I’ve visited the Garden Route 7 times up to the year 2017 (6 of those times were to hike the Otter Trail, then spend a night in Plettenberg Bay, and fly out of George). With news that so many South Africans are semigrating here (movement between provinces, not emigrating out of the country) I thought that I’d spend a few weeks checking out the areas of George, Mossel Bay, Knysna and Wilderness (with short stopovers in Plettenberg Bay, Sedgefield and Hartenbos). I used to like the area in the past, and has the place still retained its charm? That was one of my questions.
My requirements are:
- Safety and security (from house break-ins, assault, murder, hijacking)
- Access to halal food, and prayer facilities
- All year access to a lap swimming pool
- Good canoeing / kayaking areas (a sport I participate in once or twice a week)
- Decent, affordable accommodation
I did receive this list of halal establishments in the Garden Route before I visited (a few updates may be necessary):
I spent 5 nights in this city, and stayed in a nice self-catering guesthouse in Loerie Park. There was some daytime renovations at the property (which I didn’t mind as I was out all day), where contractors were upgrading the security features of the property. Why I like Loerie Park is because it’s located on the edge of town, beside Garden Route Dam (where you can paddle).
There’s mountain views and a green zone. A multi-day mountain biking race competition took place in the area when I was there.
Idyllic and tranquil, or that’s what I was expecting. I only found out after my stay there that less than 2 weeks before I arrived, the elderly couple who run the guesthouse had a traumatic break-in at 04:30am. They were assaulted, robbed of valuables, and had their vehicle stolen (it was subsequently recovered in the Pacaltsdorp neighborhood).
Sector 2 (Courtenay Street, Loerie Park and Denneoord) and Sector 3 (Dormehlsdrift and areas surrounding the industrial area) are identified as the areas that are most targeted when it comes to property related crimes.
In the media, you tend to see a lot of criminal issues in Thembalethu and Pacaltdorp which is across the N2 highway from George. There are a lot of informal settlements along that side of the highway.
There are multiple security estates coming up in various parts of the city. Many (like the ones near Garden Route Mall) are dense clustered estates on small plots. Kingswood Golf Estate is one of the prime estates, but the remaining stands are priced quite high.
There were 2 estates that were of interest to me. One was Le Grande Estate, at the top of a hill that overlooks the ocean.
You need to drive over the N2 freeway, through Pacaltsdorp, on 3.5km of gravel road to reach the estate. There are ongoing talks with the municipality to pave the road (which I wouldn’t want to drive on at night, with no street lighting for kilometers). There is access to a beach from the estate, but that beach is at the mouth of the Gwaing River. I wouldn’t enjoy swimming there.
Across the road from this estate, they are planning some commercial facilities in the next development phase (restaurants, shops…). These conveniences are what I want to be away from, as they generally bring in beggars, hawkers, and drunk vagrants into the area (especially if a bottle store had to open across the road).
There is also the property developments from Cape Estates in Kraaibosch (targeting families and retirees). Kraaibosch Park and Kraaibosch Ridge are located just outside George, on a road opposite the BP N2 Oasis garage (between George and Wilderness) beside the Outeniqua Saturday Family Market. I didn’t have a chance to check them out, but I did drive-by and it looks safe and tranquil with nice mountain views.
George has a number of halal meal options. I ate at the Nandos (chicken meals), Wild Bean Café (in PnP, at BP N2 Oasis – they have wraps, grilled chicken, chicken curry, mutton curry, burger and chips, spicy rice and other items). On the same property is a halal Steers, Debonairs and Milky Lane. There is also a large, well maintained jamaat khana above the restaurants.
In town I ate at MK Halal foods. They also offer halal meats in the freezers, which they bring in from JHB. The week I visited, they were out of steak, but they were expecting a delivery within a few days.
I’ve also ordered some great home-made meals at Zainabs Kitchen.
I ordered a few curries, and also a fulfilling steak and chips with hot chutney meal during the week. Zainabs Kitchen are also at the Outeniqua Family Market on Saturdays (8am to 2pm), offering samoosas, roti wraps and a number of curries.
I prayed at Masjid Ur Rahmaan in George. It’s a large, well-maintained facility. The first time I visited (a Sunday, Magrib salaat), I was a little worried about the area though, as the masjid is on the road behind a bottle store, and there were drunk people loitering on the streets nearby when I arrived alone early, 30 minutes before salaah. However, there was no issue and I returned to this masjid a number of times. This was a poster in the masjid on halal establishments in the area, but some of it seemed to be outdated.
I took out a 2-week membership at Wellness World – George. The gym did not respond to any of my emails or Facebook messages, but I was able to sign-up for a temporary membership within 2 minutes of arrival. I paid R350 cash for 2 weeks membership. Temporary membership is available on a 1-day, 3-day, 1-week, 2-week or 1-month plan. The gym has a 20 meter length heated lap pool (popular with a local swim school), and the facilities are decent enough for gym-goers, with a number of group classes available. This is the only heated lap pool in George to my knowledge.
Virgin Active George had a nice 25m pool but the old facility had to close down a few months ago (lease renewal issue). Virgin Active is now located at a temporary facility for the next 12 months (no pool), and the new facility that will be opening in September 2023 will not have a pool.
I took a drive to the shore of Garden Route Dam and this would be an excellent place to paddle. There is security at the entrance to the dam, and another security guard near the dam water (1.7km from the entrance, along the gravel road).
I spent 2 days in Mossel Bay.
