George, Vic Bay, the Map of Africa a big tree and the seven passes
After the scenic adventure down Montagu Pass we entered George, this is the sixth oldest town in South Africa and the Capital of the Southern Cape. The town is very centrally positioned, halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and in the centre of the Garden Route. It is situated on a 10-kilometer plateau between the majestic Outeniqua Mountain in the north and the Indian Ocean in the South. George has many historical landmarks to visit, like The Slave Tree, an ancient English Oak planted by Landdrost van Kervel. Known as the Slave Tree because of the very large chain and lock embedded in the trunk, it has been declared a national monument. The King Edward VII Library building is said to be the best example of Edwardian architecture in George.
After the last few days in the relative solitude of the Karoo and the single lane dirt road down the pass we now found the busy roads a bit too active. We made a beeline for the N2 and took the first turnoff down to the surfing paradise Victoria Bay, or Vic Bay as its affectionately known, this is one of the smallest and most hidden beautiful bays on the Garden Route. The little resort comprises a number of cottages clustered around the waterfront. The gently sloping beach makes bathing safe and big waves from far out give surfers a long ride. Leaving Vic Bay we were back on the N2 heading towards Wilderness, after descending into the Kaaimans River Pass (watch out for the several traffic speed cameras) a great viewpoint is Dolphin Point. With a magnificent view of the ocean for miles this point was named after the large number of dolphins which can be spotted from here on a regular basis, as well as whales during the winter months which is their breeding season.
Back in the 1800’s, Wilderness was already renowned for its hospitality and the natural beauty of the surrounding area. Back in those days, a small stone farmhouse was the only form of lodging and it was through this that the legend of Wilderness hospitality and goodwill was established. A seaside-boarding house was established in the old farmstead, which was later to become the Karos Wilderness Hotel. Wilderness is set between the Kaaimans River and the Goukama Nature Reserve, whilst being bordered by the Outeniqua Mountains.
Driving past the Karos Wilderness Hotel we followed the signs for the Map of Africa. This is a look out point situated near Hoekwil, the way the river runs make it look like Africa. It is a very popular paragliding spot and has spectacular views. Here we met Riaan, a local fellow who takes care of a small garden at the viewpoint. Riaan is a colorful character with a very obedient little dog, they live down the road – literally, having grown up here and spent most all of his adult life in the area, we got clear directions for the “Big Tree” and the Seven Passes Road.
Winding forest roads took us to the “Big Tree” estimated to be 850 years old, from the parking lot (you need to issue yourself a permit here, any official or forester can call on you to present it) cross the wooden bridge over the stream to see the Outeniqua Yellowwood. We decided on taking the walk, it is a clearly marked path leading in an anti-clockwise direction through the forest, crossing a stream several times. Many of the trees were labeled so it was easy to identify them. The Seven Passes Road winds its way through an indigenous forest, over historic stone bridges, through lush farmlands and provides sweeping views over the sparkling Indian Ocean. The historic pass built by the pioneer pass builder, Thomas Bain (in the 1890s) takes about 90 minutes from George to Knysna, but you may elect to do just the section up to Wilderness, as this section is tarred. Bain built stone bridges in 1892 to replace the drifts over the Kaaimans River, the Touw River and Swart River.
We came out at the back of little town of Sedgefield, located between Knysna and George with the beaches on one side and the pine tree forest on the other. The village provides the perfect atmosphere in which to relax, have a sundowner on the shores of the lake, or to take a stroll along the beach at sunset or the largest natural inland saltwater lake in South Africa. A number of resorts are located on its banks and the tranquility and beautiful views of mountains and lakes are second to none. Beaches and the estuary offer the bather and angler leisurely days of sunbathing and fishing, as well as spear fishing at Gericke’s Point. This resort town offers the bird watcher a treasure trove of varied and beautiful bird species to be found within the different eco-systems in the surrounding area. There are many hiking trails and bird hides established for the pleasure of marveling at the beautiful and colorful wild flowers and fynbos. Anytime of the year is good for visiting the area, depending if you prefer a peaceful retreat during the winter months, or a bustling holiday destination during the summer.
We joined the N2 for Knysna, having decided to overnight there. We soon turned off on the Rheenendal Road, and after a few minutes we took the right turn onto the Phantom Pass. This is a dirt road descending through forest to the Knysna lagoon. On this trip we amended the itinerary once or twice, this meant that for a few evenings we had no reservations. Initially this felt adventurous and while we have no regrets about leaving a town a day or two early, what we did find is that a good portion of our day was taken up with finding suitable accommodation. For one it’s not something you can exactly ignore, come sunset it is either drive through the night or stop. On average we spent at least a quarter of the day busy with this. On the other days that we did had reservations in place we were free to do more, see more and all without the distraction of were we were to sleep that night. We entered Knysna and having driven around the town several times we decided to overnight at the Wayside Inn, a quaint hotel tucked away just off the main road far enough to avoid the direct noise of the traffic and alongside some shops and restaurants. The rates were decent and we booked in for the night, took a quick shower and headed down for the pool tables and a pizza dinner. An hour before sunset we made our way towards Buffalo Bay for an early evening walk, this beach is beautiful, sandy white beach that stretches all the way to Brenton on Sea.
Once it started getting dark we drove back into Knysna and ended up in a small café – having had dinner we took the waitress’s recommendation and enjoyed a real good berry crepe with some coffee and then walked back to the hotel.