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Spanning roughly 300 kilometers from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the Eastern Cape, South Africa’s Garden Route is an area of beautiful beaches, lush forests, charming small towns, adventure activities, and animal experiences. It’s a place that provides the ideal blend of adventure, relaxation and discovery one seeks on vacation.
This truly remarkable destination is best explored on an extended road trip. We recommend that you plan to spend at least a week, but preferably two, here on your next trip to South Africa.
Here are some stops you absolutely need to add to your itinerary:
Knysna is famous for its iconic Knysna Heads – towering sandstone cliffs that mark the entrance to the Knysna Lagoon from the Indian Ocean. You can visit the heads on foot to hear the waves crash and splash around your feet. Or, watch them from a distance while enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee and slice of cake at a nearby café. But be sure not to miss the opportunity to explore the area by boat.
You can choose to venture out through these imposing forms that have claimed many an intrepid adventurer’s ship on a high-speed rubber duck, in search of whales and dolphins out in the deep blue, or, my personal favourite, indulge in a leisurely catamaran trip with Ocean Sailing Charters, complete with champagne and snacks, and a stop for a quick swim in a secluded bay.
Best Tips & Tools to Plan Your Trip
But Knysna isn’t just about the heads and lagoon. The town itself is a vibrant hub filled with art galleries, craft markets, and gourmet restaurants. Take a leisurely walk along the waterfront, browse the local boutiques, and indulge in some fresh seafood while admiring the stunning views.
To get the best of both worlds we recommend staying at the St James of Knysna, a five-star boutique hotel and a member of the Cape Country Routes selection of charming owner-run properties. It features extremely spacious suites and two pools set right on the water’s edge, close enough to town to easily enjoy all the amenities but far enough away to enjoy a feeling of exclusivity and privacy.
Plettenberg Bay and Jeffrey’s Bay
Plettenberg Bay, fondly known to locals as Plett, is famous for its long stretches of wide, crowd-free beaches, magnificent views from pretty much anywhere in town, and a relaxed atmosphere.
Be sure to take a stroll along Robberg Nature Reserve’s scenic trails and rent a boat for a trip up the Coca-Cola-coloured Keurboom River. You can also head past Plett to an area known as the Crags, where a range of unique wildlife experiences await.
Take a stroll through an indigenous forest alive with the calls of rescued monkeys, gibbons and lemurs at Monkeyland, meander through the world’s largest free flight aviary at Birds of Eden, and come up close to lions, tigers, leopards and all other manner of apex predators at Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary.
Also located within easy reach of Plettenberg Bay is the Bloukrans Bridge Bungee Jump. Daredevils and adrenaline junkies won’t want to miss the opportunity to leap off the world’s highest commercial bungee jump at a whopping 216 meters.
Venture a little further up the coast and Jeffreys Bay, or as the locals call it, J Bay, is a must-visit destination for water babies and one of the world’s top surfing spots. Days here are all about grabbing a surfboard, catching a wave, and enjoying the ocean.
You can also take to the sea in a kayak or a stand-up paddle board but no matter your mode of water transport, be sure to keep your eyes trained on the surf, as dolphins are frequently seen playing amongst the humans here.
Oudtshoorn, with its fascinating Cango Caves and myriad of ostrich farms, will take you away from the coast and into the desert-like Karoo interior of the country. Feel like an intrepid explorer as you venture into the depths of the earth at one of the Seven Wonders of Southern Africa.
Here stunning limestone formations, stalactites, and stalagmites have been meticulously crafted by nature over millions of years. We highly recommend embarking on the Adventure Tour which will see you climbing through ancient chambers to reveal more of the secrets hidden deep within the Earth. But be warned, it’s a tight squeeze so it’s certainly not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart.
If you’re more antique glamorous than an intrepid explorer, a visit to one of the areas’ ostrich farms, such as the Safari Ostrich Farm, will transport you to days gone past. Here you can learn all about the ostrich era of Oudtshoorn where high fashion, beautiful feathers and all that glitters, was gold. You’ll also get a chance to meet the ostriches, marvel at some of the babies, and even feed the greedy birds.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay near Oudtshoorn I can highly recommend Wildehondekloof Private Game Reserve, another Cape Country Routes member. Remotely located about half an hour from the Garden Route wonder of Oudtshoorn, Wildehondekloof offers a chance to disconnect from your everyday reality.
Here breakfast and dinners are included in the rate and several activities can be booked to enjoy the sprawling property, including guided hikes and game drives that go in search of eland, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra and all manner of antelopes. With a sparkling pool set in verdant lawns frequented by bushbuck, this is also a place to simply relax and destress.
