As one of the most popular destinations for tourism in the country, it can be surprisingly hard to find information on how to plan and drive the South African Garden Route. We’ve done our best to lay out exactly what you can expect, from highlights of the route, to worthy detours, suggested itineraries, budgets and more.
Along the southern coast of South Africa sandwiched between Cape Town on the Western Cape and Gqberha (Port Elizabeth) on the Eastern Cape, lies one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world. Akin to the Pacific Coast Highway in the United States (which runs along the Oregon Coast), the South African Garden Route follows the N2 along the coast passing through the world-renowned Wilderness National Park, Knysna and Tsitsikamma National Park.
As one of the most popular destinations for tourism in South Africa (and for good reason!), the 300 km (190 mile) stretch known as the Garden Route has plenty to offer any type of traveler – from fun for the whole family, to retiree enjoyment and outdoor adventures for the most daring adrenaline seekers.
After years of dreaming about doing a road trip on this iconic route, I finally found the right time and itinerary to fit my schedule. I got to experience some of the highlights for myself and learned first-hand that it’s nearly impossible to have too much time on the Garden Route and there’s always more to keep you busy.
In this article we’re going over everything you need to know to plan your trip driving the South African Garden Route. We’ll cover all the highlights, including some optional stops and worthy detours outside of the official route, and a few suggested itineraries.
- Garden Route overview
- Transportation options
- Best time to go
- Highlights of the Garden Route
- Suggested Itineraries
- Budget for the Garden Route
- What to Pack
Garden Route at a glance
The Garden Route National Park, which is managed by the South African National Parks organization, encompasses a stretch of land from Wilderness all the way to Tsitsikamma National Park straddling the Western and Eastern Capes.
- Mossel Bay: The official start to the Garden Route, a sleepy coastal town with nice beaches and some cool things to do
- Wilderness: A small coastal town with a long, wide stretch of beach, tons of hiking and outdoor-loving population
- Wilderness National Park: A protected area of indigenous forests, various lakes and winding waterways between the larger towns of George and Knysna
- Knysna: Most-visited stop along the Garden Route, Knysna features an island-dotted lagoon making it perfect for water sports and outdoor activities
- Garden of Eden: A small oasis in Harkerville Forest with a 1 km boardwalk, just off the N2 between Knysna and Plett
- Plettenberg Bay: A seaside town adjacent to the Robberg Nature Preserve peninsula with lots to do and explore
- Nature’s Valley: A small resort town with a beach on the edge of Tsitsikamma National Park
- Bloukrans Bridge: One of the tallest commercial bungy jumps in the world, standing at 216m above the Bloukrans River near Nature’s Valley
- Storms River: Technically the last stop on the official South African Garden Route, first crossover into the Eastern Cape, and nearest town to Tsitsikamma National Park
- Tsitsikamma National Park: Translating to “the place of much water” this protected area encompasses kilometers of rocky coastline at Storms River Mouth, reefs and other seascapes as well as temperate forests
Since many travelers are driving the Garden Route coming from either Cape Town or Gqberha (Port Elizabeth), there are a few other notable stops along the route that aren’t part of the Garden Route National Park, but are nonetheless still worth a stop if you can fit into your itinerary.
- Hermanus: Seaside resort town known as a premiere destination for whale watching from June – September
- L’Agulhas: A coastal resort town located on the southernmost tip of Africa on the mainland
- Oudtshoorn: A town in the inland Klein Karoo area of the western Cape known for its ostrich farms and the Cango Caves system
- Jeffreys Bay: A laid back surf town and mecca of sorts for surfers due to its right-hand point break
- Addo Elephant National Park: A diverse wildlife conservation park near Gqberha that allows for self-drive safaris with a good chance or spotting elephants among other large African wildlife
Psst! If you’ll be making a stop before or after your Garden Route road trip, be sure to read up on all the fun things to do in Cape Town so you don’t miss out!
Transportation options for the Garden Route
Driving the South African Garden Route is the best way to experience this part of the country – at your own pace, on your own schedule. When considering how to get around on your Garden Route road trip, you have two standard options; you can rent a car and stay in hotels/guesthouses, or you can opt for a campervan rental and bring your accommodation along for the ride.
Renting a car is best done at the major airports in either Cape Town or Gqberha (Port Elizabeth), depending on where you plan to start your journey. There is also the option to pick up at one airport and drop off at the other, but you’ll have to pay the rental company fee for a different drop off location.
Renting a campervan for your Garden Route road trip is a great option for those who are looking for an adventure! Katie & Ben rented a van through Happy Campers in Iceland and were very impressed with them. The company, which also operates in South Africa, has lots of different floor plans as well as choices for travelers on a variety of budgets.
They wrote an entire article on their campervan rental in Iceland, including the pros and cons of renting a campervan and what to consider when choosing a rental. Have a look if you are on the fence and not sure what to expect from a campervan rental.
Note: If renting a campervan for your South African Garden Route road trip sounds perfect, you’ll need to keep an eye out for a different kind of accommodation. We’ve helped you out by suggesting campsites—known as “Caravan Parks” in South Africa—for each of our highlighted stops.
Another option is to join a guided multi-day tour of the Garden Route. These tours are typically between 5 and 6 days and include trips to the Addo Elephant National Park for game drives as well as all transportation and accommodation at a reasonable price. While you won’t be on your own schedule and there will undoubtedly be some highlights you’ll miss, this is a great and affordable way to experience the South African Garden Route in a shorter period of time.
Best time to drive the South African Garden Route
The Garden Route makes for a beautiful holiday destination year-round, with a moderate climate suited for outdoor activities. However there are some things to consider when planning the timing of your trip.
Being in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite those of the North. This means peak summer months (and warmest weather) are November through April. And with the summer season comes the busiest tourist season on the Garden Route, with the peak being over the Christmas and New Year school holidays.
