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Top 6 Places To Explore In South Africa’s Garden Route

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The glorious Garden Route is a 186 mile expanse of natural landscape spanning South Africa’s Western and Eastern Capes. From Mossel Bay in the West to Storms River in the East, the route passes diverse scenery including stunning coastlines and dramatic mountain ranges, dense forests, rivers and deserts. Here we explore six highlights of this iconic South African road trip.

Plettenberg Bay

Mossel Bay

The relaxed seaside town of Mossel Bay sits on the scenic Cape St Blaize peninsula, flanked by the Outeniqua Mountains. The town boasts miles of golden sands, including five blue flag beaches. Lapped by the Indian Ocean, the area is perfect for swimming and water sports including surfing, SCUBA and jet skiing. Adrenalin fans can indulge in shark cage diving, wreck diving and bungee jumping. Take a boat trip from the harbour to Seal Island, home to 2,500 cape fur seals. You might glimpse a predatory great white shark lurking in the surrounding waters.

Cape fur seals on rock

Botlierskop Private Game Reserve

Encounter four of the big five at this privately owned game reserve. In a stunning location between the Indian Ocean and the Outeniqua Mountains, the 4,200 hectare estate is home to lion, elephant, Cape buffalo and rhino along with hippo, giraffe and zebra. Enjoy game drives, horseback safaris, and guided bush walks around the reserve. The estate welcomes day visitors as well as overnight guests and facilities include a spa, swimming pools and children’s water slides. Dine at the onsite restaurant or reserve a picnic hamper to enjoy in the grounds.

Lion at Botlierskop

Plettenberg Bay

Between June and October each year the popular town of Plettenberg Bay draws scores of wildlife lovers keen to spot migrating humpback and southern right whales off the coast. Join a whale watching excursion, and keep your eyes open for dolphins and sharks. Enjoy surfing and diving off the town’s white sand beaches. Encounter seal colonies and incredible views on a stunning coastal hike at Robberg Nature and Marine Reserve.

Whale in ocean

‘Plett’ as the locals call it, is a foodie mecca with a host of excellent eateries. Don’t miss a visit to nearby Birds of Eden, an award winning sanctuary whose vast two hectare dome supports over 220 species of birds. Also nearby is Monkeyland, a refuge dedicated to primates formerly kept in captivity.

monkey

Oudtshoorn

Located amidst the semi-desert wilderness of the Klein Karoo, the town of Oudtshoorn made its fortune in an unusual niche: ostrich farming. During the 19th century, well-heeled European and American women took to wearing hats adorned with ostrich feathers. Local Karoo farmers grew wealthy on the fashion; several built large houses (known as ‘feather palaces’) with their profits. A number of ostrich farms still exist in the area today, and several offer tours to visitors.

ostriches

Make time to visit Cango Caves, a half hour drive from Oudtshoorn. On a guided tour of this ancient cave system you’ll explore a network of vast caverns and impressive displays of stalagmites and stalactites. These naturally occurring limestone sculptures are an estimated 20 million years old.

Cango Caves, South Africa

Knysna

Situated on the banks of a tranquil lagoon surrounded by woodland, Knysna is an arty, bohemian town with a welcoming vibe. Famed for its annual July oyster festival, this attractive town offers an abundance of cafes, independent shops and excellent seafood restaurants. Enjoy a tasting session at Mitchells, South Africa’s oldest microbrewery. Hike or hire a bike to explore the trails in Knysna Forest, passing indigenous milkwood, yellowwood and stinkwood trees and ancient ferns. Take a sunset boat trip around the lagoon, passing the famous Knysna Heads, the two distinctive sandstone cliffs which guard the harbour entrance.

Knysna lagoon

Tsitsikamma National Park

Probably the highlight of the Garden Route, this beautiful expanse of densely forested hillside and wild coastline offers an abundance of Cape plant and wildlife alongside a host of activities such as hiking, river tubing, and kayaking. Enjoy splendid coastal views on the Storms River waterfall trail, a scenic three hour hike/scramble which incorporates a section of the iconic Otter Trail. Adrenalin junkies can test their nerves on the world’s highest bridge bungee jump: a heart stopping 709 feet fall from Bloukrans Bridge. For a slightly gentler alternative, the Stormsriver canopy tour features an award winning network of platforms built around huge Outeniqua yellowwood trees. Glide on zip lines between the trees, 100 feet above the forest floor.

Bloukrans Bridge, South Africa

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Sam

Thursday 7th of October 2021

Please make sure, abandoned plastic litter and fishing nets and wires lying on beaches and in oceans where the cape fur seals rest should be taken out, because litter is a danger to seals and it can cause these beautiful animals to slowly die as the get entangled. Beaches and oceans should always be clean to give these cape fur seals a happy life to rest on, as abandoned litter and fishing nets and wires should be taken to rubbish dumps.

Claire Twaddle

Tuesday 5th of October 2021

I see you left off Sedgefield, the best kept secret on the Garden Route.Small town with a big heart. Awesome beaches, birding, markets, walks etc.

Terry

Sunday 3rd of October 2021

Natures Valley, Jeffreys Bay and the game reserves East of Port Elizabeth are also worth a visit if you have the time.

Dee

Sunday 3rd of October 2021

This is my dream vacation. Unfortunately, everything I read about safety there and going solo isn’t good. :(

Elisa

Tuesday 5th of October 2021

@Dee, I traveled solo in South-Africa 10 years ago and the stories were the same. However, I didn't have any negative experiences! Just don't show your camera, smartphone etc. too much and don't walk the streets in the evening. Just be careful. But that counts for every trip of a woman traveling alone ;-). South-Africa is absolutely beautiful!