Mossel Bay is so much more than a coastal town at the start of the Garden Route.
Its rich history begins 400 000 years ago, evidenced in the findings in the caves at Pinnacle Point, the world renowned site now known as The Point of Human Origins.
The diverse stories lead us from pre stone age man to the hunter gathers and beach combers of the San and Khoi-Khoi tribes, then take on a European flavour from 1488 when Portuguese explorers landed, followed soon after by the Dutch, French, English.
Fast forward to the present day and Mossel Bay is a thriving tourism and industry hub, recently awarded the best run municipality in the country, and known as the place with the second most moderate climate in the world, beaten only by Hawaii.
Add astoundingly beautiful beaches, five of them with Blue Flag status, a fynbos rich rural network of back roads and byways leading into the mountains and you have a beach to bush tourism hotspot just waiting to be explored.
Location and areas.
Mossel Bay is 385 kilometers from Cape Town on the N2.
The Greater Mossel Bay Area begins at the Gouritz River mouth and continues along over sixty kilometers of stunning coastline covering Boggemsbaai, Hartenbos, Klein Brak and Groot Brak Rivier. Extending between 20 to 30 kilometers inland on the mountain side of the N2 are the rural delights of Friemersheim and Ruiterbos, accessed via the R328 and R327 with a myriad of gravel roads to turn off and explore. Let’s go.
There is certainly no shortage of eateries in the town, but these are my recommendations.
Carola Ann’s is situated in a gorgeous old building, complete with wooden floors, creaky staircases and ghost stories. Seating options include a balcony with ocean views., a large outdoor area at the back, or a variety of cozy rooms, corners and nooks suitable for a romantic dinner for two or a large party of family and friends. For the smokers. Yes you can, there are a few nice spots where it is permitted.
The food is simple, generous and excellent .Their slogan is FOOD FOR LIFE and the focus is fresh, healthy and local, with a Mediterranean twist.
The bar is well stocked including craft beer on tap, and local wines can be perused in the many floor to ceiling wine racks dotted around.
Vista do Mar is a celebration of Portuguese cuisine. Madeira born owner, Eugene Camara is a people loving restaurateur through and through. Seafood plays a big role in Portuguese food and at Vista Do Mar, secret recipes and sauces passed down through the generations do too. Prawns, squid, calamari, sole and even the humble sardine are served in a choice of equally delicious sauces. Meat and chicken feature prominently, who can resist a succulent beef or pork Espedata, a tender Prego Roll for the not so hungry or a 300g rump cooked to perfection. The menu is extensive, the atmosphere is jovial and the food is real and very moreish.
Mossel Bay Zipline. Get your adventure on at the longest over the ocean zipline in the world , measuring a thrilling 1,1 km. From the takeoff 90m above sea level, past craggy cliffs, the ground falls away and you are soaring over the ocean, torn between the thrill of the speed (up to 80 km/h) and the desire to slow down to enjoy the spectacular views. As you approach the landing platform at one point you are just three meters above the waves, and if the timing is right, you can get a spray of the salty water on your face. Landing, the first reaction is to look back to pinpoint where you took off from, and the second is to go and do it again.
For a more sedate experience, wander the streets of Mossel Bay with Leon, a great guide from Mossel Bay historic ghost walk .The stories start from way back in 1488, and as you pass interesting architecture, doorways, coffee stops and viewpoints, Leon’s tales make history come alive. From a Post Office Tree to an isolation hospital used during the Spanish Flu Pandemic, the three hour walk through the town is a journey through time with many great photo opportunities and plenty of coffee stops.
Do visit the Point of Human Origin, the Diaz Museum Complex and the harbour for a variety of boat trips and water sport adventures. Visit the Mossel Bay Tourism Office for brochures and advice that will provide you with options for exploring and adventures for weeks.
A turn off towards the coast from the N2 leads to a glorious, silent 14 kilometer drive to the magic of Boggomsbaai and the The Oyster Catcher Trail.
Their slogan says it all.