If you want to enjoy warmer weather—and the beaches—without the crowds, we’d suggest driving the South African Garden Route in February.
Alternatively, the coolest weather is experienced in June, July and August. However, whale watching season runs from July through October, peaking in September for those that are interested.
Temperatures rarely fall below 16°C (60°F) on the Garden Route—even during winter. But unlike in Cape Town, you can experience rain year-round, so keep this in mind when planning what to pack.
Highlights of the Garden Route
These towns fall along the N2 from Cape Town to Gqberha, and while not all considered to be part of the official South African Garden Route, they are often combined as stops on many Garden Route itineraries.
- At a glance: Seaside resort town known as a premiere destination for whale watching from July – October
- Distance from Cape Town: 138 km, via the coastal route (86 miles)
- Driving time from Cape Town: ~2 hours
- Recommended days: 1 day
Just about 2 hours east of Cape Town if you’re following the coastal route (highly recommended!), Hermanus makes a great stop on your way to the official Garden Route. This seaside resort town is a world-famous destination for whale watching as a breeding ground for southern right whales. Despite its popularity, the town has widely maintained the charm of a once-humble fishing village.
If whale watching, wine tasting and beaches sound good to you, you won’t want to skip this stop!
Things to do in Hermanus
- Wander the Hermanus Cliff Path through the Old Harbor (declared a national monument in 1970)
- Runs 11 km along the Hermanus coastline, but you can walk as much or as little as you prefer
- Great whale watching opportunities in season
- Have lunch at Bientang’s Cave Restaurant & Wine Bar
- Wine tasting in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley wine region
- Bouchard Finlayson Winery: one of the most awarded boutique wineries in South Africa
- Springfontein Wine Estate: one of the best wineries in SA according to Forbes
- Hamilton Russell Vineyards: known for their signature pinot noir and chardonnay in a bucolic setting
- Ataraxia: Focusing on just 4 signature wines produced with very little interference, tastings in a unique wine lounge
- Try the wine and food pairing menu at Creation Wines
- A multi-course experience drawn out over several hours
- Cost: R695 (~$50 USD) per person
- They have a vegan menu option available as well as alcohol-free “pairing” menus for young adults and kiddos
- Available from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. 7 days a week
- Whale watching in the bay (if you are visiting during whale season, July – September)
- Book a whale watching boat tour
- Gearing’s Point for an elevated view from land
- Head to the beach
- Voelklip Beach is one of the best beaches in South Africa with clean, clear water, white sand and an idyllic setting
- Go sea kayaking in Walker Bay or other outdoor experiences with Walker Bay Adventures
- Sea kayaking for all skill levels, R450 (~$30 USD) per person, 2 hours
- Hiking in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve
- Check out a Saturday market
Where to eat in Hermanus
- Bientang’s Cave Restaurant & Wine Bar: casual fare served seaside with stunning views
- Only open 11-4 p.m. on weekdays, open until 8:00 p.m. on weekends
- Call ahead to reserve a table on the water
- Highly recommend the Malva pudding dessert – an African classic, it’s similar to a bread pudding served with ice cream and it’s delicious
- Groves Cafe: great breakfast spot in town
- Lizette’s Kitchen: gourmet comfort food in a cozy setting with sunny patio
- Fabio’s Authentic Ristorante Italiano: family-owned hotspot and local favorite serving up authentic Italian with a superb wine list
- Creation Wines: high altitude winery with mountain views and an excellent pairing menu
- Open 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. 7 days a week
- Mogg’s Country Cookhouse: family-run restaurant serving farm-to-table fare in a beautiful valley
- Kitchen is open from 12 – 2:30 p.m. (latest arrival) Wednesday – Sunday
- Best to call ahead for reservation
- Dutchies Restaurant: laidback beach vibes with stunning views and casual food
- Manor House Restaurant at Stanford Valley Guest Farm: country cooking with a contemporary flare in a dreamy countryside setting
- The Restaurant at Newton-Johnson: seasonally evolving menu with farm-to-table ingredients in a picturesque vineyard setting
Where to stay in Hermanus
- Onrus Caravan Park: A municipal-owned caravan park situated right on the coast, just 5 minutes from the city center. Facilities include flush toilets, hot water showers and laundry.
- Hermanus Backpackers: An owner-run lodge catering to backpackers and budget travelers with private rooms, doubles, triples and dormitory-style offerings.
- One Marine Drive Boutique Hotel: A quirky, yet stylish 8-room boutique property in Westcliff along the Hermanus Cliff Path.
- Harbor House Hotel: A beautiful historical manor house-turned-hotel with a multitude of accommodation offerings for guests, a large swimming pool and sea views, right in the heart of town.
- The Birkenhead House: Part of The Royal Portfolio, and voted one of the top 5 hotels in Africa by Travel + Leisure, this luxury property overlooking the coast of Walker Bay will set you back upwards of $450+ per night.
- At a glance: A coastal resort town located on the southernmost tip of Africa on the mainland
- Distance from Hermanus: 127 km (79 miles)
- Driving time from Hermanus: 1 hour 45 minutes
- Recommended days: 0-1 day
Ever wondered what it would be like to stand at the southernmost tip of Africa, knowing the entire continent is stretched out in front of you? A bucket list experience for many, a pilgrimage to L’Agulhas while making your way to the Garden Route is a fairly easy detour. The coastal holiday town isn’t very large, but there are still some fun activities to keep you busy for a day or two.
Itinerary Note: This is a destination I skipped on my road trip to conserve time. I felt there was way too much to do on other parts of the Garden Route to fit into my short itinerary. It adds an extra 1.5 hours (100 km) to your drive from Hermanus to Mossel Bay, so you could potentially make it a stop on the way instead of staying the night.
