There’s something magical about riding along the 300km stretch from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the Eastern Cape of South Africa on the Garden Route in South Africa. Lush green nature abounds as you traverse through forest, shorelines, quaint villages and epic viewpoints. The drive though the Garden Route is a favourite for Capetonians seeking to get out of the city, with many families drifting through the dreamlike stretch for both winter and summer vacations.
The routes vary, so drivers can go slow, making many stops along the way. Or it can be driven directly from Cape Town to Storms River in roughly 7 hours. Although the Garden Route officially begins at Mossel Bay, drivers will usually be coming from the West, starting at Cape Town and taking the N2 highway.
This guide will provide you with an in-depth look at the journey from Cape Town to Stormsrivier and beyond. It includes a multitude of different routes and landmarks in the Garden Route, as well as some travel tips when driving the Garden Route on this beautiful scenic journey. You will also find all the Garden Route accommodation you are seeking. For extra motivation, the route has recently been added to UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Continue to find out the plenitude of things to do in the Garden Route.
While I did take a road trip up the Garden Route many years ago myself, my local content manager has written this guide. He is from Cape Town and has driven the route once a year for 30 odd years, including just before writing this article, to make sure everything is updated and contains the latest information. Get your playlist ready for an unforgettable a road trip.
- Brief history of the Garden Route
- The Garden Route Itinerary
- Mossel Bay, Garden Route
- George, Garden Route
- Wilderness, Garden Route
- Sedgefield, Garden Route
- Knysna, Garden Route
- Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route
- Things to do in Nature’s Valley and Stormsrivier
- Nature’s Valley
- Crossing the border at Bloukrans Bridge and Stormsrivier
- Garden Route Tours and Excursions
- How to travel the Garden Route (including maps!)
- How to drive from Cape Town to Mossel Bay (including stop-overs)
- Beyond the Garden Route
- Logistics and other important information
Brief history of the Garden Route
The history of the Garden Route is not as quaint as it’s bountiful flora and fauna. Before the 18th century, the indigenous Khoi San found this natural Eden and called it Outeniqua which translates to “the man laden with honey”.
In 1776, along with a rising demand for timber, the Dutch East India Company established a post in what is now known as George (a city that is halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and now has its own airport). After exhausting the forests of Cape Town, the Dutch Woodcutters arrived in Outeniqua, forcibly dispersing the Khoi San to other areas.
With the establishment of a post, accessibility to this once isolated area grew along with the timber industry. By 1910 several large sawmills were constructed, although many of the original woodcutters still lived in the forests in close-knit communities.
In 1913 the Forest Act stated that all woodcutters needed to be registered. And finally in 1939, all the woodcutters that remained on the outskirts of society were removed from the forests, yet they were provided with a government pension.
Although much of the indigenous hardwoods were replaced by alien pine plantations, the Garden Route is still one of the most densely filled areas with lush vegetation.
The powerful scent of the milkwoods invites visitors from all over the world to its green beauty as they cross the Kaaimans River and descend the cliff when traveling from George to the Wilderness on the Garden Route.
The Garden Route Itinerary
The Garden Route officially begins at Mossel Bay. Below is a breakdown of activities to do and best places to stay on the Garden Route, with the best places to eat in each town. You can drive through all of them or base yourself in one town and make a day visit to each. Where to stay will depend on your preferences and the reason why you are visiting the Garden Route.
I have also included options for various Garden Route tours and Garden Route must see destinations. But first, here are three maps that include Sites & Activities, Places to Eat, and Places to Stay, respectively – and separated by town.
Sites and Activities in the Garden Route, South Africa
Places to Eat in the Garden Route, South Africa
Places to Stay in the Garden Route, South Africa
Mossel Bay, Garden Route
Recently voted “Town of the Year” in 2017 by popular Afrikaans tv show Kwêla, Mossel Bay is nothing short of amazing with an array of adventurous activities. It is especially great for historophiles and adrenaline junkies.
Things to do in Mossel Bay, Garden Route
There is some archeological evidence that the existence of our species actually began in Mossel Bay. There are guided tours to the point of human origin to learn some amazing facts and be astounded by the beauty of Pinnacle Point.
Another historic complex is the Bartolomeu Dias Museum celebrating the first Portuguese explorer to land on the shores of South Africa in 1488. The largest shell museum and oldest post office are also housed in this complex. Underneath the St Blaize lighthouse is St Blaize cave, a popular whale-watching area and archeological site dating back 80,000 years.
Things to do in Mossel Bay for nature and animals lovers:
• A quick Game Drive near the Brak River at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve.
• A much longer (36km) and more strenuous 3-day hike over the mountain on the Attaquaskloof Hiking Trail.
Things to do in Mossel Bay for Adrenaline junkies:
• When the sun Santos Beach is a popular place to catch some rays.
Things to do in Mossel Bay if the weather is bad and the kids are restless:
• Mossel Bay Mall is a small shopping centre in the heart of the city.
• Blasters Family Entertainment Centre is great for entertaining the young ones.
• For the adults, there is the popular Garden Route Casino.
• The Reed Valley winery
Here is a pamphlet for more information on activities in Mossel bay.
Where to eat in Mossel Bay
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Mossel Bay is famous for its outdoor braai restaurant at the harbour and on the sand, Kaai 4 Braai. Here you can experience local food and fresh fish thrown directly on the bbq and flame grilled to perfection.
Mossel Bay also has other fine options like healthy Mediterranean-inspired Carola Ann’s, Asian-fusion Café Gannet, Blue Shed Coffee Roasters to satisfy your sweet tooth, or even Israeli food at Baruch’s Coffee Roastery. These are just some of the choices among many others from mom-and-pop restaurants to South African franchises like Cattle Baron and Ocean Basket.
Where to stay in Mossel Bay
|Hotel Name||Stars on Tripadvisor||Rates per night in US$||Click for more information|
|Protea Hotel by Marriott||4,5||135|
|The Point Hotel & Spa||3,5||120|
|African Oceans Manor on the Beach||4,5||200|
|Pinnacle Point Estate||4||315|
|Gondwana Game Reserve||4,5||745|
There are several options to stay at in the main city centre and just outside, further inland. Below are my picks of the best hotels in Mossel Bay.
Protea Hotel by Marriott
Your entry level 4* hotel with a safari-lodge-meets-ocean-inspired feel is the Protea Hotel by Marriott. The rooms are spacious, modern and ocean facing and come standard with amenities like an outdoor pool and free wifi, there is also an on-site restaurant. Although the property was built in 1846, it has been recently renovated. It is a 3-minute walk to the beach and right by the harbour, so it’s probably the best place to stay if you’ve come for the shark cage diving.
The Point Hotel & Spa
For a different view and tranquil setting, try The Point Hotel & Spa. Set on the rocks just below St Blaize Lighthouse, all ocean-facing rooms come with a private balcony. It is very central and in walking distance of many restaurants, but would be better suited to the price after some TLC. Tip, stay on the top floor in the corner if you can, the views are epic.