“It’s a love affair with nature”
The Oyster Catcher Trail is world famous and even made it onto NatGeo’s list of the World’s Best Hiking Trails. As a slackpacking trail you only carry your water and a packed lunch and return each evening to your accommodation in Boggomsbaai.
Chris Carr the expert, unflappable trail guide is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the history, marine life, conservation, geography, archeology, weather, tides, birds, folklore, wrecks, and stories on every step of the route.
The beach at Boggomsbaai is a beaut. A late evening stroll revealed about 30 dolphins surfing in the waves at sunset, a sight I will never forget.
The landscape changes all the time, from rocky paths high above the breakers, pristine beaches that seem to never end, to the rugged wildness of Fransmanshoek, where waves crash against orange tinged rocks, and peaks and coves beg to be explored. There are various options available from 2 to 5 days, suitable for the whole family. Willem and Mia, owners of the trail since February 2020, are the friendliest people so do give them a call to discuss options, this trail should be on the very top of every nature lovers list.
Mossel Bay Helicopters There are something thrilling about flying in a helicopter, and this operator is no exception. Owner Kobus Crous is something of a legend in the area. A highly skilled and experienced pilot, always willing to assist, be it aerial support in fire fighting, game counting, animal rescue or any other disaster that might befall the community, a scenic flight with him is an adventure. Taking off from his farm at Bergsig, following the Hartenbos River to the coast then spotting sharks in the ocean, continuing over the harbour and past the ancient caves, lighthouse and town, before heading back over the rural plains. He even took the door off so my collegue, Ryan Enslin could get great shots of this extraordinary beautiful coastline.
Eat and play
On an unremarkable piece of ground, during the crazy time that was 2020, something very special happened. A community was created, and the Hart & Bosch Village was born.
Situated between the N2, the Hartenbos River and the R102, this is where you will find the essence of Mossel Bay. The heart, hospitality, and creativity of the town. It is a safe environment for the whole family, with attractions, space to play, chill out, eat, drink, shop, chat, be entertained or just relax.
Saturdays are Market days where you can bring the whole family, even the dogs. The market area is situated in a collection of large, funky black corrugated sheds laid out in a U shape. The stalls have everything from clothing, shoes and leather goods to a pub, food court, sweet treats and gifts. Local is very lekker here.There is space for kids to run, play areas, a miniature train ride, and a jumping bubble to keep them busy while you shop, kuier and have a good time. Bring the blankets because when night falls, it’s time for the drive in movie and popcorn.
On the far side of the Village is the stylish Salt and Copper Restaurant, and the Harmony Gin Distillery.Their Ginzanzi Gin uses botanicals from all nine provinces in South Africa and was designed as a drink to celebrate and unite.
I loved the clever label, sporting the colours of the South African flag and inspiring words on the INSIDE of the bottle. The colours appear to glow from within the bottle.
Mossel Bay Quads An Eco Adventure on a quad bike.
Safety is key and it’s not about speed. It’s exploring a little bit of nature in an unexpected place.
Sandy tracks through trees lead to a clearing and site of the Bat Awareness Project. Nesting boxes have been built as a bats biggest threat is humans and urban development. We need bats to consume insects, pollinate trees,flowers and cacti and to assist spreading indigenous plant seeds.
The trail continues to the banks of the Hartenbos River where we saw Herons and other waders enjoying this eco space. In the distance is the N2 bridge and suburbia, but in this little corner, nature is in charge.
There is loads of accommodation in Hartenbos, from the well known AKTV Resort to guest houses and campsites and everything in between.
Kango 10 is a modern three bedroomed cottage in a gated community, a few streets from the beach. Fully equipped with everything you need for self catering, it offers a great lock up and go accommodation option, but also has braai facilities and an upstairs deck for sundowners.
Dibiki Hartenbos is a caravan campsite with a couple of chalets as well. Close to the beach, afffordable, spacious with loads of extras like a pool area, coffee shop, restaurant / venue hall, and pub, this is a great venue for families and groups of friends. They also have a caravan park with chalets in Dibiki Riversdale which is en route to Mossel Bay if travelling from Cape Town.
