From sheltered bays to crashing waves and golden sands to frontier towns, with its national parks, wildlife and a huge range of outdoor activities, it’s no wonder the Garden Route is one of the most popular South Africa multi-centre holidays. Stretching 200 km across the country’s southern coast from Mossel Bay to Storms River, the Garden Route is one of South Africa’s most scenic regions and an area of spectacular natural beauty.
Named because it is so lush and green in comparison to the rest of the country, a self-drive holiday is a perfect way to get off the beaten track and explore this rugged and beautiful region. So whether you want to take a detour and spot whales in their natural habitat, relax on golden sand beaches, explore hidden forests, feast on fresh seafood overlooking a turquoise lagoon or walk hand-in-trunk with an orphaned baby elephant, the Garden Route is the place to do it.
Having recently returned from a self-drive adventure in South Africa, Charlie is a true expert on South Africa multi-centre holidays – and shares with us her top spots for an unforgettable week along the Garden Route below…
Whale spotting in Hermanus
Before you embark on the official start of the Garden Route, if you have any time to spare this pretty little seaside town just along the coast from Cape Town is one to tick off the bucket list. It’s got a charming historic quarter, as well as plenty of shops, seaside cafes and seafood restaurants – but what Hermanus is most famous for is whale watching. From July to November, it’s one of the few places in the world where you can spot Southern Right Whales from land – and what better vantage point than the winding coastal paths and cliffs of Hermanus? It’s quite common to be able to spot whales from as close as 10 yards – and on some days up to 80 have been spotted in the bay. The town even employs its own whale crier who blows a kelp horn to announce each new arrival! This waterfront wonder truly is a must see while on your South Africa multi-centre holidays. But it’s not all about whales in Hermanus: some of South Africa’s best boutique vineyards such as the Hemel en Aarde Valley are nearby if wine tasting is more your thing.
Wilderness and Oudtshoorn
Heading off from Hermanus, you’ll know you’ve truly arrived on the Garden Route when you climb the hills just before Wilderness and see the bright white sand and frothy blue ocean below. Its beaches, hiking trails and unique ecosystems of forests, rivers, and lagoons make Wilderness a paradise for nature lovers, and there’s a warm sunny climate year round too. About an hour’s drive from Wilderness you’ll also find Oudtshoorn and one of the most jaw-dropping sites of the Garden Route, the Cango Caves. These world-renowned caves have caverns of stalactites and stalagmites which have formed over millions of years to create a series of dark, eerie tunnels and stunning limestone formations. The main cavern is easily accessible, well lit, and a once-in-a-lifetime sight to be seen in itself; but for the more daring there is also a longer tour that continues up ladders, through narrow cracks and around twists and turns as you explore one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.
At the heart of the Garden Route, Knysna is a great place to base yourself if you don’t fancy a self-drive holiday. As South Africa’s favourite holiday town, Knysna lazes on the shore of a large blue lagoon that’s protected by two rocky headlands and is a great place to relax and unwind. Here you can spend your time strolling through the town, stopping off at its coffee shops, art galleries and boutique souvenir shops before heading down to the buzzing Waterfront for fresh fish straight from the sea. If you’re going to sample seafood on your South Africa multi-centre holidays, make sure it’s here: Knysna is renowned for its oysters and seafood cuisine. There’s even a 10-day oyster festival in July that’s growing in popularity every year – but if you can’t make that, an oyster tasting at the Knysna Oyster Company will do just fine. Other activities include taking a ferry to Featherbed Nature Reserve and strolling around its natural mosaic of coastal and clifftop paths or embarking on a cruise out to the heads to take in the beauty of the lagoon.
Known as Plett to the locals, its stunning beaches and relaxed atmosphere make Plettenberg Bay a quintessential seaside destination that’s popular with South Africans and tourists alike. There’s truly something to suit everyone’s South Africa multi-centre holidays here. It’s set in a horseshoe-shaped bay with lovely sheltered beaches and breathtaking views of the Tsitsikamma Mountains and offers up a whole host of activities from sea kayaking and horse riding to sailing and surfing. It’s a must for nature lovers too: there’s a large Cape fur seal colony, a seasonal penguin colony, and the chance to see dolphins and even whales in season too (June to November is best for boat-based whale watching). You can also head to the nearby The Crags to walk hand in trunk with an orphaned baby elephant, or venture to Monkeyland where you’ll find over 400 different species of rescued monkey, lemur, gibbons, and bushbabies. If that wasn’t enough, the largest free-flight aviary, Birds of Eden, is only 20 minutes away, and there’s plenty of nature reserves and hiking trails to choose from as well, such as the famous Robberg Peninsula. See, we weren’t lying when we said there’s something for everyone in Plett!
Ending on a high at Tsitsikamma
After your scenic drive along the Garden Route, what better place to stretch your legs than the Tsitsikamma National Park? The park begins just east of Plettenberg Bay, and with over 80km of pure, unspoilt land, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most visited spots in South Africa – and an absolute must-visit for anyone travelling the Garden Route. From ancient yellowwood trees that are up to 800 years old to hiking trails, adrenaline sports and even dolphin spotting on the sandy beaches, there’s plenty to occupy your time here. The highlight is probably the Storms River, a stunning and fitting way to end your trip along the Garden Route: spot evidence of indigenous hunters in the Strandloper Cave before heading on the rope suspension bridge where the river meets the ocean, creating a maelstrom beneath your feet.
A self-drive or organised tour, East to West or back again, however, you want to do the Garden Route, at Holiday Architects South Africa multi-centre holidays are our thing – so you can trust us to create the perfect trip for you. In fact, we’ve got a team of South Africa experts just waiting to plan your tailor-made adventure.
Contact our team today to start planning your next experience!