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The Garden Route – South Africa’s Best Road Trip

A rocky coast with blue ocean waves crashing on the rocks

The Garden Route – South Africa’s Best Road Trip

The famous Garden Route in South Africa is home to one of the country’s best road trips, enticing adventurers with its enchanting landscapes and diverse attractions. This iconic stretch of road, winding its way for approximately 300 kilometers along the southern coast, is more than just a scenic drive – it’s a journey through a tapestry of lush forests, golden beaches, charming towns, and captivating wildlife encounters.

A rocky shore with the words "Road Trip The Garden Route" superimposed

Garden Route

As one of the world’s most celebrated road trips, the Garden Route promises unforgettable outdoor experiences, making it a must-visit destination for nature lovers and fans of wildlife. Follow our 4-day road trip itinerary as we reveal the best things to do on the Garden Route, from the popular highlights to the hidden gems.

A seal jumping out of the sea

If you’re looking to make it a longer trip, why not combine it with our 4-day Cape Town itinerary or better yet, take the ultimate 3-week South Africa road trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg!

Day 1 – Mossel Bay to Knysna

If you’re looking to stay a night in Mossel Bay before starting the road trip, Betty’s Boutique Hotel is the ideal central location. It has a heated pool and an excellent a la carte breakfast is included.

A shallow sea with rock pools

Mossel Bay is a renowned surfing spot for very experienced surfers – the water breaks very shallow near the rocks meaning you don’t want to be falling off here!

But non-surfers can enjoy here too, it’s a beautiful coastline with a string of restaurants, cafes, and bars. picturesque coastline with bars and restaurants. There’s also a zipline taking you right over the Indian Ocean from the cliffs above.

Victoria Bay

South Africa is home to a baffling number of beaches, and with the Garden Route being along the coast, there’s no shortage of them here. You could basically spend all day stopping at beaches, but in the interest of time, it’s better to pick the best few.

An orange lifeguard station at the beach

Victoria Bay is one of our favorites in this area. It’s another beach that’s popular among surfers and there’s a path that leads to a pier where you can watch people catching waves.

Map of Africa

Before we lose you, no, this isn’t just a map of Africa! it’s actually a huge landmass carved out by a deep river gorge with an uncanny likeness to the shape of the African continent.

Sometimes, a photo doesn’t do a landscape scene justice, the scale and distance may be lost, and it just looks like any other landscape photo. But in the case of the Map of Africa, it seems to enhance the shape of it. Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself and see how clear the shape is in a photo.

A landmass carved out by a river in the shape of Africa

To get to the viewpoint you’ll need to take a winding hilly road and then along a mud path with townships on either side. We honestly thought the Google Maps location was wrong here, or we’d missed a turn, but it’s correct.

There are a few paragliding companies that operate from here too, so a tandem paraglide with a professional is an option.

Wilderness

There aren’t many places as laid back and cool as the town of Wilderness. It wasn’t long before we saw a few guys strolling around with long hair, no shoes, and not a care in the world!

A rugged shoreline with green bushes

There’s a stunning, peaceful beach here with great views of the ocean and surrounding mountains.

Wilderness’ hippy vibe makes it a great spot for food, particularly for vegans and vegetarian. We shared an incredible vegan pizza and a vegetable curry at Ilali.

Buffels Bay

Buffels Bay is another nice beach along the Garden Route, perfect for a short stop. It’s a rocky outcrop with breathtaking views of the crashing waves.

Important not to confuse it with Buffels Bay in Cape Point which is 300 miles in the wrong direction!

Margaret’s Viewpoint

The scene from Margaret’s Viewpoint is absolutely stunning, you really have to see it.

A large estuary with buildings dotted around

It overlooks the picturesque town of Knysna and its vast tidal estuary, offering views of the Knysna river meeting the Indian Ocean, numerous tiny islands, and the bridges and roads that look like a miniature train set from up here.

Knysna

Knysna is a postcard-perfect little town mostly surrounded by the large estuary. Famous for its oysters, it’s also home to a rare species of seahorse – one of the very few that thrive in brackish water.

A marina with purple flowers

If you have enough time, end the day on a perfect note with a sunset cruise around the waters. You can book a luxury sunset cruise with barbecue and bubbly here or a more budget one here which includes local oysters.

Driving distance: 70 miles (115 km) – Mossel Bay to Knysna with stops

Accommodation: One night in the 4-star Waterfront Lodge offering a view of the Knysna lagoon and breakfast included. Rooms start around $70 per night.

Day 2 – Knysna to Plettenberg

Before you leave the charming town of Knysna, there’s another boat trip that you shouldn’t miss.

Whale Watching in Knysna

Taking a boat trip in Knysna offers the most remarkable whale watching opportunity where you can get right up-close to them.