Things to do in L’Agulhas
- Follow the wooden boardwalk to the southernmost tip of Africa and get the obligatory photo (or 10!) of the point where the two oceans meet
- Visit the second oldest working lighthouse in South Africa and climb the 71 steps to the top to get some beautiful views
- It closes at 5 p.m. to be sure you arrive with plenty of time
- Catch a sunset from Struisbaai Harbor
- Visit the Japanese shipwreck of Meisho Maru that ran aground back in 1982
- L’Agulhas National Park for hiking or mountain biking, or just enjoying the scenery
Where to eat in L’Agulhas
- Catch Cook Restaurant & Beach Bar: A casual spot in the Harbor for sundowners
Where to stay in L’Agulhas
- Struisbaai Caravan Park: Ideal for budget travelers and campervan-ers, facilities here include electrical hook ups and restrooms with direct access to the beach
- Agulhas Rest Camp: Offers 2- and 4-bed chalets in the National Park
- Agulhas Ocean House: Backed up to the foothills, this beautiful guest house has ocean and mountain views to enjoy. The highly-rated property offers contemporary rooms with en suites and a beautiful sun terrace to enjoy the views.
- Agulhas Country Lodge: Another guest house style lodge with private ensuite rooms and a beautiful ocean view.
- At a glance: The official start to the Garden Route, a sleepy coastal town with nice beaches and some cool things to do
- Distance from Cape Town: 384 km (239 miles)
- Driving time from Cape Town: 4 hours, 45 minutes
- Recommended days: 1-2 days
A harbor town in the western Cape, Mossel Bay occupies the Cape St. Blaize Peninsula, which is known for its rocky shores to the south and the wide Santos Beach to the north. The 19th-century Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse sits at its point providing unparalleled views of the surrounding sea.
Driving Note: There isn’t a lot going on between Hermanus and Mossel Bay. I learned the hard way that there are no gas stations or bathroom stops for miles. There are a few “rest stop” pull-offs with a small parking lot and picnic tables, but no facilities. Keep this in mind when leaving Hermanus (aka do yourself a favor and use the restroom before you get on the road!).
Things to do in Mossel Bay
- Climb the St. Blaize Lighthouse for unparalleled views
- Hike the St. Blaize Trail
- 14km, moderate to challenging point-to-point trail along the coast line, estimated to take about 6 hours to complete
- There are a number of exits from the trail so you don’t have to do the whole thing.
- We hiked from the lighthouse in Mossel Bay to the Clubhouse at the Golf Resort (~11.5 km) and it took us about 3.25 hours. From the Clubhouse you can have a nice meal and have the staff call you a taxi to bring you back to your accommodation in Mossel Bay.
- The hike consists of mostly rocky, uneven terrain. It can be done in athletic shoes (like I did), but hiking boots would be ideal for the trail.
- Tip: Wear sun protection as there is minimal shade on the trail (and the SA sun is no joke!)
- Transport yourself back in time with a visit to the Point of Human Origins Cave
- Ride the longest over-water zipline in the world (if you look closely at the top photo, you can see the zipline running down over the ocean)
- Approximately 1150 m (3773 ft) long and 90 m (295 ft) above sea level
- Average speed reached is 80 km/hour (~50 mph)
- At this time they are only accepting walk-in bookings (no online bookings available)
- Check out the Dias Museum Complex which houses the Maritime Museum, the 500-year-old Post Office Tree, the Shell Museum and Aquarium, and a life-sized replica of Bartolommeo Dias Caravel
- Try some adrenaline sports such as quad biking, paragliding, skydiving or shark cage diving (Note: If you are participating in animal tourism, be sure to do your research and go with a reputable company that has responsible tourism practices)
- Head to Botlierskop Private Game Reserve (a 30 minute drive inland) for a safari experience on a 3-hour guided game drive
- For serious hikers, the multi-day Oystercatcher Trail begins in Mossel Bay and covers the largely undeveloped coastline between there and Gourikwa Private Nature Reserve
- Traveling with kids? Check out the Shark Lab Mini Aquarium and Research Facility to introduce a better understanding of these great predators to younger generations.
Where to eat in Mossel Bay
- Cafe Gannet: fine dining seafood restaurant on the coast
- Delfino’s Seaside Restaurant: a casual restaurant at The Point with ocean views
- Kingfishers: Slightly less casual restaurant at The Point with seafood and ocean views
- Kaai 4 Braai: Traditional African-style braai
- Blue Shed Coffee Roastery: Well-known for its unique coffee bean options and freshly roasted in house, a must-go for coffee lovers
Where to stay in Mossel Bay
- The Point Caravan Resort: A seaside RV park at The Point with well-maintained restrooms and shower facilities as well as laundry, an information desk and a small store for necessities.
- Santos Express Train Lodge: A super unique accommodation in an old train carriage offering private rooms up to a 16-bed dormitory.
- Aqua Marina Guesthouse: Super cute, friendly and welcoming hosts who live on the property and make you feel right at home. Delicious breakfast included. This is where we stayed for 2 nights and it’s highly recommended!
- Protea Hotel by Marriott: With a boutique hotel feel, this elegant hotel overlooking Mossel Bay Harbor was built in 1846. A 5-minute walk from Santos Beach, the property offers a terrace and a pool with ocean views.
- African Oceans Manon on the Beach: Located north of the city center in Bay View, this guest house offers direct access to the beach, spacious and contemporary furnished rooms and a deck with pool, hot tub and fire pits.
- At a glance: A town in the inland Klein Karoo area of the western Cape known for its ostrich farms and the Cango Caves system
- Distance from Mossel Bay: 85 km (53 miles)
- Driving time from Mossel Bay: 1 hour 15 minutes
- Recommended days: 1-2 days
Situated inland in the Western Cape, Oudtshoorn (pronounced “oudt-shorn”) is known as the ostrich capital of South Africa because of the abundance of ostrich farms in the vicinity. Though you can no longer hop on the back of an ostrich for an adrenaline-pumping ride (we’re glad they are cracking down on animal tourism!) there are still lots of other things to do in this city that attract tourists.
