The Garden Route is the Eden of South Africa with lush scenery, many birding hotspots. wildlife and outings for everyone’s taste. My favourite thing about the Garden Route is that each town is different from the next.
Stretching from Heidelberg in the west to the Tsitsikamma Forest and Storms River in the east, you have Mosselbay, Oudtshoorn, George, Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Natures Valley in between, just to name a few. Each with its own unique flavour and story to tell. Each town has some amazing sites and attractions for us to tell you about and we will soon share some insider information on other Garden Route destinations.
George is in the middle and deservingly nicknamed the Heart Of The Garden Route. Here are our favourite activities and places in and around George in no particular order.
The George Arts Theatre
If you’re expecting the London Palladium you’ll be disappointed. Each performance at the George Arts Theatre is a labour of love performed passionately by hardworking volunteers in a small theatre full of character and charm. You won’t experience the best acoustics or dazzling lighting displays. Take into account that the theatre is run by volunteers from the local community. Now sit back, relax and appreciate their awesome efforts. Volunteers put in a lot of hard work, sweat and tears because they love what they do. Locals are proud of it and we love going there.
They put on a variety of performances and host various artists and celebrities throughout the year. Each school holiday we go see the kiddies production and everytime the children and I have a great time. We love it so much that we signed up for the annual family membership at the George Arts Theatre.
In every city that we visit we quickly suss out the local bowling alley and arcades if we have time. As a family, we love playing together and we love games. Brendan and his brothers enjoy taking each other on at bowling every now and then. Usually when they’ve had enough of competing at table tennis and playing cards. These are the things we miss from home.
The local bowling alley is part of the Mountain View Resort, which also has an indoor kids play area, coffee shop, gym and restaurant. Bowling is always accompanied with pizza followed by a round of mini golf. We often went bowling at Let’s Go Bowling in George and have held and been to many fun birthday parties there. Remember no cheating with the side up. Unless you’re under 4.
The Botanical Gardens
One of our favourite outings is going to the Botanical Gardens. Its a short distance from our house in Heatherlands so we could go there anytime the opportunity presented itself. It’s easy to navigate around the gardens, dam and cafe with a stroller/buggy and bicycles. You pay a small entry fee for adults at the gate and kids enter free.
There is a bird hide but we’ve not seen much action there, unfortunately. The walk around the dam is more exciting. Bright yellow weavers frame the dam as they noisily work on their nests. On every visit, we spot at least one new bird to identify at the dam. Add to that the jaw-dropping views of the Outeniqua Mountains from every angle and you’ll see why this is a favourite.
The Botanical Gardens is the starting point of many walking and mountain bike trails into the mountain. There is a fun 5km park run every Saturday morning at 8 am. You can walk with younger children and older children love taking part in the time-trial. The park run route is not buggy/stroller friendly. Little ones should be happier in a backpack-carrier or sling.
After our nature exploration in the gardens, we go to the Get-a-fix cafe next door for a coffee and something light to eat. The children create timed obstacle courses on the playground and burn any extra energy they have left for the day. An afternoon well spent!
Malachite Kingfisher Bird Hide
The Malachite bird hide is lively and a birding hotspot all year round. Go early morning and late afternoon and check water levels to see how close birds will go to the hide. Located in the Garden Route National Park, you’ll find it at Langvlei between Wilderness and Sedgefield. Bo-Langvlei is an internationally proclaimed Ramsar site and forms part of the series of lakes connected by the Touws River.
We usually start with the fun short walk along the boardwalk next to the Wilderness lagoon in town. The boardwalk starts at the end of the green directly in front of the Wilderness Hotel. The children love it and sometimes we are lucky enough to see a few birds along the way. Often Brendan took the mountain bike trail from George to Wilderness and met up with us at the boardwalk. From there we’d go to the Malachite Bird Hide, driving slowly behind Brendan on his bike, which gives us a chance to spot birds along the way too.
Pack a picnic or go back into Wilderness village to grab a bite to eat, because if you’re up for it and you have both time and energy, you can head over to the Kingfisher Trail for a hike to the waterfall. It might be too much for younger children to combine the two, but it’s a nice combination for adults.
Birds to look out for are:
- Great Crested Grebe
- Half-collared Kingfisher
- Pied Kingfisher
- Malachite Kingfisher
- Goliath Heron
- African Fish Eagle
- Purple Gallinule
- African Spoonbill
- Southern Pochard
- Brown Hooded Kingfisher
- Giant Kingfisher
GO TO our bird list to read about the birds we’ve spotted at the Malachite Bird Hide.
