The Garden Route is a beautiful 200km stretch of coastline in the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces of South Africa - a superb self-drive route.
The full extent of the popular self-drive is from Cape Town in the west to Port Elizabeth in the east, a distance of around 800kms if sticking to the N2 motorway. The road is hemmed in by the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains, a picturesque back drop. In reality most will want to turn off the N2 and hug the coast, taking their time to visit all the famous attractions.
The official Garden Route starts in Mossel Bay in the west, and ends at Storms River in the east. Knysna, in the middle, is a great place to base yourself on the Garden Route as all the attractions are within very easy reach and accommodation is good here. You can relax for a couple of nights in the knowledge you don't need to do much driving.
The start of the Garden Route, Mossel Bay, is around 400km from Cape Town while Storms River is around 200km from Port Elizabeth - many people choose to stop in the winelands and or Hermanus for a night at the start to explore these areas and enjoy the coast road at leisure before getting back on the N2 to Mossel Bay. Alternatively you can fly to George and start your exploration there.
As well as beautiful beaches, lagoons and coves, there is also indigenous forest, beautiful flowers (hence its name) and quaint towns. Off shore there is the chance to see Southern Right Whales, dolphins, great white sharks and African penguins. On shore there are nature reserves, vineyards and a host of attractions and museums.
There is a string of pleasant places to stay on the Garden Route, all enjoying a pleasant temperature throughout the year that ranges from 13-25 degrees.
Mossel Bay is small and atmospheric, with excellent beaches and a museum about Bartholomew Diaz, the Portuguese explorer who discovered the route around the Cape. A stay in Oudtshoorn allows the chance to explore the flanking mountains, a trip up to the Swartberg Pass being well worth the effort. You can't visit Oudtshoorn without visiting the ostriches; the town is the centre of the South African Ostrich industry with several large farms producing feathers for the world's hats and very large eggs!
The small town of Wilderness lies about 10 miles from George and is home to the Wilderness National Park. This 26,000 acre reserve contains 5 rivers, 5 lakes and nearly 12 miles of rugged coastline, making it a wetland reserve of international importance. The most famous town on the Garden Route is Knysna. Situated on the edge of a huge estuary it is flanked by swathes of indigenous forest, it is laid-back and a great place to stay for a couple of nights to enjoy the many activities and attractions on offer. Finally there is Tsitsikamma, an area in the Eastern Cape of rugged beauty. Sandy beaches and rocky crags, gorges, forests and rivers all combine to make an unspoilt landscape that forms part of a marine National Park.
A week allows the visitor to enjoy a Garden Route holiday at a leisurely pace, staying in the main towns and exploring the coastline of this beautiful area. A Garden Route self-drive combines best with a stay in Cape Town.
For a superb holiday fly into Cape Town for a few nights, drive the Garden Route and then stay 2-3 nights at a safari reserve in the Eastern Cape - you can fly out of Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg for your flight home without having to back track.
Our favourite reserves in the Eastern Cape are Kariega and Shamwari but all the Eastern Cape reserves offer the Big Five, a variety of lodge and tented camp accommodation, as well as private villas. They can all be reached within around a 2 hours drive of P.E.