South Africa’s Garden Route is one of the country’s most famous drives, and for good reason. If you’re into rugged coastlines, deserted sandy beaches, local wildlife, mountain passes and huge vistas, then this is the stretch for you.
Just don’t go expecting seed catalogues or botanical gardens; this is a 300 kilometre route hemmed by indigenous forest, “fynbos” bush and pine plantations that runs from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the Eastern Cape.
I spent a good week cruising the Garden Route on Intrepid’s Kruger, Coast & Cape trip in a decked out overlanding vehicle, camping beneath the Tsitsikamma mountains, watching the surfers shred J-Bay, and ziplining through ancient rainforest. While almost every kilometre spent on the road is first-class driving, these are my must-stop destinations en (Garden) route:
This is just the cutest town, ever. Charming, is a word that comes to mind. As does ‘quaint’. Knysna (pronounced ‘nice-nah’) is a seaside holiday town at the heart of the Garden Route. The village sits at the edge of a picturesque lagoon that’s home to a bunch of wooden sailboats. You can either sit and enjoy a coffee by the jetty, or catch the ferry out to the Featherbed Nature Reserve and stroll the cliff-top paths. If you’re feeling outdoorsy and need to stretch your legs after sitting in the car, Knysna forest also makes for a good day walk.
When you arrive in Wilderness, you know you’re well and truly on the Garden Route. This is one of the most spectacular beaches in South Africa. Admittedly, I didn’t visit every beach in South Africa but I did go to one in Mozambique and Wilderness is better than that. This place is a hive of beach-side walking trails and delicate ecosystems, making it a paradise for the nature enthusiast.
3. Storms River Village
Camping just outside of Storms River in the Tsitsikamma National Park was one of the most epic overnights of my life. From the inside of your tent, you look directly out onto the wild coastline, packed with migrating whales and playful dolphins. Behind your tent is the indigenous forest, where you can hike to hidden waterfalls or kayak its rivers. Make sure you bounce along the suspension bridge and fly through the trees on a zipline canopy tour.
4. Mossel Bay
Not feeling the rough and rugged coastline? Prefer a peaceful beach swim? Mossel Bay is both the start of the Garden Route and also the perfect place to take a dip at a protected sandy bay. It’s a regular South Africa holiday spot, so expect family friendly fun, like a trip out to Seal Bay and horse riding along the beach, alongside the more adrenaline-fuelled activities, such as surfing and game reserve driving at Botlierskop.
Driving out to Oudtshoorn could very well be the best part of the Garden Route. Look out for the dramatic mountain range (it’s hard to miss) as you head into Little Karoo, a semi-arid region. Desert-like, surreal and also South Africa’s ostrich capital, FYI. If you’re keen to learn about ostriches, this is the place. Take a trip out to one of the farms and come neck to neck with the huge birds. Otherwise, Cango Caves are worth an afternoon visit; you can tour the underground cave network that’s home to hanging stalactites older than your imagination.
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All images by Ryan Bolton.