Itinerary Note: You can either choose to visit Oudtshroon from Mossel Bay (a ~1.5 hour drive) or you can swing through here on an alternative route on your way back to Cape Town after going as far on the Garden Route as you prefer. If you are trying to save time on your Garden Route itinerary, this is another stop we’d suggest you can skip.
Things to do in Oudtshoorn
- Tour the Cango Caves, an impressive cave system and the largest attraction in the area
- Visit the Cango Ostrich Farm where you can learn about ostrich-raising, feed and interact with the birds, and even see babies if you come in the right season
- Hike, bike or horseback ride the equestrian trails at the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains
- Go on a guided meerkat tour and see these interesting little creatures up close in their natural habitat
- Do a 2-hour game drive through Buffelsdrift Game Lodge to admire hippos, giraffes, zebra and more in their natural habitat
- Go wine tasting at nearby vineyards in the Klein Karoo region
- Have a picnic near Rust en Vrede Waterfall
- Visit the CP Nel Museum to learn more about the history of Oudtshroon and ostrich industry
Where to eat in Oudtshoorn
- Cango Woodfired Pizzas: The best pizza takeaway in town
- Brian’s Grill & Family Restaurant: A sort of local hangout offering live music in a steakhouse-style restaurant
- La Dolce Vita: Super casual Italian-African fusion place with wooden tables and plastic chairs
Where to stay in Oudtshoorn
- Kleinplaas Self-Catering Holiday Resort: A 4-star campsite and bed & breakfast offering shaded campsites with electrical points, well-maintained bathroom facilities, a central barbecue area, communal pool, as well as laundry facilities.
- De Zeekoe Guest Farm: A beautifully restored colonial homestead-turned-guesthouse surrounded by the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains. The property offers stylish rooms with private patios, a swimming pool and meerkat tours.
- Protea Hotel by Marriott: Offering unique accommodation in chalets and rondavels with individual private entrances, an outdoor pool, large terrace and charming restaurant.
- La Plume Boutique Guest House & Spa: Large beautifully decorated rooms with historic charm and modern amenities make up this guesthouse. The shared lounge areas, restaurant and swimming pool all offer guests a place to relax with a luxurious feel.
- Buffelsdrift Game Lodge: Spend a night or two in a game lodge, the perfect base for taking morning and sunset game drives for wildlife spotting through the bush. Though the price tag is a splurge (and stay is all-inclusive) the accommodation isn’t your typical “luxury” – the rooms are actually free standing tents (with plumbing and furniture).
- At a glance: A small coastal town with a long wide stretch of beach, tons of hiking and outdoor-loving population
- Distance from Mossel Bay: 59 km (37 miles)
- Driving time from Mossel Bay: 45 minutes
- Recommended days: 1-2 days
The perfect combination of back-to-nature tranquility and adrenaline-pumping fun, you won’t want to skip this stop on the South African Garden Route. Wilderness has lush green mountains, an expansive stretch of beach, plenty of waterways and all the charm of a small town with a population as excited about the outdoors as the visitors passing through.
Itinerary Tip: Drive the Seven Passes Route (a beautiful drive!) from George, but only through the first two passes and then turn right to head towards Wilderness.
Things to do in Wilderness
- Hike the Half Collard Kingfisher Waterfall trail and go swimming at the base of the waterfall
- A 7.6 km moderate out & back trail that’ll take about 3-4 hours to complete including a swim
- Permits are R170 per person for non-SA residents and can be purchased at the trailhead. Follow Google maps to the trailhead here, park on the side of the road and follow the path into the forest. There will be a small “reception” shed just a few steps into the woods.
- Bring bug spray, the mosquitoes are vicious!
- Relatively flat trail, most of which is on a boardwalk through the forest
- Took us 1 hour in each direction going at a steady pace
- There is a point where you need to cross the river on a small raft that is self-propelled by a pulley system
- Stop by Timberlake Farm Village: a small collective of local businesses
- Eat at Zucchini (nice atmosphere to work from – but wifi is pretty dismal)
- Large restaurant, no need to make a reservation ahead of time (we were the only ones there when we came around 2 pm on a Tuesday)
- Do some other hiking in Wilderness Ebb & Flow National Park
- Paragliding: the area is quite famous for it, so why not give it a try
- Paddle up the Touw River in a canoe or kayak
- Check out the famous Map of Africa viewpoint
- Join Biologist Judy Dixon for her signature Moonlight Meander on on Swartvlei Beach
- Discover the diversity of marine life in the intertidal zone at Gericke’s Point
- A 3-3.5 hour nocturnal tour that takes place every two weeks over the spring low tides during the full and new moon phases
- Cost is R150 per person and can be schedule via email on their website
- Go windsurfing on Swartvlei Lake (you’ll need a permit from SANParks’ Ebb & Flow Rest Camp in Wilderness)
- Take in the views at Dolphin Point Lookout
- Enjoy whale watching along the coast during the months of July – November
- Migratory southern right and humpback whales
- Ocean Odyssey offer boat-based whale watching tours
Where to eat in Wilderness
- Serendipity Wilderness: A South African inspired gourmet experience and the highlight of our time in Wilderness!
- Must make a booking ahead of time as they only seat 11 tables per evening
- Tip: Even if they are fully booked for the night you are trying to book, put your name on the waiting list. If the weather permits, they will open an extra table of two on the terrace outside.
- Ilali Restaurant & Social Bar: Offering tapas, pizza, comfort food, cocktails and live music; what more could you ask for!?
- Blue Olive Restaurant: If Ilali is full, pop across the street to the Blue Olive for a relaxed dining experience with an assorted menu of local and classic foods.
- Green Shed Roastery Coffee Shop: Same owners as the Blue Shed in Mossel Bay, this quirky spot offers beans from around the globe and limited food options.
- Pomodoro: Authentic Italian food in a relaxed environment, boasting the best pizzas on the Garden Route.
