From urban beaches to ancient peaks and primal wildernesses; South Africa’s Garden Route is stunning. This route features a well-maintained network of roads that meets a patchwork of world-class beaches, old-growth forests, and swaths of bountiful vineyards. Hence, this epic stretch of coastline is the trip of a lifetime.
Topping the long list of best road trip destinations in South Africa, the Garden Route is a 300 km ocean-hugging passage. It stretches from Mossel Bay to Storms River. It is one of South Africa’s most popular holiday destinations – and with good reason. The Garden Route’s diversity is beguiling. This is due to unspoiled beaches, iridescent lagoons, shady evergreen forests, and protea-studded slopes; all interspersed by quirky towns.
Not only is the scenery gorgeous but the opportunities for action-packed activities are as varied as the landscape. The Garden Route is an outdoor enthusiast’s hub. It is jam-packed with adventures that showcase the region’s beauty, culture, and hospitality. You are able to go hiking, scuba diving, whale watching, fishing, abseiling, and of course, classic safari tours are waiting for you to explore. There is no shortage of ways to experience this breathtaking pocket of South Africa. The only challenge is deciding how long you wish to stay.
Furthermore, you could spend anywhere from three days to two weeks driving along the Garden Route, and it will still warrant another visit. But be warned as breathtaking vistas makes it pretty tough to keep your eyes on the road. Luckily, there is an array of Garden Route overland tours that allow you to sit back and enjoy the views.
Here is all you need to know about the Garden Route and the amazing spots you’ll discover along the way:
South Africa, Garden Route Map
South Africa Garden Route Tours:
Best time to travel the Garden Route
The best time to travel the Garden Route is during the Summer months of November to March when the weather is warmest. However, this time of year is also quite popular. Consequently, the roads, coastal towns, and accommodations will be very busy. To beat the holiday crowds, we recommend visiting in late summer/early fall, between February and April. If whale watching in the Garden Route is at the top of your ‘must-see’ list, then the best time to travel is in Spring (September to October). This is when the whale migration is in full swing.
Enjoy the coastal town of Mossel Bay
Mossel Bay is a nature lover’s dream. It is replete with gnarly surf spots, scenic coastal idylls, breathtaking hiking trails, and adrenaline activities. Known as the western gateway to the Garden Route, the town’s unhurried hospitality and peerless scenery makes it an excellent place to kick start a Road-trip.
Cemented on South Africa’s backpacker route, the harbour town offers plenty of sunny-day pursuits. If you are here on a quick stopover en route from Cape Town, give the padkos a break and tuck into freshly caught seafood at Kaai 4 – an open-air braai restaurant. Here, local dishes are cooked over massive fire pits.
Additionally, for a dose of history, the Dias Museum takes travellers back to a time when the town was an early stomping ground for European sailors. You will also find plenty of opportunities to satisfy the taste for blood-pumping adventure. Hence, due to a menu of action-packed activities starring crowd-pleasers. This is by the likes of shark cage diving, bungee jumping, and deep-sea fishing tours.
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Whale watching in Mossel Bay
Mossel Bay gives travellers a chance to earn their sea-legs with excellent boat-based whale watching tours. Every year, between June and November, a plethora of southern rights, humpbacks, orcas and Bryde’s migrate away from their icy habitats to calve in the warmer Indian ocean waters.
Aside from boat-based tours, the best whale watching spots in Mossel Bay are in Reebok (especially the Kusweg area). Another option, for those who prefer the stability of dry land, is to hike the popular St Blaize Trail. This trail offers dramatic sea views and great whale- and dolphin-sighting).
Pinnacle Point Caves Mossel Bay
Mossel Bay is a treasure trove for history buffs. The modern history of this Garden Route nook harks back to 1488 when the Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias, moored his ships at a point close to the site of the Dias Museum Complex. Yet, Mossel Bay’s anthropological history can trace much further back.
The Pinnacle Point Caves in Mossel Bay are home to the world’s earliest evidence of man’s modern behaviour, dating back between 170,000 and 40,000 years ago. Excavations of this network of caves began in the year 2000 where archaeologists found evidence for the heat treatment of rocks to make stone tools. In addition to this, bones and other remnants were discovered in and around the caves. Therefore, this gave scientists a glimpse into the lives, habits, and diets of ancient mankind.
