reserve belonged to Prof. J L B Smith. Prof. J L B Smith was the man responsible for identifying the coelacanth in 1938. It was the proceeds from Prof. Smith's books on the subject that funded the founding of the reserve and a coelacanth exhibit can be found at Featherbed’s Forest Restaurant. Interestingly, the reserve also rose to fame as Smith's son is the renowned South African television science and mathematics teacher William Smith.
Looking to discover the Brenton on Sea area and Western Head? Alkira Lodge is situated above the popular tourist towns of Knysna and Brenton on Sea, on the Western brow of the famous Knysna Heads. Alkira Lodge is surrounded by sky, mountains, the freshest air, and endless views. Guests enjoy privacy, pampering, nature, and nurturing for the soul and can take advantage of their private wilderness guide to explore the areas mentioned herein, secluded beaches, surprise picnic spots and so much more. Or choose simply to relax poolside, soaking in all that makes the area so famous from your lounger and unfolding to enjoy delicious in house dining overlooking the setting sun and remarkable views.
Unfortunately, 2020 put a spanner in the works for many brides that had planned to get married this year. Was your wedding cancelled because of lockdown, did your venue cancel your big day, and was your fairytale wedding put on hold?
The good news is, you can still plan an amazing celebration for your wedding day, where fresh air, wide-open spaces, and exclusive offerings combine to offer a safe, intimate wedding day event. The gorgeous Garden Route offers the ideal destination wedding venue for even the pickiest of brides, with spectacular views, amazing accommodation, and envy-worthy photo locations.
In these uncertain times, a wedding simply celebrated with those closest to you may be just what you need. The Garden Route is a place where you can just escape and enjoy a private, intimate celebration with your most special people. At Alkira Lodge we offer an exclusive use wedding option for just 18 guests where you can relax at the lodge with spa and wellness treatments, and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime tailored experience for just you and your guests. For those planning bigger celebrations, our space can be transformed to host 100 guests or more!
The Garden Route offers a myriad of fantastic photo locations for those picture-perfect wedding snaps. Pick from mountain, forest, beach, lake, or river backdrops or choose them all, with all of these available a short distance from each other in towns like Knysna.
In these trying times, nothing beats a beautiful outdoor location where fresh air, sunshine, and space are plentiful. Your guests won't feel cramped and crowded at a destination like Alkira in Knysna where the endless vistas of the Garden Route stretch out before you. Here abundant birdlife, butterflies, and even the odd antelope will be the only external visitors to your exclusive wedding venue, so you're guaranteed the health and safety of you and your guests.
The Garden Route is famous for its fresh and delicious produce. Here you will find local farmers around every corner, offering up organic honey, hand-made cheeses, seasonal fruits, free-range chicken and eggs, and grass-fed beef. While tasting all of these delicious goodies at one of the area's popular markets is a must-do, having them all on offer at your wedding feast is a real treat. Here at Alkira Lodge, we are proud to say that we have some of the best chefs in Knysna, if not the whole of South Africa, and the food will no doubt be a talking point of your wedding. Be sure to pair these scrumptious dishes with local wines hand-selected from our on-site cellar.
Everything goes by in such a blur on your wedding day, that a destination celebration allows you to spend more time with the people that are important to you. Book out a venue like Alkira Lodge on an exclusive basis and take advantage of the plush accommodation where you can spend that much-needed quality time with your friends and family in a warm and comfortable environment. Your wedding bash can be followed up with a post-wedding breakfast celebration with a range of activities such as hiking, kayaking, and whale watching all available nearby for those guests that want to linger longer.
The great thing about getting married on the Garden Route is that from the moment you say "I Do", you are already enjoying your honeymoon. There is so much to see and do in this beautiful part of South Africa, from enjoying some of the country's oldest golf courses to scenic sailing charters, guided hikes through natural reserves, whale watching excursions, adventurous kayaking trips, horseriding through the forests, mountain biking some of the best trails in the country, and much more. Once your guests have said their goodbyes, be sure to spend some time exploring everything that the area has to offer!
To find out more about hosting your wedding at Alkira, click here.
A time to wrap up the day. Allow your experiences to settle in the soul. Choose your favorite tipple from the bar. Join fellow guests or find a private spot. Depending on the time of year the sun slips behind the mountains in the winter or into the ocean in the summer months. Either way the light changes, the moon rises and the stars come out to play. Breathe. Feel alive.
Robyn Steyn and Ursula Nieuwoudt bring culinary excellence, creativity and a flair for flavors to the Alkira Table.
'Our vision is to give the diner a culinary journey of tastes, flavors and creativity - delivered in style!