African Oceans Manor on the Beach
For great service and a comfortable stay, there is African Oceans Manor on the Beach and the more exclusive African Oceans Villa. Staying here means waking up to the ocean breeze with private veranda where you can try your hand at making a South African styled braai. The rooms at this property feel more like going to your own luxurious vacation home than a hotel, especially the first Superior Suite, which is a duplex.
Pinnacle Point Estate
Golfers’ number one option is the Pinnacle Point Estate. It is perched on a cliff surrounded by 18 holes of green grass and nature. It is more of a B&B feel though, more homely than anything close to extravagance, yet the location and the golfing is why you would pick this option. It is also the closest option to the Pinnacle Point caves, a provincial heritage and tentative UNSECO site.
Gondwana Game Reserve
Those looking for a truly African luxe Garden Route safari stay should make their way to Gondwana Game Reserve. Although it’s not in the Mossel Bay town, it can be reached in under half an hour from the centre. Here you’ll find haute suites and game-watching right from your patio. If you’re lucky you may even see all of the Big Five animals. It’s also perched amid the Klein Karoo wine region, so there is a choice of filling up on the local sweet nectar. If you aren’t sold yet, check out this video.
Our Top 3 Picks
Gondwana Game Reserve
We ❤ that you can experience a true safari lodge without flying into the Kruger National Park.
We ❤ the location, right by the harbour, the amenities and the spacious rooms.
George, Garden Route
George is the birthplace of the currently developed Garden Route, thanks to the timber industry. It boasts the largest mall on the Garden Route, and is the most developed town with its own airport.
Yet George also has world-class surfing beaches, is surrounded by farmlands where cattle roam free and is home to internationally famous South African golfer Ernie Els’s Oubaai Golf Resort. It also plays host to the George Old Car Show held annually in February where car enthusiasts come together to celebrate their vintage motors.
For the purpose of brevity I have included Herold’s Bay and Victoria Bay in the section about George. Here’s a small drone video of Victoria Bay.
Things to do in George, Garden Route
While George is the most developed town on the Garden Route, it is also beautiful and filled with green nature. These are the best places to see in George.
• Victoria Bay. Speak to a surfer and they’ll instantly mention Victoria Bay (or Vic Bay) and Herolds Bay. Vic bay is a popular spot for locals and holiday makers. It has a caravan park, braai areas and a world-class right break off the pier.
• Herolds Bay. Herolds has a great break too, but to the beginner, the current is quite strong, so swim with caution.
Both breaks are not for beginners, yet when the lifeguards are on duty, the water is warm and inviting for swimmers. The views are spectacular as both are located in coves after driving down winding hills.
As George is a popular destination for business conferences, there is no shortage of golf courses. There are three main clubs in the area. The first two are the George Golf Club and Kingswood Golf Estate. The major club that also boasts a great MTB trail is family-friendly Fancourt.
Families seeking a day out will absolutely love Redberry Farm. There are so many activities to do on the farm from bumper boats to bubble ball, pony rides to strawberry picking. For food, there are three separate locations from the Farm Stall to the Tea Garden and the Red Shed Coffee and Berry bar. If you want to keep the kids occupied at length there is also a large maze.
The Outeniqua Farmers Market just off York street is also a treat where you can sample some local, fresh, organic goodness. It’s only open on Saturdays and rivals the more famous Wild Oats Farmers’ Market in Sedgefield which is also only open on Saturdays.
North of central George are some scenic hiking trails:
• Watch the majestic black eagles glide by at Outeniqua Nature Reserve with hikes that range in intensity from family-friendly to trekker-savvy full week routes (at 108kms).
• You can also start the MTB Pepsi Pools trail at NMMU.
Other popular things to do near George include:
• A quieter outing includes the Outeniqua Transport and Railway Museum to learn all about locomotives from the past.
There is also the George Museum that is mostly dedicated to the Timber industry of the past and showcases all the timber tools of yesteryear with a display of indigenous trees.
Where to eat in George
There is no shortage of places to eat in George from local padstals (see the end of the article for an explanation) to more established eateries.
• The only fine dining option would be Henry White’s at Fancourt.
• Authentic Italian at La Locanda.
• Excellent coffee at Caloroso Café.
• Farm-fresh food at Kontrei Padstal.
• South Africans love eating out in the sun, so do as the locals do and join in at Hops Valley Farm Stall where you will find pizzas out in the open.
• The Turkey-meets-Africa dining experience that is Kafe Serefe is a cozy, comfortable and delicious treat serving Mezze and other Mediterranean treats among Turkish décor.
There are also the usual chain restaurants like Mugg and Bean, Spur and Ocean Basket at the Garden Route Mall.
Where to stay in George
|Hotel Name||Stars on Tripadvisor||Rates per night in US$||Click for more information|
|Manor House at Fancourt||4,5||725|
|Protea Hotel by Marriott George King George||4||90|
|French Lodge International||4||60|
As George is the business hub of the Garden Route which it has its own airport, there are many golf estates and business hotels to choose from. Yet there are also more unique and off-the-beaten path options for honeymooners and explorers. Below are my top picks of the best hotels in George in the Garden Route.
Fancourt Hotel and Manor House at Fancourt
The most famous hotel in this region and a place scattered with business people teeing off is the Fancourt Hotel with a choice of the more opulent Manor House at Fancourt. Fancourt is the go-to golfing destination on the Garden Route and cited by many South Africans as their favourite, most probably because famous South African golfer Gary Player designed three of the golf courses.
For the non-golfers, there are many activities, from sipping local wines on the lush garden terrace, visiting one of the four restaurants, relaxing in the Roman Bath at the on-site spa or joining one of the many outdoor excursions from fishing to bird watching. There is also a kid’s club to keep the young ones occupied all day long.
The Manor House at Fancourt is about a 3 min drive from the main hotel, so it is a bit more secluded and exclusive. The spa has a hot spring and there is a tennis court and fitness centre. The service here will surely make anyone feel like a celebrity.
Protea Hotel by Marriott George King George
Another option for golfers seeking choices beyond Fancourt is the Protea Hotel by Marriott George King George. Placed on the 11th fairway of the George Golf Course, this is everything you’d expect from the Protea, yet a bit more. There is a fireplace in the lobby for the colder seasons and an outdoor pool for the hotter ones. The service is consistently top-notch and the food at the Fairway Terrace is delicious and abundant.
The thatched roof of Oakhurst Hotel is reminiscent of the old Cape-Dutch architecture you would find throughout Cape Town. This property is ideal for business people wishing to stay central and not go over the top on their budget. It is an intimate setting that feels more like a home-away-from-home with friendly staff, on-site restaurant and bar and swimming pool.
French Lodge International
Slightly kitsch, yet with an African-Parisian twist, French Lodge International consists of spacious thatched-roof rondavels (rounded huts) for two or the entire family. Relax by the pool after a day exploring the Garden Route or the Jacuzzi in the honeymoon suite.
Our Top 3 Picks
Manor House at Fancourt
We ❤ the utterly luxurious celebrity treatment from the friendly staff.