Gondwana Game Reserve Private Safari
The legendary Kruger National Park may be South Africa’s darling safari hotspot. But those on a Garden Route tour do not have to detour to spot Africa’s iconic wildlife park. Less than a four-hour drive from Cape Town, the Gondwana Game Reserve offers guests the chance to experience a classic private safari right on the scenic Garden Route.
Enclosed by the Langeberg and Outeniqua Mountains, the 11,000-hectare Game Park is malaria-free. It is also home to free-roaming Big Five, as well as herds of eland, giraffe, hippo, cheetah, and zebra.
Adventure through Oudtshoorn
While the official Garden Route map hugs South Africa’s scenic coastline, those in the know take a small detour to Oudtshoorn. This is to tick part of another iconic South African road trip route off the bucket list. Parallel to the Garden Route, Route 62 is well-regarded as the longest wine route in the world. This is where the town of Oudtshoorn is a near-perfect half-way point between the two.
Nested on the edge of the Garden Route, between the Outeniqua and Swartberg Mountain Passes, the principal town of the Little Karoo offers travellers a taste of South African country living. Devoid of any heavy industries, this fertile valley is a breath of fresh air. Experience 365 days of sunshine, unpolluted air and a hospitable atmosphere. This is the ideal spot to stretch the legs while on a Garden Route tour.
There are plenty of things to do in Oudtshoorn. You can sample some of Route 62’s wines, meander through verdant hiking trails or partake in overnight mountain biking. When ready for some downtime, an array of accommodations beckon for a tranquil night’s sleep before the next leg of your Garden Route road trip.
Oudtshoorn Ostrich Farms
In the 1860s, women in European and British society would often wear an ostrich plume adorning her headgear. Therefore, Oudtshoorn farmers were quick to realise that the Karroo environment was ideal to raise ostriches.
Moreover, being indigenous to Africa, ostriches became domesticated and put into breeding pairs. Here, they thrived in fenced off farms lush with alfalfa lucerne. Oudtshoorn was also known as the “ostrich capital of the world’. Farmers raked in up to £11,60 per kilogram for their feathers – an astonishing amount back in 1884.
Today, there are around 400 ostrich farms scattered around the region. Some of the largest farms include Highgate Ostrich Show Farm, Safari Ostrich Farm and Cango Ostrich Farm.
While tours vary from farm to farm, most offer guided walks out into the fields. Visitors are able to hand-feed ostriches, view the incubators where the eggs hatch and even stand on ostrich eggs.
The Cango Caves is a major tourist attraction in South Africa. It has 20 million-year-old tunnels and chambers that never ceases to amaze. The first tour into this ancient labyrinth was conducted in 1891. Since then, the Cango Caves have been one of the main reasons for placing Oudtshoorn on a Garden Route itinerary.
Carved into the foothills of the imposing Swartberg Mountains, the Cango Caves are the archaeological and historical highlight of the Klein Karoo. An instant rush of warmth and humidity hits as you cross the cave’s threshold. You are able to step into an abyss of vast halls housing towering stalagmite formations and primeval cave paintings.
Moreover, there is a staggering array of whimsically named formations, such as ‘the bridal couple’, ‘glass flower fantasy’, ‘weird cango candle’ and ‘the hanging shawl’. Here, a tour into the depths of these primordial caves are sure to leave you humbled.
George on the Garden Route
Set in the very centre of the Garden Route, George is the area’s largest town. It is the perfect place to stop over to restock and stretch your legs. Surrounded by oceans, mountains, forests and farmlands, this historic town is one of the Garden Route’s most scenic areas. But, its appeal lies in amenities rather than attractions. The town is a commercial hub, brimming with a diverse range of accommodation, dining, and shopping options to suit every kind of style and budget.
If you are looking to overnight in the area before the next leg of your Garden Route tour, spend a day at the Garden Route Botanical Garden. Here, you are able to get an introduction to the fynbos that characterises the Cape Floral Region. Recognised by UNESCO for its staggering biodiversity, these verdant gardens make up only 0.5% of Africa. Yet, it contains 20% of the continent’s plant species.
