Great Garden Route Getaway: A Winter Weekend in Wilderness

This year we decided to welcome in the winter with a cosy weekend in the picturesque village of Wilderness, on the spectacular Garden Route coastline.

We bravely packed the two children, the surfboards, a plastic motorbike and the double pram and headed for the seaside. Travelling with two children under three is usually a tad tricky, but our hosts at the Wilderness Bushcamp had a special treat in store for our family holiday.

Features Image: Wilderness Bush Camp

The Pfaff family, who run this hidden hilltop gem, welcomed us warmly into one of their two newly built family units; Forest Rise. Tucked away in nine hectares of indigenous bush, overlooking the majestic Indian Ocean, the bushcamp is an idyllic family getaway. Forest Rise is a haven for technology saturated parents. The two bedroom unit is uniquely positioned to enjoy the peace and seclusion of the neighbouring bird sanctuary, with uninterrupted views of the Touw River Lagoon, the National Park and Wilderness village. Best of all, there’s no TV!

As the Friday evening winter sunshine gave way to a chilly evening, we lit the outdoor braai and on the covered deck. Our three-year old was blissfully entertained sliding from the deck into the spacious fenced garden. As dusk fell we watched tiny sunbirds visit the Cape Honeysuckle hedging. Cape Wagtails and White-Eyes fluttered through the lush fynbos. Ross collected sticks for the fire and learned to tease the grass spiders from their funnel shaped webs, by tickling them with a leaf. We soaked in the pace of nature, slowed down and tuned in to our tranquil surroundings.

Forest Rise has an open plan kitchen and lounge with wooden floors, a comfy couch and a family dining area. It is at once familiar and homely. The cabin contains two bedrooms, one double and one twin, each en-suite. The indoor wood burning stove provided cosy warmth as we packed the children off to bed, opened a bottle of red wine and planned our weekend.

Featured Image: Surfing In Victoria Bay

Saturday morning brought a sparkling sunrise, as bushbuck nibbled at the edge of the forest and my husband headed for a surf at the local right-hand point break, Victoria Bay. I packed the kids in the double pram and hiked ten minutes down a very steep hill into the village. Our first stop was Peter the Pancake man, in the charming Milkwood Village market. Peter is a local institution, operating from a simple wooden hut, he flips pancakes and slathers them with chocolate. Perfect for an indulgent holiday breakfast!

Wilderness village is safe, clean and family friendly. The Wilderness Ratepayer’s Association recently started an initiative to employ nine local people as village monitors. These friendly folk as easily spotted in hi-visibility vests, directing the traffic and tourists. They act as excellent ambassadors for the village and keep the streets spotless. Wilderness hosts a wealth of family activities, from hiking and canoeing, to surfing, beach walking, paragliding and horse riding. In winter the beach is deserted, there is plentiful parking and the sea air is pristine.

Featured Image: The Girls on the Square

Mama needed coffee and we found The Girls on the Square. The Girls is a perfect brunch option nestled in the shade at the Palm’s Garden Square. This tapas bar is one of the best places in the village to relax. There is a shaded garden terrace and a cosy interior with an open fire. Restaurateur Roxi provides an all-day brunch menu in low season, featuring a variety of fresh fruit smoothies, pressed juices, croissants, Middle Eastern Shakshuka, French toast, traditional cooked breakies, as well as delicious peanut butter and banana milkshakes. The evening menu features fresh line fish, succulent prawns, tender steaks and flavoursome curries all cooked to perfection in the open kitchen, where you can see the chefs at work. Ross enjoyed watching the Koi fish and playing on the jungle gym while I sipped a cappuccino in peace. The baby slumbered and we found ourselves plotting an excursion to the Wilderness Section of the heavenly Garden Route National Park

Featured Image: Wilderness River Safaris

My surfed-out husband re-joined us and we armed ourselves with a fishing net and divine take-away hot chocolate from Caroline’s Chocolate Haven. Arriving in the Tarentaal day visitor area in Ebb & Flow South Rest Camp, we boarded a shallow draft aluminium boat for a superb eco-safari on the lagoon. This Wilderness River Safari is a must for birding enthusiasts, small boys and nature lovers of all ages. The Touw River was mirror-still and low winter sunlight highlighted the reed-lined wetlands. Ross was soon kited out with a life jacket as he hung over the bow spotting fish. Guide and skipper Mike Raubenheimer has an extensive knowledge of the ecology and bird-life on the Touw River and Island Lake. We enjoyed listening to Mike point out the Giant Kingfisher and the little Red-Knobbed Coots gliding on the water. This relaxing hour and a half eco-safari took us all the way into the forested section of the park where Knysna Loeries flashed scarlet and green through the trees. Mike picks up guests at various guesthouses and picnic points along the river. Bring your camera, binoculars and maybe a picnic or a bottle of bubbles for the sunset tour.

We rounded off the day with a craft beer at Blind Pig Taprom. Nestled in the dappled shade at the Palms Garden Square in Wilderness. The Pig has gained legendary status amongst local and visiting beer aficionados. My beer-loving husband rated it as one of the best bars in the universe, high praise indeed when you consider he has visited most of them! This hidden gem has 12 craft beers on tap and a further 70 bottled options. Their selection of 14 local craft gins need to be tasted to be believed. This is one of the trendiest little bars in the world, with friendly bartenders and local live music.

Back at the Bushcamp we just about had the energy to braai some meat as we watched dusk fall on the surf-swept beach below. The lights twinkled in the village and the last rays of sunshine brushed the placid lagoon. We decided to make Wilderness our annual winter escape. There is so much more to explore in this tranquil little village.

Other self-catering accommodation at the Wilderness Bushcamp includes a modern and sophisticated loft conversion with expansive ocean views and a roaring ocean soundtrack, several evocatively named rustic log cabins set in the forested slopes and a secluded Honeymoon Cottage tucked away in the trees.

Clare van Rensburg is our guest writer and blogger.  Clare is an Irish teacher, writer and passionate environmentalist who relocated to the Garden Route in 2009 with South African husband Mark. She is a mother of two small children (Ross and Ellie) and a slave to a pair of rescue dogs (Ben and Jerry). Clare teaches full-time and fits blogging into her busy schedule while her own kids sleep. Weekends are spent in the company of friends, bargain hunting in antique shops, browsing the local markets and finding ways to keep her children amused. She enjoys being outdoors: hiking, camping, surfing and exploring the regions stunning coastline. Clare loves the breath-taking beauty of the Garden Route and sharing stories of exploring the area’s hidden treasures.