How to escape from the crowds in Knysna, South Africa

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Knysna is the ultimate holiday destination which means that loads of people flock there over the holidays. Sometimes the vibe starts to feel a little manic, the action somewhat frenzied, the crowds, the noise and the traffic overwhelming. It’s time for a change of pace. Here are 10 ways to enjoy Knysna that will not leave you stressed, frustrated, and yearning for peace and quiet.

Escape to Thesen island and the Turbine Hotel

From the busy Knysna Waterfront, a 365m bridge over the water will welcome you to the relative calm of Thesen Island. Once a gritty industrial area and hub of the timber industry, it was converted into the Thesen Island Harbour Town, a magnificent marina development that was awarded Blue Flag status in 2013.

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Cars are only seen around the shopping mall and restaurant area, the rest of the island is linked by canals, waterways, pedestrian paths and nineteen bridges.

The Turbine Hotel on Thesen Island is masterpiece that will enthral anyone with an interest in architecture, design and engineering. This twenty four roomed boutique hotel manages to blend industrial edginess, five star luxury and local history into a refreshingly different place to stay in. Read more about the Turbine Hotel and restoration here.

The hotel is a skilful conversion of the old power station. Due to the heritage status of the building the exterior is unchanged, but the interior is what makes it unforgettable.

Brightly coloured tables and chairs share space with massive, freshly painted wood boilers, generators and turbines. A huge chain hoist and hook is a feature in the Tapas Bar and the dials and switches of the control panel situated behind the reception desk beg to be examined.

Metal stairs lead up to a grid walkway and one of the wood boilers, restored to pristine condition. The surrounding walls have stories to tell. Framed newspaper cuttings, some dating back to the early nineteen hundreds provide insight into a different time in history.  An old 1:50 000 map of Knysna shows how much the entire area has developed over the years.

A swimming pool that looks over the canals, fine dining at the Island Café and a peaceful sleep uninterrupted by traffic noise make the Turbine a tranquil haven for your base in Knysna.

Find peace on the water

A sunset Cruise from the Thesen Island canals to the Knysna Heads with Turbine Water Club pontoons is a relaxing way to explore the marine eco- system, or just float mindlessly and take in the view. The bubbly and canapé’s served on board  add a decadent touch to the fresh sea air and the stunning views.

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Celebrate the sunrise

In summer first light is around 5 am, the perfect time to take one of the bright red canoes out for a paddle on the waterways, sharing space only with the birds. Head out to the open waters of the lagoon and watch the Pied Kingfishers having breakfast. Nature puts on some great displays as these birds hover in the air before diving for fish. By 8am you can be back at the hotel enjoying a stack of pancakes and a cappuccino, completing the feeling of utter contentment.

Discover the views

A drive to Knysna heads is a must if you find gazing at the ocean therapeutic. The Knysna Heads are two cliffs that rise up to 80 meters on either side of the narrow opening where the lagoon meets the sea. A short walk from the car park leads to various view points and gives a great orientation and overview of the Knysna area. Less popular, but a favourite place of mine are the Heads at sea level. A restaurant and a rocky beach lead to a cave like rock where the water echoes as it rolls in and out. Red starfish and sea urchins are easy to spot in the cave, but first prize goes to the Fish Eagle who paused briefly on a wooden pole, calling to his mate.

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Explore on two wheels

A trip with Knysna Hike and Bike is not your average cycle tour. It starts with cake and cappuccino at a café with Anne and Mandy, Knysna locals and accredited professional tour guides. The pace is comfortable and the stops en route are unusual. A bit of effort was required to get up the hill in the industrial area but the reward was a beer tasting with The Red Bridge Brewing Co. This natural hand brewed beer is a celebration of everything about Knysna.

The Pioneer Series pays tribute to the Prospectors, Mariners and Woodcutters who shaped the town as we know it, and the ethos of this brewery is all about the community, from sourcing staff and ingredients to branding and manufacturing of bottles, crates and apparel. The beer is great too. The Privateer IPA is as good as any bitter, the Prospector Golden Ale is lighter and thirst quenching but the Woodcutter Saison Ale is the ultimate in craft beer. Subtle citrus undertones blend perfectly with hops and malt, this beer is best ordered by the jug, with a case or six to take home.

