Garden Route

A panoramic view over the Knysna River and railway with boats at Thesen Island and the Knysna Heads in the distance.
South Africa
Packed with an assortment of attractions from spectacular family beaches, charming seaside towns, whale watching, nature reserves, indigenous forests,Cape fynbos and the Karoo hinterland. The Garden Route is made for relaxing holidays, great sights and good food.
A close up of a flock of ostrich.
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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.

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. 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. 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.

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. The best of the Karoo can be found in the Karoo Desert National Park. One of the largest collections of succulents live here.

4. Safaris

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.

Final Word

This stretch of pristine wilderness makes for a super self-drive holiday. From start to end it's spectacular as is everything in between.

Garden Route

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