Go wild in 5 of Garden Route's protected areas
Feeling a little claustrophobic on holiday? Take a day trip to one of the Garden Route's national parks and nature reserves.
One thing South Africa has oodles of, is protected areas that make sure we leave some of nature's love for the next generation. Nature conservation is close to many South Africans' hearts and one of the biggest reasons that tourists come to our idyllic natural paradise.
If you're looking for scenic nature walks, roaming wildlife and water adventures, take a detour to the last wild places on the Garden Route.ALSO SEE: #FindYourEscape: 35 plus events to ring in spring across buzzing SA
Bontebok National Park
Once there were only 17 bontebok left in the wild, but through conservation efforts the Bontebok National Park have increased their numbers to about 158 antelope roaming in its borders.
The park is home to other antelope like the grey rhebok, red hartebeest and the steenbok, as well as various foxes, mongoose and the Cape clawless otter. The Breede River runs through it, where beautiful picnic spots and braai areas dot its banks. Three hiking trails are also on offer for the more active day visitors.
You're also allowed to have a swim in the river, perfect for hot Ke Dezemba days.
Robberg Nature Reserve
Although a very small reserve on the tip of Plettenberg Bay, Robberg Nature Reserve is a World Heritage Site renowned for its Nelson Bay Cave, where Stone Age artifacts have been found along with rock art.
You can take a hike right around the reserve in just a few hours, depening on how many stops you make. There's a colony of seals basking just off its shores and the highest navigational lighthouse in South Africa navigates sailors around its rocky edges. There's also an Instagram-worthy beach and a quaint overnight shack you can stay in if you feel like extending your day trip.
Did I mention the views around the reserve will make you feel like you're looking at a painting?
Goukamma Nature Reserve
Goukamma Nature Reserve is the perfect spot if you love some water action. You can row down its river all the way from its coastal forests to its mouth that connects the park to lovely beaches.
The park also includes a marine protected area and stretches all the way to Buffels Bay, where you can enjoy a lazy day on the beach. There's ample picnic spots on the Goukamma River and you can also cross it in a pulley boat to hike up the little koppie that has 360°-view of the whole park. For avid bird watchers the park's Groenvlei Lake is home to over 220 bird species and you can also do a bit of rod-and-line fishing with a CapeNature license.
Between the river, forests and beach, you wouldn't know where to start exploring first.
Garden Route National Park
There are so many forest walks and picnic spots it might keep you busy for a few day trips! This park is made up of three sections - Wilderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma - and each has their own special attractions that warrant a visit to each section.
The Giant Kingfisher and Half Collared Kingfisher trails in Wilderness is a must-do for botany enthusiasts and there's also a picturesque waterfall on the former trail to cool down after a long walk.
If you're looking for big trees, take a relaxed walk in Knysna's Garden of Eden (with wheelchair facilities) or take trip into South African literature with the Circles in the Forest walk. It starts at famous writer Dalene Matthee's Big Tree at Krisjan-se-Nek picnic site.
In Tsitsikamma you can up the adrenaline with a tubing journey down Storms River all the way to its mouth by the sea. There's also kayaking, snorkeling, boat cruises and even scuba diving if you want to see the park's protected areas under the sea.
Keurbooms River Nature Reserve
Another small reserve with a pristine river gorge and indigenous forest, Keurbooms River Nature Reserve also boasts coastal fynbos and dune fields.
You can only get to the picnic spots by boat or canoe, which can be hired at the entrance gate so you don't have to bring your own. If you really want a special experience, you can do an overnight canoe trail and stay over at the Whiskey Creek Cabin, which is a four-hour paddle away from the main office.
Just try not to forget your paddle when you're up the creek.