While it’s possible to drive the Garden Route’s 300km in a day, its stunning range of geography demands so much more. From Knysna to Plettenberg Bay, one moment you could be running over pristine sands, surfboard in hand, and the next pushing back the branches of a 600-year-old forest in search of elephants. In between, you’ll find valley wineries, cragged cliff walks and coasts speckled with historic towns. And throughout, you’ll have chances to spot everything from whales and dolphins to bright green loeries and blue-backed kingfishers. To make sure you don’t miss a thing, we’ve compiled the following list of the route’s best stops.
Garden Route Map
The locations on the map are listed from A to J. Below is a description of each location.
Don’t be fooled by its white beaches and bright blue waters, ‘Plett’ is more than just a resort town. A nature lover’s gateway, the town looks back inland through indigenous verdure – the home of the last remaining forest elephants in South Africa – to the green peaks of Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma. It’s ideal for criss-crossing hikes and its waters are host to dive spots and whale watching tours.
Plettenburg Bay at sunset
Artsy Knysna with its lagoon islands ringed by ancient forest – the country’s largest – makes for postcard-perfect views from its sandstone heads. However, linger a little longer to sail its waters, visit its gold rush museum and sample its world-famous oysters, themselves celebrated with an annual festival.
Knysna is famous for its oysters – be sure to stop off to try some on a road trip
Boardwalk rope bridges skip along Wilderness’s jagged coast while a tangle of rivers, lakes and estuaries ply its wetland interior. Explore it all on rambling hikes and canoe paddles with the area home to an abundance of birdlife. Back on the shoreline, the imaginatively-named Dolphin Point makes for excellent views of those well-loved mammals.
Wilderness is home to some intriguing ostrich farms
Small, hidden and perfectly formed, Victoria Bay is a cupped gem of golden sands that’s met by the rolling waters. Pretty cottages line its cliffs as surfers eulogise its right hand break and cruises set off for Seal Island and scuba sites. For the more adventurous, it’s also known for its excellent paragliding.
A train passes through the tunnel above Victoria Bay
Head inland to 19th century George that, despite being the largest settlement on the Garden Route, retains all its small town charm, realised in its miniature cathedral and Edwardian library. Centrally positioned, it’s an ideal base for exploring the route or a stop off for championship golf courses.
The (now defunct) steam railway line between Knysna and George
At Herolds Bay, a rough semicircle of sand is sheltered by green-carpeted cliffs, which jag down into the turquoise ocean. It makes for picturesque coastal walks and trails improved only by sights of playful dolphins and surfacing whales. In turn, its village hamlet makes for delightful stays.
Herolds Bay, Garden Route
Winding its way inland from a great beach curve and through a sandy estuary, this is the Garden Route at its peaceful best; timber holiday homes line its banks and only a single lane bridges its waters. Sunbathe on Great Brak’s quiet, sleepy beach or introduce yourself to the thrill of surfing.
Beach on Great Brak River
Through the years Mossel Bay has seen life as a 15th century Portuguese resupply point and a 20th century industrial seat. Today, it’s best known for its fine beaches and finer activities; think powerboats, shark cage diving and ship wreck exploring.
Once, Oudtshoorn’s ostriches supplied 19th century society’s fashionistas and today you can still visit its 400 farms and grand ostrich baron mansions. However, look beyond and you’ll find crocodile centres, cheetah breeding programmes and the natural cathedrals of Cango Caves among its subtropical waterfalls and semi-arid plains.
Odtshoorn can be explored via the excellent Rovos Rail
Set in a fertile, stream-watered valley slice of Karoo’s semi-desert, Calitzdorp is a town full of old-world charm. Its famous wineries look out across rolling farmland to the impressive Groot Swartberge ranges beyond. Sample the local delicacies in the June port festival or go for a dip in its natural hot spring baths, all backed by gorgeous views.
Red Stone Hills, Calitzdorp
South Africa's Garden Route passes through many lovely towns on its way from Cape Town to Knysna. Swellendam in particular has great examples of Cape Dutch architecture at its best. For many, Plett is the epitome of the Garden Route, with white sands, clear waters, forest-clad mountains and fabulous seafood within easy reach.