Well, the story is that it’s due to the route that takes its swirls and curls through an abundance of flora and fauna, beaches, lagoons, forests and so much more. Most of it lies in the Garden Route National Park that runs across two provinces, namely the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape. But as I said, that’s the narrative version.
Actually, the Garden Route is called so because it rains all year in this area. Therefore, it’s always green all year round as where The Cape has winter rain and the north summer rains.
This wondrous road trip was recently expanded to include more towns. Before the inclusion of Albertinia, Calitzdorp, De Rust, Heidelberg, Ladismith, Oudtshoorn, Riversdale, and Uniondale there were only nine towns collectively known as the Garden Route. Namely, George, Great Brak River, Knysna, Little Brak River, Mossel Bay, Nature’s Valley, Plettenberg Bay, Sedgefield, and Wilderness. To summarize, the Garden Route is the stretch from Mossel Bay to Tsitsikamma.
Today, we’re sharing some travel tips and secrets that you would not have known otherwise. We take you on a road slightly less traveled, and with a few hidden gems, you would have missed if you focused on the Garden Route’s officially listed towns.
What’s more, we end our road trip with one of the best game reserves in South Africa. Many times travelers are not able to drive all the way up north to visit South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park. The good news is, you don’t have to. Our “slightly twisted” garden route itinerary includes the ultimate in malaria-free African safaris.
As we go along, we’ll give you quick links to tried and trusted venues and travel services. Save on your trip and book direct. Our links make it easy to do so. And if you need assistance with any of the links, drop us a note online.
Book your flight tickets to Cape Town International Airport or Port Elizabeth Airport and rent a car. (That is of course if you don’t already have one.) It’s a safe journey if you keep to all the standard precautions you would have taken in any new or strange place.
How to get to the third stop of our trip: Take Church Street to Sarel Cilliers Street. Then you take the “R319, N2, R324” until you’re in Barrydale. The drive will take you about 1h35m.
Barrydale is very arty-farty with lots of little stores to snoop around.
Don’t despair if you did not lunch in Napier. The Country Pumpkin is a great lunch stop. Their service is fast and good. In addition, they have traditional South African cuisine such as Bobotie. They have lamb, pies, or you can just have a sandwich.
Across the road from the Country Pumpkin is a South African curio shop with very reasonable prices.
Also on Cape Route 62 (R62) lies Calitzdorp, an hour and twenty-two minutes from Barrydale. To get to Calitzdorp from Barrydale, take Van Riebeeck Street to get to the R62. Continue on the R62 until you reach Calitzdorp, one of the towns on the Garden Route.
De Krans winery is quite nice and a great choice for wine tasting.
Our next stop is Oudtshoorn, famous for its ostriches.
The Garden Route would be incomplete without this gorgeous town that is synonym with warm and friendly people. Only 39 minutes from Calitzdorp (54.6 km via the R62) this is Travel and Home’s preferred overnight stop.
You can easily stay 3 to 4 days (2 to 3 nights) in Oudtshoorn and explore the surrounding towns as well.
Oudtshoorn is known for its ostriches so it goes without saying, it is also the place to try ostrich meat.
One guesthouse is as nice as the next. However, La Plume and Mooiplaas are very good and have wonderful dinners. Both of our choices offer ostrich tours but note that it’s exclusively available to only their overnight guests. It kind of makes you feel so much more special when you stay here.
By the way, if you stay elsewhere and an ostrich tour is not available at your guesthouse, then don’t despair. A good ostrich farm to visit is the Safari Ostrich Farm. They also have a beautiful shop for egg and leather products.
The “Cango Caves“, a truly South African Heritage, is well worth a visit. This is South Africa’s oldest tourist attraction, dating back to the 1800s! Whether it is a myth or a fact, but it is said that ‘n herder was searching for his lost cattle, and just so happened to discover the caves.
The normal tour is usually an hour long and starts on the hour every hour, from 09h00 until the last one at 16h00.
You can choose between a heritage tour and an adventure tour. The latter is for adventure-seeking tourists that don’t get claustrophobic easily. It takes you into very narrow passageways that are not included in the heritage tour.