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Visit the Knysna sea horses

These curious little creatures can be found at the SANPARKS office on Thesen Island. At just 7cm in length they are small in stature but big on design.

They are an endangered species, but could they also be suffering from an identity crisis

They have the exo -skeleton of an insect, and an internal skeleton of bones like a human. As water creatures they have fins and gills, but also have a pouch in their midsection just like a kangaroo, and sport a monkey like tail that is used for gripping. Their chameleon style eyes move independently and can see in all directions. Sea horses mate for life and the male is the one who gives birth. They seem a little shy but if you stand quietly at the tanks that house them you will be enchanted by these delicate, fairy-tale creatures.

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Knysna Hike and Bike can tailor make your ride to suit your interests and focus on beer, wine, gourmet food or anything else you can dream up.

Head for the hills

A 25 km drive from the centre of Knysna will take you into the heart of the Millwood Forest where the trees soar, paths lead to waterfalls across golden coloured rivers and signs warn of the dangers of entering the old mining tunnels. Guided by an expert in the area from the Rheenendal Ramble tour company, the history of the woodcutters is brought to life, and the flora and fauna of the area explained, including tales of the elusive Knysna elephants, three of whom are definitely still living here.

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Forests are mystical and healing and Millwood is no exception, green, dense and silent apart from the sound of the rain splashing the top of the forest canopy but unable to penetrate the thick foliage.

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Eat like your grandma once did

Lunch at the inimitable Totties Farm Kitchen is a feast for all the senses. The original store that served the woodcutters with their basic requirements still trades today and the buildings are a hodge podge of corrugated iron, stripped plank ceilings and mismatched window frames. Old photographs and memorabilia are dotted all around the interior and the gardens, and it is difficult to decide what to do first, eat or explore.

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Indulge your senses

The ultimate in relaxation is a pamper session at the Amani African Spa, situated at the Turbine Hotel. Their signature kurhala ritual is a blissful ninety minutes of a full body and face massage coupled with a pressure point foot treatment that leaves you feeling like a new person.

Let Accommodation Direct help you find your ultimate hideaway. Deep in a forest, overlooking a beach or down a quiet dusty road, they will find the bed in the setting that matches your dreams.

Save time by flying

Knysna is a 6-hour drive from Cape Town or as I recently discovered a 45 minute flight from Cape Town with Airlink.
Airlink – the Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA

Route Specific Information:  Direct scheduled flights between Cape Town and Durban to George.

Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travellers can connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.

Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways (SAA) Loyalty programme -Voyager.

Website:  http://www.flyairlink.com

Flight Bookings:  online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations +27 11 978 1111.

Disclosure My stay was hosted by the Turbine Hotel, this article first appeared on AFK Travel website.

Slow living on the Garden Route.

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The Garden Route is the name given to a stretch of coastline, mountains and forests that extends from Albertina to Storms River, in the Southern Cape region of Western Cape province in South Africa. Best known for the very popular towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, the whole area is ridiculously attractive and positively overflowing with golf courses, nature reserves, game and safari ranches, wildlife sanctuaries, water sports, hiking trails and scenic routes.

I recently spent eight days in a few of the small villages in the area, where life is lived at a slower pace.

Wilderness

Boardwalk at Wilderness

Imagine a beach with sand so white it hurts your eyes to look at it.  Black rocks, sand dunes covered in green and flowering succulents, fynbos covered mountains rising up from the coastline and roads and a railway line cut into the rock. Houses look on to the dark tannin stained waters of the Touws River, boardwalks beckon and bird calls fill the air. Looking up you will often see para-gliders floating on the thermals above this natural playground, sharing space with Fish Eagles, Reed Cormorants, Kingfishers and Spoonbills.  Welcome to the Wilderness.  A place for walking shoes, canoes, binoculars and your bathing costume.

