The Garden Route is renowned for its pristine natural beauty and has become a mecca for adventure seekers. Here, in the warm heart of the Garden Route, majestic mountains tumble down to meet the cool blue of the Indian Ocean. George and Wilderness host a wealth of unspoiled beaches, forest trails, surging canyons and tranquil rivers. This nature-lovers playground is home to a number of reputable companies specialising in outdoor adventure tours for fearless individuals and laid back families. Independent explorers will enjoy the opportunity to discover our National Park, golden beaches and waterways.
Wild Rides The upper reaches of Kaaiman’s River are a paradise for adrenalin junkies, thrill seekers and nature lovers. Professional guide Marthinus Esmeyer from Paradise Adventures offers one of the most popular, raw and thrilling ventures in the area. The rip-roaring ‘Adrenaline Tour’ involves over four wild hours of ‘kloofing’, a local term for canyoning, through some mind-blowing scenery. Explorers descend the soaring and spectacular Kaaiman’s gorge, scramble over boulders, abseil down thundering waterfalls, jump off ravine cliffs and swim through icy water. Marthinus, a professional mountain biker also has over 25 years of white water experience and prides himself on offering an authentic ‘once in a lifetime experience’. This is a relatively remote trip, in completely untouched wilderness. It is ideally suited to small groups of nimble daredevils. Look out for the local leopards and tree snakes who can fall into the ravine and hitch a ride. Paradise Adventures also offers tailor-made mountaineering, rock climbing and abseiling trips to suit all abilities. For aerial adventurers, Deon Borrett from Dolphin Paragliding offers exhilarating tandem paragliding tours of the Wilderness skies. Soar over the National Park, sparkling lakes and 18 kilometres of golden beach. Keep an eye out for dolphins, whales and even Great White Sharks in the surf below.
Water World Total immersion in nature is offered by Fearless Adventures. The man at the helm is Roche Schoeman; an endurance adventurer, medic and extreme sports lover. Fearless offer an exceptional three hour Stand-Up-Paddle boarding tour of the glorious and secluded Kaaiman’s estuary. Water lovers will be in their element gliding upon the glass-smooth river mouth. Steep forest clad slopes enclose the canyon. The green cliffs are mirrored on the river’s smooth surface, from the ‘Map of Africa’ curve all the way to the iconic Kaaiman’s Train Bridge. Experienced guides from Fearless Adventures relay the fascinating history of Khoisan habitation, early ox-wagon traverses and the sensitive ecology of the Kaaiman’s estuary. This is a quintessential Garden Route experience and an ideal trip for families. Skilled teenagers will enjoy the challenge of balancing and paddling the SUP boards and smaller children can be catered for in canoes. Snorkel, float, swim, paddle, laze and enjoy the majestic waterfall. Fearless aims to educate guests about their footprint and minimise environmental impact, thereby preserving the unspoilt nature of the valley. They offer zero waste packed lunches, as well as homebrewed Kombucha and filtered water in recycled glass bottles. This company also boasts the highest abseil in the Garden Route as well as local surfing lessons, exhilarating rock climbing, canyoning and slack-packing tours for the lazy back-packer.
Eden Adventures in the peaceful village of Wilderness, offer a mellowed experience, including canoe hire from the Fairy Knowe Hotel. This is ideal for exploring the extensive network of rivers, lakes and estuaries in the Garden Route National Park. The stable two-seater canoes can also accommodate small children on an extra wooden seat and are perfect for paddling the Touw River Rock Pool Route. Nature seekers can pack a picnic and swimming gear in Eden’s waterproof buckets and head up the serene Touw River through placid reed beds and splendid indigenous forest. Bask in the sun and snap pictures of Half-Collared Kingfishers, Fish Eagles and brightly coloured Knysna Turacos. Watch the shy Red Knobbed Coot nest in the reeds. An easy 40 minute paddle takes you to a beautiful swimming and picnic spot. An alternative canoe route traces a longer path along the Serpentine River to Island Lake. Eden’s experienced guides also offer local canyoning and abseiling tours.
Forest Rambles Naturalists will love the Garden Route National Park. The Wilderness Section of the park contains the Ebb and Flow camp with its immaculate camp grounds and chalet accommodation, gentle waterways and scenic forest hikes. The Half Collard and Giant Kingfisher Trails are a popular option for able walkers and families. The trail head is accessed adjacent to the campsite. Hikers pay their SANParks fee and immediately enter a vast cathedral of mature forest. The 7 km path winds its way alongside the Touw River, offering glimpses of sparkling still water. Walkers can propel themselves across the river at the rope and barrel pontoon, a brilliant experience for young adventurers. This trail isn’t suitable for baby strollers but fit families can easily carry toddlers in backpacks. Much of the trail consists of wooden boardwalks with numerous stairs, and many picnic sites are available. The top of the trail boasts a roaring waterfall, magnificent boulders and unbeatable swimming pools. Early mornings offer the best chance of glimpsing the shy forest bushbuck. The National Park also offers more strenuous multi-day hikes along the Outeniqua Trail as well as bird hides and canoeing trips.
An easier option is the 2.2km Forest Buzzard Trail which starts from the Witfontein forestry station outside George. Located in the Outeniqua Nature Reserve, beneath the mighty Outeniqua Mountains, this circular trail winds through pine plantations and indigenous forest and takes in a cascading waterfall. This is a relatively easy walk on gravel road, jeep track, footbridges and forest paths. Look out for cyclists on adjacent busy biking trails.
Mellow Strolls and Scenic Sundowners Birding enthusiasts can enjoy a truly tranquil experience with Wilderness River Safaris. Guide and skipper Mike Raubenheimer has an extensive knowledge of the ecology and bird-life on the Touw River and Island Lake. Cruise the lagoon on a purpose-built shallow draft boat. Photograph the bird life, encounter magnificent scenery, take a picnic or bring a bottle of bubbles on their sunset tour. This relaxing hour and a half eco-safari is suitable for all ages and abilities. Mike picks up guests at various guesthouses and picnic points along the river.
The Garden Route Botanic Gardens on Caledon Street in George has a wealth of activities for families with children of all ages. A stroll around the dam is ideal for families with pushchairs or bicycles and will pass the bird hide where you can watch the Cape Weaver Birds build their nests. Attentive strollers will spot the Striped Mouse as they dart across the path and terrapins sunning themselves on the banks of the dam. The Mushroom Meander is a short stroll which criss-crosses the stream and has a beautiful picnic spot under the leafy canopy. A fun and exciting Geocache Treasure Hunt in the gardens allows kids with smart phones to navigate to a number of secret treasure chests. Exhausted parents can relax at the Getafix Garden Café.