Authored by Dave Baxter
Planning an unforgettable trip to South Africa? Don’t miss exploring the Garden Route!
Covering some 300 km of stunning coastline, the Garden Route is an outdoor and nature lover’s paradise that is frequently regarded as the most beautiful region in the country.
Essential Stops Along the Garden Route, South Africa
About the Garden Route
South Africa’s Garden Route is named for its verdant and diverse vegetation encompassing numerous lakes and estuaries along the coast. The region has one of the mildest climates in the world, rarely colder than 10 °C in winter and rarely hotter than 28 °C in summer.
Visitors can self-drive the route, which is considered one of the best road trips in the world, or join one of the many excellent tours on offer.
While there is some disputing the start and end of the Garden Route, all seem to agree that it includes the area between Mossel Bay and Storms River. However, many visitors opt to start their Garden Route journey in Cape Town and end in Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), or vice versa.
Travelers usually take anywhere from 3 to 14 days to self-drive the route, with many reporting that 5 days is a good length of time to aim for.
We took just over a week to drive the Garden Route, making stops at most of the top towns and points of interest along the way. As with any road trip, we found some places to be underwhelming and many to be absolutely unforgettable.
Here are our recommendations for the five stops not to miss on your own Garden Route road trip, moving along the route from west to east.
It’s easy to overlook Oudtshoorn. After all, getting there requires deviating away from the coastline for an hour, right as you are just beginning your epic road trip.
Don’t worry. You won’t be disappointed.
Oudtshoorn is widely known as the Feather Capital of the World or Ostrich Capital of the World, and for good reason. You may never see so many ostrich farms (and ostriches!) again.
The ostriches are fun and all (and you may even get to ride one!) but you don’t come up to Oudtshoorn just to gawk at ridiculous looking birds.
Route 62, one of the main roads for accessing Oudsthoorn from the west, is nothing less than spectacular. It also happens to be South Africa’s longest wine route.
While you’re up here, don’t miss incredible Cango Caves, a subterranean wonderland and one of South Africa’s oldest attractions.
Ostrich safari, cave tour, and wine tastings. We guarantee you won’t forget this day any time soon.
When traveling east from Cape Town, visitors tend to focus their attention on Mossel Bay near the beginning of the Garden Route, before heading on to Knysna.
Instead, hop on to Route 62 at your earliest convenience, pay a visit to Oudtshoorn and surroundings, then head south on the N12 which will take you right in to a small seaside community of Wilderness.
Plan to spend a day or two in Wilderness, exploring the areas lakes, waterways, and beaches, in search of elusive bird species or simple solitude.
The village of Wilderness is a great rest stop, offering excellent food and accommodation, and a charming downtown drag.
If you’re keen on more exploring, take a canoe up the Touw River for abundant birdlife, waterfalls, and and other scenic natural wonders.
Want even more adventure? Follow the disused train tracks out of town in search of a secret cave.
Taking a boat cruise on the Knysna Lagoon to the Knysna Heads has long been a favorite stop along the Garden Route. And we highly recommend this activity, especially on a fair day. The scenery is simply stunning.
But Knysna offers so much more than boat rides.
For nature lovers, visit Featherbed Nature Reserve, offering forest and coastal walks, sea caves, and a chance to see the Heads up close, as well as commanding views of the Indian Ocean.
While you’re here, keep an eye out for sandpipers, kingfishers, the African fish eagle, and of course, the Knysna warbler.
For a taste of the area’s past, head into the charming and artsy town of Knysna, which radiates from a historic English-style church. Indulge in the local catch of the day like Knysna’s famous fresh oysters, and pay a visit to the town’s renowned craft breweries.
#4 Plettenberg Bay
If you don’t have time to see everything along the Garden Route (Spoiler Alert: You Won’t!), you’ll inevitably have to make some tough decisions.
We’ve recommended trading Mossel Bay for a more leisurely and scenic route to Wilderness via Oudtshoorn. However, if you do choose to skip Mossel Bay, be sure to make a stop in Plettenberg Bay, instead.
While the two towns are quite different, we felt that they offered a lot of the same for visitors driving the Garden Route with limited time on their hands.
Plettenberg Bay is a great place to lay low for a couple of days to recharge and take in the natural wonders that abound in and around town.
Robberg Nature Reserve is situated on a remote and rugged peninsula offering dramatic views and some of the best hikes and walks in the region. Keep a look out for dolphins and even humpback whales!
Spend some time relaxing on Baia Formosa (Beautiful Bay), with its calm waters, lively beach town vibe, and excellent restaurants.
#5 Tsitsikamma National Park
If you plan to drive the Garden Route from west to east like we did, you may have saved the best for last!
Tstiskikamma National Park is located at the eastern fringes of the Garden Route along Storms River, which is widely considered the end of the Garden Route.
One of the highlights of many visitors’ time along the Garden Route is crossing the thrilling Storms River suspension bridge, also one of the most photographed points along the Route (and for good reason!).
If you have a bit of time to spare at this point, consider exploring the 6 km long Waterfall Trail as well.
Tstiskikamma National Park, itself, stretches across 80 km of breathtaking coastline, featuring 180-meter high sea cliffs. Head inland and experience a lush, ancient forest of giant trees that evokes a fairytale moment at every bend.
We’ve just outlined five stops along the Garden Route that we believe shouldn’t be missed, particularly if you are self-driving and spending around five days on the trip.
With that said, there are plenty of superb stops in between and all along the route that are worth your time, even for an hour or two.
If you love elephants, be sure to tack on a day in Addo Elephant National Park, just outside of Port Elizabeth where most folks choose to start or end their Garden Route adventure.
No matter which direction you plan to experience the Garden Route, or where you decide to stop along the way, count on an unforgettable road trip that is sure to be a top highlight of your time in South Africa.