Garden Route

Garden Route

The Garden Route is named for the handsome primordial forests that cover this extremely beautiful coastline.

Introduction

The Garden Route is located on a fine coastal stretch between South Africa's west and east coasts. The seas along this coastline are protected and rich with a multitude of fish species, while the forests are rumored to hide the extremely rare and shy forest elephant.

Country South Africa
Province Western Cape
Starting Point Mossel Bay
Ending Point Storms River
Local Icons Blue duiker, Knysna seahorse, Knysna turaco
Major Towns George, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay

Vacation Options

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Tours & Safaris

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Garden Route Getaways
The tours, safaris, honeymoons & family vacations offered by African Sky.

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Tailor-Made Vacations

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Custom Garden Route
Packages can be tailor-made to suit your requirements.

Reasons to Visit

1

Nature

Between the leagues of coastal forest, sparkling lakes and lagoons and the salty swell of the sea, it is not difficult to understand why the Garden Route is a nature lover's dream come true. Birdwatchers will delight in sightings of the striking Knysna turaco, avid hikers will marvel at the meandering trails through ancient trees and over breathtaking clifftops, and leisure-seekers will feel their batteries recharge in the cusp of South Africa's coastal Eden.

2

Adventure

The opportunities for adventure abound in the Garden Route. Bungee jump from the highest commercial bungee at Bloukrans Bridge, wander deep into the limestone chambers of the Cango Caves, survey the landscape from the hide of an elephant, ride the world's largest species of bird, kayak up Storms River Gorge, sandboard down the 170m (230 ft) high 'Dragon Dune' near Mossel Bay - whatever your adventurous spirit desires.

3

Leisure

Should your idea of a holiday lean more towards relaxation, the Garden Route is just as bountiful in this regard. Repose on one of the many fine beaches, opt for a rewarding round of golf on one of the many championship golf courses, enjoy a cruise on the sparkling Knysna Lagoon, visit the fascinating Birds of Eden and Monkeyland Sanctuary or the historic Diaz Museum in Mossel Bay, an homage to the first European explorer to set foot on these shores in 1488.

4

Ocean-based Activities

The waters along the Garden Route are more temperate than the frigid waters of Cape Town, as it is past the point where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, which means that there are more activities on offer to enjoy in the sea itself. Thalassophiles will delight in the opportunities to engage in deep-sea fishing, whale watching, dolphin watching, swimming with wild seals, ocean kayaking, sailing or simply floating tranquilly in the tide.

Useful Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

George Airport receives a steady flow of direct flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg on a daily basis. There is also a once daily flight between Durban and George. It is quite a small airport, served mostly by low-cost airlines, but it is nevertheless sufficient for the means of comfortable domestic travel.

Car

By Road

The route between Cape Town and the Garden Route - the N2 - is a popular one, and included in many of our itineraries. It is favored for both its scenic coastal and pastoral beauty. Your overland trip will be conducted by your experienced African Sky guide in a private air-conditioned vehicle.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

The Garden Route has a gentle climate with year-round rainfall and is therefore a viable holiday destination from January to December. During the summer months, the sun-drenched beaches are filled to capacity with swimmers and sun bathers of every description from all over the world.

Summer stretches from October to March and accommodation becomes quite scarce during December. It is therefore advisable to book far in advance whenever possible. The Garden Route offers outdoor and adventure activities ranging from the highest bungee jump in the world to gentle hikes along tranquil lakes.

Winter stretches from May to August and the traveler is spoiled for choice in terms of available attractions. Museums and restaurants offer sanctuary from the slightly colder weather, but the intrepid explorer can still find a lot to do outdoors. Winter is traditionally the 'off season' for South African holidaymakers and, during these months, accommodation is cheaper and easier to come by.

Because of the mild climate, the many and varied attractions of the Garden Route can be enjoyed all year round. Travelers intending to visit this area can plan an active and enjoyable holiday as determined by their own schedule. On the whole, the people of the Garden Route are laid back and friendly and they go out of their way to make visitors feel at home.

Medical Considerations

The Garden Route is a malaria-free region, which makes it popular for family holidays. Ensure that your routine vaccinations are up to date and bring along any prescription medication that you may need.

Health & Safety

When visiting the Garden Route, the only real hazards to keep in mind are strong currents when swimming in the sea. Always swim where life guards are present, and where they indicate with flags that it is safe to do so.

