South Africa’s Garden of Eden

Finding adventure isn’t difficult on South Africa’s action-packed Garden Route By: By Janeen Christoff
Elephant Sanctuary in The Crags // (c) 2010 Janeen Christoff
Elephant Sanctuary in The Crags // (c) 2010 Janeen Christoff

Where to Stay

Seaside Serenity

The Views Boutique Hotel & Spa // (c) 2010 Janeen Christoff

The Views Boutique Hotel & Spa //
(c) 2010 Janeen Christoff

When visiting the Garden Route, you need a good jumping off place for all of your adventures but, in my opinion, you also need somewhere that offers a relaxing environment to balance out the adrenaline rush. One of the best places to unwind from the day’s excitement is at the The Views Boutique Hotel & Spa in Wilderness, South Africa.

The 18-suite hotel really does live up to its name. The property looks like a large house, rather than a hotel. Almost every exterior wall features floor-to-ceiling windows, which is appropriate since the stunning vistas of the waves of the Indian Ocean crashing below are truly amazing. The hotel makes good use of its space: Suites come in various shapes and sizes. My honeymoon suite offered a large sitting area and a king-size bed in one room and a spacious bathroom with a soaking tub and a two-person rainshower. From almost everywhere in the corner room, you could catch a glimpse of the sea. Each room is unique and configured slightly differently, but all were tastefully designed in a light, airy and whimsical fashion reflecting a seaside retreat. While adventure awaits, some time should definitely be set aside for enjoying the hotel. The spa and rooftop pool are not to be missed, and its small restaurant serves delicious cuisine.

The Views Boutique Hotel & Spa

When I was told that we were spending a couple of days on the Garden Route on my trip to South Africa, I wasn’t blown away. I envisioned a two-day visit to a sprawling botanical garden — or something like that. Although that might have sounded like an amazing journey for some, luckily for me, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

South Africa’s Garden Route runs up the east coast of the country and incorporates Mossel Bay, Sedgefield, George, Wilderness, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. There is constant debate as to the true beginning and end of the route, but it is generally considered to include about 125 miles of coastline to the Tstisikamma Forest, a veritable fairyland of trees, ferns and wildlife. Visitors can fly into George and then travel north up the coast. Staying somewhere such as Knysna, Wilderness or Plettenberg Bay offers the most access to the area’s wide array of activities.

Apart from its stunning coastline, the adventure-rich region is so full of activities that a week might not be enough to undertake everything that clients would be interested in doing. On the roster for my recent visit was walking with an elephant, visiting a cheetah sanctuary and having a close encounter with a dolphin — and that was just day one.

Unfortunately, unfriendly seas put a dent in our original plans for dolphin and whale watching with Ocean Blue, a company located in Plettenberg Bay that offers a variety of marine adventures. So, instead, we started our day at the Elephant Sanctuary in The Crags. The sanctuary refers to itself as a halfway house for young, endangered elephants. Here, the elephants are nurtured until they reach an age at which they are more able to survive on their own. Currently, the sanctuary is home to six elephants from around Africa.

 During our visit, we were taken to the elephants’ grazing area and waited while each elephant’s handler escorted it over to our group. We were introduced to three of the six elephants before going on a hike into the bush. After a brief training session on how to walk with the elephants, each person was able to walk while holding the elephant’s trunk for a short while as we guided them on a short hike. At the end of the hike, we rested with the elephants in a shaded area, and we were given some facts about the animals and allowed to further interact with them by petting their backs, touching their trunks and taking pictures. Afterward, we walked them back to their grazing area where we were able to feed them fruit and watch them drink and play.

The facility is extremely mindful of its charges and the tour feels minimally invasive on the animals. The guides ensure that the elephants are treated well, and also assure visitors that the elephants receive plenty of playtime and social interaction, as they would in the wild.

If getting up close and personal with an elephant wasn’t exciting enough, our next stop, Tenikwa, was about as wild as it gets. We were taking the Tenikwa Wild Cat Experience and about to get cozy with some frisky kitties.

Tenikway Wild Cat Experience // (c) 2010 Janeen Christoff

Tenikway Wild Cat Experience //
(c) 2010 Janeen Christoff

As with the Elephant Sanctuary, Tenikwa has a wildlife rehabilitation program and takes care of injured or abandoned animals from the Garden Route. During our guided walk, we saw leopards, servals, caracals, African wildcats and the rare black-footed cat. The cats are kept in large, fenced-in cages and, as we explored, the guide opened the gate to each habitat into a holding area, where he explained some facts about each type of cat in the pen. Then, as the door to the pen was opened, we slowly walk through each cat’s habitat.

Some cats walked with us, and some cats barely looked up from their nap. It was exhilarating to be so close to such wild animals, but the climax was when we met the cheetahs, by far the most active of all the cats. They greeted us immediately as we entered their pen. They rubbed against our legs and interacted with the group. The best part was when our guide told us we were allowed to pet them, and when I reached down and patted one on the nape of its neck, he purred.

Those were our adventures in the Garden Route, but there is so much to experience, I am already planning my return visit. After all, who wouldn’t want to do the world’s highest bungee jump from a bridge that’s 709 feet off the ground?

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