Much of the greater Wilderness area is part of the Garden Route National Park which consists of rivers, forests, beaches and lakes. The Wilderness camp offers accommodation and an information office that has useful information on the various hiking trails, MTB Routes, bird hides and other activities within the Park.

Until 2007 a steam train ran between George and Knysna, crossing the iconic Kaaiman’s River Bridge.  Extreme flooding after a storm caused a landslide that covered a small section of the tracks high above the Wilderness beach.  Since then the steam train no longer operates but part of this railway route can now be enjoyed on foot.

Kaaimans Railway Bridge

Starting at the old Wilderness station follow the train tracks as they climb into the mountainside, weave through tunnels and afford fantastic views of the beaches. Take time to stop and examine the fynbos and flowers, listen to the birds, breathe in the air and enjoy the contrasts as you wander from sun to shade and into the chill of the tunnels.  Scramble down the rough path to the little village of Victoria Bay to watch the surfers and enjoy an ice cream before heading back. A highlight is crossing the old bridge over the Kaaimans River. I was petrified as I am afraid of heights, but it was both heart stopping and worthwhile. The round trip is about 7km.

Just 7 km inland and about 200m above sea level is the rural area of Hoekwil,  and the tranquillity of the 7 Passes Tented Camp. Forests and farmlands thrive side by side in these hills.  This is the place to truly get away from it all. Hikes, easy walks, bird watching or just lazing on the deck of your tent set on a stilted platform in the trees overlooking the lake.

Sedgefield

In “Sedgies” you will find your sanity. Slow living is celebrated in this official “slow town.” Time is not measured, nature is savoured, and shoes are optional. Slow living encompasses all aspects of life, from finding a healthy balance between work and play, to embracing the community,  conserving the environment and respecting the seasons.

mosaic at Gerikes point

Sedgefield is built around a lagoon and the beach so a water view is almost always an option. Friendliness is the default setting of the locals and you quickly become accustomed to being greeted by everyone.

It is easy to spend all day wandering along the beaches, marveling at the fossilized dunes at Gerrike’s Point, spotting birds while walking along the lagoon towards the sea, or driving around town and stopping at the mosaic installations which are part of a community project. There is plenty to explore for free, but if you like you can add a tour  guide which will create a richer experience.

Saturday mornings are for rising early as it is market day.The Mosaic Market, The Wild Oats Farmers Market and the Scarab Village Market all converge just outside of town and it is a festival of shopping for locals, tourists and residents of the surrounding towns.  Fresh and home grown local produce is sold out fast, breakfast, brunch, lunch and snacks are consumed at the huge variety of stalls. Crafts, art, wine, beer, clothing and almost anything else you can imagine is sold here.

My personal favourite is the Currywurst from Wurst Express, and I never leave without a few bottles of Jan’s special sauce.

If you are visiting the area, you absolutely must include a Saturday in Sedgefield.

Lakes near sedgefield

Injured or human imprinted birds of prey find a safe haven at Radical Raptors , an education and rehabilitation centre situated on the N2 approaching Plettenberg Bay.Flying displays are offered three times a day at 11am, 1pm and 3pm and are educational and entertaining. Dennis is clearly passionate about these birds and a staunch conservationist as well.

He explains that birds raised by humans are unable to be released into the wild as they would not have the instincts or skills needed to survive. These birds need to be exercised and they are used in the educational displays. Dennis knows each bird intimately and he is spot on in his description of their different personalities. The Rock Kestrel loves to show off and swoops and swirls gracefully for the small audience. The Crowned Eagle wants to be in charge, and even when tempted with food will only fly when she feels like it. My favourite, the Spotted Eagle Owl is cheeky and swoops over our heads brushing our hair before circling for another round. Dennis offers us a glove and we extend our arms for an up close look at the various birds as the fly in and perch inches from our faces. . This visit taught me a lot about rat poisons and other pesticides and the huge threat they pose to these glorious birds.

Nature’s Valley

This exquisite area is only slightly tamed, nature is in charge here.  From 250m above sea level at the National Road, a narrow pass curls and bends through a tangled forest for 12 km before giving you a sneak preview of a jaw dropping beach unmarred by too many footprints.

