The Garden Route and Klein Karoo is home breathtaking natural sights be it dramatic oceanside cliffs, ancient forests, or semi-arid deserts. Take advantage to see as much as possible by visiting a few of the many nature reserves in the region. Stay over, embark on an epic hike, or simply pop in for a quick visit to take in the scenery.
There is an extensive list of nature reserves to visit in this area. We take a look at a few options for you to consider as you begin your exploration.
Garden Route National Park^
Tsitsikamma, Knysna, Wilderness Sections
Location: This coastal reserve extends over the South Coast of South Africa, across the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.
Garden Route National Park was established in 2009 by amalgamating two existing national parks and the Knysna National Lake Area. Today, it can be described as having three sections; Wilderness, Knysna Lakes, and Tsitsikamma.
Flora and Fauna: The park has an extensive range of flora and fauna that’s specific to each of the sections. This isn’t specific to land species but also includes aquatic and semi-aquatic life.
What to expect: There’s an abundant amount of land and water activities to enjoy, the most notable experience is the Otter Trail. The trail, named for the Cape clawless otter which occurs in this region, spans a total distance of 45km and takes approximately 5 days and 4 nights to complete. It’s the oldest hiking trail in South Africa.
Robberg Nature Reserve^
Location: 8km south of Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route.
Robberg is packed with historical significance enough to be proclaimed a national monument. Here you’ll find rocks dating back to 120 million years and caves that have held evidence of Stone Age inhabitation. The peninsula has a number of factors contributing to its conservational significance; included in this is the typography of the region, which was shaped by the prehistoric breaking up of Gondwanaland.
Flora and Fauna: Robberg Peninsula supports a diverse array of plants and animals that have adapted to this land/sea ecology. The rare blue duiker (the smallest antelope in the Western Cape) and the vulnerable sex-changing roman fish are just two of the species that find sanctuary in this marine reserve.
What to expect: Inspiring landscapes, which include one of the seven climbing-falling dunes on the Cape coastline, dolphin and whale sightings when in season, and a variety of bird species (and the occasional seal) during hikes/walks. View the highest navigational light on the South African coastline, at the Cape Seal Lighthouse (146m above sea level). The reserve also extends 1.8km offshore, providing protection to a range of vulnerable fish species.
Outeniqua Nature Reserve^
Location: Near George, with easy access from Mossel Bay, Knysna, and Oudtshoorn.
“Outeniqua” is believed to mean “those who bear honey” and is credited to the San and Khoi people who once inhabited the mountains. The reserve sits between a high rainfall coastal region and the semi-arid Klein Karoo.
Flora and Fauna: The area is occupied by the black eagle, the leopard, and tiny fynbos birds, such as the Cape sugarbird. Apart from animal and plant conservation, the reserve serves as a water catchment area for the entire region.
What to expect: San and Khoi rock paintings are found throughout the reserve, depicting animals, hunters, and honeycombs. If you’re visiting in September and October, the most popular time to visit, you’ll be treated to proteas and ericas as they flower, transforming the landscape.
Gamkaberg Nature Reserve^
Nearby towns: Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp
The Gamkaberg Nature Reserve was established in 1974 to conserve a small, herd of endangered Cape mountain zebra. They numbered just five in 1976, but thanks to focused conservation initiatives which saw the animals being resettled into private and national nature reserves, their numbers have since increased.
Flora and Fauna: Situated within the Cape Floral Kingdom, four South African biomes are represented in this reserve: Fynbos, Succulent Karoo, Subtropical Thicket, and Evergreen Forest. Aside from the rich flora, there’s an extensive animal life present at this reserve. This includes the rare and endangered Cape mountain zebra, the leopard, and honey badger.
What to expect: Breathtaking landscapes featuring mountains, dams, waterfalls, and rivers. Gamkaberg is also rich in Khoisan rock art and early marine invertebrate fossils.
Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve
Nearest town: Plettenberg Bay
Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve is a wildlife rehabilitation facility that is working towards conversation and the release of rehabilitated wildlife. It initially established to revive the once densely forested areas that featured Yellowwood and Stinkwood trees, which were felled due to logging.
Flora and Fauna: Since the establishment of the reserve, the forested area has been revived. Generations of Bushbuck, porcupine, Blue Duiker, honey badger, bush pigs, along with endless lists of birds now call the reserve home.
What to expect: Comfortable country cottages for accommodation. Forest paths provide opportunities for guided hikes through the woodlands, past riverbanks and potential sightings of the local wildlife.
Bobbejaanskloof Private Nature Reserve
Nearest town: Plettenberg Bay
A Karoo-style farmhouse sits in a 150-hectare private nature reserve on a plateau at the foothills of the Tsitsikamma Mountains and includes a working Nguni cattle farm.
Flora and Fauna: Conservations efforts over 20 years have seen the restoration of indigenous flora and the return of shy bushbuck, porcupine, tortoises, storks, jackal buzzards, and heron. The area also features grassland, fynbos, and forests of yellowwood, milkwood, ironwood, white pear, stinkwood, and Scotia pine.
What to expect: The house also includes a working Nguni cattle farm. Yoga & meditation classes are available as part of a Yoga Retreat offering. Potential sightings of zebra, giraffe, eland, springbok, wildebeest and the occasional elephant wandering along the neighbouring Plettenberg Game Reserve.
Karoo National Park^
Nearest town: Beaufort West
The Karoo National Park, founded in 1979, is a wildlife reserve in the Great Karoo area of the Western Cape. The Park features a rich and diverse range of mammals and birds, which can be spotted during game drives due the nature of the vegetation in the area.
Flora and Fauna: The physical appearance of the vegetation consists of Montane Karoo grassy shrublands, Karoo grassy dwarf shrublands, Karoo succulent dwarf shrublands and riparian thickets. Thirty percent of the recognised endemic plant species of the Nama-Karoo Biome are conserved within the Karoo National Park.
What to expect: There’s 60 km of tourist roads to explore, most of which are accessible to all vehicles, which include 4x4 trails. There are a multitude of experiences available, but a highlight would be the Klipspringer Pass. The Pass offers a scenic 13km drive and features eco-friendly construction, specifically the “Andrew Bain” method of dry-masonry construction.
Swartberg Nature Reserve^
(Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)
Location: Between the Great Karoo and Klein Karoo, forming a narrow but long stretch of 121 000ha.
Nearest towns (to the Swartberg Pass): Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn.
The remote and isolated Gamkaskloof Valley (Die Hel) has a rich ecological, archaeological, and cultural history. The Swartberg Nature Reserve is bordered by Gamkapoort Nature Reserve to the north, and Towerkop Nature Reserve to the west. These two reserves are not open to the public but are managed in conjunction with Swartberg. The entire conservation area – a massive 180 000ha – is critical to the management of mountain catchments and water yields in the region.
Flora and fauna: This reserve conserves a diversity of vegetation: from renosterveld, to mountain fynbos and spekboom veld. It also supports a variety of wildlife, including antelope, baboons, dassies and leopard. Plants begin to flower on the lower levels of the mountain in spring. If you’re able to brave the higher peaks of the Swartberg Mountain in autumn, you could be lucky enough to spot the rare protea venusta.
What to expect: There’s accommodation available in 11 restored historical cottages. Of these, Stappies Cordier is fully equipped for people with disabilities. Gamkaskloof is only accessible from the Swartberg Pass via the Otto du Plessis road.
For a list of Nature Reserves in and around Knysna visit www.exploreknysna.com
Nature reserves managed by public entities are indicated above with the ^ symbol.