“Mossel Bay? No thanks, not for me,” used to be my reaction to this seaside industrial-looking town on the N2, halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
Set so far on the tippy end of the Garden Route and regularly unmentioned that one might think it has been put in the naughty corner since the beginning of time. From the outside, regardless of the season, I always picked up the presumptive smell of December traffic as hordes pull in for their annual Vitamin D and sea; busy, loud and too much.
I shook my head every time I got news of another acquaintance or family member taking the leap of retirement to Mossel Bay, or the surrounding areas of Hartenbos and even Groot Break. Maybe I could understand finding peace and quiet after a few decades on earth in smaller areas like Reebok or Tergniet, but the rest smelling like sunscreen and holiday doof-doof music? No way. No thank you. Goodbye. What did they see in these places?
Well in a nut – err – seashell, turns out they saw everything.
It took less than a day of exploring to realise it is time to swallow my pride and preconceived assumptions and admit that a few quick visits in the past – over the peak period – could not justify my “no, thanks not for me”.
As I made my way through the town, and especially the surrounding places from Albertinia to Ruitersbos, I got served with a jelly bean variety of layers and flavours from the area; a pinch of history, a scoop of nature, a dash of adventure, a few plates of good wholesome food, a cup of they-know-their-stuff coffee and a dollop of surprises. The more I explored, the more layers and flavours unfolded before my eyes and seeped into my to do list for the next visit and Mossel Bay became the Pinterest postcard epitome for Marcel Proust’s quote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Something for everyone: WATCH: Mossel Bay has more
It is no lie, Mossel Bay really has more. When you talk about Mossel Bay and take into account that seaside villages and tiny dot towns like Herbertsdale, Friemersheim, Vleesbaai, Boggomsbaai, Ruitersbos and Tergniet all for under the Mossel Bay municipality, a myriad of experiences awaits; Mossel Bay is your oyster.
Something for the wildlife seekers:
Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, on the foothills of the magnificent Outeniqua Mountains, is all about luxury and home to lions, elephants, hippos as well as other game.
The reserve is open to day visitors and as a day visitor you can go on a 3 hour guided game drive, a horse safari, a guided bush trail on foot, sit down for a meal and relax in the Botlierskop Bush Spa.
For the Birdwatchers, reach for your binoculars when visiting estuaries from the Blinde River at Dana Bay to Great Brak.
Something for the mountain bikers:
Pack your bicycles and keep those wheels pumped, not only is Mossel Bay perfect to be explored on two wheels, there are trails – from technical to family-friendly - at Eight Bells Mountain Inn and Bonniedale Holiday Farm and you can ride through the vineyards at Jakkalsvlei Private Cellar.
You can also go on a phat bike adventure on the beach.
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Something for the backroad explorers:
Take the back road and see where you end up. From Groot Brak head out towards Friemersheim and explore what is called the Fragrance Route which, amongst others, includes a visit to a protea farm and a Shweshwe Stop Project where you can purchase many shweshwe pieces like the famous PROEbag, aprons and oven gloves made by women in the area.
Another backroad drive to take is from Botlierskop to Ruiterbos via a dirt road and back to Mossel Bay via the R328; during this drive, apart from the scenery, you can visit Outeniqua Moon, home to the biggest horses (Heavy Draft Percheron Studs) in South Africa, Boerqi Bistro Farm Stall, a bonsai nursery and Robinson Pass. The area of Herbertsdale (where Jakkalsvlei is situated) and Albertinia also has lots of dirt roads for eager explorers.
Something for the off-road bundu bashers:
Bonniedale Holiday Farm is situated in Attaquaskloof (between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn) and forms part of the historic ox wagon trail traversing from Heidelberg to De Vlugd through multiple passes and nail-biting twists and turns; it takes 4 days to complete in a 4x4, however, there are diversions if you want to do it in a 4x2 or motorcycle.
Day visitors are welcome if they just want to enjoy a short bundu-bash break and switch off in nature, have a braai and a swim in the dam.