With more than 18 hectares to explore, there is no shortage of sunny-day pursuits to have in this breathtaking garden. The Botanical Gardens offer various guided tours for those who wish to learn more about the flora. If you want to immerse in its beauty, there are plenty of other things to do. This includes hiking trails, MTB tracks and a relaxing tea garden overlooking the magical Outeniqua Mountains – A tranquil break from the bustling city.
Golf in George
While the wild, natural wonders of George are a drawcard for most people; the town’s manicured lawns are what beckon golf enthusiasts from around the world. After successfully hosting the President’s Cup in 2003, George and the Garden Route cemented its name on the international map of world-class golf destinations. Whether you’re a hooker, slicer, hacker or pro, this scenic pocket of the Garden Route is dotted with courses to suit any style and level of golfer.
Visit the town of Wilderness in South Africa
From George, exit the main highway to down the Kaaiman’s River Pass to reach nearby Wilderness. Situated on the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, this tranquil patch of the Garden Route is renowned for its natural beauty and homey hospitality.
The small town’s dense old-growth forests, coastlines, shimmering lagoons, and numerous whale-watching vantage points, makes the Wilderness one of the loveliest places to stop on the Garden Route. The climate is wonderful all year round, meaning you will have ample time to revel in the region’s natural splendour.
For watersports enthusiasts, the region’s five rivers, five lakes, two estuaries and 18km of coastline are sure to enthral you. There are endless opportunities for surfing, kayaking, and whale watching. If you wish to add a dose of adrenaline to your itinerary, pursuits like hang-gliding, paragliding, horse riding, and mountain-biking are sure to get the blood pumping.
Few places on South Africa’s coastline rival with Wilderness beaches. This is where the warm Indian ocean waters lap golden sandy beaches. Unspoiled, expansive, and beautiful, Wilderness beaches beckon sun-worshippers and surfers alike. You won’t have to jostle for space on the shores either. The coastline appears to stretch on for kilometres, leaving you ample space to indulge in some care-free, me-time. But, beware: a strong riptide means that only experienced swimmers and surfers should attempt to dip a toe in the water.
Kayaking in Wilderness
The riptides of Wilderness beach does not have to put a damper on your seaside holiday. Within the Wilderness National Park, take to the water for a leisurely paddle along the reed-lined banks of the Touws River. Another option would be the tranquil waters of the Kaaimans river, which offers a calmer (and safer) alternative to swimming in the ocean.
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Discover the Gems of Sedgefield
20 minutes away from Wilderness, the sleepy little village of Sedgefield is easy to pass through. It is en route to the more popular town of Knysna. But, those who linger get rewarded with a plethora of gems that are well off the tourist circuit.
This coastal town is a paradise for those who love the great outdoors. It is surrounded by fynbos peppered dunes, and pine plantations. Visitors are spoilt for choice with a selection of things to in Sedgefield. Ranging from Large Bass Mouth fishing in the clear waters of Groenvlei, to meandering through a network of breathtaking fynbos, lakeside, and forest hiking trails. The underdeveloped beaches are a magnet for beach-combers. When the South Easter wind pumps, the ocean’s swell is a siren song for surfers who can tackle the massive breaks.
Wild Oats Market
On the outskirts of the village, the Wild Oats Country Market in Sedgefield is a rite of passage for everyone travelling the Garden Route. After 15 years and several awards, this rustic local market has managed to retain the authentic “old style” atmosphere that made it so popular.
Every Saturday, come rain or shine, this rustic country marketplace bustles with local vendors. These vendors offer scrumptious home-style food; using farm-fresh produce grown in the market’s backyard. There are an exquisite range of colourful crafts as well.
Wild Oats Market Opening hours: From 7h30 to 12h00 in summer months and 8h00 to 12h00 in winter.