Wilderness, Garden Route
The Wilderness is one of the most popular areas of the Garden Route. It’s a strip of green land along the coast with sweeping views of the warm Indian Ocean, long white sand beaches, kayaking, hiking, paragliding, waterfalls, birding and the list of nature activities goes on.
Things to do in Wilderness, Garden Route
The Wilderness is all about nature, getting off the grid, relaxing by the river or ocean or doing some outdoor activities.
Kingfisher Trail in Wilderness
Hiking on the Giant Kingfisher Trail to the waterfall is by far one of the most beautiful activities to do in the Wilderness. Either pick up a kayak from Eden Adventures based at the Fairy Knowe Hotel and paddle upstream along the Touwsriver to the pulley, walk the wooded path to the waterfall and kayak back. Or hike the entire trail from the starting point at the Ebb and Flow camping site to complete the Half Collared Kingfisher Trail.
Purchase a permit for about R20 (roughly USD1.5) from the office on the main camping site. The walk has a bit of an incline, but it is not too strenuous and is family-friendly if the kids are into longer hikes. It was closed for several years due to severe flooding, but it is back up and running with great infrastructure and clearly demarcated signage.
Lucky viewers will spot the infamous Knysna Loerie bird and after arriving at the waterfall and natural swimming pools, the trek pays off.
I highly recommend taking your costume and towel, water, lots or snacks and even a packed lunch. The entire trek is about 7kms and will take about 3-4 hours to complete. Factor in a few hours for swimming and sunbathing and you’ve got your day planned. You can even choose to stay at one of the surrounding resorts like Pirate’s Creek, the Fairy Knowe Backpackers and the Ebb and Flow Rest Camp which also has the option of camping.
These are by no means extravagant options though, so see my advice on where to stay below. The Giant Kingfisher trail is the longest, but there are other routes that are less strenuous and equally as beautiful. Here are the different trails to take.
Kaaimans River is another day journey in the Wilderness where after a kayak, there is one of the most beautiful waterfalls. It’s an easy kayak along the river among unspoiled nature, so it’s fun for the entire family. The starting point, at the lower end of Kaaimans Pass is also a nice place for a picnic and some fishing. It’s best to go kayaking at mid or low tide as the ocean pushing into the river is not as strong. Hire your kayak from Adventure Time Wilderness here.
Adventure activities in the Wilderness
As with most of the places in the Garden Route, parasailing is available through many of the adventure companies like Cloudbase or Dolphin Paragliding. Note that due to strong winds your paragliding may be postponed to a later time or another day. The companies are very professional and will keep in touch with you throughout the day to say if it’s on or not. The launch site also might change depending on the weather. Helpful hint, take a nausea tablet before you go. Trust me, it will make the flight that much better. Flights are around R750 for about 10 minutes and have the option of a 4GB micro SD card with all your pictures.
Many of the adventure companies also provide canyoning, SUPing, abseiling, fat biking, surfing and rappelling. The most well-known of the lot are Eden Adventures and Fearless Adventures. Check their sites for specific activities and prices.
As the Wilderness is so pristine and beautiful, many athletic travellers also choose to go trail running, jogging along Wilderness Beach, or cycling any part of the Garden Route. Less fit adventurers love the Segway Tours within the Garden Route National Park. Tours are around R300pp for an hour. Find out more details here.
Sightseeing in Wilderness
After all the adventure and extreme activities, you may also want to just go sightseeing. Some great spots include Dolphin Lookout Point when driving over the Kaaimans River. The Map of Africa which is a viewpoint where you can see the Kaaimans River forming the shape of Africa.
Timberlake Organic Village is a fun spot for the whole family. There are little boutique stores, organic foods for sale, the Acrobranch walk where you can walk above the forest, and a fairy garden for those who believe.
Wilderness town center also has a quaint evening market called Milkwood on Friday evenings between 4 and 9pm in season, a small supermarket, and a handful of great restaurants, bars with live music and coffee shops. The relaxed vibe here is contagious.
Where to eat in the Wilderness
The food in the Wilderness consists mainly of South African pub type dishes and seafood. Eating at the Wilderness is more about the vibe than the food, which is lively, fun and chillaxed.
Along the main road:
• Those into surf and turf dishes can hop across the road to Salinas which has an extensive menu and view of Wilderness Beach that cannot be beat. Try the smoked snoek paté with some bread for a mezze if you’ve never tried it before. Snoek is a very popular fish in South Africa that has a distinctive sweet and fishy taste and chewy texture when smoked.
Restaurants in the Wilderness town center:
• Right next to Caltex garage is The Girls and Bongos. The Girls provides South African style seafood and curries and has a nice little curios shop with souvenirs made by local artisans. On top of The Girls sits pizza joint, Bongos. It’s always a fun and lively atmosphere with great cocktails and a nice view from the deck on the second floor. Try the South African pizza for something a little different.
• Coffee snobs will love The Green Shed Coffee Roastery around the corner near the parking lot and Milkwood Night Market area. It’s literally a shed that produces magnificent coffee and has a great friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
• Another coffee joint with marvelous sweets and baked goods is newcomer the Mighty Quinn Surf Café. Their menu changes seasonally where you can also get organic treats like beetroot, carrot and potato soup, along with a choice of surfboards available to purchase.
• For some Southeast Asian fare, visit the Royal Siam Thai Restaurant within Milkwood.
• Simple, yet tasty menu at Flava, also with outdoor seating. They serve a variety of items, yet if you’re in the mood for something more local, try the Mutton Curry Bunnychow or Bobotie.
• Italian trattoria, Pomodoro, which you’ll notice by the distinctive tomato mosaic logo.
• The Blue Olive for a slightly more refined dining experience where you can nosh on tapas in a modern-chic interior.
• Cocomo is the place to go for live music from local artists in a beach-style setup.
• About 100m from Cocomo toward the river, you’ll find a lovely little Square with local watering hole the Blind Pig that is joint at the hip with craft beer supplier the Bootlegger (not to be confused with popular Cape Town coffee shop franchise Bootlegger) and quiet family eatery The Girls on the Square with a nice garden and playground for the kids to frolic in.
Other restaurants near the Wilderness town area include:
• The Views Restaurant located within the Views Boutique Hotel and Spa.
• Beejuice Café situated on the train tracks across the road from the town center which can be accessed by walking under the bridge by the Caltex. Your go-to place for a cozy atmosphere and curry dishes.
• Timberlake Organic Village mentioned above that has Zucchini Restaurant where the food is made from fresh, local ingredients. Perfect for the eco-conscious traveller. Oyster Shack is also in Timberlake which provides a fun cocktail and live music environment for parents while the kids play in the Fairy Garden. Have a coffee break at Pause Coffee Roastery in Timberlake.
• A couple of hundred meters further is Oysters R Us who supply all the restaurants with oysters, so you know they’re the freshest in the area!
Restaurants just outside the Wilderness:
• Hungry folk looking to get away from the N2 should drive up to the Seven Passes Road where the secluded Bistro Celeiro is situated. By far the most beautiful place to eat in the Wilderness/George area with food fresh from the farm.
