cottage in groot brakrivier

Garden Route Road Trip Part 1: Cape Town to Groot Brakrivier

Chas and I just returned from a wonderful road trip that took us from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape on the N2, or the Garden Route. The Garden Route, specifically, makes up the coastal drive from Mossel Bay to Storms River, but we decided to take the whole week to explore the southeastern coast, starting from Cape Town and ending at Port Elizabeth. We took our time, staying one or two nights in small towns along the way, planning activities for some but not all days, and doing the things that make a classic road trip so much fun: following our whims to interesting landmarks, finding strange people and places along the way, hours of good music and conversation…

My heart was set on camping the Garden Route. In true Fant fashion, we did not plan far enough in advance, and this plan soon crashed and burned. As a consolation, I used Airbnb to book unique accommodation off the beaten track, and as it turned out, exploring our “homes” along the way was part of the fun.

We started the trip driving from Cape Town to our first stop at the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, where we followed a long dirt road to a beautiful farm tucked away in the mountains. A few years ago, our hosts Simon and his wife retired to the farm where they built a log cabin made entirely from wood on the property. They have a retro caravan and tents where guests can sleep. This was not camping, but glamping, and although we technically had an outdoor toilet, we also had a fully kitted-out tent with a queen-sized bed and electricity.


We braaied (barbecued) that first night, slept wonderfully and woke up early to do a forest walk through the Nature Reserve. Grootvadersbosch is a world heritage site because in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, California redwood trees were planted in the forest. They’re certainly not as big as the ones you’d come across in California (or not yet), but were beautiful nonetheless.



A three-story bird hide in Grootvadersbosch


Grootvadersbosch river gorge

grootvadersbosch nature reserve gorge

After a morning walk, it was back on the road to the small town of Groot Brakrivier (or in English, “Great Brak River”), nestled between Mossel Bay and George. We drove past acres and acres of open farm land where cow is king, a “walk with lions” sanctuary and a game farm aptly named “Hakuna Matata,” before eventually ending up at Lavandula farm and a little thatched cottage.

This place was heaven. We didn’t see another person the whole time we were there. Perched on top of a hill, we got sunrises over the farm and sunsets over the mountains behind us. The porch overlooking the fields was a perfect spot for evening sundowners. And we even had our own boma, where we braaied under the stars.


Our country cottage in Groot Brakrivier



The first morning in Groot Brakrivier, I left Chas behind to go explore the trails in Wilderness Nature Park. I ended up at the Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp and set out on the Pied Kingfisher Trail, which promised boardwalks, bird watching and the beach.  It was lovely, despite the fact that I lost the trail about 3 kilometers in and spent most of my time walking up and down residential streets trying to find it. Typical.

pied kingfisher trail, wilderness national park

The Pied Kingfisher Trail at Wilderness National Park


Kaaimans River Bridge on the way to Wilderness

We really didn’t know what to expect when we started our Garden Route road trip. In the best way, our first three days far exceeded our expectations in terms of beauty and peacefulness. The only problem, which we would come to experience more of, is that there was never enough time. Already, we had passed many places—wine farms in Paarl and Robertson, Kaaimans River Bridge, the Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn—that we would have loved to stop and explore. South Africa is just frustrating in that way.

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