Did you know?
A handful of very secretive elephants still live in the Knysna forests.
Tall cliffs plunge in dramatic ravines to river mouths in the Garden Route National Park. Evergreen temperate forests merge with rocky beaches to touch the warm Indian Ocean. This is a place of mosses and ferns, thickly carpeted forest floor from which soar 800-year-old giant Outeniqua yellowwoods, draped in Old Man's Beard lichens.
In the flagship Tsitsikamma National Park section, look out for inquisitive vervet monkeys, watchful genets, blue duiker, bush pig, Cape clawless otters, and if you're very lucky, leopard.
The water-based life of the Garden Route National Park is just as rich - lagoons and strings of shining lakes begging to be explored by canoe.
Offshore, whales and dolphins surf the waves.
This wilderness is counterpointed by pleasant coastal towns like Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Sedgefield, where you can eat fresh oysters, drink locally brewed beer, swing from bungies, whizz through forest canopies, or simply relax on a long, clean beach.
In truth, this is not a single block of conserved land. Instead, it is a daring new experiment in conservation. A mosaic of protected areas sprawled along the country's south-eastern coast have been gathered under one management plan. They include the peerless Tsitsikamma National Park, Wilderness National Park and linking them, the Knysna National Lake Area, Soetkraal Wilderness and Conservation Area, and the Robberg and Goukamma Nature Reserves.
Although the Garden Route National Park is punctuated by human settlement, the pristine sections are some of the most dramatic and beautiful in the country. The hiking options available in the Garden Route are excellent.
From the raw tang of sea breezes, to children's laughter on beaches, to the rush of sweet forest, this is a land that engages all the senses. No two people experience it in the same way.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
SA National Parks reservations
Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111
Garden Route National Park
Tel: +27 (0)44 302 5600
How to get here
Most people either drive along the N2 highway north from Cape Town or south from Port Elizabeth, but you could fly to the town of George and hire a car.
Best time to visit
This is an all-year destination, but spring (September) is particularly pretty, when the keurboom trees are in flower.
Length of stay
It would be a great pity to spend less than three days in this region. Even a week would probably leave you hankering for more.
What to pack
The Garden Route experiences rain throughout the year, so don't forget a raincoat.
Where to stay
You're spoilt for choice here. Almost all the conservation areas have good choices. At Tsitsikamma you can stay in wood cabins overlooking the sea. There are Tree Top forest chalets near Knysna, or even camping decks in the forests. The nearby towns of Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Nature's Valley, Sedgefield and Wilderness offer more options.