• Another off the normal path destination that is family friendly is the Hoekwil Country Café, north of Hoekwil Road when passing over Serpentine river.
• Serendipity Restaurant which doubles as a Country House on the Touws River and was once awarded the Platinum Award from American Express is another great option. It’s most probably the closest you’ll get to fine dining in the area.
Backpackers and culture lovers must to pop into Fairy Knowe Backpackers for a cold beer where interesting globetrotters congregate to trade travel stories.
|Hotel Name||Stars on Tripadvisor||Rates per night in US$||Click for more information|
|Views Boutique Hotel & Spa||4,5||235|
|Cinnamon Boutique Guest House||5||150|
|Beach Villa Wilderness||5||170|
|Xanadu Guest Villa||5||145|
|On the Beach||5||250|
Holiday-makers looking to stay among lush greenery and the smell of milkwood trees will find a home in the Wilderness, a name that fits the environment. Read on to find the best Wilderness South Africa accommodation.
Views Boutique Hotel & Spa
I’ll start this list with probably the most opulent location, Views Boutique Hotel & Spa. Reminiscent of the quirky, yet luxe W Hotels I have written about before, this cliff-hanging boutique hotel provides one of the best views in the Garden Route. The interiors are unique, extravagant, modern and superbly designed. The restaurant only offers the freshest and locally sourced ingredients and the spa features a hammam (similar to those found in Azerbaijan), a sauna and a vitality pool. Wilderness National Park is also a quick 5min walk away. Anyone visiting the Garden Route for a relaxing time away from the hubbub of the city centres would find solace in this seaside gem.
Cinnamon Boutique Guest House
Set at the foot of the Outiniqua Mountain Valley in the Wilderness, Cinnamon Boutique Guest House offers spacious rooms with large comfortable beds and balconies overlooking the lush greenery that the Wilderness is famous for. Service stands out at this oasis which is also in walking distance to the beach and the city centre where most restaurants are.
Beach Villa Wilderness
There are several luxury villa options along Wilderness beach. With floor-to-ceiling glass windows that extend onto sea-facing balconies, Beach Villa Wilderness couldn’t get any closer to the ocean. Wake up to the gentle sound of the waves breaking on the shore in the modern and spacious property where the staff will go out of their way to help with any of your needs.
Xanadu Guest Villa
More lavish than modern, Xanadu Guest Villa is another beachfront location for travellers looking for a touch of opulence. Each room has its own private balcony looking out onto the Indian ocean and the property has direct beach access. It’s the perfect spot for honeymooners looking for tranquillity.
On the Beach
Another oceanside experience is to stay at On the Beach. Filled with crèmes, whites and beiges, the clinically modern aesthetic blends seamlessly with the white sands of Wilderness Beach. There is no better feeling than waking up to the ocean breeze while laying on Egyptian cotton and goose down duvets. The open deck that overlooks the ocean is a perfect place to watch the world go by.
Luxury Guest Houses in Wilderness
For a bit of seaside luxe without the 5* label, there are several guest houses and B&Bs to rest those weary feet. Top picks include the wedding friendly Pink Lodge on the Beach, wooden cabins among the trees at Boardwalk Lodge, spacious and elegant Ocean View Luxury Guesthouse, or the Africana-kitsch Wilderness Waters among many others.
Our Top 3 Picks
On the Beach
We ❤ that it lives up to its name, you couldn’t be closer to ocean at this property.
Sedgefield, Garden Route
Sedgefield is the tiny town between Wilderness and Knysna that many roadtrippers pass by. The house with a picket fence shaped like horses is a travel landmark that reminds holiday goers that they’re almost in Knysna. It’s an official slow town, associated with Italy’s Cittaslow and reminiscent of slow travel in Tuscany. It is well known for its Saturday Farmer’s Market, Wild Oats, situated adjacent to the Scarab Village market, both of which should definitely be visited. Go early for the freshest fruits and veggies.
Things to do in Sedgefield, Garden Route
Two lookout points in Sedgefield worth the visit include Gericke’s Point and Cloud 9. Gericke’s Point is another fantastic spot to take in the gorgeous nature where you can walk the beach to the rocks at low tide. Cloud 9 is the launching spot for paragliders. There is a gravel path up the hill, but the view, which can be enjoyed with a picnic, is worth the bumpy drive.
Water activities abound as there are various lakes to choose from from Groenvlei by Lake Pleasant self-catering and caravan park to Swartvlei which has a variety of resorts like Baywater Village, Pine Lake Marina, Trails End and Lakeside Lodge. Along with the watersports and fishing, there is mini golf and a trampoline.
Take your pick of activities in the slow town of Sedgefield with these options:
• Hikers are able to walk the entire stretch of the Goukamma Nature Reserve from the River Mouth to Buffels Bay. There are six hiking trails in the Goukamma Nature Reserve that vary in duration and difficulty. For more information click “Hiking and Walking” in this link.
• There is also the Buffalo Bay hiking trail which is a circular route of about 4,5km and is also a beautiful run.
For a longer yet not very strenuous trail walk from Buffels Bay to Brenton on Sea near the Knysna Heads. This is a gorgeous walk along a desolate ocean stretch of about 5,5kms (one way) where you may come across sunbathing Cape Fur Seals and friendly dolphins. It’s the perfect morning walk to get your mind in Zen mode. If you’re traveling with friends and have two cars you can park at Brenton on Sea, drive to Buffels and walk to your other car along the trail.
Where to eat in the Sedgefield
The line between Sedgefield and Knysna is quite blurry, so some of the restaurants below may officially be situated in Knysna, but are equidistant to Sedgefield.
Benguela Brasserie and restaurant at Lakeside Lodge and Spa is the first and last destination for fine dining in Sedgefield. The setting along the Swartvlei lake is magical and a great spot for boating. It’s best to visit Benguela for high tea, the hazelnut latte is a must try.
Pub food and pizza abounds in Sedgefield with popular selections including:
• Montecello, famous for its espetada style beef skewers.
• Sedgefield Arms with fenced in swimming pool in summer and a roaring fireplace in the winter. It also serves ice cold beers.
• Trattoria da Vinci is your go-to pizza and pasta joint. Husband and wife team Steve and Leah Baleta source their ingredients fresh. Try the slow roasted lamb shanks which are roasted in the pizza oven in the afternoon when the temperature is low.
• PiliPili Xtreme Sports Centre, located right on Myoli Beach, serves up everything from ribs and seafood to pizza and craft beer. They also have daily blackboard specials.
• La Piazza is a fun dive to watch the rugby and have some pizza.
On the main strip, local gems include:
• Mr Kaai’s for South African style fish and chips.
• Tiffany’s B&B and Tea Garden with occasional braais.
• Café Vienna for lighter bites, coffee and sweets.
Filo’s for good food in large portions at affordable prices.
• Fijnbosch Coffee Shop which serves up home-made pies.
• Newcomers 3 Valleyen a great place to watch the game.
