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.
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!
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.