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Pine Lake Marina
If the tranquillity of Sedgefield has convinced you to extend your stay, then the Pine Lake Marina is the perfect stay. 5kms out of town, this sprawling resort offers a selection of spacious self-catering chalets, with magnificent views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The resort features a laid back restaurant, kids corner, health spa and a handful of waterfront activities. The Pine Lake Marina is perfect for families looking for a nature-filled getaway.
The Colorful Town of Knysna
After devastating forest fires ripped through the town, Knysna proved itself a phoenix. It remains one of the Garden Route’s best destinations. This historic town is everyone’s favourite holiday destination as it is bursting with excellent places to stay, eat and drink. There are a wide range of activities to boot as well.
Lovers of all things maritime will find themselves well catered to around Knysna’s exquisite harbour area and Waterfront. Here, sumptuous restaurants, cocktail venues, and sailing boats overlook the shimmering waters where Southern Right and other whale species are known to breech during August and September.
For those drawn to the sky, options abound with everything from paragliding over the coastline, to abseiling and skydiving. If it is a land-based adventure you are after, Knysna’s ancient forests take their visitors back to a time when many elephants trod the canopy-covered paths.
Your visit to Knysna would be incomplete without a trip to the heads. As famous landmark along the Garden Route, the Knysna Heads are a pair of sandstone cliffs standing guard over the choppy waters that flow into Knysna’s lagoon.
Similarly, the eastern head is the most popular thanks to the rock pools and many spectacular viewpoints overlooking the channel and the Outeniqua Mountains. The western head is only accessible by way of a 4-hour ferry tour. Those who make the trip are rewarded with the chance to explore the privately owned Featherbed Nature Reserve.
The British Royal Navy once proclaimed the Knysna Lagoon to be the most dangerous harbour entrance in the world. However, it is also one of the area’s chief tourist attractions. Beneath the lagoon’s calm waters, shoals of leer fish, mullet, and Cape stumpnose fish play cat and mouse with fishermen’s lines. While above it, the African fish eagle and countless other bird species compete for the catch of the day.
The Knysna forest is one of the last remaining pockets of Afromontane forest that once covered large swaths of the African continent.Sprawling across the southern slopes of the Outeniqua Mountains, this thick, sweeping forest was once home to buffalo, elephant, and possibly leopard. Unfortunately, timber harvesting left the habitat degraded. But, through good conservation, the forest lives on and is home to a rich with bird-life and a collection of animals. This includes the endemic Knysna dwarf chameleon.
In spite of its bleak history, the Knysna forest remains a magical place to explore on foot. A demarcated network of trails and pathways wind and weave through the forest under a thick canopy of giant Outeniqua Yellowwoods. Along the way, listen out for the sounds of the Knysna Loerie, whilst discovering a variety of different ferns and fungi. If you are lucky, you may find evidence of the Knysna Elephant!
Knysna Elephant Park
If you were not lucky enough to spot Knysna forest’s elusive elephant, then head to the Elephant Park for a close encounter with these gentle giants. Established in 1994, the Knysna Elephant Park was the first of its kind in South Africa and has since cared for and raised more than forty elephants.
The park is home to the largest domesticated matriarchal herd in the country. It offers guests a chance to interact with the animals through guided elephant walks and opportunities to volunteer.
Garden Route National Park
Formerly the Wilderness National Park, this sprawling patchwork of natural landscapes is so large, it falls across both the Eastern Cape and Western Cape. It spans an impressive 121 000 hectares. Encompassing existing Wilderness and Tsitsikamma national parks, the Knysna Lakes area, and roughly 52 000 hectares of newly proclaimed land. The Garden Route National Park is the best stop on a Garden Route itinerary.
The area is so large you could easily spend a week within its borders and never find yourself bored. A series of tourist facilities include a range of accommodation options, hiking and mountain bike trails, forest trails, canoeing and diving. In addition, a handful of dining options allow visitors to explore the region at their leisure.
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Half an hour east, the town of Plettenberg Bay awaits. For 11 months of the year, the town is fairly quiet and a string of luxury houses on Millionaires’ Mile vacantly stare out over empty stretches of pristine beach. Come peak season, this sun-kissed resort town bustles as inland locals flock to Plett’s white sand and crystal-blue waters.
