It starts at Mossel Bay in the west and stretches 200 km to Tsitsikamma National Park in the east. It is one of South Africa’s most popular destinations and offers fantastic holiday opportunities, with stunning scenery and great activities and accommodation. Our favourite stretch of the route is between George and Storms River, which is by Tsitsikamma National Park. There are some lovely places to stay along the way and numerous things to see and do. Knysna and Plettenberg Bay are particular favourites of ours. Knysna is set on an exquisite lagoon, while Plettenberg Bay is equally attractive in its own way, with fabulous sandy beaches and the Robberg Peninsula just a few kilometres away.
Time of year to travel
The best time to travel the Garden Route is during the summer months when the weather is at its best. It is a popular destination for South Africans during the Christmas school holidays from mid-December to mid-January, while overseas visitors tend to come in January, February and March. The weather only starts to heat up in the last half of November and is cooling down by April so, if you like warmer weather, we suggest you visit between December and March. It is quieter and cooler through the rest of the year, but still a lovely place to visit.
The Garden Route does not just have spectacular scenery to offer. There is plenty to keep visitors busy. There is some splendid walking and hiking in the forests between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay – you can kayak or canoe along the rivers or lagoons, go for a cycle ride, or play a round of golf on one of the many golf courses in the area. There are some beautiful birds to be spotted by keen birdwatchers, while whales and dolphins can be seen between July and November. For the more adventurous, there is one of the highest bungee jumps in the world and a zip ride through the tree canopy of the Tsitsikamma Forest.
Different ways to explore the Garden Route:
1. Drive all the way from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.
The overall distance is 769 km, so you need to like driving! This is a very interesting trip, but it should not be hurried. The whole idea is that you take your time so that you can appreciate the beautiful scenery and stop off at interesting places along the way – such as Hermanus, Swellendam, Wilderness, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Storms River.
2. Add–on Safari.
Although we are not particularly keen on Port Elizabeth itself, there are some excellent game parks in the area that, unlike those in the Kruger, are non-malarial. A popular way to end the trip along the Garden Route is to spend two or three nights at one of these parks. There are flights from Port Elizabeth back to Cape Town or on to Johannesburg.
3. Drive from Cape Town to Knysna/Plettenberg Bay.
This is extremely popular – the drive takes about five to six hours. However, if you don’t want to drive this in one day, you can break your journey by overnighting at Swellendam (about two and a half hours from Cape Town). This is a lovely little town with some very attractive Cape Dutch buildings.
The ‘official’ Garden Route starts at Mossel Bay, but we think the area east of George is much more attractive, and this is where we would recommend you base yourself. Although there are many lovely places to stay, we particularly like Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Not only are they very beautiful, but there are also lots of things to do within easy reach. When you have finished your holiday, you can drop your car at George Airport and fly either back to Cape Town or on to Johannesburg.
4. Drive from Cape Town to the George area along the coastal route, then back to Cape Town along the inland route on the famous Route 62.
Although tourists are always told how attractive the coastal route is up to George, we personally think the inland route is actually more beautiful! It is slightly longer and slower (it takes approximately one hour more than the coastal route), but we consider that views of the fabulous mountain scenery and the Little Karoo desert make it well worth while. You can even stop off at an ostrich farm at Oudtshoorn. If you want to break the journey on the way, we would recommend visiting the lovely little town of Montague. This trip can be done in either order – going up the inland route to George and returning by the coastal route or the reverse. It is equally good in either direction.