However, the first thing you must know about the Garden Route is that it is not, as the name implies, filled with a plethora of gardens to visit! Instead it got its’ name from the lush and varied vegetation in the area which is a dramatic contrast to the arid interior of the country. Also there is not just one ‘route’, there are many variations, so choose where you want to visit and then how long you want to spend. You can also drive just one-way, but there are also enough places to visit and variations that you can do a return trip without driving along the same route.
This route takes in Knysna, Oudtshoorn, Port Elizabeth, Plettenberg Bay as well as the mountains of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma ranges that divide the verdant Garden Route from the arid Little Karoo.
Drive through this stunning region and you will enjoy not only the views, but also delicious local food, charming towns and plenty of outdoors activities along the way. The Garden Route is also one of the best places in the world for shore-based whale and dolphin-watching, particularly between July and October. The best way to do it is to hire a car in so you can explore the Garden Route at your own pace and it’s only half a day’s drive away to the old-fashioned seaside resort of Mossel Bay which marks the start of the route.
From Mossel Bay start your trip along the Garden Route by heading to Oudtshoorn, the ‘Ostrich Capital of the World’. The obvious thing to do here is to take a tour of one of the ostrich farms to see the amazing birds and even have a go at trying to ride one! However, there are many other things you can do in Oudtshoorn if Ostriches aren’t your thing; the Cango Caves and Wildlife Reserve are really worth visiting. In the vast caverns of the caves you can see the amazing stalactites and stalagmites, whilst the wildlife reserve also allows you to get close to some of its big cats including Leopards. Oudtshoorn is also where some of the best South African port wines are produced so the vineyards are well worth visiting.
Next stop is Wilderness National Park a mix of coastal and mountain forest, lagoons and wetlands. With a wonderful year-round climate, it is an area of outstanding natural beauty renowned for its friendly welcome. Set between the Kaaimans River and the Goukama Natural Reserve, with the impressive Outeniqua Mountains on its border, it is a naturalist’s paradise with plenty of hiking and biking available. There are also beautiful beaches and tranquil seas, whilst the lagoon is ideal for watersports. The reserve is famed for the amount of birdlife and you’ll find whales and dolphins out to sea.
Next up, the seaside town of Knysna is at the heart of the Garden Route and one of the highlights of the route. Sitting on an attractive, oyster-rich lagoon and between the Tsitsikamma National Park, the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean, Knysna is home to abundant wildlife – and many excellent restaurants. Explore the enchanting town with its lovely harbour surrounded by shops and restaurants and also hire bikes and cycle through the woodlands. If you are around in late June/early July this is when the Knysna Oyster Festival is on which is a celebration of the good life, with sport and oysters as its focus. The town is also a great destination for golfers, with a collection of several world-class golf courses. Knysna’s lagoon is protected from the sea by the sandstone ‘Heads’ where the ocean meets the lagoon. Do go out to see them, they are best viewed from either a boat trip or from one of the many hiking trails within the Featherbed Nature Reserve.
Next along your way is the beach town of Port Elizabeth where you can enjoy the stunning beach and more excellent restaurants. After Port Elizabeth you’ll drive to Plettenberg which is one of South Africa’s best seaside resorts.
Plett is also wonderful for nature lovers with its large Cape fur seal colony, a seasonal penguin colony, dolphins and a chance to spot whales and sharks too. The coastline is great for walking and hiking. Nearby you’ll also find the largest enclosed aviary in the world at Birds of Eden and also a large primate sanctuary at Monkeyland.
If you’ve got more time, take a look at our , which adds a few days in the Winelands to the beginning of the route, and provides the ultimate finish, with a safari at the end! There are also plenty of other options when it comes to exploring South Africa, so take a look at our suggested for more inspiration.