Is there nothing better for you than to explore a country with a car? Then you definitely have to put this tour onto the list of your next road trips: the Garden Route in South Africa! Wonderful scenery, delicious food, good wine, super nice people and lots of adventures await you! And the best part: South Africa is not really expensive and you can spontaneously plan your route on site depending on what you want to experience the next day – this is pure freedom and adventure!
We spent a little more than a week on the Garden Route and in this post we share our best tips so you will know where to stop and which adventures not to miss out on!
The best stops and adventures for your next road trip!
Start: Cape Town
You have two options for starting your South Africa Garden Route road trip: either from Cape Town or Port Elizabeth. Most international airlines fly into Johannesburg and then connect to the other larger cities. We started in Cape Town because we had already been living in this amazing city for a few months, part of this time we had been taking care of three cats as house sitters. I would also recommend starting in Cape Town because then you can finish your road trip with a safari and really have a highlight at the end!
Cape Town and surroundings
There is so much to do and to discover in Cape Town that you should take at least four days time for this city. From great hikes with stunning views to beautiful wineries to really cool markets – every single day Cape Town offers a new adventure!
Downtown Cape Town is not really big and you don’t need to plan more than two hours for that. You can start your outing at Company’s Gardens, pass the government buildings, head down to the pedestrian walkway and cross Greenmarket Square (beware: everything here is very touristy!). You can go on to the Bo-Kaap neighborhood with its little colorful houses. From here you can walk to the De Waterkant neighborhood and have a delicious flat white in one of Cape Town’s best cafes: at Origin Coffee!
Gardens is a nice residential neighborhood. Here on Kloof Street you also find some cool cafes and restaurants as well as a couple of nice shops. The trendy Woodstock neighborhood simply is coolness. Rosetta Roastery at the Woodstock Exchange serves Cape Town’s best coffee and every Saturday Old Biscuit Mill hosts the Neighbourgoods Market. Here you can sample your way from one stall to the next and chill to live music – definitely worth a visit if you are in Cape Town on a Saturday!
Then there is Camps Bay, Cape Town’s high end neighborhood right by a beautiful bay. Here you feel almost like you are in Hollywood and on the weekends and when the weather is good it gets pretty crowded! Still we always liked coming here for the sunset, we sat down on one of the cliffs and watched the surfers. You also have a great view of the back side of Table Mountain and its 12 apostles!
Hikes with wonderful views
If the weather is good then hike up to Table Mountain early in the morning and take the cable car back down in the afternoon. The best hike is the route through Platteklig Gorge which starts a few hundred meters from the lower cable car station. Plan around two hours for the ascent and bring along enough water! Once you arrive at the top you can continue hiking through the national park and could for example head to Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain, and hike back to the upper cable car station through Echo Valley.
You will also have amazing views hiking up Lion’s Head. This trail is especially nice when the sun rises, it is amazing to watch Cape Town slowly come alive. Best you drive out towards Camps Bay on Kloof Nek Road and leave your car in the parking area at the foot of the mountain. The ascent is at times very steep and a little more difficult than the hike up Table Mountain but at the top you have a superb view of the city, Camps Bay and Table Mountain! Plan around two hours to go up and down and pack warm clothes, early in the mornings it is still pretty cold up there!
Wine, wine, wine!
If you enjoy drinking wine then you must visit Cape Town’s wine region! Most wineries are located around the nice little town of Stellenbosch and almost all of them offer wine tastings and have good restaurants. I can especially recommend the Dornier Wine Estate, here you can have great food with a very nice view, and Lanzerac Wine Estate which simply is laid-back goodness. Vorgelegen Estate by Sommerset West is also great, it has a super nice garden and you can sit down in the vinyards with a picnic basket!
Cape of Good Hope
Here too you have two options: you either make this an excursion from Cape Town or you visit the Cape of Good Hope as part of your road trip along South Africa’s Garden Route. We did the day trip which gave us a bit more time. This way we also were able to see more of the country because we then took a different route on the actual road trip.