After this highlight of the Garden Route, it’s time to head towards Knysna, about an hour and 40 minutes away. Take Bloem Street to Langenhoven Road/N12/R62. Follow the N12 to the N2 into Knysna.
Knysna is the heart of the Garden Route, and known as the “pearl of the Garden Route”.
While in Knysna one should do the trip to Feather Bed. It is a boat ride over the lagoon and then a tractor ride up the mountain. From there you can walk back down to the dock. The views are out of this world. There is also a lookout point on the other side that is for free if someone does not want to do the hike.
A visit to Thesen Island is also worth it. Bird-lovers should look out for Kingfishers, Terns, Eagle-Owls, fish-Eagles, Goshawks, and many more. In addition, they have a few exclusive stores and a few restaurants to add a bit of variety to your excursion. You’ll also find the Knysna seahorse here, South Africa’s only endemic seahorse and one of only two endangered seahorse species in the world!
You could easily spend 3 to 4 days in Knysna.
If you do so, you’ll have time to include a drive to the beach and have a 5 km walk on the beach with, at times, nearly no one on the beach. Bollard Bay on the secluded Leisure Isle is just over 3 km outside Knysna. With magnificent views of Knysna Heads, this pristine beach is worth a visit. At low tide, you can even walk across the sand as far as The Heads!
This is also another place on the Garden Route where you can enjoy whale watching. The Knysna whale-watching-experience depends on the sea and the waves to get the boat out of the lagoon.
There are quite a few guesthouse options that are out of town. Many of them have awesome views of the lagoon.
Travel and Home’s best-stay recommendation in Knysna is the Knysna Quays. It’s well placed right by the waterfront and all the stores. In addition, its location is ideal to explore the town on foot.
We’re adding three more hotels that we recommend without any hesitation. Have a look down below.
From Knysna, follow the N2 to Plettenberg Bay, our next stop on the Garden Route Itinerary. The 33 km-drive to Plettenberg Bay should take you around 30 minutes.
At Plettenberg Bay (also known as Plet), you have another opportunity for whale watching. The experience is quite something as they launch the boats from the beach and land like that on return.
For those that are reasonably fit and in reasonable shape, the hike on Robberg is very beautiful too. That said, rather give it a miss if it’s too windy. Also if you are very scared of heights. Some parts are a little steep.
The Garden Route’s official run excludes this gem. So, this is the final twist of our trip on the Garden Route.
The highlight is the Kariega Game Reserve. To get to Kariega, follow the Main Road to the R335 for about 2.9km. Follow the R342 and the N2 to the R343. The drive will take you about one hour and thirty minutes.
At the time of our visit to Kariega, they did not have leopards and wanted to bring cheetahs. That said, beautiful Mother Nature makes more than up for it. Here you can enjoy game viewing of the Big 5 – lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo, and leopard – and plenty of other South African wildlife from the comfort of an open game drive vehicle.
Kariega, although in a higher price bracket, is just plain awesome. They have various lodging options, starting out from the Main Lodge, and then with the River Lodge and Ukhozi Lodge in their mid-price range.
Main Camp is very nice and the restaurant atmosphere is quite enjoyable. You go to a big restaurant for your meals where everyone comes from their chalets to eat. Love it!
You can also rent out the old farmhouse as a whole, called the Homestead. With six rooms, the Homestead is ideal for big families, small weddings, or a group.
From here your nearest airport is Port Elizabeth International Airport, 130 km away (depending on the traffic, the drive to the airport will take around 1 hour 40 minutes).
Usually, you can drop off your rental car at the airport. But check car drop-off points with the service provider when you collect your car at the start of the trip.
And that’s it! You’ve got yourself one very special and most memorable trip up the Garden Route. Alternatively, if you start from Gqeberha (previously Port Elizabeth), the saying is not up but, down the Garden Route.
We hope you enjoy your holiday and do drop us a note to tell us about your experience. As much as we love sharing our experiences, we always look forward to hearing from our readers.