Living and working in such a beautiful environment, inspires and supports us with local produce and tastes. Our focus always being on quality and detail"
We look forward to welcoming you to Alkira and to sharing our passion with you.'
Alkira lies in the heart of the Garden Route, which is aptly named for the stunning mountains covered in ancient forests, rivers, lakes, pristine white sandy beaches, and unique Fynbos. The Fynbos floral kingdom is the smallest floristic region in the world, yet boasts the highest number of different types of plants. This is the only floral kingdom found entirely in one country and is protected as part of our UNESCO World Heritage.
When you are next in the Garden Route, be sure to take a walk on one of our many local trails and explore this unique plant world, our beaches, lakes and forests. Discover some of the best day hiking and walking trails in Knysna here:
The Diepwalle Forest offers a number of easy hiking trails for visitors. One of our favourites is the Red Elephant Trail. This hiking trail is just short of 7km and follows a circular route that is good for a variety of skill levels and includes fantastic sections through the indigenous rain forest and alongside the river. En route you also have the opportunity to marvel at a 600-year-old yellowwood tree. For the more energetic, the Black Elephant Trail is slightly longer at 9.3 kilometers. Also a circular route, this trail is better suited to more experienced hikers and runners. This is an amazing route for anyone wanting to see the beautiful wild flowers of the Garden Route. The trails are named after the Knysna elephants which are said to live in this section of the forest so be sure to keep a keen eye out for any evidence of them!
This is a 5km there and back trail that takes you down a steep hill to a beautiful pebbled beach. The huge rocks and rock pools caused by the tidal movement are pretty spectacular, while winter also brings a number of waterfalls. Unfortunately, fishing and picnics are not allowed in this area. You might also be lucky enough to see a variety of birds and possibly even a bushbuck along the way, while the views from the top are also pretty spectacular.
The popular Circles in the Forest trail starts and ends at the Krisjan-se-Nek picnic site in the Goldfield State Forest. This easy walk is perfect for families with the picnic site providing the perfect spot for lunch at the end of your walk. A cool forest pool with a waterfall also is the ideal space to cool off along the way, while huge forest ferns, bubbling streams, and wooden bridges make the route a delight for all ages. Hikers can opt for two routes on the Circles in the Forest trail - a short 3.1km route or a longer 9km hike, both of which are loops.
Starting and ending at the Grootdraai picnic site, the Terblans Walk is a meandering 6.5km trail through the forest. This is an easy to moderate walk that will take about three hours to complete.
A good choice for families with little kids, the Garden of Eden features two loops, one which is wheelchair friendly and only about 500m and a longer 1km walk. Located right of the N2, the Garden of Eden is easily accessible on any day trip from Alkira and doesn't take long to complete. Meander along the wooden boardwalks as you learn more about the different trees found in the forest. The major attraction of the walk is the giant yellowwood trees found here.
Although one of the shorter hiking trails in Knysna at just 3.6km long, there are some pretty steep sections to this there and back walk. This is a great walk for bird spotting and just examining the huge variety of plant species found in the Garden Route. The Homtini River is a great place to spend some time picnicking and relaxing, so be sure to take your swimming costume along for a dip in the fresh mountain water.
Another great walking trail for families, Jubilee Creek is a 3.6km there and back hike that starts and ends at one of the most beautiful picnic sites in the Garden Route. A stream flows through the area so it's a great place for children to while away the hours. There is also a really nice natural pool at the end of the hike that you can swim in. There is also plenty of birdlife to see along the trail.
Located in the Harkeville forest, the Perdekop Nature Walk is a 9.5km circular route is long but quite an easy, flat trail. Along the way, you'll pass a dam and waterfall as well as a great picnic spot for a half time rest. The vegetation is quite varied along the trail, with some fantastic scenery too.
Offering a unique experience, the Millwood Mine Walk is a 5.6km circular route that starts at Mother Holly's Tea Room where you will also find a small mining museum. It is in this area where gold was first discovered in Knynsa and remnants of the old Millwood Mining Village can still be found along the trail. This includes the prospecting hole behind a waterfall, a shed with recovered mining equipment, old graves and houses, and even a mine itself.
The challenging 9km circular Kranshoek Trail is not for the faint of heart. The trail starts at the Kranshoek picnic site and winds its way down the gorge towards the coast. Thereafter you will head back up along the plateau to an amazing viewpoint. Having the chance to experience the forest, Fynbos, waterfalls and the coast all in one trail really gives you a taste of what Knysna is all about, however, you do need to be prepared for a strenuous workout!
The Buffalo Bay Hiking Trail covers dunes, mountains, and Fynbos, taking you high above the beach where you can enjoy great views of the sea. You can break up the 4.6km circular route with a stop at the beach for an ice-cream or even lunch at one of the amazing restaurants.