Self-catering overnight facilities, tent sites and permanent caravans are available. Signal and electricity is a foreign concept here.
Something for the beach bums:
Blue Flag Beaches meet a standard of excellence in the areas of safety, amenities, cleanliness, environmental information and environmental management and there are four blue flag beaches - De Bakkes, Santos, Klein Brak and Hartenbos – just waiting for your bum to hit the sand or the water.
Boat trips to Seal Island is a popular activity and, if you want to travel by sea at the speed of light there are some thrill rides that will have you at the edge of your seat. There is also a tidal pool if you head towards The Point and another one, which is deeper, called Blougat. Whether you want to go surfing, sailing, snorkeling or swimming, the salty waters is your playground.
Something for the hikers:
If you are an avid hiker then you better pack something sturdier than flip flops for beach days. There are off the beaten path trails on Bonniedale Holiday and at Eight Bells Mountain Inn, also in Robinson Pass and closer to Mossel Bay you can do the 13.5 km Cape St Blaize Hiking Trail or opt for something longer and do the Oystercatcher Trail, a 4 or 5 night luxury accommodation overnight trail.
Something for the art lovers:
Groot Brak and Mossel Bay is home to a number of art galleries, arts and crafts shops, a flea market and unique scrap metal art (by Boshoff Botha) which features a 5m tall statue of Nelson Mandela.
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Something for antique hunters:
If you have a nose for antiques then come with an empty car and a full wallet because Mossel Bay must hold some kind of record for the town with the most antique shops.
For something different stop by Déjà vu Vintage House and Monroe Theatre for a high tea (where you can dress up), or enjoy a screening of a yesteryear movie.
Or, if beetles and kombis pique your interest, you’ll see something that resembles a beetle graveyard on the R328 out of Hartenbos; in reality it is more of a Beetle hospital and Beetle Odds and Ends repairs these classics and also offer rentals.
Something for something different:
Albertinia, known for its production of aloe products and ochre mining, is just 50 km from Mossel Bay and definitely worth a day trip or pit stop if you are travelling on the N2.
Shop for aloe products, grab a bite to eat at Die Pienk Stoep, and visit Tuinplaas where you can see the world’s largest knitted jersey in the colours and pattern of the South African flag; it weighs 25 kg and took 250 balls of yarn to complete and is holds the title of a Guinness World Record.
Albertinia is also home to one of South Africa’s champion trees recognised by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; the wild fig tree is known as the Whispering Tree and is one of the ten thickest trees in South Africa.
Something for the foodies:
If your taste buds are in for the adventure then you are in for a surprise, whether you are a vegan, coffee snob, budget eater or gourmet galloper.
Dine for 3 hours at De Vette Mossel on fresh seafood prepared right in front of you, you will not walk out, you will swim out. Munch on vegan, gluten free and meaty pizzas at Jackal on the Beach, for paper-thin crust pizza head for the colourful Boerqi Bistro in Ruitersbos.
Go vegan at Stars Restaurant, Carola Ann’s and Botlierskop after a game drive, or do a vegan (and non-vegan) high tea at Déjà vu Vintage House & Monroe Theatre. Put on your fancy shoes and wine and dine at The Gannet, head for Eight Bells Mountain Inn for a good ol’ fashioned Sunday lunch, have a braai with your feet in the sand at Kaai 4 (without doing the actual braai) and a boma breakfast or dinner experience at Portao Diaz Hotel (a hotel with a rich history as it was the only hotel to accept black and coloured guests during the years of Apartheid).
Experience a candy floss wine tasting at Jakkalsvlei, visit a chocolatier in Groot Brak and have a coffeegasm at one of the many local roasters such as Baruch’s Coffee and Stars Restaurant or do an informative cupping session at Brothers Coffee. Whatever you do, just come hungry. Very hungry.
That was a mouthful of Mossel Bay and the truth is, besides the restaurants, sights, stop and things to do, this is by no means an exhaustive list… there is more to area than one can ever imagine.