South Africa is undoubtedly vast and packed with such variety that it is difficult to decide what to do, what to see, and where to stay day to day. Sadly, it is often impossible to see it all in one trip. In our three and a half weeks traveling throughout South Africa: in Durban, on Safari, in Wine Country, and Cape Town, we met many travelers and visitors from all over the world.
After many long discussions in these areas, surprisingly, not a single traveler we rubbed elbows with had planned to drive the Garden Route or planned to. If you are into nature, hiking, and love the freedom of four wheels on the pavement, you’ll want to learn how add a Garden Route road trip to your itinerary. Here is our adventure in a nutshell, along with tips for your own adventure for cruising this magnificent stretch of South Africa.
To avoid driving in a loop, we flew into Port Elizabeth and rented a car one way. Our first stop on the Garden Route led us to the quaint waterside town of Knysna on Thesen Island. As we soon realized, it was a wise decision – this place is incredible. It has great shops selling local clothes made by designers, and a great little restaurant scene with a variety of Island Cafes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a uniquely designed South African hotel to which we called home for three days.
After each day of exploration, it was a magnificent feeling to come back to the Turbine Hotel and Spa. Transformed from an old sawmill, it had everything a traveler could dream of such as stunning panoramic views. Oozing a historic vibe and luxury boutique style, the hotel also prides itself with a modern range of facilities and world-class accommodations. Vacancy permitting, you can choose from over 20 choices of rooms and suites. I loved having an after dinner scotch with the bartender at the upstairs bar too! The entire hotel staff is charming and each one works exceptionally hard to go out of their way to made sure we had a perfect stay.
Inspired by the café view? After lunch, take the winding ride up and over the hill to The Knysna Heads for a secluded sea watching session as the waves crash and spill over it’s crevices. The setting is truly breathtaking and the sound of the waves highly therapeutic.
Find your zen cruising or kayaking the calm water in the estuary at The Knysna Heads, known for its scenic views and a variety of activities from wildlife watching and watersports, you are sure to be entertained by this little paradise town.
Lunch at East Head Café is a great way to break up a day of exploring. The menu and the prices make the East Head Café an obvious choice when it comes to dining for lunch. The large and open windows upstairs overlook the Knysna Heads giving an incredible view for a casual lunch.
End the day with a sunset view at Brenton-on-Sea. This string of sea cottages is perfect for nature-lovers who enjoy calm, peaceful rest and luxury accommodations. Only a short walk from Buffalo Bay, Castle Rock, and other beaches, the resort is a perfect base for explorers.
For a real South African experience, head up for a township tour with Wandu. I had no idea Wandu actually lived in the township until we went to his beautiful B + B he built on the second floor of his home. The theme of this trip Wandu was trying to convey is that the townships are full of entrepreneurs, now making for a destination for visitors to see emerging artists like the young man I bought a pair of shoes from. Authentically beautiful, his hospitality might have been the most special part of the trip for me.
In the late afternoon, my travel partner and I split off one day. He went golfing at the beautiful Conrad Petula Championship Course – another great place to stay if you’re into golf and spa days! I decided to opt outside and spend my time in nature with a hike.
Just about 40 minutes east of Knysna, Tsitsikamma National Park has one of the most fun places to walk across water at the Storms River Bridge and if you are up for the challenge, you can also kayak to the River Mouth.
If you’re planning to do this Storms River Bridge hike (more like a walk 30 min RT), set out early to avoid the tourists as this destination is a popular one on the Garden Route. If you are looking to escape the tourists or prefer a shorter trek, hike up to the lookout point beyond the bridge. Want more of a challenge? The terrain as you continue the hike is much more strenuous until you reach the top. Bring plenty of water, light snacks, sunscreen and a hat if you’re planning this one, as it’s another hour and a half round trip.
After your hike, treat yourself with a relaxing spa treatment. I really loved the facial the esthetician gave me back at the Turbine Hotel. The Turbine is a transformed power station, and the old machinery acts as an integral part of the aesthetics and character of the unique design. It now stands as an upscale boutique hotel, and prides itself as one of the finest spas on the Garden Route.
Because it’s a thing to do, we drove to the Southernmost tip of South Africa – Cape Agulhas. Known for its rocky coastline and the nature preserves like the Agulhas National Park, this smalltown is a great day stop or over overnight.
While I couldn’t reach every destination on this trip, I fell in love with each of the places I came upon and their distinct charm. Here are a few I’d love to come back and visit the next time I road trip the Garden Route:
If you’re looking to delve into nature, Hermanus is the best spot for whale watching in the country and even has their own person whale crier. If you’re feeling super adventurous, try your hand at Great White Shark diving…I however, would prefer to embark on the Hermanus Wine Route where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is a favorite among the locals and lunch on the large patio at Burgundy for people watching.
We found this and were thrilled to do the hike…that is until they emailed us the list of required items for our hike in hike out overnight. Unfortunately, we weren’t properly packed for this adventure this time around, but I really hope I get to go back and do this sometime. In fact, all of the Nature Reserves look incredible.
Whatever route you decide to explore, don’t forget to pack your camera and plenty of spare batteries for all of the memories you’ll collect along the way.