Garden Route Itinerary: The Ultimate Guide
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Stretching from Storms River Mouth in the Eastern Cape to Mossel Bay in the Western Cape the Garden Route is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world and, having driven the Garden Route from Cape Town and Port Elizabeth on numerous South Africa trips, we’ve put together our recommended Garden Route itinerary. It’s our guide to the Garden Route and includes things to do, where to stay and where to stop along the way. It’s the perfect guide for planning a garden route self drive itinerary.
The Garden Route
Stops on the Garden Route
The Garden Route begins at Storms River Mouth and the nearby Bloukrans Bridge is the perfect spot to brave one of the world’s highest bungy jumps! Plettenberg Bay, a beautiful coastal town on the Indian Ocean is the next stop followed by Knysna, famous for its sea cliffs, the Knysna Heads. The Map of Africa in Wilderness is the perfect short detour of the Garden Route followed by Mossel Bay where the Garden Route comes to an end.
Extending the Garden Route Itinerary
Most visitors join the Garden Route either from Cape Town or Port Elizabeth and there are some fantastic stops at either end to extend your Garden Route itinerary including safari, Route 62 and the Cape Winelands.
Garden Route Itinerary
We’ve listed our itinerary in a loop coming from and returning to the Cape Town/Western Cape. Reverse the order if you are starting the journey coming from the Port Elizabeth or the east of South Africa!
Cape Town (1) – Hermanus (2)/Gansbaai (3) – Cape Aghulas (4) and Mossel Bay – Wilderness (5) – Knysa (6) – Plettenberg Bay(7) – Storms River (8) – Addo Elephant Park (9) – Amakhala Game Reserve (10) – Oudtshoorn (11) – Stellenbosch/Franschhoek (12) – Cape Town (1)
Day 1 and 2: Hermanus/Gansbaai
Hermanus and Gansbaai are stunning stopovers en route from Cape Town to the Garden Route and their natural beauty is mesmerising. The rugged coastline is as spectacular as the sea life in its waters: whales, seals, penguins and sharks are abundant in the area and it’s known as the Great White Shark capital of the World.
Things to do:
- Whale watching is a must do in Hermanus
- Gansbaai is one of the most popular spots for cage shark diving if you so desire!
Drive time: 90 mins Cape Town to Hermanus, 30 minutes from Hermanus to Gansbaai
Where to stay in Hermanus and Gansbaai
- Misty Waves Boutique Hotel – beautiful boutique hotel where it’s often possible to spot whales from the balcony! – check prices now!
- Bellavista Country Place –If you’re visiting the Garden Route you have to stay in this – incredible – check prices now!
- Bellamente Serene –A stunning hotel located right on the beach in Gansbaai – check prices now!
Day 2: Cape Aghulas (optional) and Mossel Bay
Cape Agulhas requires an optional detour down to the coast between Hermanus and Mossel Bay before driving to Mossel Bay to spend the night and explore the town the following morning.
Cape Aghulas is the most Southern point in the African continent (it’s often touted as the Cape of Good Hope but it is the most South Westerly point in Africa) and marks the dividing point of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean. The rugged wilderness, the crashing waves where two oceans meet and the stunning African sunset took our breaths away – after all it’s not every day you stand at the most Southern tip of Africa!
The seaside town of Mossel Bay is a step back in time and our highlight was the Post Office Tree. The story goes that in 1501 a Portuguese sailor sought refuge in Mossel Bay during a storm and he left a written account, with an address, in an old boot. The report was found by the person it was addressed to and the tree then served as a post office – it’s still possible to post letters at the old tree today!
Drive time: 90 minutes from Gansbaai to Cape Aghulas and 3 hours from Cape Aghulas to Mossel Bay. Driving directly from Gansbaai to Mossel Bay will reduce the journey time to just over 3 hours.
Where to stay in Mossel Bay
- Bar-t-nique Guest House: panoramic views of the harbor and Outeniqua mountains with nice home made breakfast – check prices here!