As the area comprises largely tourism-oriented towns and beaches, crime statistics in the Garden Route are very, very low. Nevertheless, avoid wandering around alone at night and keep an eye on your valuables should you find yourself in an busy area with people bustling against you.

Experiences to Savor

The edge of the Knysna Lagoon.

Cruising on the Knysna Lagoon

This is one of the finest and most relaxing ways to enjoy the scenery of 'the jewel of the Garden Route' - Knysna. If the sea is calm enough, some vessels may spoil you by venturing just beyond the famous Knysna Heads, allowing views of coastal caves and the emerald lagoon glittering behind you.

Traversing the Outeniqua Pass

This breathtaking pass snakes its way through the evergreen Outeniqua Mountains that form the barrier between the lush Garden Route and the vast, semi-arid expanse of the Little Karoo. It was constructed in 1951 at an elevation of 800m (2 600 ft), and cedes stunning views for all who traverse it.

Unwinding on the beach

The Garden Route's plethora of fine, sandy shores and temperate waters have established it as an attractive beach destination for local and international visitors alike. Lay down your towel, wriggle your toes in the sand or wander into the waves at your leisure - this is what a holiday is all about.

Transportation

A Toyota Fortuner vehicle.

When traveling through the Garden Route, you will always be transported in a comfortable, private, air-conditioned vehicle operated by your experienced and reliable African Sky guide. Although a few areas are easy to explore on foot, there is so much to see and do in this region that exploring is largely done by driving between the various attractions and destinations.

The vehicles that we use in the Western Cape are typically either a Toyota Fortuner - for smaller parties and couples - or a Hyundai H1 - for families and groups. During periods of high demand - particularly over the festive season - we often hire vehicles from reputable car rental agencies that share our high standards. Your comfort and safety are paramount to us.

Foods to try when visiting the Garden Route

Oysters garnished with lemon, cherry tomatoes and parsley.

Oysters

Knysna is known as South Africa's 'oyster capital'. These delectable shellfish are so popular in this part of the world, a whole festival is dedicated to them every July. Regardless of when you visit, however, you should find them available in abundance.

Prawns

Prawns are not really specific to the region, but the spectacular coastal setting makes it the ideal occasion to enjoy large bounties of grilled prawns. You do not have to venture far to find a seafood restaurant with a prawn special.

Ostrich

The Garden Route is a stone's throw from the ostrich capital of the world - Oudtshoorn. This means that this delicious, healthy, lean, juicy red meat is readily available as fillet, steak, mince, goulash, sausage, kebabs or burgers.

Karoo Lamb

South Africa's Karoo lamb is the most succulent and delectable lamb meat you could possibly find. The meat is sourced from free-roaming sheep grazing on particular Karoo vegetation, which provides it with that irresistible unique flavor.

Resources

Recommended Reading

  • The Garden Route and Little Karoo: Between the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea - Leon Nell
  • Lonely Planet Cape Town & the Garden Route - Simon Richmond

Web Resources

FAQ

How far is the Garden Route from Cape Town?
From Cape Town's city center to Mossel Bay, the distance is around 386km (240 miles), or a drive of a little more than four hours.
Where is the best place to go hiking?
Tsitsikamma National Park, just past Plettenberg Bay, is a popular hiking destination. It is home to the famous Otter Trail.
Are there any wildlife experiences available nearby?
Yes, many - elephant interactions, walking with cheetahs, swimming with seals and meeting monkeys, to a name a few.
When is the best time to go whale watching?
Any time between June and November is ideal for whale watching in the Garden Route.
Is ostrich riding dangerous?
No, but you are more likely to fall off than gracefully dismount at the end of the experience. Ostrich handlers are always on hand to assist, however.
Can I go on safari near the Garden Route?
Yes. Depending on where you depart from, the Shamwari Private Game Reserve and Addo Elephant National Park are 3 - 4 hours' drive from the Garden Route. Both are home to the Big Five.
Is it safe to swim in the ocean?
The Garden Route is known for its fine swimming beaches. However, strong currents are still prevalent in the area, so it is important to only swim where life guards indicate that it is safe to do so.
Are there still elephants in the Knysna Forest?
Yes, though the handful of individuals are very, very rarely encountered, which contributes to their near-mythical status.
Which town will I be staying in?
When visiting the Garden Route with African Sky, you will typically stay in either Knysna or Plettenberg Bay. Golfing guests often stay at Fancourt near George.
Is the Little Karoo part of the Garden Route?
No, but because it is within easy reach just beyond the Outeniqua Pass, we often include a visit to this area in our Garden Route tours.

