South Africa’s Garden Route is a 300km stretch of diverse and exceptionally scenic coastline between Mossel Bay in the west and the Storms River in the east, sandwiched between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains and the Indian Ocean. The process of protecting the Garden Route from exploitation and human encroachment has been a long one, and is still ongoing. From the 1960’s various small pieces of the area east of the small holiday town of Wilderness received formal protection, culminating in these being amalgamated into the newly proclaimed Wilderness National Park in 1987 and the years thereafter. In March 2009, the erstwhile Wilderness National Park became an integral part of the expanded Garden Route National Park (covering a total of over 1,500km²), when it was joined with the Knysna National Lake Area and Tsitsikamma National Park through the proclamation of enormous tracts of state-owned land joining them.
The Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park is centered on South Africa’s very own “Lakes District”. The original area encompassed by the Park straddles six lakes (Groenvlei, Bo-Langvlei, Langvlei, Rondevlei, Swartvlei and Island Lake), the Wilderness Lagoon, Serpentine and Touw Rivers, indigenous forests, and both rocky and sandy beaches along the coastline.
Before the Wilderness National Park was proclaimed, the area where the Garden Route National Park’s Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp is situated today was the Ebb-and-Flow Nature Reserve (administered by the George municipality and today Ebb-and-Flow North) and the private Siesta Caravan Park (today Ebb-and-Flow South).
Birdwatchers and photographers are in for a treat when visiting any of the three hides next to the lakes in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Parks. We had time to visit two of them in December – Malachite (on Langvlei) and Rondevlei, and could easily have spent all day at either.
Given the amazing diversity of habitats in the park, it is no surprise that the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park abounds with a wide variety of birdspecies, and while the area doesn’t support much in the way of large mammals apart from shy bushbuck, bushpigs and very seldomly seen leopards, it does give visitors the opportunity to walk around unhindered looking for the smaller fry.
Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp is the Wilderness section’s main visitor node. Here there are accommodation and two expansive camping areas for overnight guests, a newly opened picnic area for day visitors, and canoes for hire to explore the Touw and Serpentine Rivers. A network of walking trails of varying length traverse the area, many of them starting at or near Ebb-and-Flow. The Park also has several beaches for sun-seekers and bathers. Privately-run accommodation establishments and camping sites, shops, restaurants, fuel stations and more are available in the nearby towns of Wilderness and Sedgefield.
The Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park is easily accessible along the N2 highway running from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, and is just a few minutes’ drive from the airport at George. We recently spent three nights camping in the lovely Ebb-and-Flow North camp, the fifth stop on our 2017 summer holidays in eight of South Africa’s national parks.