South Africa was the last country we visited in Africa and it was always our plan to see the Garden Route. This famed region known for its rugged coastline and sensational scenery, is a favourite with road trippers. That’s because the N1 Highway is in tip-top shape, is clearly signed and is super easy to drive.
When people tell you, ‘you must do the Garden Route’, there’s good reason behind it.
Where is the Garden Route?
The Garden Route runs along the southern coast of South Africa in between Storms River in Tsitsikamma National Park, in the Eastern Cape, and the town of Mossel Bay in the Western Cape. The route by road is around 800km.
It’s easy to navigate, has some absolute gems to explore and is absolutely stunning.
Here’s a mini guide to what to do during a road trip along the Garden Route to (hopefully!) help inspire your travels.
How much time do you need for a road trip along the Garden Route?
How much time you put aside for a road trip along the Garden Route really depends on what you want to do.
If you want to really get to know each of the picturesque coastal towns here at a relaxed pace, you could easily spend 10 days to two weeks exploring the region. However, if you don’t have that long, that’s completely fine too. We spent around 6 days here, and managed to see 3 or 4 coastal towns, take several day trips and take a detour to the town of Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo.
So you can tailor-make your road trip along the Garden Route depending on what you want to see.
What are the top towns to visit along the Garden Route?
The key towns you will want to consider visiting along the Garden Route are Jeffreys Bay, Storms River Mouth, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Wilderness and George with a possible detour to Oudtshoorn – the ostrich farm capital in the Klein Karoo (do it, you won’t regret it!)
I didn’t manage to explore all of the towns along the Garden Route – you’d probably need a good few weeks to do that – but here are the ones I did see and can recommend.
Why: Young and trendy town with a gorgeous, far-stretching beach and chic boutique hotels and shops
Tips: Have fish and chips in The Fat Fish or Off the Hook and have a drink at The Lookout – if you have good eyesight, you might spot dolphins and whales from the beer garden!
Can’t Miss: Hiking Robberg National Park.
Why: Quaint and charming town home overlooking the spectacular Knysna Lagoon and incredible cliffs known as The Heads. It’s also famous for its annual Oyster Festival but you can enjoy oysters on the waterfront year-round.
Tips: Check out Drydock and 34 Degrees for oysters and walk the disused railway line that crosses Knysna Lagoon. For gorgeous sunsets, head to Brenton on Sea.
Can’t Miss: A day trip to the waterfalls of Jubilee Creek Nature Reserve.
Why: A laid back town home to a brilliant long stretch of beach, interesting restaurants and heaps of nature. Great whale-watching from July to November.
Tips: Stop to see the staggering Kaaimans River Bridge where you may spot the famed Outeniqua Choo-Choo – one of the last remaining passenger steam trains in Africa.
Can’t Miss: Kayaking the Touw River to Wilderness National Park. As you hike through the forest you’ll follow a boardwalk that hangs scarily high above the woods. It’s worth the vertigo when you reach the most incredible natural rock pools. Bring your bikini!
And finally, if you have time, take a detour to:
Why: This traditional town in the Klein Karoo is surrounded by desert and dramatic mountain ranges and will offer a sharp contrast in scenery to the Garden Route.
Tips: Visit an ostrich farm, see the Cango Caves and drive the hair-raising Swartberg Pass (it’s worth it for the incredible views and to stop at incredible waterfalls along the way. The high street in Oudtshoorn is dotted with interesting bistros and shops selling all sorts of animals skins (which may put you off) and gifts made from ostrich feathers.
Can’t Miss: Ostrich salad at Nostalgie. The best thing you will ever taste.
And before we finish, time for some essentials!
Road tripping along the Garden Route: The Essentials
How do I get to the Garden Route?
We started our road trip along the Garden Route by first flying into Johannesburg and then taking an internal flight into Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. From there, we joined the N2 Highway. Port Elizabeth is a touristy seaside town and is definitely worth visiting for a night’s stopover to get your bearings. We stayed at Sir Roys at the sea – a very lovely guesthouse.
You can also fly into George Airport in the Western Cape, or drive from Cape Town. There are of course, international flights into both Johannesburg and Cape Town.
When is the best time to visit the Garden Route?
We visited during the summer when the temperatures were in the high 20s and everything was green and lovely. But it’s possible to visit The Garden Route all year round. If you visit between July and November you’re also going to have the best whale-watching experience.
Have you been to the Garden Route in South Africa and if so, what did you think? Feel free to share your stories and comments.