To get to the Cape of Good Hope you drive along the coast via Camps Bay. Shortly after Hout Bay (by the way, here you can go swimming with seals) you reach Chapman’s Peak Drive, a really cool part of the road which time and again offers wonderful views! To be able to drive this road you need to pay 40 ZAR, around 2,30 € per car per direction. Definitely stop at Noordhoek Beach – this super wide beach with hardly any people will amaze you!
Then you can drive on past Kommetjie and Misty Cliffs to the entrance of the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve. Admissions here are 110 ZAR per person, around 6,40 €. Once in the park you should follow the signs to Cape Point and the lighthouse. Here you can park the car and go for a really nice little hike to the Cape of Good Hope. It’s an easy trail and with a little luck you will meet baboons and kudus. You can also go down to Diaz Beach and have a look at the steep cliffs of the Cape from below. When you reach the Cape of Good Hope you then have stunning views! The hike itself takes 1,5 hours back and forth. If you also want to go down to the beach you should plan a little more time.
On the way back you can drive via Simon’s Town and make a short stop at the penguins. Instead of running over to Boulder Visitor Center and marvelling at the penguin colony with the masses you can park your car to the right of Boulders Beach and watch the penguins from here. Exit the main street M4 to the right onto Bellevue Road. If you like you can also walk along the beach on the wooden walkway, you can go all the way to the visitor center and back and here too you have a chance of encountering penguins.
Then you either drive along the coast again and once again enjoy the beautiful views or you take the route via Muizenberg and can catch a glimpse of the huge False Bay – no matter which one you chose the views are great! You should plan an entire day for this trip to the Cape of Good Hope so you have time for everything and don’t have to rush yourself!
Segment 1: Cape Town – L’Agulhas
Off you go! We picked L’Agulhas as our first stop on our road trip along the Garden Route. It is around 220 kilometers from Cape Town to L’Agulhas driving inland past Somerset West, Caledon and Bredasdorp. You will need a little more than three hours for this part of the route. Alternatively you can also drive via Camps Bay again taking Chapman’s Peak Drive and then continue along the coast. But this will take a lot longer and you have to plan around 6 hours without stops for the 310 kilometers.
So we decided not to go along the coast but rather drive through Somerset West, to turn towards Hermanus at Bot River and then continue along the coast past Gansbaai and through Agulhas national park. This route is around 250 kilometers and takes around 3,5 hours. But of course only if you don’t stop!
Stop at Hermanus
A cool stop on the route is Hermanus where you can stop for a good lunch. I can recommend the Pear Tree Bistro. And Yves’s Pudding and Pie next door serves some of the best cheesecake there is, almost as good as at Five Elephant in Berlin!
Also go for a little walk along the beautiful beach of Hermanus and with a little luck you can even see whales and dolphins! Best to drive away from the town at the roundabout on R43 onto 10th Street, park your car at Voëlklip Beach and then walk through the bushes to the larger beach and back – a very nice walk and a great way to get a bit of activity in between all the driving!
Diving with white sharks in Gansbaai
Shortly after Hermanus you pass Gansbaai. You can also make a stop here to either do a boat tour and watch whales and whit sharks or to go diving with them! Gansbaai is known for its large population of white sharks which regularly come by here.
One operator I can really recommend is Marine Dynamics. Yes, they too attract the sharks with a mixture of fish oil and fish heads but they do record every shark encounter and the behaviour of the animals. Because their main trade is studying the animals and their patterns of movement through the great oceans. There is always a marine biologist with you on the boat so you learn a lot about the white shark.
As soon as the first shark is sighted the cage is submerged into the water and the first group of people climbs into the cage. For about 10 to 30 minutes you get to go into the water whenever a shark passes. An amazing experience! You wear a neoprene suit to keep warm as well as goggles and a snorkel. We were submerged into the water twice for relatively long periods of time because we right away passed three white sharks, one of them was huge and it was the first time our biologist had seen it.
She explained the different hunting strategies of the sharks to us which vary depending on their sizes. While the two smaller sharks circled the boat and counted on their speed the larger shark used more tactics and then all of a sudden came darting up from the deep, just to quickly disappear again. Unbelievable seeing that!
