South Africa is full of breathtaking places to visit and the Garden Route is one area of this country that attracts a boatload of visitors annually.
Not only do locals flock there for their holidays and weekends away but it’s incredibly popular with overseas visitors; and rightly so, because the scenery along the Garden Route is truly incredible. It’s full of lush wilderness, rugged coastlines and it screamed home for us. In fact, one of the reasons we fell in love with the Garden Route was because it reminded us so much of home. Having been away from Melbourne for almost five months, it actually made us pretty homesick, just like Cape Town had done.
We had planned to spend 5 days touring the Garden Route but of course, there is so much to do that you could spend much more time there and not get bored.
The Garden Route is a haven for outdoorsy people, adrenaline junkies, wildlife lovers, honeymooners, and families. It’s packed with so many attractions and activities that once you’ve visited once, you’ll be itching to return to do more. That’s why so many South Africans head there over and over again.
The Garden Route officially starts in Mossels Bay and ends in Stormsriver. That’s an incredible 300-kilometre long scenic drive but most people instead start in Cape Town like we did.
Before starting the Garden Route, you absolutely have to spend some time in Cape Town. How long? Well, we spent ten days there and we didn’t want to leave at the end, so that tells you something! Try to spend at least four or five days there, otherwise, you just won’t see enough of this incredible city.
You can read more about Cape Town here.
Accommodation in Cape Town
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Day one: Cape Town to Oudtshoorn
Distance: 420 km
Driving time: Four and a half hours, (allow way much more for photo stops and pit stops).
There are two options for reaching the Garden Route from Cape Town, the N2 or Route 62. Since we were returning to Cape Town after our time on the Garden Route, we decided to take Route 62 on the way there and the N2 on the way back. It was definitely a great idea because we found Route 62 to be a lot more interesting. The drive along Route 62 took us across an ever-changing set of landscapes. We drove past rows of grape vines just outside Cape Town, then across semi-arid plains and past mountains with towering cliffs. It was anything but boring.
Make sure you make the most of the day by leaving Cape Town early in the morning. If you’re anything like us you’ll be stopping a lot for photos along the way. If you’re a fellow wine lover, consider stopping for lunch at one of the wineries in Barrydale, Montagu or Calitzdorp. Do some tasting or pick up a bottle to enjoy at sundown when you reach Oudtshoorn.
Ronnie’s Sex Shop
About halfway to Oudtshoorn, make sure you stop for a break at Ronnie’s Sex Shop. Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you buy some kinky stuff to please your partner later that night; Ronnie’s is actually a famous drinking hole!
So what’s the story behind the name? Ronnie’s friends played a prank on him one day by painting “Sex Shop” on his food stall. As unhappy as Ronnie was about the prank, the upside was that it quickly turned the shop into a very popular watering hole for locals and passers-by alike.
It’s pretty hard to miss Ronnie’s because it’s in the middle of nowhere (which is frankly the best part about it)! We obviously couldn’t go too crazy with the drinks as we still had a fair bit of driving ahead of us but some people do end up spending the night there. There are rooms to rent and judging by the amount of underwear left at the bar, I’m guessing it can get a little rowdy in the evenings!
Oudtshoorn is famous for two things, its Ostrich farming and its wine (it’s located on the Klein Karoo Wine Route).
We didn’t want to visit an Ostrich farm. A couple of places have now banned Ostrich riding thankfully but still, it didn’t sit right with us.
Instead, we visited a winery and simply enjoyed spending time on the deck of our chalet at the Klein Karoo Game Lodge, where we spent the night. From there we could watch Ostriches, Giraffe, Oryx, Elan, and Springbok happily drinking at the waterhole in the evening and roaming around the huge grounds.
We also made a new friend while there, a friendly guinea fowl nicknamed Rupert. Rupert joined us for a sundowner and sat on the deck with us. He also decided to guard our chalet for us while we slept; he sat on the railing outside our front door all night!
We loved this place so much that we regretted not staying longer. If you’d like to check their prices click here.
Accommodation in Oudtshoorn
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Day two: Oudtshoorn to Knysna
Distance: 125 km
Driving time: Two hours, (allow much more time for photo stops and pit stops).
The Outeniqua Pass
On our second day, we continued on to Knysna. This part of the drive was spectacular in its own right, especially heading over the Outeniqua Pass on the way to George. It was so breathtaking that we had to pull over frequently for photo stops.
Victoria Bay is a small cove enclosed by cliffs, located between George and Wilderness. It’s popular with surfers who love tackling the waves further out and with swimmers who hang around the gentle-sloping beach or the beautiful tidal pool.
Once you get to Wilderness you’ll be gaping in awe at the incredible coastal scenery. From that point on, the views just get better and better.
Be sure to make the most of the viewpoints around Wilderness. There are a couple you should absolutely not miss, the Victoria Bay Bridge viewpoint just a few meters from the entrance of Wilderness and the Map of Africa viewpoint which is further inland, up on the hill. The Map of Africa’s birds-eye perspective is very special!
Wilderness beach is probably the most beautiful beach we visited in the area. If you enjoy a good beach walk, you’ll love this one. It’s safe, unspoilt and it seems to go on for miles!
After Wilderness, we made our way to Knysna to check in to our unit at The Cape days @ Kloof gardens where we stayed for 3 nights. Knysna is a good spot to base yourself while on the Garden Route. It’s right in the middle of everything and has lots of restaurants, supermarkets, ATMs and plenty of tourist attractions. Wilderness and Plettenberg Bay are two other good alternatives.
