Not being a huge fan of roadtrips myself (I realize I’m in the minority here), I still made it a point to do the famous roadtrip of Garden Route in South Africa. Apparently, it’s not just the tourists who love the Garden Route, but locals too. I didn’t understand what was so special about this particular route and roadtrips are something you can do anywhere in the world and am glad to be proven wrong.
I visited South Africa for the third time in 2019; I spent my entire vacation days (almost 3 weeks’ worth) exploring the country in a leisurely pace even after seeing most sites on my own. I decided to tackle the Garden Route in this South Africa trip because a lot of locals, bloggers and guidebooks have recommended the trip and who am I to question such wisdom?
It turns out they were right; I’m writing this post almost one full year, a whole pandemic / global lockdown later, and every time I see photos from that trip, I can’t help but smile at the memory!
What is the Garden Route?
The Garden Route refers to a stretch of coastline drive (on the N2) along the Western Cape and technically finishing up at the border of the Eastern Cape. The “Garden” portion of the name refers to the diversity of wildlife, nature and cities that dot the drive. Although there are “designated” stops / towns that mark the “official” route, it’s not a hard and fast rule for you to stick with just visiting those cities.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, this is a trip well-worth the effort to plan and execute especially considering how easy it is and varied in terms of things to do / see / eat / visit. Even an eleventh hour decision on my part still became one of the best and most memorable part of my South Africa trips in the 3-4 times I’ve visited the country.
The Garden Route is well-developed; I’m talking about the many available hostels, local guesthouses and Airbnb, and the well-maintained roads. This makes the drive very safe, pleasant and comfortable. I rented a car and had no troubles navigating the drive between the cities. Gas stations, rest-stops and restaurants are widely available, especially as you get close to the cities. The drive between cities are usually 3-5 hours long so there’s lower risk of running out of food/gas en route.
As a solo female traveller who did this trip on her own, I would recommend it to visitors to the country – I had a great time exploring the country and all this trip had to offer!
Officially, the Garden Route stretches 300km with Mossel Bay in Western Cape (approx. 4-5 hours from Cape Town) as the starting point, and finishing up at Tsitsikamma National Park / Storms River Mouth. The trip itself can be as long or as short as you want it to and perfect for families, couples, solo travellers (yep, I did this trip myself!) groups of friends.
To make the Garden Route road trip worthwhile, three days is the minimum (also, give yourself enough time to enjoy the many cities and all they have to offer!) but it can be easily extended to a week or more. You can also continue the drive up to Port Elizabeth, Durban and Johannesburg.
Also, the Garden Route is far from being remote – there’s very few stretches of the road where you’d be the only driver around. I’ll also mention that not the entire stretch of the Garden Route is scenic – I left from Muizenberg and that was one of the most phenomenal and most scenic stretch of road up until I got on the N2 highway that covers the Garden Route. There’s very long stretches where all you see is farmlands, and the rural areas you’d drive by outside of the GTA.
Garden Route, South Africa Points of Interest Map
I’ve highlighted a few must-not-miss destinations here although you can customize your itinerary to your preference! ( – Must-see/visit/do; – stop here if you have time)
- Hermanus and Gansbaai – well-known area for whale watching (Hermanus) or shark cage diving (Gansbaai) – the two are often lumped together given their short distance (~40 minutes drive). Some months are better than others to visit
- Cape Agulhas – where the Indian and Atlantic ocean meet and also the southernmost point of the African continent
- Mossel Bay – a harbour town, “officially” the starting point of the Garden Route. Lots of fishing to be found here and a key attraction is the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex from where you can send a postcard from the The Post Office Tree (the first post-office in South Africa. I sent myself a postcard from here, and it did arrive, albeit it took around 2 months)
- Oudtshoorn – the ostrich capital of the world; you can visit an ostrich farm and buy a beautifully carved ostrich egg souvenir or visit Cango Caves on guided tours
- Wilderness – where you can find “The Map of Africa” viewpoint and go paragliding
- Knysna, Sedgefield & Knysna Lagoon – where you can find the “world-famous” Knysna oysters (You can find these in Cape Town but they’re super pricey), visit “The Heads” / Knysna Lagoon and Estuary, Featherbed Private Nature Reserve
- Plettenberg Bay (Plett) – a small harbour town between Knysna and Stormsriver – you can visit the Robberg Nature Reserve & Birds of Eden sanctuary here
- Bloukrans Bridge – go bungy jumping! Located at almost exactly the half-way mark between Tsitsikamma’s national park and Plett; an activity not for the faint-hearted!
- Stormsriver Mouth / Tsitsikamma National Park – known as the garden of the Garden Route; beautiful hiking trails, adventure activities (ziplining, dune safari, segway tours)
Budget / Leisure Options to Exploring South Africa’s Garden Route
To do a self-drive of the Garden Route, you’ll need to rent a car which isn’t too expensive in South Africa. I got a car that can comfortably seat 4 adults for $30/day with uncapped daily mileage (meaning I can drive as much or little as I want to during the day) and spent $250 on gas for a week.
Since I did this trip myself, the price per person ends up being being pretty pricey especially when you add up all the accommodation and entry fees. If you’re travelling with others though, the cost is not as much of a concern considering how much you can see/do/eat/visit in a single trip!
If you’re not pressed on time and want to take the more leisurely, cheaper option, consider taking the country-wide Hop on Hop Off BazBus service which I’ve reviewed before! The bus stops at major cities/towns on the Garden Route there are multi-day/week pass available that could be more economical and done at your own pace!
