What’s that old chestnut that it’s the journey, not the destination? Turns out there’s more than a little truth in it. So rather than speed down the highways, gear down and explore the byways of the Cape this summer. Here are four destinations you won’t want to miss.
Wilderness: location, location, location
It’s a fair guess that the marketing team at Views Boutique Hotel didn’t have much trouble coming up with a name for this 26-room escape. Perched like a seabird atop the dunes behind Wilderness beach, it’s a hotel with some of the finest, well, views on the Garden Route. The sea-facing suites are the stars of the show, with dramatic ocean vistas from just about every corner. Ever dreamt of spotting dolphins from the bath? This is the place for you. Downstairs, the on-site restaurant — dubbed Views, you seeing a trend? — offers a superb seafront terrace, as does the on-site Wellness Emporium.
But also get out and explore. As Garden Route destinations go, Wilderness is often overlooked — a brief hiatus for travellers speeding onwards to George, Knysna or Plettenberg Bay — but this sleepy town has plenty on offer. Drive the Seven Passes Road meandering through the backwoods of the Garden Route, pack the clubs for a swing at one of the region’s acclaimed golf courses, or hire a canoe for a lazy paddle up the Touw’s River flowing through the Garden Route National Park. Feeling adventurous? This corner of the Garden Route is a hotspot for paragliding.
Oudtshoorn: The road less travelled
Heading from the Garden Route to Cape Town offers you two choices: hurtle headlong down the N2 to get the journey done as fast as possible, or take it easy on the back roads through the Klein Karoo, delving into the quirks of Route 62. Now that’s really no choice at all.
Just over the Outeniqua Pass from George, Oudtshoorn is the eastern gateway to Route 62, often dubbed the world’s longest wine route. And it’s a fine spot for a night or two: there’s the world-famous Cango Caves to explore (claustrophobes, steer clear), ostrich farms to experience, and a colourful cultural history to discover. Fancy a drive? The trip up and over the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert, returning through Meiringspoort’s tortured cleft of rocks, is surely one of SA’s finest road trips.
Like a country traveller of old, lay your head at The Queen’s Hotel in the centre of Oudtshoorn. At this colourful throwback to the golden era of country hotels, expect four-star comfort and authentic SA cuisine at The Colony restaurant.
Barrydale: Feel the energy
On the dry and lonely road west of Oudtshoorn you’ll marvel at all the empty, parched landscape of the Little Karoo. So to find a signpost for Warmwaterberg — “hot water mountain” — comes as something of a surprise. But it’s not wrong, and here amid the arid plains hot springs spring eternal. The Warmwaterberg Spa offers a number of pools, where iron-rich mineral springs bubble from the ground at a toasty 43.5°.
Day visitors are welcome to enjoy the pools, but there are campsites and other accommodation options for overnighting. The historic Bath Houses — built in 1886 — are the best choice, with a private bath in each.
Next, head on into the quirky town of Barrydale. There’s a good selection of eateries — the diner-style fare at Diesel and Crème never disappoints — alongside a handful of memorable galleries and artisans. Barrydale Hand Weavers craft remarkable works on wooden looms from locally grown cotton, while MagpieArtCollective is famous worldwide for their upcycled chandelier creations. Want to spend the night in town? The Karoo Art Hotel offers comfort and quirk in equal measure.
Grootvadersbosch: Forest bathing
If you’d rather avoid the crowds of Route 62, hang a left at Barrydale for the sinuous curves of the Tradouw Pass. One of the Cape’s most beautiful mountain passes, over just 16km it swaps the arid Klein Karoo for lush fynbos as it sweeps down to the historic mission village of Suurbraak. Turn left again and before long you’ll be unpacking your bags in the plush eco-cabins — 11 units, sleeping four each — of Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve.
The reserve conserves both pristine fynbos and Afromontane forest, and you can fill your days on marked mountain bike trails, hiking to the tannin-stained pools of the Duiwenhoks River, or simply bathe in the quiet of the forests. The elevated bird hides offer a unique chance to peek at life in the high forest canopy.