Travel with a Purpose: Responsible Travel on South Africa’s Garden Route

Gallivant Africa

When will we be allowed to travel again? That’s a question many are asking around the globe as countries remain in lockdown and travel timelines stay up in the air.

South Africa’s coronavirus figures are still relatively low compared to the rest of the world, meaning we’re still at the beginning of our trajectory. It’s simply too soon to predict when South Africans will be allowed to start travelling again, locally or overseas.

But industry experts generally agree on three things:

  1. Local travel will come back first. Think road trips, long weekends and sharing ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holiday rental accommodation with family and friends.
  2. Young (or not so young) adventurers and die-hard bargain seekers will be the first to dip their toe into international leisure travel.
  3. Sustainable (and hygienic) travel is going to become increasingly important.

South Africa is fortunate in that it already holds wide appeal for all three ‘types’ of travel if we can de-risk our tourism industry and instill trust amongst local and international travellers that we’re a safe bet to let off some steam after lockdown. This is especially because of our outdoors, adventurous and sustainability appeal.

Sustainable travel is built on the principle of treading lightly: minimising your impact on the environment, reducing your carbon footprint, making a positive contribution in terms of wildlife or environmental conservation and ensuring that local communities benefit from tourism (for example, buying local and supporting community guides, experiences and accommodation options).

If you count yourself amongst the pioneers who will return to travel first or perhaps, you’re completely over being cooped up within your ‘four walls’, it’s time for some travel inspiration. Here are just five ways to enjoy a wonderfully ‘green’ trip along South Africa’s most spectacular Garden Route coastline:

Head off on a sustainable safari

The Garden Route promises an unforgettable, malaria-free, Big 5 wildlife experience of note. Even better, some of the region’s top game reserves offer conservation-focussed safaris, a must for any serious eco-tourist.

Big cat lovers need to head to Buffelsdrift Game Lodge just outside Oudtshoorn. The reserve is taking part in the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project, aimed at increasing the number of free-roaming cheetah in their natural habitat in Southern Africa. You’ll be able to track these graceful cats by vehicle or on foot with project rangers – as the cheetahs claim their territory in the shadow of the Swartberg mountains.

Or take younger kids along to Gondwana Game Reserve, where they’ll enjoy an unforgettable Junior Ranger Experience, learning the basics of conservation and all about the Garden Route’s precious eco systems.  Think fresh air, fun, interactive activities and child-friendly game drives – and they’ll leave with a level 1 Junior Ranger Patch and certificate in hand!

Gondwana Game Reserve Views
Explore some of South Africa’s most diverse – and pristine – natural landscapes

The Garden Route is blessed with some of the country’s most biodiverse and ecologically important areas. Lace up your boots for a hike along Agulhas National Park’s windswept, rugged coastline, lowland fynbos trails and wetlands – where endangered flora and fauna can be found (including the region’s micro frog and the near-threatened African black oystercatcher).

Or visit the coastal village of Wilderness, and more specifically the Wilderness Lakes (Serpentine River, Island Lake, Langvlei and Rondevlei) which were named as Wetlands of International Importance on 28 June 1991. An early morning visit to the Rondevlei Bird Hide is the perfect way to escape the madding crowds!

The Garden Route also boast some of South Africa’s most unspoiled beaches. Take a stroll down Noetzie beach just outside of Knysna, find the secret beach at Gerickes Point in Sedgefield or splash in the tidal pools at Herolds Bay.

Prefer mountain paths to beaches? Robberg Nature Reserve, 8 km south of Plettenberg Bay, is home to the rare blue duiker, the Western Cape’s smallest antelope. See if you can spot it – if you can tear your eyes away from the southern right whales frolicking in the bay in front of you (between August and November).

Yatching in Knysna
Give back to the community

Of course, an important part of sustainable travel is ensuring that your tourism buck (or rand) benefits and empowers the local community. Fancy a fabulous 5-star stay on the Garden Route? Head to Fancourt in George.

For Hasso and Sabine Plattner, family has always been at the heart of Fancourt and you can feel it. The estate supports initiatives identified by their staff, like the Ikamva Lethu Golf Development Programme in Thembalethu, which equips youngsters in the community with golf skills, through mentorship, coaching and support.

Whether you are exploring the estate’s nature trails on an eco-scooter, polishing your golf skills at The Academy at Fancourt, or relaxing at the spa, you’ll be indirectly supporting the local George community – and initiatives close to their hearts.

 Discover hidden gems – and support local businesses

Overtourism has been significant problem over the last few decades, with popular sites and sensitive eco systems around the world being destroyed by the sheer number of their visitors.

Even before the arrival of COVID-19, the travel industry was reporting a rise in ‘undertourism’ – travellers opting for lesser-known destinations, off-season travel and off-the-beaten track experiences.

Stuck in lockdown, people have delighted in stories of wildlife ‘reclaiming the streets’ – penguins waddling through Simonstown, a leopard strolling across a wine farm in Franschoek and antelope frolicking on the beach at Zimbali.

Travellers will want to keep the magic alive by exploring quieter corners of the globe, hoping for memorable wildlife encounters, authentic experiences and local flavour. The Garden Route has plenty.

Consider a unique meerkat encounter in the Karoo, where you’ll watch the sunrise just as a local mob of meerkats pop up their heads to start their day. Or head to the small village of De Rust and the incredible Meiringspoort Pass. The Meiringspoort Waterfall, with its thundering waters and beautiful pools, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – one (if you believe local legend) that once was home to a mysterious dark-haired mermaid.

Alternatively, potter around the local art studios and galleries of Wilderness before grabbing a coffee in Timberlake Village, an eclectic collection of shops, eateries and coffee shops – complete with a fairy garden for the kids.

Meiringspoort Pass, South Africa
Plant a tree

There is a Chinese proverb which says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”

Consider planting a tree to offset the carbon emissions of your trip. Look out for tour operators who will plant a tree on your behalf – or plant your own. Fancourt has made it easy for guests to plant a tree on their estate, which means you can leave more than just your heart on the Garden Route.


Miriro Matema
the authorMiriro Matema
Born in Zimbabwe and living in South Africa, Miriro is a seasoned publishing editor and writer, having worked with leading brands in investment, business leadership and entrepreneurship. Passionate about Africa’s development, Miriro is also a dynamic marketing consultant with 10 years experience working with startups and large multinational corporations. With a heart for travel, Miriro spends her time discovering the nooks of crannies of Africa’s hidden gems, taking the roads less travelled, meeting the beautiful people that call Africa home while exploring their food and culture. Miriro is currently a writer with Byolife Travel and Gallivant Africa

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