Depending on the weather there are boat and diving tours several times a day and cost 1750,- ZAR per person which is around 100 €. You find all information and some interesting white shark facts on the marine Dynamics’ website.
Hiking in L’Agulhas
From Gansbaai it is another two hours along the coast to get to L’Agulhas. You can take the R43 via Pearly Beach and Die Dam. After a short stretch on the R317 (towards Die Dam) you turn right onto the R43 and shortly after that you can either keep to the left and stay on this road towards Bredasdorp or you keep going straight through the L’Agulhas national park before you reach the R319 shortly before L’Agulhas.
I really recommend this route, you will probably come past some wild ostriches like we did and it is of course more adventurous than the regular route on the paved fast road!
If you take as much time as we did and stop at all the places we mentioned then you will arrive at L’Agulhas in the evening. For sleeping chose one of the B&Bs. The next morning you can go for a little hike through L’Agulhas national park, the Southernmost point in South Africa! There are several trails you can chose from but the nicest one is Rasperpunt hiking trail, a round trip of some 5,5 kilometers. It starts at an old shipwreck some 3 kilometer behind the L’Agulhas lighthouse.
Here you fist walk along the coast and if the tide is low you can even walk right on the beaches and you return crossing a small dune in the backland. Plan around two hours for this hike before you get back into the car and tackle the second segment of the road trip!
Segment 2: L’Agulhas – Wilderness
From L’Agulhas you head to Wilderness via Bredasdorp and Swellendam along the N2 past Mossel Bay. The first part of this segment is some 330 kilometers long and you should plan around 3,5 hours for it. The ride can get a bit boring because all you see is agricultural fields, lonely farms and herds of sheep – not really nice!
But shortly after Mossel Bay the landscape changes, it becomes greener and more interesting! To your left there are high mountains and the landscape almost resembles the Alps or some high plateaus. After driving through George you finally reach Wilderness. here too you can get a room in a B&B like Mont Fleur. Lou, the owner, is super nice!
Wilderness is a small but very cute town with a couple of good restaurants. You can stroll around town a bit after your arrival and take a walk on the beautiful beach. If you are hungry for fish and seafood then right on the beach you can enjoy seafood and a view at Salinas Beach Restaurant for example.
Kayaking and hiking at Wilderness national park
The next day you should definitely take the time for a kayaking tour and hike through Wilderness national park! Rent a Kayak at Eden Adventure and paddle 45 minutes upstream along the Touwsrivier until you reach a little sand bank on the righthand shore where you can put down the kayak. From there you hike along the Giant Kingfisher Trails to a waterfall, two waterfalls that is.
For this hike across hills and through thick jungle and always along the river you will also need around 45 minutes. Once you arrive at the waterfalls you can throw yourself into the pool at the foot of the waterfalls to cool off! It’s great! Then you make your way back on foot and with the kayak. Plan four hours for the entire adventure and bring enough water and mosquito spray or you will be butchered on the hike!
Segment 3: Wilderness – Plettenberg Bay
You can cover the third segment of your road trip along the Garden Route on the same day, it takes you past Knysna to Plettenberg Bay, a total of around 80 kilometers. Stop shortly after Knysna Heads two gigantic sandstone cliffs that mark the entrance to Knysna harbor and offer you amazing views of the Indian Ocean and the entire laguna! With the stop at Knysny Heads you should plan 1,5 to 2 hours to get from Wilderness to Plettenberg.
Alternative Route: the Seven Passes Road
Alternatively you can also travel through the backland along the beautiful Seven Passes Road. You will have to take the Hoogte Road North and after crossing the Touwsrivier turn left onto Hoekwil Road (or you get onto Hoekwil Road from the N2 after Wilderness), you pass Karatara and continue towards Rheenendal on the Rheenendal Road until you get back onto the N2 shortly before Knysna!
This route is Off The Path: you cross high plateaus, pass herds of cattle and feel a little bit like you’re in the Alps. And you keep having stunning views along the way! This route some 110 kilometers long and you should plan around 2 hours for it. Not all of it is paved, so you should not drive this one after heavy rainfall.
