Garden Route Travel & Vacations

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

Top Travel Attractions in and around the Garden Route

Blessed with grand natural splendor, the garden route is located between rugged Cape Fold Mountains and the Indian Ocean. It is one of South Africa's most popular destinations and offers the international visitor a great number of attractions and activities.

Knysna Lagoon & Heads

The Knysna Heads stand as sentinels lining the passage between Indian Ocean and the Largest Lagoon in South Africa. The Town of Knysna, an artistic center lies on the banks of, and islands in this lagoon. It offers a diversity of accommodation options, a large number of outdoor activities and some of the finest restaurants in the Garden Route.

Storms River Mouth

Located in the Tsitsikamma National Park, the setting of the Storm Rivers entry into the Indian Ocean is nothing short of spectacular. Activities that can be enjoyed include hikes of various length, crossing the suspension bridge, the dolphin trail and many more.

Plettenberg Bay

Plettenberg Bay is the Crown Jewel of Beach Vacation destinations in the Cape Province. It is located in an area where numerous water based as well land based activities can be enjoyed. Most activities are family friendly.

Garden Route Travel Overview

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

Reasons to visit the Garden Route

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.

Garden Route Vacation Options

The Garden Route is one of South Africa's top vacation destinations - ideal for family vacations, beach vacations and romantic honeymoon getaways.

Transport

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.

Experiences to be Savored in the Garden Route

When visiting the Garden Route, you'll undoubtedly savor the area's pristine natural environment above all else. A wealth of rewarding experiences are tied into the region's features, from the Knysna Lagoon to the primordial forests.

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.

Best Private Tours & Safari Packages

10 Days From: ZAR 69,270 pp Luxury Code: G03

Private Golf Tour that combines playing some of the finest courses in Cape Town and the Garden Route with the highlights of each area visited.

10 Days From: ZAR 69,270 pp 4 Star & National Park Campsr Code: T17

This private tour is popular amongst those seeking to combine a tour of the Cape Coast with a Big Five safari in Addo Elephant National Park.

7 Days From: ZAR 69,270 pp Exclusive Top End Code: T05

A luxurious private tour that seeks to bring to life the highlights of Cape Town, the Cape Winelands and the Garden Route.

Foods to try when visiting the Winelands

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.

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.

Useful Travel Info

Getting There

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.

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.

A Brief History

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.

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.

Popular Towns

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.

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.

Notable Attractions

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.

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.

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