Sometimes, I often wonder why people rush to the Western part of the World when going on travels. I will always say this, there are sights you will come across on the shore of Africa and you will be held hostage by surprise. These are basically places you will, if care is not taken, fall in love with, even more than your home. Travelers can explore part of the Western Cape’s coastline on the Garden Route scenic drive, all to their pleasure.
1 Table Mountain, Cape Town
No self respecting tourist should leave Cape Town without snapping a picture of Table Mountain, one of the most photographed landmarks in South Africa. This iconic flat-topped landmark towers 1,087 meters above the city center and beckons both locals and visitors to perch atop its panoramic plateau and breathe in the splendor of this ravishing city. The easiest way to ascend this famous landmark is to hop aboard the revolving cableway, which runs daily – except in high winds. Once on top, sightseers can explore three short nature walks or relax on the deck at the cafe here and gape at the views. Energetic climbers who wish to ascend the mountain on foot can choose between more than 350 routes catering to different abilities. The climb can take anywhere from two to four hours.
2 Robberg Nature Reserve, Plettenberg Bay
About eight kilometers from the popular coastal town of Plettenberg Bay, the Robberg Nature Reserve is one of the top attractions on the famous Garden Route, a roughly 200-kilometer scenic drive stretching from Mossel Bay, in the Western Cape, to the Storms River, on the Eastern Cape. This magnificent reserve resides on a four-kilometer-long peninsula at the foot of the Mountain of the Seal, where some of the rocks date back through millennia. Hikers will be in heaven here. Breathtaking trails of varying difficulty thread throughout the peninsula, but the queen of them all is the ten-kilometer hike around the point skirting rugged sea cliffs and passing beautiful beaches. Birdlife is prolific – especially water birds, some of which breed here. Seals bask on the beach and splash in the sea, and in season, whales and dolphins swim the waters along the coast. Keep a look out for great white sharks as well. The visitor center at the parking lot dispenses information on the local flora and fauna.
3 Editor’s Pick Boulders Penguin Colony
A must-see for wildlife lovers is the Boulders Penguin Colony with three beautiful beaches where these charismatic creatures waddle along the clean white sands. In Simon’s Town, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the beaches are home to a breeding colony of more than 2,000 endangered African Penguins. As well as viewing the penguins up close, visitors can paddle in the clear, calm waters. Huge granite boulders shelter the bay from winds and currents making this a fabulous swimming spot for children.
4 Cape Point
5 Karoo National Park
Just outside the town of Beaufort West, Karoo National Park is a land of haunting beauty, where the flattened peaks of the Nuweveld Mountains rise above vast red-earth semi-desert landscapes dappled with greens and golds. Established in 1979, the park forms part of the Great Karoo – South Africa’s largest ecosystem and is an important fossil site. It protects many endemic species including buffalo and rhino as well as species that have been reintroduced such as Cape mountain zebras, springboks, kudus, lions, and brown hyenas.
Elegant Stellenbosch, the second oldest European settlement on the Cape, offers day trippers from Cape Town a peaceful change of pace from the city buzz. Vine-cloaked fields, old oaks, and cobbled streets greet visitors, and charming Cape Dutch-style buildings lend the air of a bygone era. Stellenbosch is also renowned for its fertile soils and fresh produce, which visitors can sample at a range of gourmet restaurants and cafes. Stellenbosch University is the oldest and most celebrated university in South Africa, and the students imbue the town with a bubbly vibe. Stop by the University Botanic Gardens to see indigenous succulents, orchids, and cycads, as well as the welwitschias, which are common in the deserts of Namibia.
7 The Wildflowers and Birds of West Coast National Park
About 90-minute’s drive from Cape Town, West Coast National Park is a haven for birders. This coastal park was established in 1985 and encompasses the Langebaan Lagoon as well as four small offshore islands. The park is home to more than 250 species of birds as well as many Arctic migrants in winter. Among the numerous species are cormorants, seagulls, small sandpipers, curlew sandpipers, plovers, gannets, flamingos, and the black-footed penguin. Wildlife is also abundant, though this is not a park to see Africa’s Big 5. Among the mammals are bontebok, eland, springbok, kudu, and blue wildebeest.
8 Knysna Heads, The Garden Route
The magnificent Knysna Heads are one of the most popular attractions along the Garden Route, the scenic 200-plus-kilometer drive from from Mossel Bay, in the Western Cape, to the Storms River, in the Eastern Cape. These two massive crags loom above a sparkling lagoon and provide plenty of panoramic viewpoints overlooking the thrashing surf below and the rugged and rocky coast. Hiking trails thread throughout the heads, and sightseeing boats offer a dramatic vantage point from the sea. Visitors can also linger at one of the cafes in the area and dine with a view.
9 Hermanus: Whale Watching and Water Sports
About 120 kilometers east of Cape Town, Hermanus is a popular holiday resort and one of the best places in the world to see whales close to shore. From July through November, large numbers of southern right whales swim along the coast here, and the town celebrates these gentle giants each September at the annual Whale Festival. Besides this amazing wildlife spectacle, the top tourist attractions here are the beautiful sandy beaches to the east of town and the excellent water sports facilities. Thanks to some record catches, the coastal waters attract large numbers of anglers. The heart of town around the harbor is quite small and easy to explore on foot with restored fishermen’s houses now occupied by restaurants and shops.
10 Cederberg Wilderness Area
About 300 kilometers north of Cape Town, the rugged Cederberg Wilderness Area wows photographers with its wide-open vistas and bizarre rock formations tinged red by iron oxides. The Cedarberg is also famed for its wooded gorges and caves adorned with Bushman paintings, as well as its unique flora, such as the white snow protea, which is only found in this area. Named for the once plentiful cedars that grew here, the Cederberg is a range of hills extending for some 100 kilometers between Clanwilliam to the north and Ceres to the south, which reaches its highest point in the Sneeuberg (2,028 meters). Hiking trails criss cross the area, and, not surprisingly, rock climbing is also popular. The best time for a visit to the Cederberg is between September and April – especially September and October when the wildflowers are in bloom.
11 Cape Agulhas
About 220 kilometers from Cape Town, Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point of the Republic of South Africa as well as the African continent itself. Here, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, a fact that is announced rather unassumingly on a small cobalt blue sign. Although not as scenic as the dramatic coastline at Cape Point (South Africa’s most southwesterly point), this is a place for travelers to tick off their bucket list, breathe in the crisp sea air on the gently sloping rocky beaches, and snap a photo next to the sign. Cape Agulhas means “Cape of Needles,” possibly alluding to the fact that compass needles of the early Portuguese navigators pointed due north here; others think that the name refers to the sharp reefs off the coast. The lighthouse, now a museum, was built in 1848 and is the second oldest in South Africa. A radio beacon warns ships rounding the Cape, although visitors will see the rusted hulls of vessels that succumbed to frequent rogue waves. The sea in this area is one of the most productive fishing grounds in the world.
Matjiesfontein, in the Little Karoo, halfway between Cape Town and Beaufort West, is a quirky little town that feels like it’s frozen in time. In 1880, a Scot named James Logan settled here and founded a spa after the dry air cured his chronic lung disease. The spa was a great success, and in the late 19th century, it lured the rich and famous, among them the Sultan of Zanzibar and Lord Randolph Churchill (Winston Churchill’s father). Matjiesfontein was declared a national monument in 1975, and today, it preserves many buildings of the Victorian era, including the elegant Lord Milner Hotel. Staff dressed in period costume add to the historical feel. Matjiesfontein is popular with South Africans for weekend trips as well as international travelers who stop here on train journeys from the interior of the country to Cape Town.