Trips around Plettenberg Bay
There is a lot to do around Plettenberg Bay! We got ourselves a cool house through AirBnB for 4 nights and I advise you to spend at least 2 days here. This quaint town has several beautiful beaches and in the distance you can see the stunning mountain silhouette of Tsitsikamma national park. There also is a little town square with a few shops and some nice restaurants like the Fat Fish where you get really good seafood!
Swimming with seals
If you didn’t get around to it at Hout Bay by Cape Town then here at Plettenberg Bay you have another opportunity to go swimming with cute seals. One of the largest seal colonies in South Africa lives on the peninsula of the Robberg Nature Reserves which is located just before Plettenberg Bay. Depending on the weather Off Shore Adventures offers tours to the colony several times a day. In a tiny speedboat you come up close to the seals and then equipped with a wetsuit, goggles and snorkel you get into the water. Since these cuties are super curious they will probably swim very close to you and you will have a lot of fun!
This seal adventure lasts around 1,5 hours and costs 550 ZAR, around 32 €, per person.
Adventures at Tsitsikamma national park
The Tsitsikamma national park is some 60 kilometers or an hour’s drive from Plettenberg Bay. There are several hikes you can do hear and all of them offer wonderful views! Don’t miss out on the short hike to Storms River Mouth and crossing the famous Suspension Bridge. After that keep going until you reach the lookout point on the plateau. Again you have a stunning view of the mountains, the canyon and the ocean!
If you want to hike further you can do the Blue Duiker Trail. You first follow Lourie Trail deep into the jungle and then walk back to the lookout point along the coast. On this trail too you have lots of great views and pass a few really old huge trees and a little waterfall. The trail is 3,7 kilometers long and you should plan around two hours for it.
Alternatively you can do a several-hour kayak tour where you get to paddle under the suspension bridge and on to the Storms River canyon. In the canyon you pass breathtaking cliffs and caves until you switch from the kayak to a type of small raft with which you continue to go upstream. At the end of the canyon another rush of adrenaline awaits you: here you can jump from a protruding cliff!
This kayak adventure takes between two and three hours and costs around 450 ZAR per person (around 26 €}. Best to book online in advance, however you can only book three days before the tour.
The Otter Trail: for adventurous hikers
And if you are a real fan of hiking and have enough time you can hike the famous Otter Trail! This hike is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world and is around 42 kilometers long. It starts at the Storms River Mouth Camp and leads along the coast toward Plettenberg Bay until it reaches Nature’s Valley. You will need around five days for this hike which only goes one-way. But for this hike you have to register in time and obtain a permit because only two groups with a maximum of six people each are allowed on the Otter Trail per day. This hike promises pure adventure!
Highest bungee jump in the world!
On the way to Tsitsikamma national park you come by Bloukrans Bridge where another insane thrill awaits you: the highest commercial bungee jump in the world! The bridge is 216 meters high and getting simply getting to the place you jump from is breathtaking because you walk over a metal grille through which you can look down.
I actually jumped twice because I loved it so much! First time I did a normal jump, the second time I jumped with an inrun – it’s phenomenal! The Face Adrenaline staff is super nice and makes a party of every jump: everyone laughs, they play loud music and the atmosphere simply is great.
The first jump off the bridge comes in at 890 ZAR or 850 if you book online, this is around 50 €. The second jump then only costs 450 ZAR, around 26 €. This is super cheap in comparison, similarly high bungee jumps in New Zealand or Switzerland for example often cost three to four times as much!