Is the Garden Route Worth Visiting?
Roadtripping sounds like one of those things you can do anywhere in the world, so what makes the Garden Route so special?
Well just like many things in South Africa, they just seem to do it better, cheaper, and with a much more scenic view and better weather than many places around the world. I’ll admit I’m a bit biased since South Africa generally ranks as one of my must-visit countries in the world. Here are a few reasons why you might want to squeeze in a Garden Route road trip on your next South Africa travel:
- It’s convenient, safe, comfortable, easy-to-plan: Did I mentioned I planned this trip at the eleventh hour? Literally the night before, and I didn’t even book a rental car nor accommodation until the morning that I left on the trip! A lot of the cities have their own tourism page so there was no difficulty finding “things to do/see/eat”
- There’s a lot to enjoy for everyone: Bungy-jumping, ziplining, kayaking, tubing and the many hiking trails at Tsitsikamma are going to be satisfying for the outdoorsy type. If you prefer wine, relaxing on this trip, you can have that too with spectacular beach views that aren’t crowded.
- You really don’t have to rough it out: The cities where I stopped are very well-developed; there was no issue finding a BnB nor place to stay. Hostels and homestays are abundant though make sure to check availabilities ahead of time especially during South Africa’s high season (Dec-Jan)
- It’s as long or as short as you want it to be: Don’t worry about a case of FOMO here – you can absolutely skip out on a few places to spend more time in others and you’ll still have a good time
Where to Stay on the Garden Route
Comfort // MosselBay
Stunning views of the Indian Ocean from your terrace? Check. Craft their own bottle of gin on site? Check! Unique experiences for a surprisingly small price tag!Book Here
Comfort // Hermanus
A small guesthouse featuring ocean views, a hot tub and sauna. Centrally located with tons of activities nearby and a breakfast bar with spacious rooms!Book Here
Comfort // Knysna
A small, comfortable guesthouse with views of the Knysna Lagoon – tucked in a quiet location and a short distance from Knysna’s main attractions!
Luxury // Knysna
Located at the tip of Thesens Island, Lofts Boutique Hotel offers uniquely themed accommodations and an outdoor splash pool overlooking the Knysna Lagoon.Book Here
Comfort // Plett Bay
Located a 2-minute walk from the beach with Indian Ocean, garden or Robberg Nature Reserve views. The hotel has 2 outdoor pools, a sun terrace and a braai area.Book Here
Budget // Stormsrivier
A budget option for travellers – rent the whole chalet or just a bed; free wifi, parking and braai facilities with the main sites being driving or walking distance!
How many Days to Spend on the Garden Route, South Africa
While everyone’s travel style is different, every stop on the the Garden Route has a very different vibe so it’s worth spending a bit of time at each. I spent 6 full days going all the way to Stormsrivier and driving back to Cape Town and that was extended from the 4 days I initially planned. I think 4 days would have been more than enough time and I only extended because I really enjoyed Knysna and Stormsrivier that I spent more time than anticipated.
From the blogs and guides I’ve read, 4-7 days a considered a comfortable pace – 3 days is doable if you’re tight on timing but can feel a little rushed. You can stretch the trip for as long as you like too!
My Favourite Memories from my Garden Route Road trip in South Africa
1. Staying at Orange Inn in Knysna and enjoying it so much that I extended my stay by 2 days!
I chose to base myself in Knysna and stayed at the beautiful Orange Inn, a top-rated family-run guest house that’s sufficiently tucked away from the main streets and delightfully close to the many attractions including Knysna Lagoons. Breakfast was included in the rate and served a la carte with changing daily menus; made with local produce and absolutely hearty to keep you filled during the whole day.
2. Special-priced oysters at 34 Degrees South
34 Degrees South is a waterfront restaurant where you can dine and enjoy fresh oysters, seafood, sushi located right around the in the Knysna Quays. The restaurant also features a grocery, bakery, fish shop, sushi, deli and home foods ranges which you can purchase as well. You can pick 6 oysters for R34 ($3.40) and I couldn’t help but enjoy a glass of pinot grigio along with my meal.
If oysters and seafood aren’t your thing, don’t worry about it – the menu features an amazing variety of options to enjoy! I had the seafood mezze along with my oysters because I’m a seafood diehard!
3. Finishing George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood During this Roadtrip
The best companion for this trip was a good book and I picked George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood for this drive! Simon Vance’s narration is absolutely A+ and I will forever associate this book with my Garden Route roadtrip – I keep thinking about how the very mentions of dragons, scheming and the many, many battles during the Dance will forever be associated with my epic roadtrip!
4. Getting an almost brand new rental car for my roadtrip
I’d lie if I said I wasn’t apprehensive of the thought of roadtripping by myself in South Africa; despite a hiccup at the very beginning, I ended up with an almost brand new rental car for the duration of my entire trip! It had only 135km and new car smell about it and the car was top notch – equipped with GPS, toll responder and Carplay, it made the entire journey so pleasant!
I’ll wrap up this post here as I feel like I’ll keep going on and on. Keep an eye out for more Garden Route posts on the blog!
Where to Next?
- Kruger National Park is the premiere spot for safari in South Africa and here’s how you can do an African safari on a budget!
- If you’re looking to explore all of South Africa, consider taking the BazBus – a hop-on-hop-off cross country bus!
- Here’s how much it costs to go to South Africa as a solo traveller
- Consider taking rideshare like Uber/Bolt to get around
- Make time to in surf in Muizenberg; here are spots closer to Cape Town
- Don’t forget to plan a day for hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head!