On the road to Buffels is a tranquil hideout on the river where some seats are over puddles of water, to have a bite while feeling all refreshed. The Riverdeck is a truly South African inspired eatery with options like potjiekos (stew in a cast iron hot pot), braai (South African style bbq) including lamb chops and boerewors (literally “farmer’s sausage”), pap (maize meal), roosterkoek (bread roasted and cooked over the braai), and for dessert, the spongy malva pudding. You can also hire kayaks and SUPs to paddle along the river between meals.
Other eateries in Sedgefield include:
• Earth and Fire Restaurant at Blackwaters River Lodge which is a rustic bakery housed inside an old tractor shed and serves wood-fired bread.
• Sedgefield Craft Brewery for beer lovers.
• Benguela, mentioned above, also has wine tastings right on the lake.
Where to stay in the Sedgefield
|Hotel Name||Stars on Tripadvisor||Rates per night in US$||Click for more information|
|Lakeside Lodge & Spa||4,5||170|
|Dover on Sea B&B||5||120|
|Ichtus Seafront B&B||5||125|
|Lake Pleasant Living||4||100|
|Pine Lake Marina||4||40|
Sedgefield is the place to stay for a bit of calm and nature. It’s close to both the lake and beach so a nice sunset paddle board is always an option. Find out the best places to stay in Sedgefield below.
Lakeside Lodge & Spa
With carpeted bedrooms in a white-walled environment and a dash of colour, Lakeside Lodge & Spa is a luxurious option. The property is on the shores of Swartvlei Lake and as mentioned above has a fantastic fine-dining experience. The Spa packages are reasonably priced and the Lake calls for those interested in all water sports.
Dover on Sea B&B
Dover on Sea B&B is a good beachside option for couples or families. If you don’t get a sea-facing room, you will nevertheless be surrounded by views of nature as it is about 3km from the centre of town, just close enough for convenience. The carpeted rooms are large with eccentric touches among the wooden finishes.
Ichtus Seafront B&B
Another property overlooking the ocean but with a safari lodge feel is Ichtus Seafront B&B. In fact, it is right next to Dover on Sea. Thatched roofed and adorned with patterned wooden bed boards, this stone-walled property offers seclusion and serenity and is great for couples looking to get away.
Lake Pleasant Living
Built along the Groenvlei Lake and sharing a name with the campsite just further down the road Lake Pleasant Living is a placid oasis that lives up to its name. The interiors are golden, orange, beige and ochre with a homey flare.
Other options for families
Sedgefield is best known for its family accommodations and timeshare options. Pine Lake Marina, sharing grounds with timeshare haven Baywater Village on Swartvlei Lake, is your best option as it includes a host of water sports and an activity centre for the young ones.
Our Top 3 Picks
Lakeside Lodge & Spa
We ❤ the out of the way destination to embrace peaceful escapism from the world.
Knysna, Garden Route
Entering Knysna feels like setting foot into the past where things were simpler, far away from the modernity of today’s rushed society. It is a place for holiday-makers to stroll and is also a popular area for retirees, particularly from European countries.
Knysna has quite an interesting history, which deserves further explanation. The city actually has its roots in European settlers who arrived in 1760 to establish the Milkwood trade, the tree that is synonymous with the Garden Route.
After the first European farmer, Stephanus Terblans, settled in the area in 1770, the land rights were acquired by British-born entrepreneur George Rex in 1804. In 1858, Knysna was separated from the George Magistrate and became a separate Magisterial Division and the commercial centre of the area.
The Norwegian-born shipowner and timber merchant Charles Wilhelm Thesen and his family sailed through Knysna and loved it so much that they decided to stay after which timber was then exported to the Cape. Thesen Island is now a wonderful place to spend the day and have a bite to eat.
Later on, the timber trade grew after British entrepreneur Georges Parkes arrived from Britain and started to export the hardwood all over the country and beyond. He then established the Knysna Forest Company, which is now known as Geo. Parkes and Sons Ltd. There was a very brief gold rush at Millwood Forest in 1878.
Today Knysna is a place for retirees and hippies who are looking to get away from the rat race and holiday-makers seeking some calm from their fast-paced lives in South Africa’s major cities. There are still many European tourists who frequent Knysna, so some areas do still hold a certain hybrid Euro-African charm.
What to do in Knysna
Nature is the stand out in Knysna, but there are also numerous historical sites and places to go shopping.
Visit the Knysna Heads
One of the most popular places in town is the viewpoint of the Knysna Heads on the east side. This geographical marvel is where the Knysna Lagoon meets the Indian ocean. Take a pair of binoculars with you when visiting the Heads between June and October as you’re sure to see the graceful Southern Right Whale. The Heads is where this majestic creature finds solace and food for its calves during and after mating season.
The Eastern Head can easily be scaled with a climb up from East Head Café. Alternatively, just drive to the top and check out the view. The Western Head is home to privately owned Featherbed Nature Reserve and can only be visited by ferry.
Four-hour excursions depart daily from the Knysna Waterfront where journeys are combined with oysters and champagne aboard one of the catamarans, like the Explorer or the floating restaurant the John Benn Experience. Click here and here respectively for prices and further information. This link provides more information on the Featherbed Nature Reserve.
Peak into Knysna’s history at the Millwood Goldmine Mine Walk where you can start or end your journey at Mother Holly’s Tearoom. Take a lovely little walk to the Woodville Big Tree which is an 850-year-old Outeniqua Yellowwood. The circular course is about 2kms long and ends up at the giant tree where you can have a picnic or try to hone your braai skills.
Adrenaline adventures in Knysna
Just like Wilderness, there are also Segway tours and beautiful golf courses with standouts including Pezula Championship Golf Course, Simola and Knysna Golf Club. There are various MTB routes like Harkerville, Farleigh, Diepwalle and the Garden Route Trail Park just outside Knysna in Barrington. Fishing is another favourite along with other watersports on the Knysna lagoon like wakeboarding, waterskiing and hydrofoiling.
Animal and wildlife in Knysna
Animals lovers may want to visit Knysna Elephant Park for a family-friendly excursion as it is known internationally as one of the best captive elephant facilities in the world.
Shopping in Knysna
Instead of visiting the ellies, you can take a stroll through the boutiques at the Knysna Waterfront Quays or along the main road of the town center where you can find second hand clothing stores, hippy-chic garb, a small mall, a beautiful nursery, and a quaint waterfront shopping mall.
It’s not difficult to spot many relaxed Capetonian dads on holiday wearing tie-died t-shirts and airy cotton pants while gleaming at the trinkets around the Woodmill Lane Shopping Centre. There may be live music at the outdoor area where you can also enjoy the kinetic art, slow holiday vibe and local eateries.
Brenton on Sea
Brenton on Sea is a stunning beach area in the greater Knysna area that is also the launching point for paragliding and home to the endangered Brenton Blue Butterfly.
Not sure where to start? Let Rock the Route help to plan your customized guided experience.
Where to eat in Knysna
Knysna is famous for its oysters. Once a year, between June and July (winter in the Southern hemisphere), is the Knysna Oyster Festival.
This festival is more than just munching on oysters and includes a range of activities for the whole family over the 10-day period from live music to comedy shows, kids’ cooking classes and even the Maserati Big5 Challenge which is a sporting challenge only for the fittest.