Hiking at Robberg nature reserve
Vor Plettenberg Bay befindet sich eine Halbinsel, das Robberg Nature Reserve. Hier kannst du ebenfalls richtig coole Wanderungen machen, insgesamt stehen dir drei verschiedene Routen zur Verfügung, jeweils von unterschiedlicher Länge und Schwierigkeitsgrad. Die kürzeste und einfachste Wanderung ist der Gap Circuit von 2,1 Kilometern, der dich wie der Name es bereits verrät bis zu einer Art Spalte bringt und rund 30 Minuten dauert. Die nächste Strecke ist bereits 5,5 Kilometer lang, dauert mindestens zwei Stunden und bringt dich bis zur Düne der Insel, der Witsand, und zu einem richtig schönen Strand samt Insel. Die dritte, längste und auch schwierigste Wanderungen führt dich bis zur Spitze der Halbinsel und zu einer großen Robbenkolonie. Sie trägt dementsprechend den Namen Point Circuit, ist 9,2 Kilometer lang und dauert mindestens vier Stunden.
Wir sind die mittlere Strecke, also den Witsand Circuit gewandert und es war einfach nur geil! Es war ein wenig diesig und nebelig an dem Tag, was einerseits schade war, da wir das Meer und die Berge des Tsitsikamma-Nationalparks in der Ferne nicht sehen konnten. Anderseits mussten wir so dafür nicht in der prallen Sonne laufen und die ganze Stimmung auf der Halbinsel war super mystisch. Bei dieser Wanderung läufst du die ganze Zeit entlang der steilen Küste, bis es kurz nach der Spalte (The Gap) ziemlich steil über natürliche Steinstufen nach oben geht.
Danach läufst du weiter durch dichte Buschlandschaft bis der Boden unter deinen Füßen immer sandiger wird und du dir Düne, die Witsand erreichst. Hier kannst du dich entscheiden, entweder weiter bis zur Spitze zu gehen oder auf der anderen Seite der Halbinsel zurückzugehen. Wenn du dich wie wir für Letzteres entscheidest kommst du direkt zum wunderschönen Stand der Halbinsel, von dem aus du bei Ebbe eine kleine Insel (The Island) erreichst. Der Rückweg geht wieder entlang steiler Küstenabschnitte und dauert durch den fehlenden Aufstieg nicht so lange wie der Hinweg.
Die Wanderung lohnt sich wirklich und mit ein wenig Glück kannst du hier zur richtigen Jahreszeit sogar Orcas beobachten, die die hier lebenden Robben jagen. Nimm aber auf jeden Fall genügend Wasser mit und ziehe dir ordentliche Wanderschuhe an, denn ein Großteil der Strecke besteht nicht aus wirklichen Wegen, sondern einfach nur aus Felsen und Steinen! Um in das Naturschutzgebiet reinzukommen, musst du am Eingang der Robberg Nature Reserve 40 ZAR (2,30 €) pro Person zahlen und bekommst eine Karte mit den drei Strecken eingezeichnet.
The second to last segment takes you some 160 kilometers from Plettenberg Bay to Jeffreys Bay, South Africa’s surf Mecca. You will need around and hour and 40 minutes and again get to see an entirely different landscape: it grows drier and less green. Jeffreys Bay is a small sleepy town with several surf shops and a few bars and restaurants. The super long sand beach which stretches away from the East of the city is great.
Surfing and riding alongside wild dolphins!
Unless you really enjoy surfing you don’t need to spend more than a day in Jeffreys Bay, because there really is not much to see. But if you love it too then this place is great and with a little luck you will even encounter dolphins when surfing! There are several shops you can borrow a board and wetsuit from and then go get yourself into the water.
If you, like Line, love horseback riding then here you have a wonderful scenery for excursions on horseback because then long wide beach offers a great galloping track. Line went riding for two hours and even got to ride alongside dolphins on the beach – amazing! She organised her ride through Fatherfoot Horses and even though the trail is really nice and her horse was good for riding she does not really recommend this stable.
The horses are not rode very gently and you don’t sit in a real saddle but a plastic construction that is not comfortable for you or your horse’s back. And one of the two guides had earbuds in his ear and was listening to music during the entire ride and also smoked one cigarette after another – not cool!
There is another stable that also offers riding excursions: the Papiesfontein farm, some 10 kilometers East of Jeffreys Bay. Unfortunately we cannot say if the horses are rode any better there, if they have decent saddles or if the guides really interact with their houses while out riding. Both charge between 350 and 400 ZAR (20-23 €) per person depending on the season.
