Plettenberg Bay | Garden Route

Plettenberg Bay | Garden Route

The seaside town of Plettenberg Bay, usually known just as Plett, is often considered to epitomise South Africa’s Garden Route, with pristine stretches of beach, plus lakes, mountains and rivers all within easy reach. In the area you’ll also find opportunities for a variety of outdoor activities, including the world’s highest bungee jump, a high-level canopy walk in the forest, and great whale-watching. Also nearby is the Robberg Nature Reserve, with its colony of Cape fur seals.

Geography of Plettenberg Bay

The Garden Route town of Plettenberg Bay, home to more than 50,000 people, stands on the rocky Robberg Peninsula right above the ocean. From this vantage point, there are great views of beaches, lagoons and the local indigenous forests.

Just a five-minute drive from Plettenberg Bay, the long, narrow Keurbooms Lagoon sits at the mouths of the Keurbooms and Bitou rivers, just before they flow into the ocean. The lagoon separates the centre of Plett from its dispersed northern suburb of Keurboomstrand. The area has a number of lovely beaches, including Central Beach, Robberg Beach, Robberg 5 and Keurboomstrand – at all of which you can organise activities.

Where to stay in Plettenberg Bay: hotels and guesthouses

We offer a good variety of accommodation in Plettenberg Bay ranging from small, personal B&Bs through to top-end lodges and hotels. Some of our suggestions are in stunning, seafront locations. See our selection of the best options in Where to stay.

National parks, reserves and major attractions

The Plettenberg Bay area has quite a range of national parks and nature reserves, each with different habitats, vegetation and wildlife. Here many of the activities are popular with birdwatchers, photographers and families. Some of the most obvious attractions include:

(NB: While some of these – like Monkeyland and Birds of Eden – are not the kind of wildlife attractions that usually appeal to Expert Africa’s travellers, as outings for young children, we have found them to be excellent.)

Keurbooms Nature Reserve

The Keurbooms River Nature Reserve starts about 5km northeast of Plettenberg Bay and stretches up the river for some 5-6km. The word keurboom comes from the local keurboom tree, which produces pretty pink-mauve flowers from August to September and again in December.

Keurbooms Lagoon

Immediately below the smart town of Plettenberg Bay there’s a lovely beach – which stands on Keurbooms Lagoon. (See our Google map to understand the geography better) This lagoon continues north for a few kilometres, separated from the ocean by a narrow, bush covered sand spit, and is a favourite of birdwatchers. More than 200 species have been recorded here, from orange-breasted sunbirds to narina trogons and African black oystercatchers.

This is a lovely spot for family excursions: a series of stunning sandy beaches with many picnic spots, sheltered swimming, and opportunities for other water activities including fishing, boating, canoeing, windsurfing and kite-surfing.

Robberg Nature Reserve

The Robberg Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a long, broad peninsula, which conserves several coastal habitats – rocky areas, sandy beaches and subtidal rocky platforms. It protects many species, including the rare blue duiker (the Western Cape’s smallest antelope) and a range of vulnerable fish species.

Robberg was first named decades ago due to the huge number of seals (rob means seal in Afrikaans, and bergis the word for hill or mountain). The peninsula is an excellent viewpoint not only for seals, but also for Bryde’s whales and southern right whales, common and bottlenose dolphins, orcas and great white sharks.

The rocks here date back 120 million years and in some of the caves along this peninsula there is evidence of middle- and late-Stone Age habitation. Within Robberg Reserve you can do a variety of activities, including hiking, walking and kayaking – the latter a very popular way of getting close to the marine mammals swimming close to the rocky shore.

Monkeyland

Monkeyland opened in 1998, in the Crags area, east of Plettenberg Bay. It consists of a single massive enclosure within which is a large area of indigenous forest – populated by more than 400 individuals from 11 different species of primates, most of them actually not African species. These, and a few other non-primates, live together freely.

Among the animals here you’ll find capuchin, howler, vervet, saki and spider monkeys, plus hanuman and spectacled langurs, and gibbons. Visitors usually join small groups to walk through the area, led by a ranger who knows the various monkeys, and the walk usually includes crossing a 128-metre-long suspension bridge, level with the forest canopy.

Birds of Eden

Birds of Eden is another wildlife attraction built around a fully-enclosed natural valley. It’s a massive and very impressive construction. It claims to be the largest ‘single dome free-flight aviary’ in the world, with around 3,500 birds from about 200 different species. Here you’ll find parrots, turacos, toucans, ibises, flamingos and hornbills, along with some mammals and various species of flowering plant. Some of the animals are extremely tame!

