The Garden Route is one of South Africa’s most popular holiday destinations for its effortless combination of ancient forests, rivers, wetlands, pristine stretches of beach, lakes, mountains and fynbos. Garden Route offers a little of everything: spectacular scenery, fascinating wildlife, and adrenaline-fueled adventure. The route stretches for more than 200 kilometers from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River on the Eastern Cape, and snakes between soaring mountains and the surf-thrashed beaches of the Indian Ocean.
The perfect Garden Route itinerary especially if it is a self-drive would start from Port Elizabeth (the Eastern Cape) to the Mossel Bay (the Western Cape). The recommended self-drive tours start at 3 days and range up to 14 days. It all depends on how much time you have and how many stops you want to make. Alternatively, Garden Route starts in Mossel Bay in the west, and ends at Storms River in the east. In the middle, Kysna is a great place to base yourself on the Garden Route as all the attractions are within very easy reach and accommodation is good here.
The Garden Route has a lot to offer, here are the top-rated tourist attractions on the Garden Route:
Stretching for 77 meters, the bridge spans the swirling waters of the river mouth as they merge with the Indian Ocean. Standing on the bridge, less than seven meters above the water, visitors can feel the exhilarating force of nature all around them. The hike to the bridge is also beautiful. The trail winds through bird-filled forests, past waterfalls and stunning sea views.
Keep a lookout for dassies (rock hyrax) that live among the rocks near the bridge. For those who want a longer walk, the 42-kilometer Otter Trail runs between Storms River Mouth and Nature’s Valley with overnight accommodation in huts along the route.
The magnificent Robberg Nature Reserve is a national monument and a hiker’s paradise with a variety of trails and other things to do. It sits on a 4 kilometer-long peninsula, at the foot of the Mountain of the Seal, where some of the rocks date back 120 million years, and caves show evidence of pre-historic man.
The reserve is an important breeding area for many water birds, and hikers. You may also spot whales and dolphins (in season), as well as seals basking on the beach and bobbing in the crashing surf. Their awe-inspiring predator, the great white shark, also lurks in the waters here.
Sitting on a lagoon between lush forests and the sparkling sea, Knysna is one of the most popular towns on the Garden Route. On the seaward side, two giant crags, called the Knysna Heads, flank the mouth of the lagoon. Visitors can explore the area from the water on a cruise or along walkways with plenty of panoramic viewpoints overlooking the treacherous sea below and the jagged multi-hued rocks along the shore. Cafés offer scenic patios to soak up the views, and seafood lovers should sample some delectable local specialties while visiting Knysna.
Operating for more than 20 years, the park was the first sanctuary in South Africa to accommodate orphaned African elephants. Many of the residents were rescued from culls or circuses and rehabilitated by the staff. Animal lovers can enjoy a rare wildlife experience with a herd of rehabilitated elephants.
Under the careful supervision of experienced handlers, visitors can walk with the elephants, feed them, and interact with these majestic pachyderms. The experience begins with an educational presentation and safety briefing before visitors interact with the elephants at the level they choose, as long as the elephants are happy to cooperate. This is a must-do for wildlife lovers.
One of the most scenic mountain passes in the world, with stunning rock formations and sweeping views. Beyond the Cango Caves, the road climbs over the Swartberg range, which forms the boundary between the Little and the Great Karoo and extends for 200 kilometers rising up to 2,326 meters in some areas. The 27-kilometer pass zig-zags and snakes from Oudtshoorn in the south to Prince Albert in the north.
Magnificent views greet travelers around every bend, and the vegetation is equally beautiful, with a profusion of proteas. Be sure to bring a camera to capture the striking panoramas views and check road conditions before heading out.
- 6. Cango Caves
About 29 kilometers north of Oudtshoorn, at the foot of the Great Swartberg, are the impressive Cango Caves. In earlier centuries, these dripstone caverns were occupied by Bushmen, who left rock drawings, little of which can now be distinguished. Visitors can choose between a Heritage Tour or Adventure Tour. Both take visitors into a series of huge chambers with impressive stalactites and stalagmites enhanced by spectacular lighting effects.
It has excellent acoustics, and concerts that are occasionally staged there. The Adventure Tour starts at the same point but continues deeper into the cave system and requires some wriggling and climbing.
The one and only game reserve on the Garden Route, offering a great opportunity to go on safari for those with limited time in South Africa—for instance if you’re just doing Cape Town and the Garden Route this is going to be your closest safari option. There are guided safari drives through the reserve, which is home to the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo), as well as other animals from zebras, giraffes and cheetahs.
The 11,000-hectare private game reserve is just 48 kilometers from Mossel Bay and can be visited on a day trip or overnight stay. Accommodation options at Gondwana range from a luxury lodge to bush villas and a tented eco camp.
The world’s highest commercial bungee jump and operates from the world’s highest bungee bridge. Even crossing the bridge can bring butterflies to the stomach, yet many brave souls take the leap and dive 216 meters into the dizzyingly deep gorge below. Those who want to capture a bird’s-eye view can bring their own GoPro, but videos and photos of the jump are available for purchase after the plunge.
Mossel Bay’s scenery is now marred by industrial development and oil rigs, this seaside town is also the home to the excellent Bartolomeu Dias Museum complex. It was built to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Bartolomeu Dias’ landing in Mossel Bay in 1488. At the museum complex, the reception and information center are housed in the Granary where visitors can view specimens of local plants and flowers. From here, an ethnobotanical garden leads to the other museums.