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Conservationists will love this area as there are numerous sanctuaries within a 20km drive.This small settlement consists of about 10 narrow streets laid out in a dense forest that leads to the beautiful beach.  I stayed at Lily Pond Lodge which is on the road that leads to the village.

I met the dynamic Lara Mostert, one of the passionate wildlife activists behind Birds of Eden, Monkeyland and Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary. Lara took me on a guided tour around Birds of Eden talking with pride and passion about the 3500 birds now living here. The area is 2.17 hectares of trees, waterfalls, a river and dams, creating a very natural feel to a controlled environment. The birds can fly fairly freely as in parts the huge mesh enclosure is 35 metres high.

Monkeyland operates on a similar system, with lemurs, vervets and capuchin just a few of the curious primates you can see as you walk through the tree paths.

Jukani is where you will find the big cats, lion, cheetah, black and snow leopard and caraculs. Each animal has a sad story to tell and although very educational a visit is a very sobering experience.

All the sanctuaries mentioned are opposed to any human interaction and exploitation of the animals. No petting or touching is permitted, and no breeding or selling takes place.

The accommodation options on the Garden Route are endless, from Hotels, backpackers and golf lodges to game farms, beach houses, self catering  cottages, tree houses and log cabins. Find the perfect base for your Garden Route exploring with Accommodation Direct.

It’s as easy as click, book, pack and go.

Answers to destination confusion. Western Cape tourism regions

Western Cape Regions

The Western Cape is divided into 6 tourism regions listed below, and some people have a fairly good idea of where they are.

Cape Town  |The Cape Winelands  | The Garden Route & Klein Karoo  

The Overberg  | The West Coast  | The Central Karoo

Western Cape Tourism Areas

These main regions are broken down further into municipal districts, and to many people, a confusion of overlapping named routes, areas, valleys and towns.

This is not a definitive list of every town in the Western Cape, but rather a guide to what is where, and a compelling argument for the value of a good map.

1. CAPE TOWN:

Cape Town refers to 8 areas namely the City Centre, the Atlantic Seaboard, the Southern Suburbs, the Northern Suburbs, the South Peninsula, the Blaauwberg Coast, the Cape Flats and the Helderberg.

Confusing  The CBD or City Centre is also referred to as the City Bowl. The Bo Kaap refers to a neighbourhood of few streets in the city, rich in Muslim history and culture. De Waterkant Village is on the Fan Walk that links the city and the Cape Town Stadium. It is home to the trendy Cape Quarter shopping or lifestyle centre, bars, pubs, clubs, coffee shops and restaurants.

More confusing. The Helderberg is the area around Somerset West, 44 km away from Cape Town. The Helderberg is also a region of the Stellenbosch Wine Route which falls under the Cape Winelands tourism region.  http://www.wineroute.co.za/

The Southern Suburbs is where the Constantia Wine Route is, http://www.constantiawineroute.co.za/ while the Northern Suburbs is where you will find the Durbanville Wine Routehttp://www.durbanvillewine.co.za/

The South Peninsula is where you would experience the Cape Point Route http://www.capepointroute.co.za/ and the visit the Republic of Hout Bay.

That is CAPE TOWN,  the least confusing of them all.

2. THE CAPE WINELANDS.

Where do we start. This does not just refer to Stellenbosch and Paarl, so lets do the first area breakdown of 5 district municipalities that are being used for tourism destination marketing.

Witzenberg refers to the towns of Ceres, Tulbagh, Wolseley. Here you will find the Tulbagh wine route, nice and easy.  http://www.tulbaghwineroute.com/

Confusing  Some of the wine estates here are part of the Breedekloof Wine Route. ( see Breede River Valley)

Drakenstein refers to Paarl and Wellington and logically the Paarl Wine Route and the Wellington Wine Route.  http://www.wellington.co.za/

Many estates on the Paarl Wine Route seem to be listed as part of the Stellenbosch Wine Route while others are part of Paarl Vintners.  http://www.paarlwine.co.za/

Stellenbosch refers to the town of Stellenbosch.

