Little Karoo & Garden Route
The Little Karoo’s boundaries are sharply defined by mountain ranges to the west, north, and south. Its extent is much smaller than that of the Great Karoo.
The Little Karoo is separated from the Great Karoo by the Swartberg Mountain range. Geographically, it is a 290-km-long valley, only 40–60 km wide, formed by two parallel Cape Fold Mountain ranges, the Swartberg to the north, and the continuous Langeberg-Outeniqua range to the south.
The northern strip of the valley, within 10–20 km from the foot of the Swartberg mountains is least karoo-like, in that it is a well-watered area both from the rain and the many streams that cascade down the mountain, or through narrow defiles in the Swartberg from the Great Karoo.
The main towns of the region are situated along the northern strip : Montagu, Barrydale, Ladismith, Calitzdorp, Oudtshoorn, and De Rust.
The Little Karoo can only be accessed by road through the narrow defiles cut through the surrounding Cape Fold Mountains by ancient, but still flowing, rivers.
A few roads traverse the mountains over passes, the most famous and impressive of which is the Swartberg Pass between Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo and Prince Albert on the other side of the Swartberg mountains in the Great Karoo.
Also, the main road between Oudtshoorn and George, on the coastal plain, crosses the mountains to the south via the Outeniqua Pass. The only exit from the Little Karoo that does not involve crossing a mountain range is through the 150-km-long, narrow Langkloof valley between Uniondale and Humansdorp, near Plettenberg Bay.
The Garden Route stretches from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the 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 Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Mossel Bay, Great Brak River, Little Brak River, Wilderness, Sedgefield and Nature’s Valley; with George, the Garden Route’s largest city and main administrative centre.
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.
The Route is sandwiched between Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains and the Indian Ocean, with mountain passes, including the Outeniqua Pass, linking the area with the arid Little Karoo.
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.