For a holiday that takes you from ancient forests to rocky shores, head to the Garden Route National Park. On her recent visit to the park, journalist Melissa Siebert compiled this trip planner. What are you waiting for?
Garden Route National Park has three main sections: Tsitsikamma, Wilderness and Knysna Lakes. Access is from the N2 highway and is clearly signposted. To get to Diepwalle, take the R339 Uniondale Road, about 22 km to the east of Knysna. The road changes to dirt, but is drivable in a sedan if you go slowly. Harkerville is about a half-hour’s drive further east on the N2, while Storms River is about an hour’s drive east, at Tsitsikamma.
Diepwalle Forest Station has 10 camping decks with three-person tents and mattresses, braai areas, a communal scullery and ablutions. The Tea Garden has two rooms upstairs sleeping four. In Harkerville Forest there’s the luxury option of the four-star Tree Top Chalet as well as various huts if you hike the longer trails.
Storms River Mouth Rest Camp has a variety of log cabin accommodation, mostly with spectacular views plus campsites right on the ocean’s edge.
Hiking: If you fancy a longer walk, there’s the two-day, 26km Harkerville Trail, the seven-day, 108km Outeniqua Trail, the luxury two-day, 17km Dolphin Trail and, of course, the renowned five-day, 42,5km Otter Trail. Bookings for the Harkerville and Outeniqua trails must be made through the park’s central office in Knysna.
Biking: In addition to four bike trails in the Harkerville Forest, the 24km, one-way Petrussebrand bike trail starts from Diepwalle and runs through gorgeous forest and mountain scenery, finishing at the Garden of Eden. Mountain bikes can be rented down the road from the Harkerville office at Outeniqua Bike Hire. Permits for mountain biking can be purchased at the Garden of Eden.
Watersports: Untouched Adventures
Canopy tours: Storms River Adventures
Be prepared: If you’re going to be camping on the decks at Diepwalle, you need to bring everything (a tent and mattresses can be rented). There’s wood for sale and the Tea Garden has limited but delicious boerekos. Accommodation at Storms River is all self-catering, but the camp has a large restaurant and a shop selling a small range of supplies.
Bedtime reading: Dalene Matthee’s novels based in the Knysna forest; Lyall Watson’s Elephantoms; The Secret Elephants by Gareth Patterson, which features legendary ranger Wilfred Oraai.
Don’t miss: The short documentary tied into Patterson’s work in the Diepwalle Forest Legends Museum.