If you’re looking for a quiet getaway on the Garden Route, Plett is not for you. But, if it is epic surf conditions, long coastal walks, and heart-pumping MTB trails you’re after, then look no further. Days spent here can go from revelling in sandy cove’s sweet swells to swimming with seals in Robberg Nature Reserve. As well as exploring the world’s biggest single-span aviary at Birds of Eden. When your energy reserves are running low, the town’s snazzy restaurants and laid back cafes are perfect for a quick refuel. But if it is a gastronomic adventure you are after, then head to one of the local wineries on the east side of town to sample some of the region’s finest.
Robberg Nature Reserve
Rated among some of the best things to do in Plett, Robberg Nature Reserve is a must on any Garden Route itinerary. Situated 8km south of Plettenberg Bay, on the Garden Route, this national monument and world heritage site. It dates back approximately 120 million years to the break-up of Gondwanaland.
Today, this scenic peninsula is strewn with primeval rocks and evidence of both middle and Stone Age in-habitation. This makes it a highlight for budding anthropologists. Those more concerned with the here and now have plenty to look forward to as well. The Robberg Nature Reserve is primed for exploration along the many hiking and walking trails.
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Just 20kms away from Plett, the Crags is a small but scenic pocket of the Garden Route that’s well worth a stopover. Everything about the area is inviting. From the warm climate year-round, to the welcoming locals and breathtaking vistas.
Primed for outdoor adventure, the Crags offers up a selection of local attractions for nature-lovers. It includes rock climbing, canopy tours through the lush forests, and a variety of mountain trails for those up for a trek.
Additionally, after a great day outdoors, the Bramon Wine Estate serves up sumptuous cuisine and award-winning wines with views that overlook the legendary Tsitsikamma Mountains. If you had a few too many tipples, you’ll find a solid range of accommodation options to suit all styles and budgets.
Half an hour away from Plett, Natures Valley is one of the most peaceful patches of greenery along the Garden Route. With one bank and one shop servicing a small hamlet of fewer than 100 residents, this blissfully underdeveloped valley is a paradise.
Consequently, thanks to its balmy climate and lack of pollution, a primordial, earthy aroma hangs thick in the air. It takes visitors back to the Stone Age when the area was occupied by Palaeolithic man. Nature still looms large and wild here. There are overgrown forests blanketing the foothills of the Tsitsikamma Mountains, as well as the deep river ravines and miles of unspoiled white beaches.
A network of hiking and walking trails lead nature lovers through the area’s rain-forest, along with rugged cliffs and through dry river beds. If you’re not up for the treks, then canoeing down the peaceful river waters is the perfect substitute.
Bloukrans Bridge Adventures
The Bloukrans Bridge is undoubtedly the star of the Garden Route. Established in 1990, this bungee jumping hotspot is a staggering 216 meters high. Making it the world’s highest commercial Bungee bridge. The operation is run by Face Adrenalin, whose team has overseen several world record bungee jumps done by the professionals and thousands more done by novice adrenaline addicts ticking off their bucket list.
On the one hand, not for the faint of heart, this heart-pounding adventure starts on a high note by zip-lining from the bank to the arch of the bridge. From there, the expert staff check your gear and count you down before you plunge 216m into the gorge below.
On the other hand, although safe, bungee jumping the Bloukrans Bridge is guaranteed to get your heart pounding, stomach-churning and hands quivering; no matter how much of a daredevil you are. For those not ready to leap just yet, there are plenty of other rides, jumps and swings to try from the Bloukrans bungee adventure menu. This also includes the thrilling 200m Flying Fox cable slide.
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The last stop on the Garden Route itinerary, Storms River is a big draw for outdoor enthusiasts. The name of this town speaks to the ruggedness of the landscape that surrounds it. Here, the Indian Ocean breaks pound onto rocky shorelines. Coffee-coloured rivers churn beneath an incredible suspension bridge that leads intrepid travellers into the heart of the dense, mountainous Tsitsikamma Forest.
Featuring almost every kind of land, sea, and air adventure you can think of, Storm River demands you spend a few days exploring its epic surroundings. From canopy tours to MTB trails, fishing excursions, black water Tubing, and kloofing. There is no shortage of things to do in Storms River.
