Our Travels: A Garden Route & Eastern Cape holiday

Recently our Africa Travel Expert Washington went on a Garden Route and Eastern Cape holiday. It wasn’t all fun and games though, as he had quite a lot of accommodation site inspections on his list! Organised by Samantha, owner of Somewhere South, he was joined by 12 other travel consultants.

But over to you, Washington!

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Garden Route holiday

I had been on a Garden Route holiday twice before, but this experience was one-of-a-kind. Our adventure started with a night’s stay at Cascade Country Manor, a luxurious country retreat in Paarl in the Cape Winelands. A perfect introduction to the 7-night jam-packed tour!

Regal yet unpretentious, Cascade Country Manor has 20 rooms (including family and honeymoon suites), a wellness spa, and both indoor and outdoor pools. A former royal homestead, this century-old manor house is set on 23 glorious hectares.

I can safely say it’s a hidden gem to be explored with its olive groves, exclusive picnic spots, and a waterfall a mere 300-metre stroll from the manor house. There’s an outdoor spa being built at the waterfall, which without doubt will be a unique feature that guests will love!

Cascade Country Manor (left) and La Plume Boutique Guest House (right)

Next, we set off along the world-renowned Route 62 passing through the town of Robertson towards Oudtshoorn, where we stopped at the beautiful La Plume Boutique Guest House. On this hot, sunny day the welcome drinks gave us with much-needed revitalisation after about 4 hours of driving.

A warm welcome from Karin, Bartel, Jenine and the rest of the team gave us high expectations for our lunch. And, indeed, the lunch at La Plume outdid my imagination! The food was more than delicious! I’m sure this explains why I kept visiting the buffet table with its variety of tasty and beautifully presented dishes.

La Plume Boutique Guest House gazebo & lunch

The site inspection went well at this charming 1902 Victorian homestead, where old-world charm meets modern comforts. Besides the food that blew my mind; I also loved the size of the rooms, the cosiness of the spa area and the peaceful surroundings.

Once we had finished our site inspection, we took a 1.5-hour scenic drive from Oudtshoorn over the magnificent Outeniqua Pass to Knysna. Belvidere Manor, overlooking the Knysna Lagoon, was our home of choice for the evening.

Belvidere Manor

Each of the 26 Cape-style cottages has a choice of 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms with a spacious lounge and fully-fitted kitchen, along with all the services of a 4-star hotel. We were welcomed by the energetic team and the owner – it was lovely!

We had our dinner and retired to bed after the long drive. The following morning, I woke to watch the sun rising over the distant horizon. After the delicious breakfast, we headed to the Featherbed Nature Reserve!

Thanks to Nicole and team for their work in rejuvenating the reserve after the tragic fire in 2017. It’s incredible to see how nature and humans have worked together to restore this famous Knysna landmark.

Featherbed Eco Experience

We enjoyed the full Featherbed Eco Experience with lunch and an oyster tasting! The oyster tasting was hosted by Vuvu – a young woman who enthusiastically explained how to shuck the shells and best enjoy the oysters.

Without doubt, lunch at Milkwood Restaurant is a highlight of the Featherbed experience, and I’d recommend guests book this activity with lunch as it was delicious! After a fun morning and delightful lunch, we bid Knysna farewell with sad hearts and hit the road again.

Our next stop was the seaside hamlet of St Francis Bay, an easy 2.5-hour drive from Knysna along the scenic N2. We stopped off at The Sands, a 5-star thatched African Beach House. Perched on a cliff, The Sands has 5 spacious en-suite rooms, each opening onto a private veranda with stunning ocean views. I’m sure there’s no other place in St Francis where guests can be as close to the beach!

The Sands @ St Francis

The upstairs room is popular with honeymooners; there’s an outdoor shower and guests can take in the sunset from the Jacuzzi on their private deck. The glass-fronted Octagon Restaurant has a central fireplace and panoramic views of the bay. I loved this place but sadly we didn’t overnight here as Port Elizabeth was calling.

Eastern Cape holiday

We drove for just over an hour along the Indian Ocean coastline to the friendly city of Port Elizabeth. Arriving after sunset, we checked in to the 4-star Beach Hotel. This 58-bedroom hotel enjoys a prime location on the popular seafront promenade, opposite Hobie Beach. This is a family-friendly hotel but also caters for FIT travellers and groups.

The Beach Hotel

Despite the three restaurants at The Beach Hotel, we didn’t have dinner there but went to Hacklewood Hill Country House. This 5-star Victorian Manor House has 8 rooms, each individually and luxuriously decorated. Built in 1898, the whole hotel is exquisitely furnished and decorated with antiques, fabrics and paintings.

