Exciting Garden Route Escapades

Guest post by Rudi Janse van Rensburg, following a Luxury Safaris field trip and lodge site visits in June 2016.

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

If you ever take a tour along the winding Route 62, it’ll take you through the quaint towns of Robertson and Montagu right to the entrance of Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.

We drove to the main gate in anticipation where a tour guide was waiting to drive us into the Reserve on a real Vrystaat dirt road. In this case it was a Karoo dirt road, which apparently looks worse when it rains. We were immediately transported into a world of rolling hills, Karoo bushes, mountains in the distance and fresh air where our souls could recharge again. We even had a chance to observe a huge herd of elephants in the bush!

After that, we arrived at Dwyka Tented Lodge where the manager of the lodge met us and profusely apologised for the state of the lodge It’s off-peak season and they are refurbishing the tents, cleaning and varnishing woodwork which we knew would be happening.

Dwyka can be summed up in one word: amazing! The main lodge, where meals are served, has a boma, inside and outside seating arrangements with fireplaces, underfloor heating and spa treatment rooms. The entire area is surrounded by amazing views of the rolling landscape and breath-taking cliffs.

The tents are hardly just tents – they’re exclusive rooms beautifully decorated with beds that have luxury bedding and immaculate bathrooms. All this surrounded by spectacular views!

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From Dwyka we drove to Gondwana Lodge which is a family lodge. This lodge was also receiving a little TLC. There is a reception area with small shop, and children’s activity centre where little ones can be kept busy. Grown-ups are treated to game drives, use of the pool area, dining area with fire places and a large boma area with a pizza oven for lazy evenings. The rooms are large with inter-leading rooms for larger families, each with their own veranda with views across the landscape.

From Gondwana we drove to Tilney Manor where we were welcomed with snacks and smiles. This is a more cosy lodge with lovely rooms each with their own outside showers and a rim-flow pool under a covered veranda. There is also a beautifully appointed lounge area and dining area.

We were driven back to the main gate, where we started our journey, to continue our adventure towards Oudtshoorn.

Oudtshoorn

We arrived at Highgate Ostrich Farm where Johan Keller met us just in time to have a short and sweet introduction to the ostriches and the main yard tour offered to visitors. (We have been shown!) On this tour we were shown various ostrich feathers, incubators, gizzard stones and we even got to feed the ostriches. We were also shown the traditional way to paint and decorate eggs and make feather dusters. Oriane had an interesting experience with the birds which we captured on camera!

We then checked into De Denne Country Guest House just outside of Oudtshoorn. This is a charming 4-star guest house situated on a working ostrich farm run by the owners. The Deluxe, Family and Garden Suites are all beautifully detailed and decorated, each with their own character and each furnished with all the mod-cons one would find in a 4-star establishment. We were all a little cold that night and agreed that they would need to look into heating the rooms in winter! We were then joined by Johan Keller that evening for a lovely dinner.

The next morning, we had an early breakfast (we could enjoy a continental buffet and a hot breakfast), followed by another interesting introduction to ostriches by one of the locals who work on the farm. He was so inspired and knowledgeable; we learned a lot about these astonishing birds! He first introduced us to a male ostrich called Cadbury and told us about all its specificities. He then drove us to the other part of the farm where we could enjoy sitting on an ostrich and witness jockeys riding other ones. This was one of the funniest things we’ve ever seen!

We then drove into the town of Oudtshoorn to visit the 5-star Rosenhof Guest House on the outskirts of town.

Rosenhof offers everything that a 5-star establishment should have with beautiful rooms, a pool, a gym, a sauna, a beauty clinic, therapy rooms and separate dining area for breakfasts. Each room is painted in different vivid colours and each has its own patio that leads into the courtyard. Beautiful gardens surround the guest house.