The twin towns of Wilderness and Sedgefield are located about a half-hour apart and are great stops for anyone who simply wants to take a few days and slow down. Both offer endless stretches of beaches, where you could walk for hours, rarely ever seeing another soul. And the lagoons and waterways offer another dimension to your trip.
Rent a stand-up paddle board, a kayak or even a small boat and cruise up meandering channels to hidden waterfalls, forested walking trails and secret picnic spots. Along the way, be sure to keep your eyes trained on the trees for a flash of brilliant red or blue, signally that the rare Knysna Turaco is nearby – one of Southern Africa’s most beautiful birds.
When in Wilderness, we highly recommend staying at the owner-run Treedom Villas & Vardos. Home to two exquisitely styled gypsy caravan-style vardos as well as a larger tree-house style villa, and a unique heart-shaped pool, this is a place to truly escape from reality. The vibrant colours, one-of-a-kind artwork, and Instagrammable moments found around the property make for a magical and romantic escape.
Sedgefield and George
Just 30 minutes from Wilderness, Sedgefield and George are also well worth a visit, with the latter often heralded as the gateway to the Garden Route. This is a town famous for its world-class golf courses. Another attraction well worth seeing is the Outeniqua Transport Museum which gives a fascinating insight into the history of the area.
On the other hand, in Sedgefield, more beaches await with some of the best views of the area available from the Simbavati Fynbos on Sea property, located in a private reserve and perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. This once private home now turned boutique hotel offers the perfect blend of sophisticated luxury and remote relaxing retreat.
Addo Elephant National Park
Home to one of the densest populations of elephants in the world, a safari at Addo Elephant National Park is the perfect way to end your visit to the Garden Route. Addo Elephant National Park is renowned for its diverse and abundant wildlife, with a particular emphasis on, as the name suggests, elephants.
The park is conveniently located near the end of the Garden Route, making it an accessible and convenient destination for those who have journeyed along the coastal route. The transition from the scenic coastal landscapes to the inland wilderness of Addo adds a new dimension to the overall travel experience.
A stay here is best enjoyed at one of the rest camps located inside the park which offers several accommodation options from luxury tents, to self-catering cottages and even camping opportunities.
Addo offers a variety of activities, ranging from traditional game drives to more adventurous activities such as horseback safaris and hiking trails. No matter whether you book a guided tour, or go at it alone, watching giant matriarchs plod slowly against the backdrop of an African sunset, or little ones trying to use their trunks at the waterholes, will no doubt leave lasting memories of your trip. The park is also home to lions, zebra, buffaloes, and all manner of smaller critters and creatures.
Tips for Planning Your Garden Route Adventure
To make the most of your Garden Route adventure, especially if you plan to spend some time at the beach, consider planning your visit during the dry and sunny months of the year, which last between September and March.
That said, the region experiences a pleasant Mediterranean climate year-round and off-season prices can be pretty incredible, especially when you take into account the South African exchange rate. The off-season also means fewer crowds and better wildlife sightings if embarking on a safari as the drier brush means animals are more frequently seen.
That said, no matter when you plan to visit, it’s always a good idea to pack layers for those unexpected temperature changes. Having a light jacket or sweater handy will ensure you stay comfortable throughout your journey.
How to Get to the Garden Route
Getting to the Garden Route is relatively easy, thanks to its well-developed infrastructure and proximity to major cities. The closest airport is George Airport, which offers domestic connections to major South African cities, but alternatively, you can opt for a scenic drive from Cape Town or Port Elizabeth along the N2 highway, allowing you to soak in the beauty of the route right from the beginning.
Whichever way you choose to travel, we do recommend renting a car so that you have the freedom to explore at your own pace. You can expect to drive between an hour to an hour and a half between each of the above destinations and having your own wheels gives you the option to explore hidden gems and make impromptu stops along the way.
Plus, with plenty of roadside restaurants, interesting activities and fun attractions en route, you’ll definitely be making a stop or two. Thankfully, navigating the well-maintained roads of this region is a breeze, with one main highway, making it the perfect opportunity to channel your inner road trip enthusiast.
Something for Everyone
In short, if you haven’t added the Garden Route to your travel bucket list yet, be sure to do so. It really does offer a little something for everyone – nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. This meandering path up South Africa’s coast promises stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, and a myriad of fun activities, all of which add up to some unforgettable memories. Happy travels.
Author Bio: Janine Avery was born and bred in Cape Town, South Africa, and says there is nowhere she would rather call home. She is a lover of all things nature and loves to explore new places, enjoying any form of travel from basic tenting to lazing in luxury lodges. She also loves to dabble in digital marketing, spread messages on social media, and take audiences on a journey through her travel stories.
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