Written by James Bainbridge
Mossel Bay lies at the western end of South Africa’s famous Garden Route holiday strip, where the Outeniqua Mountains overlook old-growth forests, beaches and lagoons. The town is one of the Garden Route’s most popular holiday centers, especially during the busy summer season. What can visitors to Mossel Bay do and what should they expect in summer?
Activities on Land and Sea
Complaints of boredom are not a fact of life for this activity-packed seaside town. Indeed, with activities ranging from wildlife drives to skydiving, the local tourist slogan used to be quite simply: ‘Do stuff’. That catchphrase has been replaced by ‘162,000 years of holidays’ – a reference to the Point of Human Origins, where the caves hold tools and other evidence of early human habitation. In this down-to-earth holiday resort, choose between surfing, diving, sailing, shark-cage diving, walking some of the Oystercatcher hiking trail and taking a boat trip to Seal Island. And that’s without even leaving town.
Gateway to the Garden Route
Mossel Bay is a convenient base for enjoying the whole Garden Route region, which stretches around 200km/124mi east to Storms River. While staying in Mossel Bay, you’ll likely hit the N2 highway a few times to visit nearby attractions such as Inverroche, which began South Africa’s craft gin craze with its fynbos-infused spirits. There are a few malaria-free private game reserves offering day visits, including Botlierskop, Garden Route, Hartenbos and Indalu, with an elephant sanctuary at the latter.
The forests and hiking trails of the Garden Route National Park are within day-tripping distance, as are the Wild Oats and Timberlake food markets in the Sedgefield area. Another popular day out is George’s Outeniqua Power Van, a motorized trolley ride through farmland and over rivers to Groot Brakrivier. With activities from Klipheuwel bike park to South Africa’s longest sandboard ride, the Mossel Bay area brings a smile to everyone from families to adventurers.
The Garden Route is the top holiday choice for many South Africans, drawing holidaymakers from Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and beyond. Given that the country’s major summer holiday falls between mid-December and mid-January, it’s essential to book well ahead to visit around Christmas. If you can, book a year ahead. Alternatively, plan your visit for a quieter and cheaper period of summer, which lasts from roughly November to March. It’s a standing South African joke that the N1 highway from Gauteng province, where the big cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria are located, fills with a festive charge of cars with GP (Gauteng) number plates. Their trailers are usually laden with boats, braais (barbecues) and other holiday essentials.
That said, if you do visit Mossel Bay during the peak season, it is possible to navigate the busy town. Get up early to avoid the beach traffic and book ahead for the popular restaurants at the Point. With mountains and beaches surrounding town, it’s also easy to escape the crowds on a short drive. Head over the Robinson Pass towards Oudtshoorn, stopping for afternoon tea at Eight Bells Inn and for padkos (road snacks) at the zebra-patterned Ruiterbos Farm Stall. Canoe the serene waterways around Wilderness or hike through indigenous coastal forest in the Unesco-listed Goukamma Nature Reserve. At the end of the day, head back to Mossel Bay to enjoy a sundowner (drink while watching the sunset) and join the party atmosphere.
Layout and History
If you’re coming from Cape Town, Mossel Bay initially looks a little unprepossessing, due to some industrial development to the west of town. However, follow the signs to Mosselbaai, as the town is known in Afrikaans, and you’ll quickly forget that first impression. The main road to the center is lined with the usual services, but there are views of beaches, waterfront campsites and the Indian Ocean beyond.
The road reaches a wonderful conclusion at the Point, where surf breaks, and mini-golf and cold beer await. Before that is the town center, which has a pleasantly laidback and historic feel, mixing antique shops and inviting cafes with everyday small-town life. Mossel Bay is at its most historic in the Dias Museum Complex, which marks the spot where Europeans first set foot in South Africa. Bartolomeu Dias’ Portuguese crew came ashore in 1488, on their expedition to find a trade route to India. Send a postcard from the ‘post box tree’, where sailors once left notes for each other. Or board the replica of Dias’ caravel (Portuguese sailing boat), which was built in 1988 and sailed here from Portugal.
Going on a Summer Holiday
Amid all the hiking and canoeing, boat trips and safaris, don’t forget that Mossel Bay holidays are really about lounging on the beach. Generations of South Africans come here for the simple pleasures of sandy toes, ice cream and splashing in the waves. On the town’s Santos and Diaz Beaches, it’s easy to agree with the old Afrikaans saying, dis lekker by die see – it’s lovely by the sea.