By far the most popular eatery in Knysna, which is located at the base of the Knysna Heads is East Head Café. The garden at the back has beautiful views of the Heads, the service is friendly and jovial, and the food is delicious with one of the best quiches I’ve ever tasted. This place is always busy, so expect to wait for a seat and for parking in high season. But a wait won’t be an issue as there are walks around the small beach to keep busy.
You will also need to try Il de Pain, a highly sort after bakery near Thesen island and is only open from 8am to 3pm Tues-Sat. It creates artisanal, daily fresh, locally sourced, slow fermentation and long rising nutritious breads with everything from pastries to bespoke cakes. This bread menu alone makes my mouth water.
Fisheries in Knysna include:
• 34 Degrees South right on the Harbour (which is how many degrees Knysna sits away from the equator)
• Freshline Fisheries where you can BYOB without corkage fees.
• Tapas and Oysters also by the water on Thesen Island for a fix of fresh oysters.
• Fish and sushi at the Drydock Food Company.
Fine dining in Knysna:
• Cruise Café @ The featherbed Co. with breathtaking views and a sophisticated atmosphere, albeit with mixed reviews.
• Daniela’s at Leisure Isle Lodge is situated on a “holiday island” within a tranquil lagoon. The food is a mix of European influences with a South African twist. While the menu is small, it is big on taste.
• Zachary’s Restaurant at the Pezula boasts a more distinguished and adventurous palate. The sustainably-sourced ingredients change with the seasons and the wine selection cannot be beat.
• A sophisticated drink and view to match can be had at The Project Bar.
Other eateries in Knysna:
• Steak and South African game dishes at JJ’s.
• Portuguese-inspired surf and turf at O Pescador.
• Cocktails with a view at Sirocco.
• A friendly local atmosphere at Anchorage.
• Newly established Salmon Restaurant at the Premier Hotel.
• Mitchells Brewery is the second largest brewery in South Africa and it has humble beginnings in Knysna with tours, tastings and pub food.
• Bloo Bistro with tapas, live music and a funky Knysna vibe.
• Butterfly Blu at Brenton on Sea is another restaurant with spectacular views and is the only beachfront restaurant in Knysna.
Places to stay in the Knysna, Garden Route
|Hotel Name||Stars on Tripadvisor||Rates per night in US$||Click for more information|
|Simola Hotel, Country Club & Spa||4||290|
|Falcons View Manor||5||95|
|Head Over Hills||4,5||300|
|Mount Knysna Boutique Hotel||5||450|
|Alexander Guest House||5||170|
|St James of Knysna||4,5||160|
Knysna is the perfect location to be based for those planning on driving past the Garden Route and on toward the Eastern Cape.
It still has that Garden Route feel before trendy Plett and is far enough from Cape Town to break up the journey. It also has most of the luxury choices on the Garden Route. Here’s my list of the best places to stay in Knysna.
Update: In June 2018, Conrad sold the hotel to Village n Life (SA company) and it is now just the Pezula Hotel. We have not visited since the transition, but from the reviews on TripAdvisor, it still seems like a great stay, if not a few teething issues here and there. We have kept the following text for posterity and will update if we ever visit again.
We always love staying at the Conrad, like our stay the Conrad Rangali in the Maldives or the Conrad Koh Samui. The Conrad Pezula Resort & Spa in Knysna is therefore a sure win for a truly luxurious stay. The property is located on the Eastern Heads of Knysna with epic panoramic views of the Indian ocean or Outeniqua mountain range. Genuine South African hospitably is merged with lavish rooms to bring a uniquely African luxe experience. Although the horseback riding and kayaking are currently unavailable due to the fires, there are still a host of activities to take part in from a games room to volleyball and of course golfing and relaxing at the spa.
Simola Hotel, Country Club & Spa
Simola Hotel, Country Club & Spa has a glimmering golden chandelier-clad lobby that would fit into any opulent Middle Eastern hotel. Yet stepping outside is unmistakably Africa. As it’s a golf estate, with a course designed by Jack Nicklaus, it fits right in with George’s Fancourt. Yet Simola boasts an eco-friendly attitude to the hospitality industry. Rooms come with a lagoon or forest view and the gym offers panoramic views of the Knysna Heads which can be admired with a personal trainer. And what luxury hotel would be complete without its own helicopter which can fly in from George airport. Breath-taking views will be had, that’s for sure, as it comes standard with any helicopter journey.
Falcon View Manor
Perched atop a hill that overlooks the Knysna Lagoon, Falcons View Manor truly lives up to its name. The common areas have a safari-esque interior, yet the rooms are slightly more modern in tone with patterned wallpaper and curtains. The quaint tea garden is a wonderful spot to relax when the weather permits. It is a smaller property than the hotels previously mentioned for those looking to escape the hotel chains.
Head Over Hills
Staying at the higher end rooms in this property that boasts the best view in Knysna comes with a steep price tag of around $900 per night at Head Over Hills. It is a “luxury reatreat” right on the cliff of the Knysna Heads but it also has a heart, working as an ambassador for the Smile Foundation. Apart from the views and spacious bedrooms Head Over Hills offers in-house massage, luxury transfer (both on request), and a large wine cellar created by the wine enthusiast owners. Picnics are also available with a 24hr advanced notice.
Mount Knysna Boutique Hotel
Another property overlooking the Knysna Heads and equally as luxe is The Mount Knysna Boutique Hotel. I always prefer staying at boutique hotels over chains, if I can, as they add an additional unique flare that the larger properties cannot offer. The service is also more personalised as the staff don’t have to deal with thousands of guests. The same can be said of this boutique hotel where service is wonderful where guests can even have a conversation with the chef at dinner. And just like the property mentioned above, there is an extensive wine cellar.
Alexander Guest House
Staying up the hill, Alexander Guest House is for travellers that prefer their accommodation to be over-the-top. Think marble-tiled floors, divans, leather sofas and a spiral staircase complete with giant metallic seahorse sculpture. This is all before witnessing the panoramic views and outdoor Jacuzzi. This is the place to go to feel like royalty.
St James of Knysna
Back down by the lake is another little gem reminiscent of Victorian luxury. St James of Knysna is a 3-acre estate so it is expansive among the green grass with panoramic lake views. The interiors are Ctypical of the region, with muted beige tones, well-kept antique furniture and wooden finishing.
Our Top 3 Picks
Mount Knysna Boutique Hotel
We ❤ the personalised touch that comes standard with the property, from the hand-picked wine selection to the approachable staff.
Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route
Originally named Bahia Formosa or “beautiful bay” by Portuguese explorer Manuel de Perestrelo at around 1576, this quaint town later took on the name Plettenberg Bay in 1779 after then governor of the Cape, Baron Joachim van Plettenberg. Artefacts which can still be seen inside caves around the area suggest that previous inhabitants were, like most of the Garden Route, Khoi San.
Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias made a brief stop in 1487. Years later in 1630 around 100 Portuguese sailors were marooned on its shores for 9 months when the São Gonçalo sank. Later on in 1763, European frontiersmen arrived from the Cape. The Dutch East India Company built a barracks in the area in 1776 and it acted as a stopping point for weary seafarers heading to India. For a complete history of Plett, see this link.
The famous Beacon Island Southern Sun Resort (or the Beacon Isle) that opened its doors in 1972 stands tall on Beacon island and was in fact once home to a whaling station that closed in 1916.
Today you will find some of the most gorgeous houses in the Garden Route along Robberg Beach aptly called Millionaire’s Row. Plettenberg Bay, or as locals call it, Plett, is now the place to go on summer vacation for Capetonians.
There are whales to see, planes to jump out of, little boutique stores along the main road and a quaint food market to find some treats. While Plett is quiet in the winter, come summer it is all party with throngs of tourists lining the beaches, surfers looking for great waves, beach bums searching for a tan and holiday-makers seeking some much needed relaxation. It’s also the town where hundreds of matriculants flock after their final exams, usually in early December, in what is sort of the Capetonian version of Spring Break and is called Plett Rage.
Things to do in Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route
le fournilPlett is all about the beach. Here is a list of the best beaches in Plettenberg Bay:
• Overshadowed by the Beacon Isle Resort and linked to the Piesang River is Central Beach where toned bodies go to strut their stuff and get golden tans in the summer months. There are also events, competitions and concerts on Central Beach in season.
• Walking away from the Beacon Isle down Central Beach, is Hobie Beach which is home to one of the most iconic bodyboarding waves known as Wedge. You can hire hobie cats and jet skis in this area or just watch the bodyboarders do their thing.
• Plett is also a great place to spot whales in season between between June and October. On the other side of Hobie Beach and over the rocks is Lookout Beach which almost vanished after the devastating floods of 2007. It’s a popular place for surfing and the lagoon is a great area to SUP or to learn to windsurf. Do watch out as these waters are known to be particularly sharky due to the Keurbooms River mouth, a breeding ground. Watch the flags for shark spottings:
• Robberg Beach is on the other side of the Piesang Lagoon. It is a stretch of 4kms and is a less frequented destination and therefore more isolated. It’s a popular spot for morning joggers and kayakers. There is also surfing here, especially in the middle of the blue flag beach known as Robberg 5, where dolphins occasionally visit. History buffs and budding geologists will love walking this beach, particularly at the end where the shipwrecked Athena lies, a Greek trawler that sank in 1967. The Robberg Hiking Trial is also one of the most famous in the area as it is home to rocks dating back 120 million years ago where evidence of middle and Stone Age inhabitants has been found in some of the caves along the peninsula. Choose one of three loops in the circular route that range from 2-11kms. Find out more information about the hike here.
Just outside of Plett there are some action packed wildlife day adventures for the whole family. Some options include:
• The Garden Route Wolf Sanctuary.
Quaint little roadside padstals and boutique shops are found everywhere along the N2 like:
• Harkerville Market (Saturday only).
Plett is also host to a range of adventure and extreme activities like skydiving, abseiling, and canyoning. There is a slow circular walk on a wooden path in the beautiful Garden of Eden that only costs about $3 to enter.
The Craggs in Plettenberg Bay. The area starting at Plett and ending at nature’s Valley is known as The Craggs and has a host of activities for all ages.
• Families will love Plett Puzzle Park where people of all ages can train their brains.
Where to eat in Plettenberg Bay
Plett is a foodie’s delight. There is everything here from fine-dining to hole-in-the-wall diners and food markets. Book the classier establishments well in advance, especially in peak season, or you may be disappointed. Here are some of my favourite places to eat in Plettenberg Bay:
• Emily Moon River Lodge. One of the finer dining establishments in Plett. It is fine dining without the pretentiousness and feels more like you have just entered a game lodge than a restaurant. You will have a dash of the spectacular Bitou River along with your inventive menu and top-notch service. It also doubles as an accommodation in a serene environment.
• Another stylish institution that doubles as a hotel and has multiple awards for its retro-chic décor is The Grand on Main Street.
• The Plettenberg Hotel is another delight to sip on pre and post drinks at the Sandbar and dine with a sweeping panoramic views at Seafood. There are light snacks and a small yet delicious a la carte menu with an extensive wine list.
• Just out of Plett in Keurboomstrand and overlooking the ocean is Italian-South African fusion Ristorante Enrico where the pizza is wood-fired and the fish and meat dishes are super tasty.
• For a cocktail and some tapas, a good choice is Cornuti Stella e Luna Plett.
• The best café and bakery in central Plett, Le Fournil de Plett, actually has two locations. They are both French-style patisseries with the first one located in the Lookout Centre. This location is always packed, but especially so during breakfast. Conveniently located in the gated Formosa Bay Resort, the second location, Le Fournil en Route, is a more family-friendly affair as it is more spacious and has a lovely garden at the back with swings and a jungle gym for the kids. A clear standout is the caramelised macadamia nut baked cheesecake.
Places to eat in Plett near the beach include:
There are also a host of choices of restaurants on Plett main street:
• Vibey The Table
• Mozambican-inspired LM in Plett
• Hole-in-the-wall with the most delicious pie you’ll ever taste at the Pie Shop
• German-style game pub The German Restaurant and Bar
• Awesome burgers at Off the Hook
• Local pub fare at Berlin Pub & Restaurant
• Caffeine-friendly Double Shot Café
• Hipster haunt La Cafeteria
• Steak and game at Nguni.
• And don’t forget The Market on Main Street where food is cheap, tasty and abundant.
Some eateries in Keurboom and the Craggs include:
• Seafood joint Dunes
• Up-and-coming winery Kay and Monty Vineyards.
• Lemongrass right on the ocean.
• Quaint padstal Thyme & Again.
• Down to Earth at Plett River Lodge.
There are even more great choices just outside of Plett for a quiet evening dining among nature. The best options for a romantic affair would be Africanesque Zinzi at Hunter’s Country House for a classic dinner under the stars, dine in the treetops at Tsala, or sip high tea in the “magical baroque barn” of Ouland Royale.
There’s a blossoming wine scene opening up in Plett and The Craggs. Top of the list and one of the most sought after lunch destinations is Bramon Wine Estate. The food is fresh, flavoursome and has an unparalleled view of the vineyards that overlook the Tsitsikkama Mountain Range. Book well ahead of time.
Where to stay in Plettenberg Bay
|Hotel Name||Stars on Tripadvisor||Rates per night in US$||Click for more information|
|Robberg Beach Lodge||4,5||130|
|Emily Moon River Lodge||4,5||250|
|La Vista Lodge||5||155|
|Bitou River Lodge||5||140|
Plett brings a different type of crowd and therefore caters accordingly for the affluent family holiday-makers and matriculants that frequent the area every summer with run-of-the-mill hotels like the Beacon Isle. As with the rest of the Garden Route, there are also a lot of luxury guest houses, B&Bs, and lodges scattered throughout. Here are my top picks of places to stay in Plettenberg Bay.