Where to stay in Wilderness
- Ebb & Flow Rest Camp: A highly-reviewed and popular campsite and caravan park in Wilderness National Park along the Touw River.
- Wilderness Beach House & Backpackers Lodge: Situated just off the beach in Wilderness, this social hostel offers a range of accommodation options from private rooms to mixed dormitories at a very affordable price.
Mid-range / couples:
- Villa Sol: We stayed in a gorgeous suite at Villa Sol with our own private balcony overlooking the town/beach and it was west-facing so we got some epic sunsets.
- Pearl Moon Boutique Suites: Located near the village center and a 6 minute walk to the beach, this boutique guest property offers private rooms with ensuites and shared living spaces such as a kitchen and lounge.
- Cinnamon Boutique Guesthouse: This highly-rated guesthouse offers a range of luxury suites with a shared pool and fitness center, just a 4 minute walk from the beach.
- Views Boutique Hotel & Spa: Perched on a bluff overlooking Wilderness Beach, this boutique property offers guests incredible views with floor-to-ceiling windows in every room.
- At a glance: Most-visited stop along the Garden Route, Knysna features an island-dotted lagoon making it perfect for water sports and outdoor activities
- Distance from Wilderness: 47 km (29 miles)
- Driving time from Wilderness: 40 minutes
- Recommended days: 2-3+ days
As the most well-known and developed coastal town on the Garden Route, Knysna is usually the highlight of most itineraries. The popular town is full all year round with vacationers, transplanted retirees and locals. The vibe here feels upscale and relaxed at the same time and you really get the feeling of a beach holiday here.
Things to do in Knysna
- Drive to the viewpoint at the East Knysna Heads for sunset
- Visit Featherbed Private Nature Reserve
- Optional tour: the Eco Experience: R625 per person, 3-hour experience includes round trip ferry ride, shuttle to the top of the reserve, optional guided 2.2 km hike back to the ferry (daily departures at 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.)
- We recommend taking the ferry to the Nature Reserve, doing the loop hike on your own and having lunch at the restaurant before catching the ferry back (last ferry is at 5 p.m.)
- Rent electric bikes from Knysna Cycle Works and ride all the way to Leisure Island and back
- 1.5 – 2 hours round trip
- Can explore Thesen Island by bike as well
- Go for a cruise around the lagoon; whether it’s a sailing adventure, sunset cruise or speedboat tour the highlight of Knysna is definitely all the water activities!
- Rent SUP boards or kayaks and paddle the lagoon
- Hike the Elephant Walks in Diepwalle Forest, the Knysna section of Garden Route National Park
- White Elephant Trail: 8 km (5 miles) moderate loop trail with rock pools, takes about 3-4 hours to complete
- Black Elephant Trail: 9 km (5.6 miles) easy loop trail, takes about 3-4 hours
- Red Elephant Trail: 7 km (4.3 miles) moderate – difficult loop trail, takes about 3-4 hours
- Home to the “Big Tree” and 800+ year old giant tree known as the King Edwards VII tree
- Visit the castle at Noetzi Beach and spend some time soaking up the sun
- Taste the famous Knysna oysters
Where to eat in Knysna
- Il de Pain: A very popular breakfast spot on Thesen Island, first-come-first-served, closes at 3 p.m. not open Sundays & Mondays
- East Head Cafe: Another popular breakfast and lunch spot that closes at 3 p.m.
- Tapas and Oysters: A great place for a casual dinner on Thesen Island, try the famous Knysna oysters or just go for tapas
- Cafe Mario: A casual Italian spot with good pizzas and pastas
- Blend: A country-style pub in a cozy historical building
- Drydock: Elevated seafood with lagoon views
Where to stay in Knysna
- Forest Timber Camping Decks: Situated in the Diepwalle Forest, these decks are set up under tree cover, but off the ground, to accommodate 3-man tents as part of the SANParks properties.
- Island Vibe Backpackers: Offering a range of accommodation for affordable prices, this vibe-y social hostel began in Jeffrey’s Bay and brought its surf charm to Knysna.
- The Lofts Boutique Hotel: A beautiful property on Thesen Island with contemporary designed rooms, a spa and an outdoor splash pool overlooking the lagoon.
- Bonus: breakfast at Il de Pain is included in your stay here!
- 47th on Howard: A boutique lodge situated near the Knysna Lagoon offering beautifully decorated suites, a pool deck and spa facilities.
- Pezula Nature Hotel & Spa: One of the most resort-like properties on the Garden Route offering luxury accommodation, pool and spa facilities and a golf course.
- At a glance: A seaside town adjacent to the Robberg Nature Preserve peninsula with lots to do and explore
- Distance from Cape Town: 32 km (20 miles)
- Driving time from Cape Town: 30 minutes
- Recommended days: 2-3 days
My personal favorite stop along the South African Garden Route, Plettenberg Bay (or “Plett” for short) is a beautiful holiday town with great beaches and incredible nature. A popular holiday spot for South Africans to vacation, this makes a great homebase to explore more of the Garden Route adventures. You could easily spend an entire week here and still find things to do!
Itinerary Tip: Pack a picnic lunch in Knysna and stop at the Garden of Eden in Hankerville Forest for a quick hike and picnic lunch on your way to Plettenberg. The short and easy walk is just a 1 km loop on a wooden boardwalk through the forest. (Entrance fee is R15 for non-SA residents)
Things to do in Plettenberg Bay
- Robberg Peninsula Hike: A must-do activity in Plett with some of the best views and scenery on the Garden Route
- One of the most famous hikes in South Africa
- The 8.7 km (5.4 mile) moderate loop is said to take 4-5 hours to complete, though we did it in under 4 hours with a 30 minute picnic and swim break
- Entrance fee is R50 per person
- The trail is partially on a boardwalk, partially walking through sand and partially climbing over rocks (at the point specifically), however, it can easily be done in trainers
- Don’t rush on the trail, stop in as many places as you feel like to rest and take in the scenery
- There are a couple cut-overs so you don’t have to do the entire route
- Because of the tides, it is not recommended to hike all the way to the point after 3 p.m. (there is a sign that will advise you to cut-over if you’ve reached that point after 2:30 p.m.)