Very confusing  Stellenbosch Wine Route takes confusion to a new level, having 5 sub routes named Greater Simonsberg, which overlaps with Paarl, which is part of Drakenstein, and includes the Dwarsriver Valley in case you were wondering, Helderberg which as we previously mentioned is part of Cape Town, and Bottelary Hills which is a name unknown to most Capetonians, let alone visitors.

 le confusion  The town of Franschhoek  falls within the Stellenbosch district, however they seem to stick to Franshhoek Wine Valley and  Vignerons de Franschhoek for their marketing.  http://franschhoek.org.za/vignerons-de-franschhoek/

Breede Valley is code for the towns of Worcester, Rawsonville, Touwsrivier and De Doorns. Within the Breede Valley http://www.bvmt.co.za   we have Breedekloof which is  the Rawsonville and Goudini area, The Hex River Valley which covers the De Doorns area.

Langeberg is the collective noun for the towns of Robertson,http://www.robertsontourism.co.za   Montagu, McGregor and Ashton. Here we have the Robertson Valley Wine Route.  http://www.robertsonwinevalley.com/

Route 62.  This is apparently the longest wine route in the world. It goes through most regions of the Western Cape and into a whole new province, the Eastern Cape.

Confusing  Only a small section of Route 62 is on the road designated R62, this is the area of 237km between Montagu and Oudtshoorn. The total distance of the R62 route is 850km.

When travelling on Route 62 you could be on any number of these roads depending on the area you are in. R46, R44, R310, R60, R317, R43, R341, R339  http://www.route62.co.za/

3.  THE OVERBERG

The Overberg is synonymous with Whale watching, Shark cage diving, Cape Agulhas where the 2 oceans meet, (not Cape Point as so often incorrectly told) and Hermanus, a coastal town and tourist delight. http://www.hermanustourism.info/

Confusion. Also referred to as the Overberg Coast or Whale Coast, yet 50% of the towns in the Overberg are over 80km away from the nearest coastline.

Recently I have encountered a partial breakdown of the Overberg region into the  following areas. Cape Agulhas area which includes the towns of Arniston, Bredasdorp, Elim. L’Agulhas, Napier and Struisbaai. The Cape Whale Coast which encompasses Gansbaai, Hangklip, Stanford, and Hermanus, and then we have The Greater Swellendam area http://www.swellendamtourism.co.za/   which includes all the inland towns and villages of Barrydale, Swellendam, Malgas, Stormsvlei and Buffeljachts River, and the coastal village of Infanta.

Vaguely confusing   Wine routes in the Overberg region go by the following names. The newest name is the Cape South Coast wine area.Other wine routes include the Elgin Valley Wine Route, http://www.elginwine.co.za/  the Hemel en Aarde wine valley or the Hermanus Wine Route, http://hermanuswineroute.com/  Stanford wine route and Bot River Wines, many of the Bot River estates are also covered by the Green Mountain Eco Route.  http://www.greenmountain.co.za/wine.html

More confusing  Villiersdorp, a town in the Overberg, falls under the Worcester Wine Route which is the the Cape Winelands region

4.  THE WEST COAST

The West Coast is divided  into 6 areas as follows. The Swartland, The Peninsula,  Bergrivier,  Cederberg,  Matzikama and the Hardeveld. Confusion. The name Matzikama ?

The West Coast wine route seems to be the major wine cellars in the  whole tourism region.

The Swartland area includes the towns of Darling, Malmesbury, Riebeek- Kasteel and Riebeek-West, Moorreesburg and Yzerfontein.

It is home to the Swartland Wine and Olive Route http://www.swartlandwineroute.co.za/   as well as the Swartland Revolutionhttp://www.theswartlandrevolution.com/ and the Darling Wine and Art Route.

Confusion. The Peninsula area is not to be confused with the Cape Peninsula in Cape Town. This region is about 150km away and is the Cape West Coast Peninsula and includes the “Jewel of the West Coast” Langebaan. Home to golf, water sports, seafood and most outdoor activities you could think of. The West Coast National Park and the West Coast Fossil Park are both in this area.  http://www.capewestcoastpeninsula.co.za/

Bergriver area is obviously named after the river which starts in the Franschhoek area, which is miles away from the West Coast. However it is not too confusing and has a number of quaint towns, riverside accommodation and loads of natural beauty.

