THE GARDEN ROUTE:
The area known as the Garden Route travels along the coast, with bays, beaches and rocky cliffs, and mountain ranges crowding close to the shoreline. It has rainfall all year round, and this gives rise to a rich abundance of plant life, including two very unique Floral kingdoms, the coastal fynbos, and the indigenous Coastal forests.
This time of the year is great for seeing it because the Ericas are in flower.
The proteas are also in full swing.
The bridge at Storms River , seen here from a wooden walkway which runs below it, spans an incredible gorge. This marks the beginning of the Garden Route.
Layers of sedimentary rocks were upended in some ancient upheaval, and the river has cut a v shaped valley through them. The softer rocks have eroded faster, leaving vertical blades of rock jutting into the breathtaking canyon.
Here we enter the forest, and as you drive along, the trees tower overhead. The traffic was heavy and the road is narrow here, so we couldn’t stop, and this was taken at 80 km/hr as we travelled through, so excuse the poor quality, and windscreen tint, but it should give you an idea of the lovely forests.
On the way there, we went on the new toll road, which crosses three bridges that were constructed in the early 80’s, and cut out the old winding passes that used to make traffic on the main road a nightmare.
The largest of these is the Bloukrans Bridge, and it is home to the world’s highest commercial bungee jump.
The road passes through The Crags, a fascinating little settlement where some “alternative” eco friendly homes have been built using cob (clay and straw) and straw bales.
You then come over a hill and down to the coast, where you pass Plettenberg Bay. It used to be a very cute village, but was discovered by the in crowd of Johannesberg yuppies, and boomed into a crowded holiday resort of “make the Joneses keep up with us” mansions, which stand empty for most of the year.
Here again we get the typical 1st world/3rd world confluence that I have highlighted before.
The horses live better than some of the people! These are the stables of the Bitou Polo Club!!
But Plett is so yuppy, even the squatters have aspirations of grandeur, check out this double story shack!!
You then go through a lovely section of forest, full of quaint little craft shops, potters, restaurants and guest houses, before coming over the hill, and seeing the spectacular Knysna lagoon spread out before you.
There was a community of woodcutters near Knysna who lived a completely isolated life deep in the forest (they even became a bit inbred, like the people on the island of Tristan de Cuhna in the Atlantic) and they used massive saws to cut through the ancient trees by hand. A small remnant of them remain to this day. A thriving timber industry grew up around there, and a unique Cape Cottage Style of handmade wooden furniture developed in the early days, using mostly a mixture of yellowwood, and stinkwood, which is now very costly, as the cutting of the forest is being strictly controlled.
The town is still renowned for this type of furniture that is made there, using the indigenous woods from the surrounding forests.
This rocking chair is an example, it is yellowwood, and I bought it for Max’s 30th birthday (I told him it was because he was now over the hill and would need to sit around and rock gently!!)
I used yellowwood in some of my designs when we had the shop,
And this server and mirror custom made for a client.
In keeping with the general creativity in the area, we couldn’t resist stopping to photograph this garden, the owner takes creativity to new and outlandish extremes!
The most famous feature of Knysna is the lagoon
, which enters the sea through a narrow channel between two rocky promontories known as The Heads.
The tide was exceptionally low when this was taken from Leisure Isle, which lies below the heads near the mouth of the lagoon.
There is a narrow gauge railway line, which crosses the lagoon on a long bridge,
Here, again 3rd world meets 1st,
and these Cape Cod style mansions have been put up on a new development on Thesen island. (Formerly an industrial zone, the heart of the timber industry in the area, it was recently sold and developed as an exclusive closed estate, the old sawmill is still a feature, you can see the chimneys in the background.)
Another seriously up-market development is Pezula Hotel, and the Sparrebos golfing estate, where it costs R2000 for a single round of golf!!!, and which commands spectacular views of the open sea and the lagoon. (Roger Federer has a new home there.)
Reluctantly leaving Knysna, on the way home we took the old road through the passes. I went into a quite a bit of detail about this road, in a meme I did on this post. It is so stunning, but is even better now that all the traffic uses the toll road, because now you can stop and enjoy the scenery, in the past it was too dangerous with trucks whizzing by.
This is where you see the fynbos and Garden Route at its best. Look at this stunning combination of mountains and plants! I wish I could convey the fresh smell of these plants, it is great standing amongst them and sniffing deeply!
As you enter the pass you drop steeply into a forested ravine, with magnificent old lichen encrusted yellowwoods towering over the other trees.
You also get to see the only grove of some extremely rare plants. Strelitzias are indigenous to the Esatern Cape, but are now popular around the world, with their orange and blue flowers which look like crowned cranes. (I believe they are particularly popular in California) Anyway another member of the Strelitzia family is the “Banana Strelitzia” which has blue and white flowers, and looks like a tall banana tree.
There is a variant of this, called Strelitzia Alba, and there is only 1 spot in the world where it occurs naturally. Here it is, this little grove, tucked away on the hillside as you enter the first pass. Unfortunately they were not flowering when we went through, so I can’t show you the flowers.
At the bottom of the pass, you cross what our family has always referred to as “The Coca-Cola River” because the water is stained with root extracts from the forest it runs through.
I hope you enjoyed the journey, I’m sure you will agree it is a unique and wonderful part of the world! (Libby and CJ, hope that was a nice blast from the past for you!)