Malachite Kingfisher Bird Hide GPS coordinates for the hide: 33° 59′ 3.5916″ S, 22° 40′ 34.824″ E.
Half Collared Kingfisher Trail
The Garden Route is a hikers paradise. There are so many different types of hikes you will have a hard time coming up with a reason not to do at least one!
For practical, logistical and awe-inspiring reasons my favourite is the Half Collared Kingfisher Trail in Wilderness.
- Starting Point: Western bank of Touw river alongside train/motor bridge next to Ebb and Flow
- Distance: 4km (walk back 4km again)
- Duration: 1,5 hours to waterfall (allow 3-4hrs total)
- Difficulty: Easy
- Entrance: Self-issued permit and pay entrance fee at Ebb and Flow
- Features: River valley, forest, rocks, pools and waterfall
- Take: Pack light, but pack Picnic, water, hats, sunblock, costumes, camera)
I did this hike with children aged 7-9 and it was just enough for them and for me on a Sunday morning outing. Kate stayed at home with Daddy and I took the older two and their friend on this great hike.
It is enough of an adventure for them to keep going even when they get a bit grumpy on the way back. Pack a picnic because there are a few lovely picnic spots before you cross the river. There are lots of tree trunks for them to explore, strong trees to climb and vines to swing on. They felt like they were jungle explorers on an important mission. Around every corner is some fun and interesting part of nature to keep them appropriately awe-struck and mesmerised.
Mission nr.1: Get to the Pontoon Crossing. It’s about halfway on-route that you reach it. After we crossed over I had to promise they could do it again and I had to keep my promise. They crossed back and forth, taking turns for a good half an hour on the way back and they couldn’t get enough of it.
Mission nr 2: Get to the waterfall. When you cross the river and reach the part where the boardwalk and steps start to wind up against the side of the mountain high above the forest you realise what the entrance fee is for and you’re thankful for it! The trail and boardwalks are well maintained. If not for that we would not get to enjoy such a stunning forest hike.
The boardwalk and steps were a little challenging for unfit-me. I don’t know how many steps there were, but it felt like thousands! Maybe more. We stopped to rest and catch our breath a few times on the way back.
Get to the waterfall and relax. Take it all in if you can. It’s beautiful. Swim if you remembered your cossies and if you are brave. Do I have to say be careful? Be careful, please? There, I said it. On the way back we saw a Woodpecker and a Loerie. Bonus!
Can you see why this is our favourite? If you have a favourite hike in the Garden Route please tell us by commenting below?
For a detailed list and information on all hikes in the Garden Route visit: www.gardenroute.co.za
One of the best father and son get-aways is a fishing trip. Sometimes we all go, but if it’s a fishing camp-out and sleepover us girls stay home.
Hartebeeskuil Dam Camp-Out
Located near Hartenbos, this is usually where Brendan and his pals take the boys for a camp-out. Camping for the night is fun with lots of quality bonding time. There are no facilities because it’s not a campground. The guys take their bakkies and tents and ruff it for the night. They get to be ready for early morning fishing then come home after having breakfast on the fire, tired but happy and smelly!
Hartebeeskuil Dam is a catch and release site and you pay a small entrance fee. On the way there look out for the wild game as soon as you hit the gravel road. We’ve seen giraffe, zebra, springbuck, gemsbok, buffalo and wildebeest.
For a shorter but still fun time fishing, we all go to Wilderness Lagoon for saltwater fishing. Catch and release of course. Here we catch Grunthers, Leerfish, Steenbras and Blacktail (Kolstert). We pack a picnic and swim in the lagoon on sunny days. Wilderness lagoon is ideal for canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding and other fun water activities.
Other popular fishing sites are:
- Lientjie’s Klip. A Wilderness beach where you can catch Cob.
- Groenvlei for Bass fishing.
Fishing is for Father and son days out and spa’s are for Mommy and daughter treats or just for Mommy, right?
Happy Feet Spa Fish Pedi
The “Doctor” Fish or Garra Rufa Fish pedicure was thrilling. The little fish only tickle your feet as they go about their work but you don’t get used to it in fifteen minutes so it’s 15 minutes of being expertly tickled. Hilarious! It’s worth going just to see your friends’ reactions. Some of my more squeamish friends could not wait to get their feet out, but most of us enjoyed it and I would love to do it again. Bianca is a superstar and the friendliest hostess in the world. One of us forgot our jacket there and she very kindly dropped it at the Bayleaf Cafe on her way home. Service above and beyond the call of duty.
Happy Feet Garra Rufa Fish Pedicure Spa @ 90 Merriman Str, George. Open Tuesday to Friday from 08:30 to 17:00 and Saturday 08:30-13:00. Call to book and confirm prices. Bianca – +27 (0)76 694 0986.
