The garden route is one of my most favourite destinations in the world. I’m from Cape Town and grew up going on family holidays all across the Garden Route every year. Sometimes even two or three times a year. Since the garden route holds a special place in my heart and is a destination that I’ve visited too many times to count, I thought I would put together this recommended garden route itinerary.
The Garden Route stretches for 300 km from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the Eastern Cape and is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world. When I was younger we used to go to the Wilderness every Spring, and either Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, or Groot Brakrivier every December holiday. One of the great things about the Garden Route is that each area is within fairly close proximity; meaning that you can stay in one area and visit others on a day trip. If you are trying to put together a garden route itinerary and are wondering where to stay, things to do, and places to stop along the way, then read on for everything there is to know about the Garden Route.
Where to Stay
On mine and Peter’s recent trip back to South Africa we decided that we had to visit one of our favourite places – Knysna. We were last here two years prior with my family, in 2016. This time we took a road trip down from Pretoria with my brother and a few of our friends. Using Knysna as our base, we covered a huge part of the garden route, even visiting areas that my brother and I had never been before.
Knysna is a great place to stay because it’s so central. It’s only about 25 km away from Plettenberg Bay (further East) and between 30 and 60 km back towards the West; Buffalo Bay, the Wilderness, and George. You really can visit just about anywhere along the garden route for a day trip from Knysna.
But, that’s not the biggest appeal for Knysna. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful areas that the garden route has to offer. Famous for its natural beauty which features lakes, forests, and a lagoon, Knysna is a small slice of heaven. But what it’s most well-known for is the Knysna heads – a pair of sandstone cliffs that separate the Knysna lagoon from the sea and beyond.
We usually book our accommodation through airbnb. Thesen island is one of the most exclusive areas in Knysna and is situated on the Knysna lagoon. It’s walking distance from the yacht harbour, waterfront, and town center. Other great locations are leisure isle, the Knysna Heads, Simola golf estate, and any area within close proximity to the waterfront and lagoon.
The best time to travel to the garden route
Although we often visit during the festive season, over December, this is one of the worst times. It’s overcrowded, busy, and in all honesty, complete madness. The area becomes overrun with domestic tourists and prices are vastly inflated. However, sometimes, like in our case, you don’t have a choice. But if you are more flexible with your time, then November, late January and February are great times to visit. This is the South African summer period which sees dry and hot conditions, with day time temperatures of 25 – 30 degrees celcius with plenty of sunshine.
If you’re looking for a quieter time and more budget friendly prices, then autumn is a great time to visit (March – May). While temperatures are cooler overnight, you will still enjoy pleasant warm days in the gentle autumn sunshine.
The Garden Route Itinerary
The Garden Route has so much to offer travellers. It’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway, an unforgettable family holiday, or an adventure vacation with friends. There are plenty of adventure activities to entice outdoor lovers and adrenaline junkies. There is so much to do in the garden route that each time you visit you are bound to discover something new.
If you want to stay in beautiful places, experience the true beauty of South Africa, relax in nature, and do cool outdoor activities, then the Garden Route is the perfect choice. Using Knysna as a base, I’ve put together this Garden Route Itinerary for the best places to see and things to do along the Garden Route. Although we stayed in Knysna, you could stay just about anywhere along the Garden Route or even split your time between a few different places.
Commonly known as Plett, Plettenberg Bay is a beach town and adventure capital of the Garden Route. Home to crystal-blue water, white sand, and beautiful mountains, it’s one of the top local tourist spots in South Africa. There are plenty of things to do in Plett, which makes it another great place to stay.
Fun fact: My parents met in Plett nearly 30 years ago!
Robberg Nature Reserve
One of the biggest attractions in Plett is hiking in the Robberg Nature Reserve. We added this to our Garden Route itinerary on our most recent trip. This is one of the most scenic hiking trails in the area and the views are spectacular. There are three circular routes of increasing distance and difficulty to choose from:
- Walk to The Gap and back to the car park; round about 2 km
- Walk to The Witsand sand dune and down to The Island and back; round about 4 km
- The round trip via The Point is 11 km and takes four hours or more
Considering I spent most of my holidays in the Garden route, it may come as a surprise that I had never done the hike before. I can’t believe I waited so long because it’s truly spectacular. We were feeling energetic and brave but having arrived so late we only had time for the halfway hike. It took us about 2 hours and we stopped for numerous photo opps along the way. There is an entrance fee of R30 per adult and it’s totally worth it!
The Lookout is one of the most popular restaurants in Plett. Sitting directly on the Keurbooms lagoon and Lookout beach, expect incredible ocean views, a gentle sea breeze, the sound of crashing waves, and only the freshest and finest seafood at this local hotspot. They also offer an incredible drinks menu, with a range of local wines, beers, ciders, and tantalizing cocktails. There is a downstairs area which is perfect for fine dining if you’re looking for a more formal and sophisticated experience.