- Go for lunch and wine tasting at Bramon Wine Estate
- Hit the beach
- Central Beach (aka Beacon Island) is good for swimming at low tide with no large waves
- Keurbooms Beach, the best beach with less crowds
- Visit the Plettenberg Game Reserve for a 2-hour game drive (or horseback safari)
- Go scuba diving in a seal colony at the Robberg Nature Reserve
- R850 + scuba gear rental
- If you are not into diving, you can do a snorkeling experience with the seals instead
- Visit the Tenikwa Animal Sanctuary
- Important Note: Tenikwa is a non-profit organization. All income derived from tourism activities supports our sustainability as a vital wildlife rehabilitation facility for The Garden Route.
- Check out Birds of Eden (the largest free-flight aviary) and Monkeyland Sanctuary (the world’s first free-roaming multi-species primate sanctuary)
- Get to Birds of Eden by 8:00 a.m. to see the staff feeding the birds (a much easier time to spot them)
- Buy a multi-site ticket: R560 for all three (including Jukani), R450 for any two and R280 for a single visit
- Spend some time with the big cats at the Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary: An ethically run sanctuary where rescued big cats go to live out the remainder of their days in peace.
- Join a canyoning tour and spend the day scrambling, floating, swimming, walking, and abseiling through a canyon
- Walk around the downtown area and check out the shops on Main Street
- the Village Bookshop is worth a peruse and it has a nice coffee shop in the back
- Venture to Nature’s Valley for some epic hiking
- About a 30-minute drive east, 34.4 km (21.4 miles) from Plett
- Nature’s Valley hiking
- Do the tallest commercial bungy jump in the world from Bloukrans Bridge
- 216m (709 ft) above the Bloukrans River near Nature’s Valley
Where to eat in Plettenberg Bay
- Barrington’s: A restaurant, hotel and small craft brewery with delicious food and a beautiful vegetable garden to grow their own produce.
- Note: we drove past this place on our way into town and the “craft brewery” caught our eyes so we decided to check it out. We loved everything from the beer flights to the incredible food and heavy wine pours. 10/10 in our book!
- Emily’s Restaurant at Emily Moon Lodge: An exquisite dining experience using seasonal fresh homegrown local produce in a unique setting
- Books out months in advance so be sure to make a reservation as soon as you’ve begun planning your itinerary
- Simon’s Bar: Located directly above Emily’s Restaurant at Emily Moon Lodge, the bar is a first-come, first-served situation with a delicious wood-fired pizza menu
- Get there early! They open at 5:00 p.m. and the whole (large) place was filled by 5:30 p.m.
- Order the Moroccan pizza if it’s still on the menu – delish!
- Fridays they have happy hour from 6-7 p.m. with half-priced drinks and live music into the night
- Nature’s Way Farm Stall: Stop by this cute family farm for a light meal of cheese tapas and ice cream for dessert!
- Bramon Wine Estate: A boutique wine estate and the first of its kind in the Plettenberg Bay area
- Open daily from 11-5 p.m., kitchen closes at 4
- Request a table outdoors in the garden (unless it’s an inexplicably hot day, on which sitting indoors with a nice breeze will be much more pleasurable)
- Enrico’s: An authentic Italian Restaurant situated right on the coast
- They don’t take reservations, so go early and try to catch the sunset while you’re there
- Roost Cafe: A delicious cafe with plety of veg options
- Adi’s Kitchen: A sort of “fusion” restaurant with international influences from around the world, healthy eats and plenty of veg options
- The Junction Boutique Hotel: Their restaurant, which is right out front open to the street, is a great place for a nice breakfast with healthy options and a small terrace.
- Le Fournil de Plett Bakery: A nice cafe for breakfast or lunch with a full menu, pastries and smoothies
- Nineteen89: A trendy eatery with more upscale fine dining on Main Street
Where to stay in Plettenberg Bay
- Keurbooms Lagoon Caravan Park: A camping and caravan park situated right on the water’s edge of the Kerurbooms Lagoon.
- Nothando Backpackers Lodge: A beautifully decorated lodge located in town, just a 15 minutes walk from the beach. They offer private rooms and dormitory beds at an affordable rate.
- The Robberg Beach Lodge: A beautiful guesthouse-style property with a range of different rooms at various price points. The property features multiple buildings, two pools and a restaurant.
- We loved our stay here and the suite we stayed in was very spacious and bright.
- Barringtons: A boutique 10-room hotel above the brewery and steps from the restaurant we mentioned above.
- Milkwood Manor on the Sea: A beautiful guest house overlooking the Keurbooms River lagoon and the Indian Ocean. A sun terrace with incredible views is the highlight of the property.
- Emily Moon River Lodge: An exclusive boutique hotel situated on the Bitou River in Plett with a distinctly quirky African flair. The hotel offers 16 lodge suites with views of the river and a communal pool and large deck with seating and firepits.
- Sky Villa Boutique Hotel by Raw Africa Boutique Collection: A stunning property situated just outside of the city center with incredible views of the Keurbooms River lagoon and the Indian Ocean. The amenities and views are what makes this place so special, but the service is said to be world-class as well.
- At a glance: Technically the last stop on the official Garden Route and nearest town to Tsitsikamma National Park
- Distance from Plettenberg Bay: 65 km (40 miles)
- Driving time from Plettenberg Bay: 45 minutes
- Recommended days: 1-2 days
While Storms River is technically the last stop on the official South African Garden Route, there really isn’t much to do or see in this tiny town. The real highlight is the surrounding nature and jagged coastline of Tsitsikamma National Park.
