The Garden Route is a stretch of road that winds along the coast through the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces. It is an extremely popular route for both tourists and locals and features quaint coastal towns with idyllic beaches, restaurants and shops. During the South African summer holidays, the route is at its busiest (December to January), when locals make their way to holiday towns for their annual vacation. But go any time of year, because this stretch of coastline has one of the mildest climates on Earth.
First thing’s first, you need a car, which can be hired from many locations along the way – depending on where you choose to begin. If you’re an avid golfer, pack your golf clubs because there will be plenty of golf courses to play, notably Simola, the George Golf Club and Fancourt. The Garden Route technically begins in Mossel Bay and ends in Storms River, but many people who drive the route will begin or end near Cape Town or Port Elizabeth. No matter the direction you’re driving, you can include as many or as few stops as you like. The towns of Plettenberg Bay and Knysna, which are 30 minutes apart, are roughly considered the halfway point. Thankfully these two coastal towns are also both exceptionally pretty, with many upscale hotels and restaurants.
Knysna is a laid-back, creative town located between a forest and the sea, around a lagoon. It’s known for its annual oyster festival (which takes place in July) and has some great dining options including 34 Degrees South, where you can enjoy oysters on the waterfront, and East Head Café, which has exquisite views of the Knysna Headlands, that open onto the lagoon. The lagoon is also one of the town’s biggest draws, where travellers can enjoy canoeing, water skiing and many other water sports.
Plettenberg Bay is slightly more glitzy and attracts a very affluent crowd. Located in a strikingly beautiful bay, Plett has some of the most gorgeous beaches along the coastline. One of the top beaches is Robberg Beach, a long stretch of seashore with crystal blue waters and sandy shores. Perpendicular to the beach is Robberg Nature Reserve, which has a beautiful cliff-side coastal walk. While there you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to swim with the colony of playful Cape fur seals in the Robberg Marine Reserve. Staying for lunch or dinner? Grab a table at Cornuti, the town’s buzziest and ritziest restaurant, with distant sea views. Alternatively, make your way a few minutes outside of town to Emily Moon, an upscale restaurant, which looks like the interior of an art collector’s home and has wonderful views over the Bitou River.
If you’re in search of a more mellow experience, Nature’s Valley offers wild, secluded beaches, where you’ll find more animal prints in the sand than bright beach umbrellas. Here, bush pigs, bush buck and wild birds are frequently spotted on and around the beach. The area is completely untouched, with no fancy restaurants or hotels, so if you’re looking to go off-the-grid, this is the place to do it.
A short drive from Nature’s Valley is Tstsikamma, nestled between the mountains and ocean. The biggest attraction here is the Tstiskamma National Park, home to mountains and a lush forest, which has many hiking trails, including the well-known five-day Otter Trail, perfect for avid hikers. Those seeking adrenaline water sports can go blackwater tubing through the caves and gorges of Storms River.
If you’re in search of extreme adventure, the Bloukrans Bridge, located nearby, is the highest commercial bridge bungee in the world. Action enthusiasts are invited to plunge off the bridge and plummet 216 metres towards the Bloukrans River, which runs through the crease of the valley.
Further east, Addo Elephant Park is a national park, which has the largest density of elephants in the country. Strictly speaking, the park is not actually on the Garden Route (it lies about two hours east of Storms River), but you simply can’t come all this way and miss out on experiencing a game reserve with so many free-roaming elephants. With
so much to see the suggested time to explore the Garden Route is at least five days.
Where to stay
Perched on a cliff overlooking Walker Bay, Birkenhead House is a five-star luxury beach hotel located in renowned whale-watching site, Hermanus. Rates start from R4250 (about A$388) per person for a Luxury Room that opens out onto a patio and pool area. theroyalportfolio.com/birkenhead-house/overview
The Plettenberg is another luxe hotel, which also overlooks the ocean, but is located closer to the town of Plett. Rates start from R3850 (about A$357) per night for a Double Room. collectionmcgrath.com/hotels/the-plettenberg
Located on the eastern head of Knysna, Conrad Pezula is set on the secluded Noetzie Beach. Here, you’ll enjoy cuisine made from produce grown on the grounds, wood-
burning fireplaces and exquisite ocean views. Rates starts from R2750 (about A$251) per night for a King Junior Suite with a private patio. conradhotels3.hilton.com/en/index