Review: Vivien Horler
A Guide to the Garden Route – fifth edition, updated by Grahame Thomson and Julie Carlisle (Jacana)
The stretch of coastline from Mossel Bay to the Tsitsikamma area has been regarded as a “garden route” for more than 150 years.
As far back as 1840 one R Gordon Cumming, a member of the Southern Cape Hunting Expedition, wrote: “The Garden Route – a vast and endless world of loveliness, unseen, unknown, untrodden save by those varied multitudes of stupendous, curious and beautiful quadrupeds, whose forefathers have roamed its mighty solitudes from primaeval ages, and with whom I afterwards became so intimately acquainted.”
Today no one could call the Garden Route “unseen, unknown, untrodden”, but it is still a world of loveliness which includes places of solitude, provided you know where to look.
And this guide is designed to show you just that.
The Garden Route lies within a global biodiversity hotspot, the Cape Floristic Region, one of the smallest but richest floral kingdoms in the world. In his foreword, former CEO of SANParks Dr Robbie Robinson points out that 70% of the 9 600 plant species in the Cape Floristic Kingdom are found nowhere else.
Last year, as this guide was being prepared and while the Knysna section of the Garden Route was in flames, Unesco declared the Garden Route South Africa’s ninth biosphere reserve. This is an important declaration – biosphere reserves are given international recognition due to their unique nature, history and culture.
In his introduction to this fifth edition author Grahame Thomson says the preservation of the natural world of the Garden Route must be considered “a fundamental national priority”.
The guide begins with sections on sea life, plants, trees and insects, land mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians, to human history and the impact of humans.
It then has a series of maps of the areas covered, with attractions including museums in the various localities, cultural and historic sites, festivals and events, adventure tourism including boat trips and bungy jumping, and hiking trails including the famous Otter Trail, slack-packing trails, and guided and self-guided trails.
The Garden Route is a land of rivers and forests, and once teemed with game while its sea life was rich in diversity. The name Outeniqua comes from an ancient tribe of people who once roamed the area, and the word means “man laden with honey”.
As a result, say the authors, it is no surprise that humans have thrived here through the ages, starting with original modern man about 160 000 years ago, according to archaeological discoveries at the Pinnacle Point caves near Mossel Bay.
Published in a portable A5 format, the book is rich in gorgeous pictures of bays and estuaries, mountain passes and a wide variety of flora and fauna. It’s a wonderful resource for anyone heading to the Garden Route or living there.
It will help you, as Thomson says in his introduction, to “venture beyond the known tourism routes, listen to the silence, be amazed by the world we have been given.
“Choose the roads and paths less travelled, and you will find a world that will enrich your life forever.”
- A version of this review appeared in Weekend Argus on Sunday on May 27 2018