Flora and fauna around Plettenberg Bay

Thanks to many and varied habitats – national parks and nature reserves, the river, the lagoon, the beaches and the coast – this area is host to a good numbers of marine mammals, along with varied fish and birds.

Plettenberg Bay’s vegetation

Plettenberg Bay is located in an area with many reserves, which host a wide range of wildlife and habitats. Plettenberg Bay embraces two of the natural biomes in South Africa, such as fynbos and forest.

In the Keurbooms Nature Reserve you'll find keurboom trees growing on the coastal forest edges, along with indigenous forest, wetlands and fynbos. Within Birds of Eden and Monkeyland, you’ll see a vast range of shrubs and flowering plants.

Plettenberg Bay's animals

The area around Plettenberg Bay doesn’t have any big game, but there is wildlife to be seen. If you’re lucky you’ll spot blue duikers, Egyptian fruit bats, eastern grey squirrels, bushpigs, baboons, vervet monkeys, bushbuck and mongooses. The commonest species of reptiles include dwarf chameleons and (up in the trees, thank goodness!) boomslangs. In the Keurbooms Nature Reserve you'll find Cape clawless otters and several varieties of small antelope.

Meanwhile, more than 100 species of fish are known to occur along Plettenberg coast, including double sash butterflyfish, galjoen, yellow belly and rock cod on reefs. Beside the fish, some of the finest soft coral reefs in the world are found here along with sponges, starfish and many shellfish including an endemic Pansy shell. It’s a distinctive flower-shaped seashell and the symbol representing the town.

Regarding to wildlife, the marine mammals are a real feature of the area. The Robberg Peninsula is home to a large Cape fur seal colony and here great white sharks can also be spotted from the peninsula. From various viewpoints in the town as well as from Robberg Peninsula you can spot southern right and humpback whales from July to December. Some mammals can be seen throughout the year, including Bryde's whales; and dolphins, including bottlenose, common and humpback dolphins.
Killer and sei whales are occasionally sighted in the bay.

Plettenberg Bay’s birdlife

More than 260 species of birds have been sited in Plettenberg area. The many parks and reserves in Plettenberg Bay boast a variety of birdlife thanks to the different habitats, including orange-breasted sunbird in the fynbos, the elusive narina trogon in the forest and the African black oystercatcher on the Plettenberg Bay beaches.

The Keurbooms lagoon hosts more than 200 species and attracts estuary and freshwater birds such as African fish eagles, kingfishers, African darters and Egyptian geese.

Plettenberg Bay hosts one of the largest seagull breeding colonies along the South African coast around Keurbooms River and along the shores there are many pelagic birds in the area as well as African oystercatchers.

Of course, at Birds of Eden there is a huge variety of either ground living or arboreal birds – some native to this area, others from across the globe. Travellers get amazingly close to the birds here – and we found being close to flamingos amazing, and some of the parrots and parakeets particularly endearing.

History

Middle Stone Age people first inhabited the area around Garden Route’s Plettenberg Bay and they lived in a series of caves along the coastline for more than 100,000 years.

The first Europeans in Plettenberg Bay were 100 men stranded here for nine months when the San Gonzales sank in 1630. Then in 1763 the first Europeans settlers came to the bay; they were stock farmers, hunters and frontiersmen from the Western Cape.

Plettenberg Bay has had many names over the past 500 years. In 1448, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias called it the 'Bay of Lagoons'. In 1576, his countryman, Manuel da Mesquita Perestrello, called it 'Bahia Formosa', which means beautiful bay. Later the Dutch also gave the bay different names, including Content Bay and Pisang River Bay. It was only in 1778 that it was named Plettenberg Bay, after Governor Joachim von Plettenberg, who opened a timber post on the shores of the bay and incorporated it under the administrative sovereignty of the Dutch-East India Trading Company in 1778.

What to do and see: activities around Plettenberg Bay

Plettenberg offers a wide range of activities in the area. Aside from the attactions mentioned above, other activities possible include:
  • Bungee Jumping: the highest commercial bungee jump in the world is at Bloukrans River Bridge.
  • Rock angling: sites include Nature's Valley, Keurbooms, Lookout Rocks, Beacon Island and Robberg Beach. Anglers can expect to catch galjoen, steenbras, tuna, hake and calamari.
  • Mountain biking: the Harkerville Cycle Route is a popular route; it’s a good area for mountain biking.
  • Hiking: there are many hikes and short walks in the area: Robberg Peninsula is particularly good.
  • Wild Waters Park: an adventure park, especially for children, in the Piesang River Valley.
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