Klein Brak and Groot Brak
Julsie’s Home Bed and breakfast. Staying in this gorgeous home in Klein Brak is like going home to family. Hosts Julsie and Nick live in a separate part of the house but are around as much or as little as you need them to be. Warm hosts does not begin to describe this lovely couple, Julsie is everyone’s mom and Nick, though quieter, knows the area like the back of his hand, it’s well worth asking him for advice on anything and everything. The décor is understated, comfortable and easy to live in, it’s a real home with some beautiful pieces gathered by the couple over the years. The views are spectacular, and the beach is just a street away. We took the advice from Nick and headed out early for a beach sunrise, returning home to coffee and a massive breakfast prepared by “mom”. If friendly, tranquil, relaxed and beach tick your getaway boxes, you can’t go wrong with Julsies.
Mosselbos is a four star self catering guest house in Groot Brak. The word mansion comes to mind as you drive in through the entrance gates. Large manicured lawns give way the pristine fynbos, and huge glass windows show of the views in all directions. This place was made for relaxing in style. The ocean is a few streets away, the pool has views for days and the lounge and deck areas, complete with built in braai, are just made for turning every sunset into a special occasion.
Lovely beaches and The Island, a tranquil lagoon flanked by ancient milkwood trees, accessed via a narrow single lane bridge.
Visit the Boplaas tasting room for interesting Portuguese wines, smooth port, botanical gin and even whiskey as well as award winning red and white wines. Enjoy cheese platters, tastings guided by one of the members of this family run estate and gorgeous views of the mountains, donkeys in the fields, and the smell of the ocean in the distance. This is the place for a long, lazy, tasty afternoon. Stock up before you leave so you can recreate the magic at home.
De Vette Mossel . Eating at De Vette Mossel in Hartenbos is so much more than a meal, it’s a multi sensory experience and a cultural outing too. Arrive hungry, and shoes are optional. Situated a few meters from the beach, feet in the sand, long tables to promote conversation with strangers, an entertaining intro from the owner Nikki Geyer,, and the tantalizing aromas emanating from pots and braai grids to get your mouth watering.
Insider tip. As tempting as it is to eat the whole loaf of warm pot bread smothered in butter and apricot jam which is the appetizer, save space for the delights that follow. Mussels, braaied snook and sweet potatoes, seafood potjies, a meat potjie, sweet melon, watermelon and finally koffie and koeksisters. The backtrack to these tastes are the sounds of the ocean, Afrikaans music, chatter and laughter.
Salty River Beer House Craft beer and the best pizza on the Garden Route. Casual is the name of the game here. Good food, a very chilled vibe and lots of laughs. This is a place you will definitely visit more than once. It;s that good.
Riuterbos and Friemersheim
Ruiterbos is situated in the rural outskirts of Mossel Bay in the Ruiterbos Valley some 25 minutes from the beach.
Eat, stay, play at Ruiterbos Lodge a one stop stop for accommodation, lunch, a play date for the kids, or a weekend away for a wedding.
Shop for locally made “stuff” at the delightful tin shack called “Die Zink Stoor”,painted in bright blue and adorned with sunflowers. Inside is a girl cave of clothes, bags and crafty things, so remember to stop in for a peak.An old VW Beetle painted to match “Die Zink Stoor” has become a planter for succulents and anything else that wants to grow in its boot, situated in the front end of the car.
Three star self-catering accommodation is available in a couple of garden cottages or wooden chalets. Coming soon is a butterfly sanctuary with informative tours offered by Earl Whiteley, one of the country’s top butterfly breeders and experts. Louise is the owner of Ruiterbos and is very hands on, you are bound to meet her if you visit. She is usually found taking kids to feed the animals, advising patrons what is best on the menu, or just engaging in cheeky banter while keeping a watchful eye over everything.
Outeniqua Moon is home to the magnificent Percheron Horses, they must be seen to be believed. Take a buggy drive pulled by these powerful animals when you stay over in this rural haven in the quiet hills.