Their award-winning restaurant – voted one of the 100 Best in SA by American Express – is a culinary gem offering fine dining, and an impressive selection of local and imported wines. The food was delicious, and even though I was full I couldn’t stop eating and don’t know where I got the extra stomach! Visitors to Port Elizabeth should have dinner at this restaurant.

Hackelwood Hill Country House

Following breakfast at leisure at The Beach Hotel, the end of our tour as a group was sadly in sight. But that couldn’t happen before we experienced the amazing hospitality of Pumba Reserve.

Pumba Private Game Reserve is one of only two private reserves in the whole of South Africa with free-roaming white lions.

The “honeymoon couple” and a giraffe sighting at Pumba Private Reserve

We arrived in time for lunch at the Water Lodge – overlooking Lake Kariega – and saw lazy hippos lying on the river banks. Following a quick site inspection, we were transferred to Bush Lodge to check into our rooms. On the way we even saw two honeymooners – a white lioness and a brown male. A lovely moment for everyone!

Bush Lodge is well situated in the middle of the bush, and the Msenge chalets are spacious and have plunge pools. The game viewing was fantastic; we saw a lot of wildlife although we didn’t spot the buffalo and leopard. Next time!

Game drive at Pumba

After our morning game drive, we were transferred to Port Elizabeth and I bid my farewell to the group as I proceeded to No. 5 by Mantis Hotel by myself.

I visited The Windermere Hotel on the way. Located 5 minutes from Port Elizabeth Airport, the hotel has 10 spacious rooms. I loved the size of the rooms and it’s great for families.

From there, I also visited Villa Tuscana. This 12-room villa is located in the affluent suburb of Summerstrand, and has small but comfortable rooms.

I was then dropped off at No. 5 by Mantis to continue my Eastern Cape safari. The hotel is beautiful with a collection of art and its own cinema. My room was big, so much so that I could divide it into 2 rooms and still have space on either side!

No 5 by Mantis

The following morning, it was time to check out and head to Founders Lodge by Mantis.

My driver Glen from Pembury stopped off at Amakhala Game Reserve’s lodges. Amakhala Safari Lodge is located on its own unlike the brand’s other lodges. The rooms at safari lodge are beautiful and showcase a real safari experience.

I also visited Amakhala Woodbury Tented Lodge, as well as Woodbury Lodge. The tents are tucked in the bush which makes them blend well into the environment. I loved the communal swimming pool on a deck-like platform with beautiful views of the valley. Woodbury Lodge is close to a tented lodge, and sits on mountain slopes with panoramic valley views.

Amakhala Woodbury Tented Camp (left) and Safari Lodge (right)

I didn’t spend much time at the Amakhala properties as Founders Lodge by Mantis had opened its hands to embrace me! The check-in was smooth, and I was welcomed by the friendly staff. I spent time watching rhinos that came for a drink at the waterhole. I could easily have spent the whole day looking at the rhinos; they come so close to the fence. Such a unique experience!

After lunch, I grabbed my binoculars for the evening game drive. I love game drives. I love animals. And I can say with certainty, I was at the right destination at the right time. Just like Pumba, I saw a variety of wildlife and in this case it also included cheetah. It’s incredible that our guide Phillip spotted the cheetahs from the distant vantage point where we had stopped. The cheetah were resting but he still saw them!

But there was more on my game drive menu! As we were driving back to the lodge, we saw 2 male lions. The one started calling the other. They walked along the road; we followed them slowly in our 4×4. These boys are good hunters and are born to kill. Within a few minutes, they had mauled a young kudu and we watched them rapaciously tearing their kill apart. All we could hear was the deep breaths and light roars. I’m sure those sounds were compliments on how delicious it was!

Shamwari Eagles Crag

The following morning after my game drive, I left for Shamwari Eagles Crag. The lodge is superbly located on the northern part of Shamwari Private Game Reserve and its nothing but beautiful… I enjoyed my stay and the food was amazing. I had the opportunity to visit Bayethe Tented Lodge and Riverdene Family Lodge. All I can say is that the Shamwari lodges have been cleverly and carefull designed so that guest can simply state their preference, and they’ll be matched with the appropriate lodge.

All good things sadly come to an end and following my morning game drive, I was transferred by Pembury Tours to the airport to connect with my flight back to Cape Town.

Written by: Washington Makuzva

If you have any questions about a Garden Route & Eastern Cape holiday, please contact us. Or have a look at our Garden Route itineraries.