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The Garden Route is a popular and scenic stretch of the south-west coast of South Africa. It stretches from Heidelberg in the Western Cape to the Storms River which is crossed along the N2 coastal highway over the Paul Sauer Bridge in the extreme eastern reach of the neighboring Eastern Cape. The name comes from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast. It includes towns such as Mossel Bay, Knysna, Oudtshoorn, Plettenberg Bay, and Nature’s Valley; with George, the Garden Route’s largest city and main administrative center. It has an oceanic climate, with mild to warm summers, and mild to cool winters. It has the mildest climate in South Africa and the second mildest climate in the world, after Hawaii, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Temperatures rarely fall below 10°C in winter and rarely climb beyond 28°C in summer. Rain occurs year-round, with a slight peak in the spring months, brought by the humid sea-winds from the Indian Ocean rising and releasing their precipitation along the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains just inland of the coast.
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The Route is sandwiched between the aforementioned mountains and the Indian Ocean. The Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma indigenous forests are a unique mixture of Cape Fynbos and Temperate Forest and offer hiking trails and eco-tourism activities. Nearly 300 species of bird life are to be found in a variety of habitats ranging from fynbos to forest to wetlands.
Ten nature reserves embrace the varied ecosystems of the area as well as unique marine reserves, home to soft coral reefs, dolphins, seals and a host of other marine life. Various bays along the Garden Route are nurseries to the endangered Southern Right Whale which come there to calve.
Plettenberg Bay, nicknamed Plet or Plett, is in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. As of the census of 2001, there was 29149 population. It was originally named Bahia Formosa (beautiful bay) by early Portuguese explorers and lies on South Africa’s Garden Route 210 km from Port Elizabeth and about 600 km from Cape Town.
Plettenberg Bay hosts one of the largest seagull breeding colonies along the South African coast at the mouth of the Keurboom’s River, named after the indigenous keurboom tree.
Local vegetation varies from Cape Fynbos to indigenous forest further inland.
Whales are a common sight in the bay during their breeding season, while dolphins are frequently seen in the surf.
A delicate flower-shaped sea shell called a pansy shell is endemic to this part of the coast, and is used as the symbol representing the town. Looking for these shells on the beach is a popular activity among visitors and locals alike.
Robberg Peninsula is maintained as a nature reserve, allowing visitors to see many of the area’s local plants and animals.
Plettenberg Bay is typified by an extremely mild maritime temperate climate with very few rainfalls or temperature extremes. It is located within the Knysna Afromontane Forest biome, containing temperate gallery forest, supported by the mild temperatures and high, evenly distributed rainfall. Here follow the records for the closest climate station just to the east in the Tsitsikamma:
* Maximum/minimum temperatures: January: 23°C/17°C; July: 17°C/10°C; rainfall: 945 mm per annum.
The bay is defined on the southern end by Cape Seal at the terminus of the Robberg (Afrikaans for Seal Mountain) Peninsula, separating the bay from the open Indian Ocean. It is one of the southern Cape coast’s typical “J-shaped” bays, which is formed by wave action eroding the shales of the Bokkeveld Group between the weather-resistant headlands composed of the Table Mountain Group, both of the Cape Supergroup geological sequence of rocks. To the north, the Tsitsikamma and Langkloof Mountains keeps the moisture on the southern slopes of the mountains and prevent the temperature extremes of the interior reaching the bay.
A variety of shops, supermarkets, clothing, and entertainment stores cater to both locals and tourists. Plett’s Main Street is home to a number of beach shops selling surfboards, swimming costumes, beach clothes, towels, and other clothing. Due to the region’s access to fresh fish and meat, there are a number of fish shops, butchers, and restaurants downtown.
Long before Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape, Portuguese explorers charted the bay in the 15th and 16th centuries, the first being Bartholomew Dias in 1487. Ninety years later Manuel da Perestrello aptly called it Bahia Formosa or the Beautiful Bay. The first European inhabitants were 100 Portuguese sailors marooned here for 9 months when the San Gonzales sank in the bay in 1630. The survivors built two small boats which they used to link with a passing vessel. A stone that they left behind on Beacon Island, known as the Van Plettenberg Stone, is now in the Cape Town museum. In 1763, the first European settlers in the Bay were stock farmers, hunters, and frontiersmen from the Western Cape.
A stinkwood navigational beacon was first erected on Beacon Island in 1771. The original was a square block of stinkwood, inscribed with the latitude and longitude of Plettenberg Bay and erected to enable mariners to check their location. It was replaced by a stone one by Captain Sewell in 1881.
The bay housed a barracks for the Dutch East India Company in 1776. The Governor of the Cape, Baron Joachim van Plettenberg, renamed the town Plettenberg Bay in 1779. In 1869 it was bought by St Peters Church and used as a rectory for the next 70 years. Today it is presently privately owned.
In 1787/88 by Johann Jerling and the Dutch East India Company, erected a Timber Shed; the remains can still be seen and are preserved as a National Monument.
A whaling station was built on Beacon Island in 1910 but was closed down in 1916. Parts of the iron slipway are still visible today.
A hotel called The Beacon Isle Southern Sun Hotel now stands where the whaling station used to.