Its name means “the place of much water” and it’s no wonder because the Tsitsikamma National Park stretched 5km out to sea protecting the reef and sea life such as visiting dolphins and southern right whales as well as the Cape Clawless Otter that makes its home on the shore.
On land, the park stretches over kilometers of temperate high forest where ancient rivers carve through on their way to the ocean. The Storms River Mouth is at the heart of it all and a must-visit for adventure-seekers.
Things to do in Storms River
- Tsitsikamma National Park entrance will cost you R272 per person
- It is a good idea to get there early in the day as the queue of cars can fill up and take a while during high season
- Walk the Storms River Gorge suspension bridges. The original bridge was built in 1969. Today two additional suspension bridges join it spanning a total of 77 meters and providing visitors with optimal views of the Gorge.
- The bridges can be reached as part of the Storms River Mouth Trail, a 1km point-to-point trail from the small beach in front of the restaurant.
- Do some more hiking in Tsitsikamma National Park
- Viewpoint Trail: Continue on the Storms River Mouth Trail past the suspension bridges for 2km to the Tsitsikamma Viewpoint.
- Waterfall Trail: A 6.4km out-and-back trail to the Tsitsikamma Falls. This is the first half-day of the famous multi-day Otter Trail. Trailhead is at the Oceanettes on the east side of the Rest Camp.
- Loerie Trail: A 1km trail to the Agulhas lookout point and through coastal forest with some nice views.
- Blue Duiker Trail: This trail is a continuation of the Loerie Trail and goes for 3.7km deeper into the forest (away from the coast) where you will walk amongst the Outeniqua Yellowwoods, the true forest giants.
- Take a kayaking tour through Storms River Gorge
- Untouched Adventures is a locally owned and sustainable tourism company offering tours in the park.
- The kayaking and lilo tour is a must-do in Storms River. The tour takes 2.5 hours in total and costs R695 per person
- They also offer snorkeling, free diving and scuba tours
- If self-propelling isn’t your thing, you can take a boat tour up the Storms River Gorge on The Spirit of Tsitsikamma.
- Operating daily, depending on weather and conditions
- Book day-of at the boat house
- Do a canopy tour over Tsitsikamma Falls
- Tsitsikamma Adventures offers their signature waterfall zipline tours, consisting of 8, 3 or 11 ziplines in the national park, starting at R550 per person.
- Go mountain biking
- A 26km mountain biking trail runs from the Storms River Village, following the old Storms River Pass through the Plaatbos Forest to the viewpoint overlooking the River Mouth.
- Do a multi-day trek
- Otter Trail: Undoubtedly one of the best known and most popular South African hikes, this 5-day route takes you through indigenous landscapes for 48km (30 miles) along the coast line from Nature’s Valley to Storms River.
- Dolphin Trail: Beginning at Storms River Mouth, this challenging 17km (10.5 mile) trail winds its way through the forest and ends on the banks of the Sandrift River at The Fernery. The hike can be done in 2 days with 3 nights fully catered accommodation, meaning you won’t need to carry a big pack with all your equipment.
Where to eat in Storms River
- Fynboshoek Cheese: Home to an award-winning cheesemaker and restaurateur, this is a fun place to check out if you are into farm-to-table eating
- They are only open for lunches, from 12-4 p.m. and you must have a reservation
- There are a limited number of reservations available for I’d advise calling a week or so in advance
Where to stay in Storms River
- Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge: This is a MUST STAY according to many recommendations. This unique sustainable backpackers lodge offers a range of accommodations from campsites to private en suite rooms at an affordable rate. Its well-known reputation means this place attracts travelers from all over the world, some for short stays and some for months at a time. They also host a number of festivals on their grounds throughout the year.
- Storms River Mouth Rest Camp: A caravan park offering facilities and amenities right in Storms River Mouth Village inside the national park.
- Tube n’ Axe Boutique Backpackers: A quirky property with a range of affordable accommodation options located in Storms River Valley.
*For mid-range to luxury stays, we recommend staying in nearby Nature’s Valley or driving in from Plettenberg Bay.
- At a glance: A laid back surf town and mecca of sorts for surfers due to its right-hand point break
- Distance from Storms River: 99 km (62 miles)
- Driving time from Storms River: 1 hour
- Recommended days: 1-2 days
Though not considered part of the official South African Garden Route, Jeffreys Bay or “J Bay” as the locals call it, is a cool enough town on the Southern coast to make it on some Garden Route itineraries.
Surfers flock here as a sort of pilgrimage because Jeffreys Bay has some world-class surf breaks that offer great waves for beginners all the way up to die hard surfers. The town, which can be described as a much larger version of Muizenberg, has a laid back vibe and it’s not uncommon to see barefeet and sun-bleached heads everywhere you go.
Things to do in Jeffreys Bay
- Head to Supertubes Beach for arguably the best surf in South Africa
- Get out on the water in a different way with kayaks or SUP boarding
- If you’re down to try some boarding but not sure yet about the waves, try out sand boarding
- Visit the Jeffreys Bay Surf Museum
- Check out the Surf Village for some outlet shopping
- Rent fat bikes and do a beach ride
- Do some hiking in Kabeljous Nature Reserve
- Visit the African Dawn Wildlife Sanctuary to see some rescued native species up close
- Photograph the sunrise
- Need to get some work done on the road? J Bay has an excellent coworking space called The Green Room
Where to eat in Jeffreys Bay
- Die Walskipper: A feet-in-the-sand-experience with traditional South African flavors cooked over an open fire.
- De Viswijf Restaurant: A cozy family-run restaurant with an array of seafood, restaurant stables and African favorites.
- The Greek: Find traditional Greek food all the way down on the southern coast of Africa in this casual setting.
- J-Bay Bru Co: A quirky artisan family eatery with elevated pub food, a craft beer garden and all the surf vibes.