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Garden Route

The narrow coastal plain of the Garden Route runs for some 300km from the town of Mossel Bay towards the Tsitsikamma Mountains in the west. The “route” part of the name was first used between the two world wars when this area was regarded as important only because it was a connecting corridor between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The “garden” is much easier to understand, as nature has bestowed so many riches upon the area.

The famous Outeniqua Tjoe-Choo.

Mossel Bay first saw Europeans on the 3rd of February 1488, when Bartolomeu Diaz sailed into the bay not realizing that he had already rounded the Cape. He found springs where he could replenish his water supplies and later other explorers like Vasco Da Gama also made use of the fresh water. Da Gama bartered a few heads of cattle from the local Khoi-San people, and this is widely regarded as the first commercial transaction between Europeans and South Africa's indigenous people.

The region attracted traders, lumberjacks, scoundrels and heroes in equal measure, one of which was known as George Rex. He founded the town of Knysna and was either the illegitimate son of King George III and Hannah Lightfoot, or a legitimate son, as the young prince is believed to have married Hannah Lightfoot before he ascended the throne. He arrived in the area from Cape Town in a coach drawn by six perfectly groomed and matched horses with his coat of arms on the doors, accompanied by a squad of friends and outriders. Perhaps he was of royal descent, but he may as well have been a conman of the first water.

The Garden Route begins in Mossel Bay, which boasts many tourist attractions ranging from beaches and museums to natural attractions such as the Bats' Cave. Mossel Bay is an important industrial town with a massive oil refinery and the first underwater pipeline ever constructed in South African coastal waters. Important oil and natural gas deposits have also been found off the coast of Mossel Bay.

Yachts moored in the Knysna Lagoon.

George was described as “the prettiest village on the face of the earth” by English novelist Anthony Trollope in 1877. The town started as a wood cutters' post for the Dutch East India company in 1776. It was named for King George III when the British took control of the area on 23 April 1811. Today, George is an industrial center that produces furniture, footwear and farming produce, including Hops.

The lake area between George and Knysna falls within the Wilderness National Park and comprises six lakes that run along the N2 highway for a distance of 25 kilometers. It is a haven for sailors and boating folk of all persuasions. Plant life varies according to the salinity of the water and fauna includes the Cape otter and various species of antelope. Bird life abounds and there are various hiking trails, holiday chalets and camp sites.

Knysna was first settled by European farmers and traders in the latter half of the 18th century. These people were attracted to the Knysna river lagoon by the beauty of the place as well as the timber, fishing and farming opportunities. Knysna is today a holiday destination that offers a huge selection of attractions, both on the water and on land. It is a place of picturesque beauty and tranquil solitude.

Plettenberg Bay was the site of the first European settlement in Southern Africa when the Portuguese vessel Sao Goncalo was wrecked in the bay in 1630. The sailors made it to shore and lived there for about 8 months, building two boats with which to escape. Today Plettenberg Bay is a popular and glamorous holiday destination and a place where wealthy South Africans come to play.

Right next to the Storms River is a road sign that simply says "Big Tree". There is a large car park and, for a small fee, visitors can walk along a boarded pathway through the magnificent indigenous forest to view 'the big tree'. This Outeniqua Yellowwood started growing in the 1100's, survived fires, storms and rapacious lumberjacks. It has seen governments come and go and stands today as a serene giant in its own special place in the forest. Anyone visiting the Garden Route must pay their respects to this giant of the forest.

Storms River Mouth on the edge of the Garden Route.

Bungee jumping is a sport that originated in New Zealand, but quickly spread across the world to the delight of adrenalin junkies everywhere. Drive along the N2 national road in the Garden Route and turn off at the Bloukrantz River bridge. The jump from the old bridge is the highest in the world and is guaranteed to take your breath away.

The Otter Trail in the Tsitsikamma Forest is a spectacular and difficult hiking trail and it attracts nature lovers from around the globe. Booking is essential, as only a limited number of hikers are allowed on the trail at any given time.