- African Oceans Manor on the Beach – great guest house, rooms have beautiful views of the Indian Ocean – check prices here!
Day 3: Wilderness
The coastal town of Wilderness is home to two of our favourite sights on The Garden Route, the Map of Africa and Kaaimans River Bridge. The sleepy little village of Sedgefield, close to Wilderness, draws visitors to its lagoon.
The Map of Africa is a viewpoint where the flow of the river has formed a piece of land shaped exactly like a map of the African continent. It has a spectacular view overlooking the Kaaimans River Basin and is as intriguing as it is beautiful. The mix of mountain, forest and river is a beautiful sight!
Close to the Map of Africa sits the Kaaimans River Bridge in Wilderness. The curved bridge passes over the amber coloured water at the mouth of an estuary and is a beautifully photogenic stop on the Garden Route. A steam train operated on the line until 2009 but the railway bridge is iconic even in its absence.
The sleepy little village of Sedgefield, about 20 minutes from Wilderness, is surrounded by lakes, vegetated sand dunes, an Estuary and the beautiful Indian Ocean. Its lagoon is popular for fishing, swimming, canoeing, bird watching and riverside walks and the Saturday morning Wild Oats farmers market is unmissable.
Drive time: 45 minutes from Mossel Bay to Wilderness, 20 minutes from Wilderness to Sedgefield
Where to stay in Wilderness
- Oceans Wilderness: a beautiful beachfront guesthouse with an amazing design, great breakfast and magnificent views, our favourite! – check prices here!
- Lodge on the Lake: amazing lakeside views, great rooms and an infinity pool – check prices here!
Day 4 and 5: Knysna
Famous for its oysters Knysna, a waterfront town along the Garden Route, is home to the Knysna Heads and is a beautiful spot to relax for a few days on the Garden Route. The Knysna Heads are two imposing sea cliffs which protect the entrance to the Knysna lagoon from the unrelenting Indian Ocean. The boat journey to view the heads often results in a sea drenching but it’s spectacular to watch the sea thrash through the narrow gap amid the stunning scenery.
Things to do:
- Take a boat trip on the lagoon and check out the Kynsa Heads
- Take the ferry to the Featherbed Nature Reserve with spectacular viewpoints and a nice hike
Drive time: 40 minutes from Wilderness to Knysa
Where to stay in Knysna
- Villa Afrikana Guest Suites: Offering panoramic views across the bay this is one of the best options for staying in Knysna and close to the restaurants – check prices now!
- Augusta Bay Guest House: Beautiful guest hotels with views over Knysna Bay – check prices now!
Day 6 and 7: Plettenberg Bay
Plettenberg Bay, or Plett Bay as the locals refer to it, is a South Africa hidden gem overlooking the Indian Ocean and the perfect base for a few nights along the Garden Route.
The architecturally stunning Bloukrans Bridge is close to Plettenberg Bay and, at over 200 metres, is the highest in Africa and arches dramatically over the gorge below. As well as being visually stunning, it is also home to one of the highest bungy jumps in the world. Dave immediately signed up, leaped off that bridge like a pro and had the time of his life so if you’re feeling brave … bungy jump!!
Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary and the Birds of Eden free flight bird sanctuary are both great places to visit while in Plett Bay.
Drive time: 30 minutes between Knysa and Plettenberg Bay
Where to stay in Plettenberg Bay
- Singing Kettle Beach Lodge: We stayed at this gorgeous beach lodge and toasted the beautiful sunset from our balcony – check prices now!
- The Plettenberg Hotel: 5 star luxury on the Garden Route with infinity pools and ocean views – check prices now!
Day 8: Storms River
Storms River Mouth is the dramatic starting point of the Garden Route where the Storms River enters the Indian Ocean. Tucked away off the main road in the Tsitsikamma National Park sits this breathtaking stretch of coastline where the Indian Ocean relentlessly pounds the headland. There area some amazing hikes up through the gorge and a stunning rope bridge for the adventurous types!