Segment 5: Jeffreys Bay – Port Elizabeth
The fifth and last part with destination Port Elizabeth is around 85 kilometers long and takes less than an hour. With over 700000 inhabitants Port Elizabeth is one of the largest cities in South Africa and a major port city. You will probably get rid of your rental car right at the airport and can get onto a plane to any of the bigger cities in South Africa, or fly home via Johannesburg.
Sleeping in Port Elizabeth
If you want to spend a few more days in town or your plane only leaves the next day you can get a room at the Radisson Blu hotel right on the beach. We spent two nights there and could really relax after all the driving and the rush of new impressions. The room are bright, big and super modern. And most of the rooms also offer a view of the ocean! Right after checking in we saw a group of dolphins passing from our room – amazing!
The hotel’s restaurant is also very good and whatever time of the day there is something great. For breakfast you really get everything you need for a good start to the day. Standard double rooms start at 75 € a night and if you book early, you even get it for 60 € a night!
Safaris and pure adventure await you!
Port Elizabeth itself does not have that much to offer but with a little luck you can go surfing next to dolphins or watch them while stand up paddling. The city also is the perfect starting point for several-day safaris at the nearby Addo Elephant national park. The South entrance of the park (Matyholweni Gate) is only 35 kilometers, around 20 minutes on the N2, away from the city center. And the main entrance too is only around 60 kilometers North of Port Elizabeth, you can get there in around 45 minutes via R335.
Shamwari Game Reserve Explorer Camp
If you also love adventures you definitely should do a walking safari at Shamwari Game Reserve – this is the perfect ending to your road trip along South Africa’s Garden Route! Like the name says on this type of safari you are on foot most of the time and this way have a very different interaction with the animals than you would if you were sitting in a jeep.
This walking safari is part of the Explorer Camp which takes place Friday through Sunday during high season. You arrive Friday afternoon and following a good lunch and short tour of the camp you already head out for your first hike through the African bush! Right on our first day we already encountered wild elephants which was an amazing experience!
The next day we got to walk alongside wild giraffes, saw lions and even a leopard and rhinos. There is nothing like the feeling of walking through the wilderness and knowing that all it takes is the wind turning for the bull elephant to smell you and start charging at you!
In the evenings you then sit by the campfire with a bottle of wine and good food and then fall asleep in your tent with lots of unforgettable images in your head and the roaring of lions roaming the area. Pure adventure and one of my most exciting experiences yet!
The three days at the Explorer Camp with all the safaris, food and beverages come in at around 680,- € per person in a double tent and this experience is worth every cent of that! If you want to know exactly what awaits you with a walking safari you can read my post on this three day adventure in the African bush.
South Africa Garden Route – a real adventure road trip!
A road trip along South Africa’s Garden Route should definitely be on your list of upcoming adventures! Cape Town alone is already worth the travel and has so much to offer that you can easily fill an entire week here: hiking up Table Mountain or Lion’s Head, great wine at one of the many wineries around Stellenbosch or a good coffee and cool market in the hip Woodstock neighborhood. And then there is the breathtaking Chapman’s Peak Drive, probably one of the most beautiful streets in the world which you can drive several times without it getting boring!
The best route option for your road trip along the Garden Route takes you through South Africa’s southernmost point, L’Agulhas, through quaint Wilderness on to Plettenberg Bay where several great adventures await you: from exciting kayaking tours and beautiful hikes through the Tsitsikamma national park and Robberg Nature Reserve to one of the hightest bungee jumps in the world! And a little later you can go swimming next to wild dolphins at the surf haven of Jeffeys Bay or gallop on the endless beach East of the city!
And at the end of the Garden Route comes the highlight: a walking safari and three days at the Shamwari Game Reserve’s Explorer Camp where you get to walk through the African Bush on foot, next to wild elephants and giraffes, and in the evenings blissfully fall asleep in your tent with lots of unforgettable impressions and the roaring of passing lions. South Africa Garden Route – this road trip is pure adventure!
Which road trips head your personal list?