We then jumped into our van again and drove to the Cango Caves, passing by a land of lambs, ostriches and donkeys…

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Cango Caves

We arrived at the caves and were immediately assisted by the staff and were allowed to partake in the Heritage and Adventure trails. Pieter and Oriane did the Adventure Trail and the rest of us walked the Heritage Trail. The Adventure Tour lasts about one hour and some had to walk, crawl and even pull up themselves into the ‘Devil’s Chimney’. This is an amazing experience for people who want to feel like Indiana Jones! The caves are always interesting and not so busy around this time of year. It was a great experience and our guide was very knowledgeable and helpful.

Knysna

We then took the road to George and Knysna via the Outeniqua Pass. In Knysna we visited the Atlantic Guest House overlooking the lagoon. This beautiful guest house has six rooms, a pool, a Jacuzzi, safe parking off street and they serve breakfast as well.

From there we travelled via the Knysna Waterfront and visited the Turbine Hotel on Thesen Island. This former museum turned into a hotel for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. It’s a funky, upmarket establishment, beautifully decorated and shows off the old steam and electricity engines. It has 24 wonderful rooms, some of which have views of the lagoon and some of the buildings on the island.

We then visited the Knysna Heads with stunning views onto the lagoon, ocean and lovely homes surrounding the area.

Next we headed towards Plettenberg Bay to the Tsala Treetop Lodge. I think we were all blown away by this fabulous property. After a warm and friendly welcome by the lodge manager with welcome drinks, we entered the rooms and were first pleasantly surprised by the view and then by the rooms themselves. Fires were burning in the fireplaces, the towel rails and heaters were on in the bathrooms. Huge beds and soothing décor made for a truly beautiful place.

We enjoyed bubbly on the veranda before going to Zinzi, one of the restaurants on the property, where we had a wonderful dinner – Caesar salad, divine goats cheese and beef carpaccio and traditional crème brulee, after which we headed back to our rooms where the beds were turned down and a cocoon of fabulousness awaited us.

The next morning, we had an early but delightful breakfast and headed back towards Knysna and Botlierskop Game Reserve.

Botlierskop Private Game Reserve

We were welcomed at the lounge, from where the day tours depart, to go on a game drive of two and a half hours. Before jumping in the car, we enjoyed a very welcomed tea in front of an enormous fireplace. We then drove in the 4X4 and were thankfully given warm blankets.

It was a wonderfully informative trip with a wonderful guide. It was truly great to see the animals in an environment which did not feel like a zoo.

We saw some of the amazing Big Five (majestic elephants, sleepy lions and impressive rhinos) and a giraffe, lots of springboks, zebras, and wildebeests.

After much excitement, we went back to the main lodge and had a look at the very well-appointed tents which sport all the mod-cons. We also had a look at the main dining and reception area and had a light lunch.

After lunch we tackled the trip to Grootbos Private Nature Reserve via the N2 and Stanford.

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

We arrived at a wet Grootbos and checked into our beautiful private rooms with views across the fynbos-littered coastline. What a wonderful spot! After a little rest we had our last dinner with Pieter and after many laughs we went to bed tired but content.

Fortunately, we were allowed to sleep in a little the next morning and after yet another lovely breakfast we went on a great fynbos tour. It was extremely educational with a very knowledgeable guide and we also visited the Klipgat Caves in De Kelders.

We first had to venture down about 200 steps in stormy weather to reach the beach were the cave’s entrance was. The view was astonishing! Our guide told us the story of these old caves where prehistoric humans used to live. The path to get there is a bit slippery but definitely worth it!

We also visited the Marine Dynamics centre in Kleinbaai as well as the Penguin Rescue Centre. The latter is a perfect stop for families touring around the area.

We were driven back to Grootbos in an open 4X4 –  we were able to observe the beautiful and typical South African vegetation through the reserve. Freezing but smiling, we then inspected a new addition to the reserve: a family villa which sleeps 12. This is truly a gorgeous villa, beautifully decorated with every conceivable mod-con, which comes with its own chef and sells for R80 000-00 per night.

After a well-deserved hot chocolate, we started the drive back to Cape Town.

I think everyone will agree that it was a wonderful, informative trip.

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