Drive time: 45 minutes from Plettenberg Bay to Storms River
Where to stay in Storms River
- The Fernery Lodge & Chalets– located at the base of the Tsitsikamma Mountains, The Fernery boasts amazing views over the Sandrift River gorge – check prices now!
- Misty Mountain Lodge and chalets– surrounded by ocean, forest and mountains this property is a real treat on the Garden Route – check prices now!
Safari is always a good idea in South Africa! Kruger and Sabi Sands are our safari favourites but they’re a long drive or a flight away. If you want to squeeze in some safari while exploring the Garden Route we’d recommend making extra stops at the Addo Elephant Park and the Amakhala Game Reserve.
Day 9: Addo Elephant Park
Addo Elephant Park, just outside Port Elizabeth, is home to one of the densest elephant populations on earth as well as rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard. With 450 elephants the elephant encounters can be truly magical – we will never forget the moment a family of elephants walked alongside our car in the setting sun.
Drive Time: 3 hours from Plettenberg Bay to Addo Elephant Park
Where to stay in Addo Elephant Park
- Gorah Elephant Camp– You can stay right in the park with the elephants at Gorah elephant camp – check prices now!
- River Bend Lodge– another option for staying in Addo park itself! – check prices now!
Day 10 and 11: Amakhala Game Reserve
A malaria free safari option, just outside Port Elizabeth, the Amakhala Game Reserve is home to the safari big 5 of lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino as well as cheetah, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and plenty of antelope species.
Where to stay in Amakhala Game Reserve
- HillsNek Safari– on the banks of Bushman’s River the luxurious tented chalets have panoramic views of the plains – check prices now!
- Woodbury Tented Camp: in the heart of Amakhala, the accommodation comprises en suite canvas tents with views of the valley – check prices now!
Returning to Cape Town
Many visitors return to Cape Town via Route 62 after exploring the Garden Route. Here are some extra stops to add some variety to the drive back.
Day 12 and 13: Oudtshoorn
Known as the ostrich capital of the world, Oudtshoorn is home to Ostrich Farms, the spectacular underground Cango Caves and the Swartberg Mountains which are part of the Cape Floral UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also home to the Meerkat Adventures, a dawn tour to hopefully see some adorable meerkats waking up to a new day.
Be sure to stop at Ronnie’s Sex Shop in Barrydale en route to the Cape Winelands. Despite the name it is actually a famous dive bar with graffiti plastered walls on Route 62 and a fun stop for a cold beer and a stretch of the legs.
Drive Time: 4 hours 30 minutes from Amakhala Game Reserve to Oudtshoorn
Where to stay in Oudtshoorn
- Hlangana Lodge: a small lodge in a beautiful setting with great breakfast – check prices now!
- Earthbound B&B: quiet, well equipped and spacious guest rooms at an excellent price – check prices now!
Day 12 and 13: Cape Winelands – Stellenbosch and Francschhoek
The Cape Winelands are a collection of historic towns famous for their wine production and are the perfect stopover on the way back to Cape Town. Wine tasting, delicious food, incredible landscapes and beautiful architecture are synonymous with the region.
Stellenbosh and Franschhoek are its two most popular stopovers and the heart of its wine industry. Stellenbosh, South Africa’s second oldest town, is a charming university town and Franschhoek a charming village filled with galleries, restaurants and wine shops. Hop on the wine trams to explore the vineyards and indulge in some wine tasting and admire the whitewashed Cape Dutch architecture prominent in the region.
Drive time: 4 hours 15 minutes from Oudtshoorn to Franschhoek and 4 hours 30 minutes from Oudtshoorn to Stellenbosh
Where to stay in Cape Winelands
- Asara Wine Estate, Stellenbosch: Beautiful location in the rolling hills of Stellenbosch, lovely rooms and good value for money with wine tasting on site – check prices now!
- The Corner House, Francschhoek: amazing value with excellent rooms and a great location – check prices now!
- La Residence, Franschhoek: set in a private estate, La Residence is the ultimate in luxury. Luxurious rooms and peacock’s roaming around the grounds, this is one for the bucketlist – check prices now!
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