Top 5 unique swimming spots in the Garden Route

Summer. Surf. Beach. Waves. Over spring break and summer season, a vacation in the Garden Route is synonymous with swimming, and with over 200km of coastline, you are spoilt for choice.

Off the beaten track to find swimming spots in the Garden Route.

But what if, while planning your swimming site you want something different, a unique experience that will anchor your holiday in your memory banks for eternity? Again, in the Garden Route you are spoilt for choice. Here are five must do swims to plan for the in the Garden Route.

Touws River Water fall in Wilderness – this is a popular swimming location comprising two tiers of rock pools, one below and one above a waterfall. The rivers in the Graden Route are all a distictive dark brown to tea colour, a result of tanin staining from the humus layer of the forest floor and the Fynbos on the mountain slopes. Located in eroded Table Mountain quartzite, these rock pools are ideal for a picnic on a sunny day where you can alternate between cooling off in the water, having a hydro jaccuzi in the cascades and basking in the sun on the warm rock.

Portal Rock and waterfall above the upper rock pool.

The easiest way to access the rock pools are to hike along the Giant Kingfisher Trail from the Ebb and Flow rest camp in Wilderness. An alternative is to hire a canoe and paddle half way up the river and hike the rest of the way.

The trail is managed by SANParks and an entrance fee is required. Wild Cards are also accepted.

  • What to Pack : snacks and drinks, swimming gear.
  • Danger : the rocks up to the top pool can be slippery, secure your valuables (I have dived out lots of smart phones and GoPros).
  • Guiding : can either be self guided or guided

Drup Kelders – For a more intimate river swiming experiance with a group of freinds, Drup Kelders is a rock pool in a steep gorge. A 3.5km hike gets you to the gorge. The final 600m down to the river are steep over exposed roots, but as the forest opens up and exposes the rock pool, it is worth it as you are immeresed into th epitomy of secluded nature. The best part about visiting Drup Kelders is that daily visitors are limited to 12 people per day.

There are two platforms to jump from.

The best section to swim is up stream to a small cascade. Part of the steep rock face overhangs the rock pool and there are a few ledges to jump from. In the shallows there, if you are patient, you can be fortunate enough to see some longfin eels (Anguilla mossambica), coming out of the darker water to search for food on the rock ledge.

Planning :

  • Permits from SANPArks
  • What to Pack : snacks and drinks, swimming gear.
  • Danger : If you plan to jump, first check there are no submerged obsticles.
  • Guiding : can either be self guided or guided

Otter Trail Waterfall : Located along the first stage of the renowned Otter Trail, the waterfall is the limit for day visitors along this iconic trail. The attraction of swimming at the waterfall is that it is one of the few locations that you can swim in fresh water and then cross over into a sea water rockpool.

Swimming in the rock pool below the waterfall along the first day of the Otter Trail.

Getting to the rock pool is medium to difficult and requires boulder hopping and scrambling over rocks along sections. By the time you reach the waterfall you are ready for a swim. The fresh water rock pool is large and has some ledges on the eastern side that are ideal to lie on and soak up the sun. The sea water pool is small, though it does have some colourful marine life and is worthwhile snorkeling in at low tide. At high tide the surge is strong and access over the sharp rocks and mussels must be panned carefully.

Planning :

  • Permits from SANPArks
  • What to Pack : snacks and drinks, swimming gear, dive mask, water shoes to walk on sharp rocks and mussels.
  • Danger : If you plan to jump, first check there are no submerged obsticles. Take note of the tides.
  • Guiding : can either be self guided or guided

Gericke’s Point : A sphinx shaped peninsula west of Swartvlei Beach near Sedgefield with a rock ledge pitted with rock pools. At spring low tides, the rock shelf is exposed and access to the rock pools is easy. Each pool is like swimming in an aquarium and is a perfect place for snorkeling if you aren’t confident to swim in the open sea.

Snorkeling and free diving off the rock shelf east of Gericke’s Point.

From foraging sea stars, rock crabs, darting fish and colourful sea urchins, it is easy to spend a few hours exporing the marine life up close.

Planning :

  • What to Pack : snacks and drinks, swimming gear.
  • Danger : Check the tide tables and plan swimming an hour before low spring tides. Be alert to random waves and that incoming tides can be dangerous. .
  • Guiding : Snorkeling can either be self guided or guided.

Fern Pool on the Woodcutter Trail : Fern Pool is a rock pool lined by ferns and tree ferns with a wall of moss covered cascades running into it. As with all rivers in the Garden Route, the water is a dark brown colour with dramatic white foam patterns across the surface.

The perfect nature getaway for a forest swim.

Fern Pool does require some effort to get to as is located close to the 5Km marker on the 9Km Woodcutter Trail loop. The walk in is well worth the effort, with a combined swim and snack break the perfect stop to escape the demands of everyday life. An added bonus is that if you are observant on the return section of the trail you may be fortunate enough to see elephant dung, evidence that these magestical forest giants do indeed exist and that they may even visit the river that feeds the rock pool for a drink. Who knows, maybe they even swim in a pool upstream. 

Planning :

  • Permits from SANPArks
  • What to Pack : snacks and drinks, swimming gear.
  • Danger : There are two submerged logs and it is advisable not to dive or jump into the pool.
  • Located on the 9Km loop of the Woodcutter Trail, also known as the Circles in the Forest Trail.
  • The pool is not marked – as you cross the river /stream there is a path to the left. Follow it for 20m through the ferns to the pool.
  • Guiding : can either be self guided or guided.

Kloofing or canyoning : Not a destination specific activity as such, kloofing (the Afrikaans term for canyoning) is the perfect way to explore some of the rivers in the Garden Route. A popular route is from the Seven passes Road down to the Kaaimans River. Kloofing can either be done as a group of freinds or with a commercial outfit.

Swimming in one of the large rock pools while Kloofing down the Wolverivier.

A combination of hiking, wading and swimming, a number of rivers with their deep valleys and steep gorges and dark pools are an energetic way to have an all round aquatic experience in the Garden Route.

Planning :

  • Permits may be required from SANPArks depending on which river you choose. Respect all private property that you traverse.
  • What to Pack : snacks and drinks, swimming gear and water shoes with good grip.
  • Danger : All the rivers in the Garden Route have dark tannin stained water and it is advisable not to jump or dive into any pools without first checking for submerged objects.
  • Guiding : can either be self guided or guided.

Plan your nature experience in the Garden Route :

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