Sanguine is worth a mention for great treatments and value for money in George. They also offer special packages for girls parties, which I think is very cute.
7. ARTS & CRAFTS
Pottery! We love pottery and we are only sorry that we did not do this more often. Check out the Bushitayl Studio facebook page for updates on pottery and craft classes. Very professional and organised presentation and instruction.
Studio Escape George
There are many different classes to join at Studio Escape at the Paddagat Shopping Centre in Courtenay Street. Read about the Lino Printing Workshop Leah and Nick did at Studio Escape. This is also where you can test your nerve in the Escape Game. Try to beat the clock and escape the room in a group. Great team building experience too.
8. ZIP LINE
Treetop zip line adventures are just one of the many things to do at Timberlake Village. Check out their website for more information, opening times and to make bookings. Ziplining is one of the children’s favourites and reserved for special occasions. The cool thing is that there are different degrees of difficulty and various heights to suit different age groups. There is a playpark, kiosk and interesting little shops to help you part with your money. Take cash for the kids’ train ride. The children will nag until you let them go at least three times.
Another zip line adventure we haven’t done yet but hope to do is in Tsitsikamma near Storms River Bridge. Leaving the big one for one day.
This is Nick’s top pick. He loves Paintball games! Go paintballing at Down To Earth in Herolds Bay or in Sedgefield. There is one just outside George on the way to Wilderness along the N2 if I remember correctly. Not something I’ve done myself, but Nick promises me that it’s heaps of fun and that anyone who dares to have a go will have the time of their life.
Trampoline mania at Elevate Trampoline Park is a good test of any parent’s nerves. After an earful about safety and no pushing, shoving or rough play set them loose for more than an hour of jumping pleasure. Adults can join in too. There is also an indoor Go-Kart track for extra entertainment, a soft play area for little ones and a kiosk.
Top tip from Nick & Leah: Wear cool clothes because after only a few minutes you’ll be boiling hot. It gets hot in there.
11. EAT OUT
John Dory’s: Located at the Eden Meander Centre next to the Garden Route Mall just outside George. Owned and managed by Scottish born Gary, who knows how to serve seafood and keep his patrons happy, John Dory’s is a favourite of ours any time of day.
George has great restaurants for every type of food lover. The reality of parenthood is that your choice of restaurants and entertainment is narrowed down and changed drastically. If there’s good food at good prices, a safe kiddies play area in viewing distance and it’s suitable for small and older kids you get our attention. John Dory’s tick all the boxes. Plus, I like the open, bright, cheery look and vibe of the place.
Leila’s Coffee Shop – We had the best chicken mayo sandwiches at this little sit-down cafe. It is next to the Secondhand Warehouse in Market Street. Worth a peek.
Cafe Serefe: Turkish themed restaurant complete with entertaining belly dancers on Friday nights. Dinner at Cafe Serefe is a treat and we love it. It’s been in town for as long as I can remember. We easily default to Cafe Serefe on date nights. It’s popular so book in advance to avoid disappointment. We enjoy all their lamb dishes and Brendan and I both adore Turkish delight. Lamb served three ways is my favourite. My mouth is watering right now!
Joplin’s: For the best steak we know of in the area head to Joplin’s at Pirates Creek near Wilderness. The price tag makes Joplin’s a special occasion kind of treat for us, but boy, is it worth it! I rarely pick steak off a menu, but at Joplin’s, it’s all I want. Brendan loves his steak and Joplin’s is his favourite. We enjoy the vibe and the great service we get every time.
The Bayleaf Cafe was recently rated nr 1 out 114 restaurants in George. See reviews on Tripadvisor. It is pretty. The decor is enough to impress and then comes the food. Delicious and beautifully prepared. The place is quite small and it was packed on a Saturday morning. Yet I did not feel uncomfortable or squashed in. We had a lovely breakfast there. Not really kiddie friendly, but a nice place to meet friends for a coffee and good food.
12. GOOD COFFEE
Ellie’s: Masterton’s coffee expertly made and served by a qualified barista, passionate about service, who is also the owner, Ellie. Fill up at the Shell garage in Courtenay Street, leave your car at the car wash at the back for a valet and enjoy one of Ellie’s delicious coffees while you wait.
Root: Root roasts their own blend perfect for a good coffee fix. There is one in front of Checkers at Paddagat Centre in Courtenay street and another at the Spar in Wellington street.
There you have it. Some of our favourite things to do in and around George, the heart of the Garden Route. From drama to good coffee and everything in between. Now tell us…
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