Accommodation in Wilderness
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More things to do in Wilderness:
Day 3: Knysna and the Seven Passes Road
Two gigantic sandstone cliffs mark the entrance to Knysna Harbour and protect it from the wrath of the ocean. On the Eastern Head, there is a viewpoint (free to access) which offers some amazing views of the Indian Ocean and of the whole lagoon. Even on an overcast day, it looked spectacular!
Another great viewpoint in Knysna, on the western side of the lagoon, is Margaret’s viewpoint. It has amazing views over the lagoon and Knysna.
Thesen Island is in the middle of Knysna’s lagoon and is worth checking out for some lovely views of the lagoon. Plus, if you love oysters you can try some there or even join an oyster sundowner tour. I would have loved to have done a tour but Simon can’t stand them!
The Seven Passes Road
When traveling between George and Knysna there are two routes to choose from. The faster one goes via Wilderness and we took this one on our way to Knysna the first time. But there’s an alternative, the old highway that is known as the Seven Passes Road, that takes you through the backlands. This road passes through seven beautiful, interconnected mountain passes, hence its name.
The Seven Passes Road crosses plateaus, cattle farms, and beautiful alpine-like scenery. It’s 110 kilometers long and takes around 2 hours to complete. Much of the road is gravel but it’s fine to drive with only a 2WD. We certainly enjoyed the scenery along the way.
Accommodation in Knysna
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Day 4: Plettenberg Bay
Hiking in the Robberg Nature Reserve
This was the highlight of the Garden Route for us; we loved this hike. The Robberg Nature Reserve is only a few minutes (8 km) outside of Plettenberg Bay and is absolutely worth the detour.
There are three hikes to choose from in the reserve. There’s a short 2 km one, a longer 5 km one and for the more adventurous a 9 km one. If we’d had more time we would have loved to do 9 km but with just a day to spend in Plettenberg Bay, we did the 5 km hike instead.
It took us over two and a half hours, due to the ridiculous number of photo breaks we took along the way. The trail took us along the northern ridge of the peninsula, down a sand dune (and past a grass snake!) onto the beach and then back up the other side of the peninsula. Along the way, we passed above the resident seal colony, which we could smell from a mile away! All in all, it was a spectacular hike.
Visit Bloukrans Bridge
If you dare you can bungee jump. We didn’t dare; we’re chickens!
Birds of Eden
The Birds of Eden sanctuary is the biggest free flight aviary in the world, providing a forever home to previously caged birds which were surrendered to the sanctuary. It’s mainly home to African species as well as a few other exotic birds. The Birds of Eden Sanctuary is currently home to around 3500 birds from 220 different species.
When you buy the entrance ticket make sure you also get a little booklet that lists all the types of birds in the aviary. It’s a lot of fun trying to identify them and tick them off as you walk around the circuit. But don’t expect to see every single one of them, some are really shy!
Entrance fee: R260/R130 (adult/child)
Across the road is another similar sanctuary for Monkeys called Monkeyland and there’s another one nearby for rescued big cats called Jukani. If you plan on visiting more than one park, you can get combo tickets, R410/R205 (adult/child) for two parks and R520/R260 for three parks.
There is a lot to do around Plettenberg Bay and one day was certainly not enough! If you visit Plettenberg Bay in winter, make sure to go out with Ocean Safari on a whale watching trip with guaranteed whale spotting!
Accommodation in Plettenberg Bay
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Day 5: Knysna to Cape Town
Distance: 125 km
Driving time: Five hours and fifteen minutes, (allow much more for pit stops and detours to Cape Agulhas, Gansbaai or Hermanus).
Our last day was a very long drive and we started bright and early to make our way back towards Cape Town. With our flight to Namibia booked the next day, unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to cut this drive in half and stay overnight somewhere.
As I mentioned earlier, we decided to take the N2 route on the way back from the Garden Route. This route was not quite as spectacular as Route 62 but we made a few pit stops along the way which made it worthwhile.
Cape Agulhas was a bit of a detour from the N2 but worthwhile. It is the southern-most tip of Africa and the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Turning your back on the land and looking out over the ocean it’s pretty awesome to think that the entire African continent is right behind you!
Cape Agulhas is also home to a lighthouse which you can climb to get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area. Bear in mind, it’s not for people that are scared of heights. I struggled a bit getting down those ladders, Simon had to talk me through it, LOL!
Lunch in Struissbai
We also enjoyed a low key but amazing lunch at the Sea Shack in Struissbai. Their slogan is “where good friends meet” and all I could think about was how great it would be for our friends back home to be there right now.
The setting is simply fabulous. You have your feet in the sand while you sip South African wine and enjoying delicious seafood with panoramic ocean views. They also had a singer/musician playing that afternoon and I could have easily spent the whole afternoon there! It was such a shame that we had to get back on the road towards Cape Town!
More things to do near Gansbaai and Hermanus:
Accommodation in Cape Agulhas
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That was it for our trip down the Garden Route and we had an absolute blast. But I will say that we really should have budgeted a lot more time there. Still, there’s always next time and considering how much we loved South Africa, I’m pretty sure we’ll be back sooner than we think!
Have you ever driven the Garden Route in South Africa? What are your favourite stops? Please share them in the comments below.
You don’t want to drive? No worries, we’ve got you sorted, check the tours below:
While you’re in South Africa …
Of course, while you’re in South Africa, why not go on a safari. There are so many options to choose from but you can use SafariBookings to discover some great tours. We used it to find and contact tour operators when planning our African itinerary and it was really helpful.