The Diaz Hotel and Resort offers splendid views of the Indian Ocean. I had Emirates Skywards miles expiring and was able to use those miles to book at this hotel. For breakfast I only had coffee, fruit and some juice. There was a veg (also marked as halal friendly) pasta dish available for breakfast, which I didn’t have.
The hotel has a “Muscle and Fitness 24/7” gym on-site, open to the public for membership, with a modern range of quality equipment. They’ve also got classes in the studio. No pool in this gym. The hotel has a pool for guests, but it’s not heated.
There’s a lot of property developments overlooking the ocean in Mossel Bay, and in the nearby Hartenbos community. Not being a 1st-language Afrikaans speaker, I did feel like Hartenbos could be a slight challenge for me to live in.
I had a look at the Bismilla take-away in Mossel Bay. Here’s a picture of the menu. They didn’t have steak or any of the next day cooked meals available to order, as their halal meat supplier in George didn’t have availability.
I prayed at Masjid us Sabireen, a big masjid with ample parking inside. There was a big crowd for Jumuah prayers.
Surf lessons are available near the Diaz Hotel. You can also SUP, canoe or kayak in the ocean or lakes around Mossel Bay and Hartenbos.
I pulled over in Sedgefield twice. What impresses me is seeing municipal workers busy maintaining the infrastructure (cutting grass, filling potholes…) in various areas. It’s not something we can usually see in Johannesburg. I asked a few people what the place is like in summer – mosquitoes did come up.
From media reports, I have read of multiple criminal elements in Sedgefield, just Google it. Link to the Sedgefield Crime News page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sedgefieldcrimenews/
Informal settlements on the Sedgefield dunes:
I did not find any halal take-away (on Google Maps) or by driving around. There is a muslim-owned “Kays Supermarket”, across the road from the N2 at the only traffic light in the town.
There is a masjid in Sedgefield, but I didn’t visit it on my stopover. Maps link to Masjid Noor, Sedgefield: https://goo.gl/maps/E1JQpj7Z2zbYA8d47
I pulled over at Sedgefield Ski-beach and observed people taking their fishing boats into the lagoon. You could also kayak or canoe here. At the beach I assume you can also surf.
As one of the residents of Sedgefield candidly put it to me, I’ll repeat it: “Kysna is f**ed”. There are huge informal settlements along the N2 just outside town, towards Plettenberg Bay, and outside Plettenberg Bay -which was not their 6+ years ago. Beggars, vagrants and car guards are everywhere.
Media reports show that the municipality is helpless at addressing the increasing crime situation (where burglaries, rape, drug use, murder are all occurring).
Both are towns with natural beauty, but I probably will not want to go back there.
I stayed at the First Group Knysna River Club. Good self-catering facility with a number of on-site activities. Canoe hire was R30 per hour for guests (2-man canoes), but like the number plates beginning with the letters “CAW” are fondly referred to in the area, the weather was “cold and wet” when I visited.
I only ate at KFC, and fish at Ocean Basket (unsure if that had a license).
Knysna is famous for canoeing. I saw a number of canoes at the Sailing Club (at the Quay), and I’m sure the club has time-trials every week.
I left this little village for the final 2 nights of my stay. This village seems like it should have the best of all worlds. Ocean, mountains, rivers, no large commercial or industrial facilities, and hopefully safety; with easy access to George (10 minutes drive away).
I stayed at the Dolphin Dunes Guest House, with epic views of the ocean. At check-in, I was given a remote-control device, although it’s not a remote-control. Rather, it was a panic button that alerts security should their be an emergency. You can guess what the threats are…
Swimming, kayaking, canoeing – all available in Wilderness.
I rented a canoe for 1 hour (cost was R170) at Kaaiman’s River Canoe.
At high tide, you can row further up the Kaaiman’s River (on the “Map of Africa” view-point circuit).
I rowed a short 800m to a nice waterfall. At some points I had to get into the water on foot and push the canoe which got stuck under rocks and sand banks in the shallow water. I guess at a higher tide it’s easier to move.
Prices of plots and developments in the area are very high. I believe I saw a 10-bedroom house listed at R32 million. There are still some plots overlooking the sea available in the “Klein Krantz” neighborhood. It looked like there was only 1 commercial facility in the neighborhood. However, I learnt that it’s a crime hotspot with many residential burglaries. It’s also located next to an informal settlement.
While browsing some property sales listings I found an awesome “dream-listing” for a home on the banks of the Touws River. When I asked around how the canoeing is on that water, I was told that they had a sewage spill problem there in the past; and I should get into that water at my own risk…
Mosquitoes are also a bit of an issue in the Wilderness area in summer (as I was told), but it’s not the malaria type.
It was a restful an informative trip. I’d definitely like to drive down to George with my canoe mounted on my rooftop for an extended stay, with a large cooler box filled with meat from JHB (especially unprocessed red meat), to rent a place in-between George and the village in Wilderness for a month.
It has a number of halal conveniences and facilities in a friendly, welcoming community.
But I don’t think I will consider moving there long-term, or buying (unless the burglary and land invasion threat is eliminated).
Policy changes need to be made at national government level to address unemployment, cable theft, illegal scrap dealers, illegal immigrants, and lenient or no consequences for crime. This can enable the local municipalities and police force to take meaningful action and address the homelessness, crime and poverty on the streets.
We’re all in the same South Africa; in the same boat. The Garden Route remains a beautiful destination, and is slightly better than other parts of the country at the moment, but the situation is still on a path of degradation. I really hope that it can improve, but it looks like the problems are increasing town-by-town, in a southerly direction.
This is just my personal opinion based on a limited time-period stay to assess the options.
Would be happy to field comments and feedback from those more knowledgeable about the area.