Cederberg area is where you will find the incredible mountain range of the same name, as well as the Olifants River Valley. Rooibos Tea, citrus fruit, wine and seclusion define this area. The towns of Clanwilliam, Citrusdal, Lamberts Bay, Leipoldtville and Lutzville are in this area.

Confusion. The Olifants River Valley wine route covers a large part of this area but also includes the Matzikama area to the North and the Bergrivier area to the South. http://www.cederberg.com/

Matzikama is probably not the easiest name to remember. It means “place of water”.

Confusion  This area is also referred to as Southern Namaqualand.  Vredendal, Van Rhynsdorp, Lutzville, Klawer, Doringbaai, Nuwerus, and Strandfontein are the towns you will find here. Wines, wild flowers, whale watching and unspoiled beaches in this area which becomes more sparsely populated as you head North. http://tourismcapetown.co.za/leisure-travel/sub_region/namaqua-west-coast

Hardeveld area is in the extreme North and is very remote. The National route from Cape Town to Namibia, the N7 runs through this area and the whole of the West Coast and is part of the fairly new Cape To Namibia Route http://travelnewsnamibia.com/archives/travel-news/adventures-activities/time-to-explore-cape-to-namibia-route/#.UhTwr9IweSo

5. THE GARDEN ROUTE & KLEIN KAROO

This is probably one of the better known areas to South Africans and visitors alike. The area stretches from Albertina to Storms River, and includes the well known tourist towns of Mossel Bay, George, Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Golf courses, nature reserves, game and safari ranches, elephant and other wildlife sanctuaries , water sports, hiking trails and scenic routes are abundant throughout the region.

Confusion. The name Eden is often used, this refers to the district municipal area and is used in a fair amount of marketing material. This municipal area is broken down into areas, most of which are named for the towns, however Bitou refers to Plettenberg Bay and Hessequa is the area that includes Albertina, Heidelberg, Stilbaai, Riversdale, Witsand and Gouritzmond. Here we also have the recently marketed area of Goukou River Valley which is near Riversdale.

The Klein Karoo, also part of Eden, area refers to the inland towns of Oudtshoorn, Dusseldorp and De Rust.

Maybe confusing.  Prince Albert, being just 111km away via the scenic route through De Rust and the Meiringspoort Pass, or 70km away via the dramatic Swartberg Pass is often included in Oudtshoorn marketing although it is part of the Central Karoo region.

The Klein Karoo is where you will find everything to do with the ostrich industry, and the world renown Cango Caves. This area is sometimes referred to as the Karoo or the Swartberg area. The Klein Karoo wine route is in this area. http://www.kleinkaroowines.co.za/

General confusion. This entire area is also referred to as the Southern Cape area, in the Western Cape Province. Tsitsikamma and Garden of Eden are also found fairly frequently in descriptions of this area.

6. THE CENTRAL KAROO

The Central Karoo is the biggest area but is sparsely populated, with only a handful of towns, namely Beaufort West, Three Sisters, Laingsburg, Majiesfontein, Prince Albert Road, Nelspoort, Merweville, Murraysberg and Prince Albert .

Vast and uncomplicated ,the Central Karoo has no fancy sub areas, oddly named routes or pretentious areas. It is the place to go to get away from it all, commune with nature, really look around and find wonderful things and peace and quiet. Hiking in the unforgiving mountains, walking through the veld, discovering the history of the Khoi-san people, seeing the stars clearly, noticing the ever changing flora and enjoying the .slower way of life in these remote towns.

Karoo lamb, olives and the warmest hospitality to could ask for are what this region is all about. Big African skies, space to breathe, real people and open hearts.

Confusion.  None.

So the big question is are we out destination marketing ourselves?

Do we have too many conflicting destinations, routes and areas?

Is it only locals who are baffled because they are not reading tourism marketing copy?