Other things to do in Plett
- Whale watching boat tour: Plett is home to the southern right whales who migrate here between June and November. You can also see the curious humpback whale from May through to December, and while rare, orcas can also be spotted in Plett. Ocean Blue Adventures offer some incredible whale and dolphin excursions – trip durations are usually one and a half to two hours long.
- Visit Keurbooms beach: Keurbooms Beach can be described as wild and majestically beautiful with white sands that seem to stretch on forever. There are many exciting activities and eco-adventures that take place here.
- Canyoning: AfriCanyon offers a day of jumping, climbing and swimming in a beautiful canyon. This costs R750 per person.
Tsitsikamma is a protected area in the garden route, well known for its indigenous forests, dramatic coastline and the otter trail. This place is absolutely breathtaking in its natural beauty, with meandering rivers and streams, crystal clear pools and gushing waterfalls.
An area offering all that an outdoors lover could ask for, you can amble through the Keurbooms river Nature Reserve, stroll along the suspension bridge at storms river mouth, or if you’re an adrenaline junkie, go bungee jumping at Bloukrans.
Tsitsikamma canopy tours
This is something that I had been wanting to do forever and we finally did it this time! The first of its kind in Africa, this canopy tour involves zip-lining through the forest suspended up to 30 meters above the ground. Expect to see plenty of interesting forest flora including giant yellow woods, and hard pear trees. It was a surreal experience!
I did the Bloukrans bungee when we stayed in Knysna two years ago. If you are an adrenaline junkie you don’t want to miss out on this! The highest bridge bungee jump in the world, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity! I mean how often do you get to jump off a bridge?
Other things to do in Tsitsikamma
- Storms river mouth park: The entrance fee is R54 and there are plenty of things to do inside the park. There’s a stunning viewpoint, views of the canyon from the suspension bridge and a waterfall hike among other things.
- Tsitsikamma adventure land: Adventure land offers a unique quad bike tour of the Tsitsikamma area.
- Abseiling: This is a magical way to experience Tsitsikamma. Abseiling from the safety of a platform and into a fern covered cove, this is a really fun activity.
We used to take family trips to the Wilderness every year when I was growing up. It will always hold a special place in my heart. the Wilderness is a nature-lovers paradise. Surrounded by many lakes, rivers, and lagoons, together with beautiful, endless beaches, and bordered by the majestic Outeniqua Mountains, Wilderness is not a place you want to miss out on when putting together your Garden Route Itinerary.
There is so much to do in the Wilderness area that visitors are really spoilt for choice. You can enjoy long hikes along the beach, take quiet walks along the boardwalk, fish in one of the rivers, go mountain biking, check out the arts and crafts shops and enjoy a day at the beach, among plenty of other activities.
New Year’s Eve party
About five years ago I spent New Year’s Eve in Wilderness with some friends. We attended the Wild Farm trance party and it’s one of the best New Years experiences I’ve had. However I was five years younger and I’m not sure I can still party like that haha! But if you’re in the Garden Route for New Years and looking for a big party – Wilderness wild farm is a good bet!
Other things to do in Wilderness
- Paragliding: If you’re not afraid of heights then paragliding is a great way to get a birds eye view of Wilderness and its surroundings. You will see plenty of paragliders when in the area.
- Horse riding: This is a great way to experience the lush wilderness while out in nature rather than hearing the engine of a car.
- Bird watching: The garden route offers a variety of guided birding tours. One of these is the Lakes Loop tour between Sedgefield and Wilderness to locations including forest, wetland, and pastures
Garden route itinerary highlights
As part of my Garden route itinerary, I’ve only covered a fraction of the things to do in the area. Herolds Bay, Oudtshoorn, Buffels Bay and Mossel Bay are some other exciting places to visit. Here are some of the highlights of the garden route.
Cango Caves – Oudtshoorn: The Cango Caves are located in the foothills of the Swartberg mountain range and is a cultural and natural landmark in South Africa.
Hiking the Otter trail – Tsitsikamma: If you have more time on your hands you can organize to partake in the Otter trail. It’s a 5 day, 4 night trail that covers a distance of 45 km. It’s considered one of the most scenic hikes in the world.
Skydiving – Mossel Bay: Mossel Bay is one of the most spectacular spots for skydiving. As the highest tandem dive in Africa, complete with beautiful scenery, this is the perfect spot for adrenaline junkies. It costs around R2,800 per person (about 180 USD).
Surfing at Diaz Beach – Mossel Bay: If you’re an experienced surfer, there’s a great point break at the Point in Mossel Bay. There are lessons and rentals available at a surf school at Diaz beach.
Since I’ve already written an entire post dedicated to Knysna, I didn’t cover it too in-depth here. You can read more about the Knysna attractions here.