With a thriving whale population of Bryde’s whales, southern rights and humpbacks, there’s an excellent chance to see multiple whales on one of these trips. Witnessing these enormous creatures spouting water and breaching the surface is an unforgettable sight.

Other marine life to look out for include seals, dolphins, and occasionally a rare orca!

Fun Fact: Female humpbacks are on average larger than the males!

Robberg Nature Reserve

Next up was our favorite stop on the Garden Route – Robberg Nature Reserve. A rocky peninsula, blanketed in hardy vegetation, with steep cliffs, sandy bays, and plenty of wildlife.

A view of the choppy sea on a rocky shoreline

The best thing to see here are the seals out hunting for fish or playing along the coast. There are signs that lead to designated seal viewing points where they’re regularly found. But it’s always worth keeping your eyes on the water because we saw dozens swimming past from many places along the trails.

A dirt trail going through thorny bushes on a cliff next to the sea

It can get quite busy, with large tour groups turning up, but it’s a big enough area to do your own thing and avoid the crowds a little.

Plettenberg Bay

From the northern end of Robberg, you can see our next location. Just around the corner of the bay you’ll find Plettenberg, with its long sandy beach.

At the northern end of town there’s a lookout point, which is another opportunity to spot whales, dolphins, and sharks.

A large humpback whale statue made from metal items on the beach

There’s also a small downtown area with loads of restaurants and cafes.

Driving distance: 30 miles (48 km) – Knysna to Plettenberg Bay via Robberg

Accommodation: There are a few great places to stay in Plettenberg, take a look at some options here for something in your budget.

Day 3 – Plettenberg to Tsitsikamma

After breakfast and before heading off, you can always swing by the lookout point again. The morning is a great chance to see some marine life.

Birds of Eden

The first stop today is the very popular Birds of Eden – a sanctuary with over 200 different bird species, and more than 3,500 individual birds!

They have distinctive domestic birds like Ibis, hornbills, and flamingos, as well as exotic birds including toucans and macaws.

A black-and-white hornbill perched on a wooden railing

Birds of Eden is the world’s largest free flight aviary, spanning over 5 acres. Free flight aviaries – sometimes called open-air or walk-in aviaries – are large enclosures designed to provide the birds with a spacious habitat, similar to the wild.

Bloukrans Bridge

Bloukrans Bridge is a huge arch bridge which spans the deep gorge carved out by the Bloukrans River. So deep in fact, that it’s the highest bridge on the whole continent of Africa, standing at 216m.

The special fact about the Bloukrans River is that it’s the border between the Eastern and Western Capes. So, crossing the bridge means crossing into the Easter Cape of South Africa.

A large arched bridge spanning a huge valley

To feel the full meaning of the bridge’s height, the adrenaline junkies amongst you may opt for a bungee jump! If throwing yourself off huge bridges with a rope attached to your ankles isn’t your thing, they also offer a Sky Walk.

The walkway runs underneath the bridge and over a grated floor where you can see straight down. When you reach the middle of the bridge you get a chance to stand on the edge of the bridge and look down at the terrifying drop.

If there’s anyone jumping at the same time as you’re there, you can watch them fly off and quickly disappear into a speck below.

The Big Tree

Let’s just say that The Big Tree is one of the most appropriately named parks in the world… yes, it’s a gigantic tree.

There are nice walking trails through the forest and some boardwalks to reach the Big Tree. There are three different routes you can take with varying distances.

Driving distance: 50 miles (80 km) – Plettenberg Bay to Tsitsikamma

Accommodation: The best place to stay near Tsitsikamma National Park is Stormsrivier, find a property you like here.

Day 4 – Tsitsikamma

It’s best to make an early start on the final day so you have enough time in Tsitsikamma National Park.

Tsitsikamma National Park

The beautiful coastal reserve of Tsitsikamma offers a wide range of outdoor pursuits from hiking around to organized activities.

There’s so much to do that you won’t get around the whole Park but be sure to check these highlights out:

Storms River Mouth – This is Tsitsikamma’s main attraction, with incredible coastal views, an impressive suspension bridge, and of course access to the Storms River.

Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour – An exhilarating zip-lining adventure high up in the forest canopy.

A gecko sunning on a rock

Waterfall Tsitsikamma – A short but tough hike through the forest will take you to this stunning, cascading waterfall near the coast.

Otter Trail – Tsitsikamma’s largest hiking trail, famous for its unrivaled coastal scenery. It would take days to finish the whole Otter Trail, but enjoying a small section of it is still an amazing hike.

How to Get to the Garden Route

The easiest way to get to the Garden Route is to drive from Cape Town. We rented a car at the and headed out on our 3-week South Africa road trip.

Getting to Cape Town is easy thanks to Cape Town International Airport’s excellent domestic and international flight connections.

There are direct flights from many major cities around the world. Failing that, Tambo International in Johannesburg has even more flight paths. Then there are multiple affordable daily flights from Jo’burg to Cape Town.

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