Packed with an assortment of attractions from family beaches, charming seaside towns, whale watching, nature reserves, forests, fynbos and the Karoo hinterland, the Garden Route is made for relaxing holidays.
Travelling east along the coast from Cape Town, the Garden Route starts where the vineyards of the Cape Winelands end - somewhere around Swellendam. For the next several hundred km the road hugs the coastline bringing you beaches, nature reserves, whales, mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, lagoons and officially the second mildest climate in the world.
Home to half a dozen nature and marine reserves, you can hike, trek wildlife, hang out at the beach.
1. Beaches & Forests
A good start is the Tsitsikamma National Park. Home to the Big Tree. Huge and a thousand years old. Imagine how much its seen it all its days. Phew. A stunning forest to wander through. You can head all the way to the seaside town of Knysna. Plettenberg Bay is on the way, originally named ‘beautiful bay’ by early Portuguese explorers. That gives you a clue. It’s a rather pleasant spot on Planet Earth. Head to Knysna Forest. Go horse riding and admire ferns and fynbos. Admittedly they sound like celebrity siblings but they’re not. You may see lots of strelitzia too - giant ones - she’s surely ferns and fynbos’ mum but she’s not. She’s a plant. Fool. Yes, yes the garden route is finally getting a reputation for fine wines but you’ve downed your last of the day sonny. Giant strelitzia are banana like and often called birds of paradise.
The Garden Route does beaches rather beautifully. Hartenbos, Stilbaai and Mossel Bay are the most famous. Hartenbos is wide, sandy and good for children. Stilbaai is also known as the Bay of Sleeping Beauty which is rather stupendous. 3km of sand. Flat and safe. Good for body board surfing. Mossel Bay has several good spots including Santos Beach and Dana Bay. Occasionally whales come into the bay to calve. Lots of dolphins too.
Quieter beaches include Noetzie near Knysna. Clean beach in a secluded cove. Victoria Bay and Herolds Bay are small, hidden, sandy. Massive waves. Surfer’s paradise. Brenton beach is stunning and rustic. Gerickes Point has huge sandstone cliffs that are actually fossilised dunes. Myoli Beach is windy, quick have a windsurf. Ah, you blew away. Shame. Witsand Beach is one of the best for whale watching, especially from June to October.
2. Whale Route
Talking of which... The Whale Route starts along the south of Cape Town to Durban - it’s about 1,200 miles of whale watching coastline including the Garden Route and Tsitsikamma National Park.
Plettenberg Bay is one of THE places to go if you’re a whale. Southern right, humpback and bryde are three of the great lumps that love it. They’ve basically had it with Antarctica. Who can blame them? It’s just too darn cold, time for an African warm up. Those coves make nice little cots for their little ones too. Southern rights can be seen metres from the shore. Bryde’s stay further out.
They make a lot of noise those mighty sea giants. Especially when competing for a mate. They’re massive and they like to hurl themselves around. To look slick the male may even sing a bit. They leap, splash, fight, bang, crash. That’s a lot of blubber to bellyflop on. And yet, when it comes to the deed itself it’s all over in about 30 seconds. Bit of a damp squib for the lady. And they’re not even monogamous. That lying, two timing, rat. Disgusting.
There are about 37 species of whales and dolphins in the waters off South Africa but it’s the southern rights and humpbacks that you’re most likely to see. African penguins, Cape fur seals and black oystercatcher birds, like to hang out too.
3. Route 62
More than a road, think of Route 62 as a moving holiday. Mountain passes, vineyards, orchards. You’ll be oohing and aahing at every bend. And it’s quiet as many people drive the speedier N2. The Garden Route section of Route 62 centres around the Klein Karoo. The roads are good and the small towns you’ll pass through are rustic and thoroughly pleasant. Lots of ostriches. Robertson Wine Valley is worth a stop as is Oudtshoorn. Definitely explore the Cango Caves. Genuinely impressive. Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is good for the Big Five. Ronnie’s Sex Shop is an amusingly named pub - not salacious - just a joke by Ronnie’s friends when it was a humble farm shop that’s stuck. The best of the Karoo can be found in the Karoo Desert National Park. One of the largest collections of succulents live here.
The Garden Route National Park is home to 85 species of mammals including elephant.
And there are several smaller nature reserves along the route too. You can see the Big Five at the Garden Route Game Lodge, lots of antelope too. You don’t really get the huge expanse of wilderness on the Garden Route but many reserves are good options for families or first timers. Examples include Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay. Look out for cheetah, giraffe and lion. Botlierskop is a small family friendly reserve. Kariega is larger with good wildlife as is Sanbona.
Our Most Popular Garden Route Tours
21-day Ultimate South Africa Safari (Self-drive)
Itinerary Type: Sample
Country: South Africa
Highlights: Cape Town, Garden Route, Kruger, Swaziland, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal
Our Most Popular Garden Route Accommodation
The Kurland Hotel
Our expert review of Kurland has not been loaded onto our new website yet. We are working on it.
Schulphoek Guest House
If you want to sound like a seasoned South African traveller, a well-heeled whale-watcher and a Hermanus veteran, you'll pronounce Schulphoek like this: skilp-HOOK. And if you stay at this charming guesthouse once, you'll probably come back several times to practice.
On the Cliff Guest House
Our expert review of On the Cliff Guest House has not been loaded onto our new website yet. We are working on it.
Part of an exclusive portfolio of elite properties, Birkenhead House is a small boutique hotel with a sensational location above Walker Bay in Hermanus. The hotel offers the finest in luxury and service and the décor is suitable stylish and reassuringly expensive.
Abalone Guest Lodge
Abalone Guest Lodge is a bright and breezy guest house near Hermanus direct access to the cliff walk which offers the best land-based whale watching in the world. There are several beaches nearby and the lodge has a wonderful view of Walker Bay.
De Zeekoe Guest Farm
Our expert review of De Zeekoe Guestfarm has not been loaded onto our new website yet. We are working on it.
Dungbeetle River Lodge
Our expert review of Dungbeetle River Lodge has not been loaded onto our new website yet. We are working on it.
Our expert review of Fancourt Hotel has not been loaded onto our new website yet. We are working on it.
Hog Hollow Country Lodge is a romantic getaway with an amazing setting in a private nature reserve near Plettenberg Bay. Run with a charm and enthusiasm bordering on eclectic, the lodge is also an eco-warrior on the sustainable tourism frontline.
Knysna Country House
Our expert review of Knysna Country House has not been loaded onto our new website yet. We are working on it.
La Plume is a farmstead guest house with a beautiful view across the Oliphants River Valley just outside Outdsthoorn on Route 62 - the scenic alternative to the highway along the Garden Route.
Mo & Rose at Soekerhof
Mo And Rose At Soekershof comprises a guesthouse and wine bistro set in a much loved garden near Roberston deep in the wine country of South Africa's Western Cape.
Where is Garden Route?
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