Jakkalsvlei wine estate is worth the drive just for the views, the setting is quite remarkable. Known as much for it’s wines as for it’s restaurant, this is a must visit for any foodie. The pairings are creative and varied, it is impossible to choose a favourite when choices include fudge, prawns, dried meats or cheese. I highly recommend the Selection Platter to start your pairing adventure, it includes Smoked salmon on cucumber with cream cheese , Cranberry cream cheese , Pastrami ,Beef biltong and White chocolate. But don’t fill up too much with the pairings because the lunch menu is a feast to be savoured over a long afternoon.
Friemersheim is a charming community where gardens are tended with pride and care, and murals adorn many of the local houses. Follow the art route, maps available from the tourism office, and admire the wonderful wildlife depicted on the walls, a lockdown project by renowned artist, Fourie Ackermann. Chat to the local community and do visit the ShweShwe shop, a community initiative where local seamstresses create colourful garments, bags and goodies from vibrant patterned fabric.
For a true beach to bush experience where game drives in the bush are accompanied by the smell of the ocean,
The Garden Route Safari Camp is located just off the R328, 14 km inland from Hartenbos. The Lodge and camp are in a secluded valley and the Matjiespoort River runs through the reserve. Owned and run by a family that spent many years managing game reserves in Botswana, while not a Big 5 reserve, it is the real deal when it comes to a safari experience. The highlight of my stay was the game drive with Stefan, son of the owner, and the most enthusiastic and interesting guide I could ever wish for.
The bush is clearly his happy place, and in spite of growing up in the bush, Stefan has not lost his sense of wonder and amazement, not just for the large animals, but for everything in nature.
We stopped to lift up rocks to see what was living underneath them. Stefan would run off into the bush, and return with multiple treasures that included a scorpion, a plant to smell, pods from a tree, and the nest of the ant lion. His knowledge is vast, his interests encompass everything on the reserve, and his obvious delight at everything he finds is infectious. He even smiles when he talks.
Although I did not get great pics, spending time watching the five week old giraffe with its parents was a huge wow, as was seeing the Plains Zebra, Nyala and Eland.An early morning mist blanketed the hills, burning off as we made our way back to the lodge for breakfast. A second drive would have been great, but we were out of time.
The luxury tents has everything needed and then some, and the Lodge, dining room and deck overlooking the waterhole had me shaking my head in surprise every time I got a sniff of salty sea air. It feels as though you are in the heart of Limpopo.This is a great place to connect with nature and have a beach to bush experience, with the ocean a mere ten minute drive.
Discover the magic of Aloes just before the turn off into Albertinia. Alcare Aloe is a #localislekker place of note, not to be missed. Great coffee and food aside, Alcare produces a fantastic range of skincare, health and wellness products using the sap of the Aloe Ferox.
Healing, detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-parasitic, high in anti-oxidants, amino acids and minerals, this plant is South Africa’s home grown super plant.The shop has well informed staff to help select the right products for your ailments, wellness or skin care requirements and the prices are well suited to South African Rands.
Voëlroepersfontein Guest House & Writers’ Retreat in Albertinia. A haven for creatives and a delight for tree lovers, home to two champion trees that really must be seen. The Ancient Wild Fig Tree, known as the Whispering Tree is a sight to behold. Believed to be over 600 years old, there is magic to be found sitting in the folds of the many roots, or drifting mindlessly on the swing that hangs from it’s boughs. Owner and host is Marietjie, an acclaimed but modest writer herself, and probably the most gracious lady I have ever met. Anyone needing a retreat from the harshness of city living, this is the place, just make sure you are able to leave when your time is up.
Road trips require cars and cars need fuel. Support local provider Top Up Garages wherever you see their green and blue sign. Currently on the Cape Town to Mossel Bay Route they have outlets in Mossel Bay, Witsand and Robertson
Discalimer. This trip was hosted and facilitated by Garden Route Unexplored and Mossel Bay Tourism . All opinions, as always, are my own.
More pics to tempt you to Mossel Bay