Storms River Mouth National Park
Moreover, Nicknamed the “the place of much water”, Storms River Mouth is obligatory if you are a visitor to this region. Several short walking trails weave through the areas rugged, indomitable landscape. It is from here that the world-famous Otter Trail’s five-day hike begins.
This stunning bridge that draped above the churning waters of the Storms River Mouth is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the Tsitsikamma region. Situated within the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, the 77 meter bridge was originally set in 1969 but has since been rebuilt to ensure its safety and stability.
Tsitsikamma National Park
Spanning 80 km of rocky coastline, the Tsitsikamma National Park is a coastal reserve. It is well known for its indigenous forests, dramatic coastline, and the Otter Trail. Its stormy ocean is one of the largest and oldest no-take Marine Protected Areas in the world, conserving 11% of South Africa’s Temperate South Coast rocky shoreline. Thanks to the tough conservation policy, the area remains largely unspoiled resulting in spectacular vistas of the high cliffs, ever-green forests and fynbos.
Although Tsitsikamma boasts a magical marine world, there is also the famous terrestrial part of the park that attracts large numbers of international and local hiking enthusiasts. A series of trails to suit all fitness levels weave their way through the lush forest, delicate fynbos and over jagged cliffs.
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A Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour
A Tsitsikamma canopy tour provides some of the best views of the National Park’s lush forest. The tour consists of ten slides, with the longest one being 91 meters long. Each ending on a platform constructed in the trees, 30 meters high.
Cape Town to Garden Route Tours:
Reshma’s Garden Route Tips and Must See Attractions
Reshma is a passionate South African who loves travelling within her country. As an African Overland Tours consultant, she enjoys the diverse landscape in which the country offers. Read on to discover her highlights on a recent trip along the Garden Route of South Africa.
“There are a wide variety of activities along the garden route that would interest kids, adults as well as grandparents. Therefore, this scenic journey a MUST visit.”
“Additionally, this road trip along the Garden Route is safe and scenic. Road conditions on the N2 Highway route from Cape Town through to Port Elizabeth are very good. Whilst travelling from Cape Town through to Mossel Bay, you will come across plenty of quaint and cute farm-stalls along the route. Here, you can have a bite to eat, to stretch your legs and perhaps buy curios unique to the area. Travelling from Mossel Bay onward, the route definitely gets more scenic with lush landscapes, to seeing the waves of the Indian Ocean.”
George – Redberry Farm
A great stop for families is to enjoy berry picking and various other fun filled activities. There are pony rides, a miniature train ride (which is so much fun), as well as yummy milkshakes.
Wilderness National Park
Enjoy outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, kite-surfing and even walks along the beach.
The John Benn cruise to the Lagoon heads is another must do while in Knysna. If time allows, go across to Featherbed nature reserve. In addition, a visit to the Kynsna Waterfront is a great stop for lunch! Or an overnight stop.
Old Nick Village is a great stop to see; from creative shops to buying some homemade honey or other natural products. Monkeyland, Elephant Sanctuary, Birds of Eden, Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, Radical Raptors are just a few fun stops for everyone.
- Get there early to avoid long queues at the entrance.
- Avoid parking far away from the start of the hiking trail to the mouth.
- The suspension bridge walk is a MUST DO. there is about a 40 minute boardwalk with its ups and downs. Therefore, you need the be slightly fit or just take it easy as there is no rush. The windy boardwalk through the forest takes you to three suspension bridges – it will leave you breathless.
- The well-known Otter hiking trail also departs from Tsitsikamma National Park (pre- book well in advance).
- At Tsitsikamma you can arrange activities from the Storms River Village where you can do black water tubing, kayaking, zip-lining, canopy tour to going on a Segway trip – all fantastic adventure activities for all!
Everyone needs to stop here to either tick their bucket list of jumping the highest bungee jump in the world, or watch people jump. It’s definitely an adrenaline pumping experience!
Love elephants? Then this park is known for its herds. A self drive through this park is very easy.
- Best to enter from the South gate, Matyholweni, to avoid the potholes going towards Addo Main Camp in the north.