- The Wild Fig Farm: A modern farm-to-table restaurant with beautiful views over J-Bay from the North.
- Brewhaha Craft Beer: A craft brewery and restaurant with American-style food in the typical laidback J-Bay atmosphere.
- Catch of the Day: A casual spot for fresh seafood right on the beach
Where to stay in Jeffreys Bay
- Jeffreys Bay Caravan Park: A seaside caravan park with basic facilities, 24 hour security and 1.5km from the town center.
- African Ubuntu: A beautiful backpackers lodge catering to fun-loving people looking for an epic yet affordable base.
- AtSupers: An exceptionally rated guesthouse in a beautiful property just a few steps from Point Beach.
- On the Beach Guesthouse: A highly-rated guesthouse that’s located—you guessed it—on the beach in Jeffreys Bay.
- Dolphin Sunrise: Another beautiful guesthouse property offering luxury private suites just a 2-minute walk from Dolphin Beach.
- Intel Boutique Hotel: A boutique luxury game lodge located in Loerie, 27 km (17 miles) from Jeffreys Bay with incredible amenities on a beautiful property.
Suggested Garden Route itineraries
The Garden Route can be driven in either direction; coming from the West, travelers usually begin in Cape Town (which is how we did our trip), or coming from the East in Gqberha (Port Elizabeth). This means you can also rent a car from one end and drop off at the other end, flying into and out of different locations.
The suggested itineraries below are all out-and-back from Cape Town as this seems to be the most popular jumping off point for international travelers.
Suggested itinerary for 1 week on the Garden Route:
- Day 1: Drive Cape Town > Mossel Bay, stop in Hermanus for lunch
- Day 2: Hike the St. Blaize Trail, drive Mossel Bay > Wilderness
- Day 3: Hike the Giant Kingfisher Waterfall Trail, check out the Timberlake Farm Village for lunch, dinner at Serendipity
- Day 4: Drive Wilderness > Plettenberg Bay, stop in the Garden of Eden for lunch, visit the wildlife sanctuaries or do some hiking in Nature’s Valley or explore downtown and go to the beach or go wine tasting at Bramon Wine Estate, dinner at Emily Moon River Lodge or Simon’s Bar
- Day 5: Pack a picnic and hike the Robberg Peninsula, dinner at Barrington’s
- Day 6: Kayaking and Lilo tour in Storms River Gorge, hiking around Tsitsikamma National Park or do the Bloukrans Bridge bungy jump (if you dare!), drive Storms River > Knysna
- Day 7: Breakfast at Il de Pain, take the ferry to Featherbed Nature Reserve for some hiking & lunch before you return, drive Knysna > Cape Town
Suggested itinerary for 10 days on the Garden Route:
- Day 1: Drive Cape Town > Mossel Bay, stop in Hermanus for lunch
- Day 2: Hike the St. Blaize Trail
- Day 3: Drive Mossel Bay > Wilderness, hike the Giant Kingfisher Waterfall Trail, check out the Timberlake Farm Village for lunch, dinner at Serendipity
- Day 4: Drive Wilderness > Plettenberg Bay, stop in the Garden of Eden for lunch, spend the afternoon exploring Plett Bay, dinner at Emily Moon River Lodge or Simon’s Bar
- Day 5: Pack a picnic and hike the Robberg Peninsula, dinner at Barrington’s
- Day 6: Kayaking and Lilo tour in Storms River Gorge, hiking around Tsitsikamma National Park or do the Bloukrans Bridge bungy jump (if you dare!)
- Day 7: Drive drive Plettenberg Bay > Knysna, spend the day exploring Knysna or hanging at the beach, catch the sunset from East Knysna Heads
- Day 8: Breakfast at Il de Pain, take the ferry to Featherbed Nature Reserve for some hiking & lunch before you return
- Day 9: Rent bicycles and bike from Thesen Island all the way to Leisure Island and back, spend the afternoon at the beach or enjoying watersports
- Day 10: Have a slow morning and drive Knysna > Cape Town
Suggested itinerary for 2 weeks on the Garden Route:
- Day 1-2: Hermanus
- Day 3-4: Mossel Bay
- Day 5-6: Oudtshoorn
- Day 7: Wilderness
- Day 8-11: Plettenberg Bay/Tsitsikamma National Park
- Day 12-14: Knysna
Typical budget for the Garden Route
Driving the South African Garden Route is actually much more affordable than you might imagine. Especially when compared to a stay for a similar length of time in Cape Town. Accommodation is very affordable and if you are traveling on the US dollar or Euro, your money will go far when spent in South African Rand.
Below are some estimated costs to help you budget for your Garden Route itinerary.
- $30/day for a baseline small model car rental
- $50/day for a baseline small car rental with automatic transmission
- $65/day for the base model campervan rental
- $30/night for a campsite, including tariffs
- $15-$30/night for a bed in a backpackers lodge
- $100/night for a mid-range hotel or guesthouse stay
- $200+/night for a luxury hotel stay
Food & Drink:
- $5-$10 per person for breakfast
- $10-$15 per person per meal at a cafe or lunch spot
- $20-$35 per person per meal at a fancy restaurant including drinks
What to pack
The weather on the Garden Route will be cooler and wetter (especially once you cross over into the Eastern Cape) than in Cape Town. Be sure to check the weather and temperature highs and lows to help guide your packing.
- Dress in layers, be prepared for chilly evenings
- Athletic shoes and/or hiking boots
- Insulated water bottle: to keep your water cold while hiking in the hot sun
- Rain jacket
- Sun protection: sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat
- Bug spray or anti-bug balm
- Swimwear / quick-dry beach towel
- Day pack: for hiking and packing picnics
- Dry bag: for keeping your gear safe during water activities, or a Lifeproof phone case
- Car mount: to hold your phone for navigation while driving
- GoPro with waterproof casing
- Other Camera gear: there are plenty of incredible photo ops
- Travel insurance: to cover your rental car and medical
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