Best Hotels in Plettenberg Bay
The top hotels in Plettenberg Bay include the Robberg Beach Lodge overlooking Robberg Beach and the 5* Plettenberg Hotel with 2 infinity pools, panoramic views of the ocean and a spa. While both are filled with comfy furniture in spacious rooms, the Plettenberg has a bit more personality with dashes of pastel colours and finishing touches.
Emily Moon Lodge
Those looking for an Africana feel should stay at one of the lodges in Plettenberg Bay. The most unique of the lot and the one that feels more like an actual safari lodge is Emily Moon Lodge that overlooks the Robberg nature Reserve. It is a must-visit even if you don’t plan on staying. Each lodge is separate and individually decorated with attention to detail and Africana art strategically placed on the walls and in the pathways. The restaurant is no different.
Best Lodges in Plettenberg Bay
Christiana Lodge is also located in the wetlands of the Robberg nature Reserve but is a bit less eccentric and a bit more modern, maintaining a certain charm. La Vista Lodge is equipped with balconies and a pool overlooking the tranquil setting of Keurboom Lagoon and the ocean. Bitou River Lodge is similar to Emily Moon in its uniquely African safari lodge feel, yet it is a bit more rustic without the chic that Emily Moon offers. It is still great for a peaceful getaway. Periwinkle Lodge is yet another favourite among travellers to Plett where the opulence lies in its views and infinity pool over its slightly commonplace rooms.
Our Top 3 Picks
Emily Moon River Lodge
We ❤ the absolute Africana eccentricity that fills the interior of each unique room.
Things to do in Nature’s Valley and Stormsrivier
The stretch after Plett that extends between Nature’s Valley and Stormsrivier, which officially marks the end of the Garden Route, does not have much in terms of social activities. But what it lacks in infrastructure it surely makes up in natural beauty. In this final stretch you will find probably the most beautiful sites in the Garden Route.
The area is filled with lush greenery, hiking trails, desolate beaches and refreshing lagoons. It’s a place for the more introverted holiday-maker who likes to be surrounded by nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the town. There are hiking paths for days, bungy jumping, white water rafting and a general sense of calm, a place to throw away your phone and get lost in the beauty of the moment.
Nature’s Valley is all about, well, nature. It’s where weary travellers can rest their legs after completing the legendary Otter Trail, which starts from Stormsrivier and is a 5-day 45 km hike through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. It’s also a resting place for those doing the 6-day Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail. Definitely a great stopover destination for trail runners, hikers and picnic enthusiasts.
Hike the 4.8km Kalanderloof Hiking Trail that starts in the forest opposite the entrance to the De Vasselot Campsite. It’s a fairly easy trek to the top surrounded by indigenous fynbos, centuries old yellow woods and panoramic views.
Animal lovers can rejoice as there is whales and dolphin spotting in the ocean from the top of Lookout Point on the Salt River hiking trail, sharptooth houndsharks in the gully, blue duikers, bushbucks and bush pigs on the hiking trails and all the birds in the world. See a list of birds and other animals to be found in Nature’s Valley here. Hikers trekking for longer periods will definitely spot the Cape Clawless Otter.
De Vasselot is a great place for camping, canoeing and ride around the estuary. It’s also most probably the best place to learn how to braai! The beach is expansive and surrounded by mountains. The only place to go for groceries, and a pizza, is Nature’s Valley Information Center right at the end of St Michaels Avenue. Other than that, you will have to stock up in Plett.
Crossing the border at Bloukrans Bridge and Stormsrivier
After relaxing in Nature’s Valley, it’s time to end your Garden Route adventure after crossing over to the Eastern Cape with a quick bungee jump off the internationally famous Bloukrans Bridge. It’s one of the highest commercial bungee jumps in the world at 216 m (709 ft) and by far one of the most beautiful. There is also a bridge walk, similar to the one at Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Those not seeking adrenaline can just sip a cold beer and have a bite to eat while watching the brave souls jump in the flesh or on the TV in the restaurant. If you’re watching a friend or loved one jump, make sure they wear something that stands out or you might miss them. There is also an African curios market at the site.
The more intrepid adventurer will love white water rafting at Storms River. Contact Blackwater Tubing for a once in a lifetime experience of tubing down the river. There are also super fun canopy adventures and more activities including 4WD, ATV and off-road tours at Tsitsikamma Adventure Land.
Things to eat in Nature’s Valley and Stormsrivier
The only place for a bite to eat in Nature’s Valley, as mentioned above, is at the information centre at the end of St Michaels Avenue. Stormsrivier has a few options, mostly in Tsitsikamma Village, like the kitsch-but-fun Marilyn’s 60s Diner. Read more about Tsitsikamma Village here. There is also a fast food option along the N2, South African favourite flame grilled burgers at Steers. If you’re stopping over at the bungy jump, there is a small restaurant at the view point which serves toasted sandwiches and the like. The food there is pretty good though, basically, it’s not a dive.
Places to stay in Nature’s Valley and Stormsrivier
There are no resorts or hotels in Nature’s Valley, but there are some self-catering and bed and breakfast accommodations which you can find through Airbnb or safarinow. I would only recommend staying here if you truly want to get off the grid and don’t mind out-dated, rustic accommodations.
Stormsrivier does have a few options, like the extravagant Fernery Lodge & Chalets right in the middle of the foliage, surrounded only by flora and fauna, a 30m waterfall and the Sandrift River gorge to admire every day. Definitely the top pick for nature lovers and hikers. Armagh Country Lodge & Spa is aptly located on Fynbos Avenue and you will find the indigenous plant everywhere you look. It has an old African feel and while the staff are friendly, it could do with a little make over. This area of the Garden Route is also known for the thrill-seekers and therefore has an abundance of B&Bs and Backpackers.
Garden Route Tours and Excursions
We have created a page of some of the most popular excursions and tours on the Garden Route. They range from extreme, like shark cage diving, to the more mild, like town tours by bicycle. See if any catch your eye and book now to avoid disappointment.
How to travel the Garden Route (including maps!)
While there are options for buses, trains and tours, I would highly recommend hiring a car for your journey. If you do want a guided trip, I would suggest hiring a guide at each destination instead of one for the complete trip.
When you have your own car, you will be able to pull over to all the little stores along the way and your experience will be much richer. If you do not like driving, a guided tour might be the next best option as the bus and train will not give you instant access to all the little towns and villages along the way. Although, I do have a passion for train travel and have boarded the famous Blue Train in South Africa which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Where to start driving on the Garden Route (with different routes to Mossel Bay)
Garden Route adventurers usually fly in to Cape Town and include the route as part of their Cape Town itinerary. So it’s best to understand what options there are from Cape Town when driving up the Garden Route.
If you’re not sure of what to do in Cape Town, here’s our definitive guide to Cape Town by a local.
When driving up from the Mother City there are several options, all of which have their own benefits and downfalls, the biggest downfall being the time it takes to drive up, not much else.
The shortest drive to the Garden Route
The most popular route is to drive straight from Cape Town along the N2 highway, passing the gorgeous Sir Lowry’s Pass and on through apple paradise Grabouw, Casino and hot spring haven Caledon and then on to the small villages of Riviersonderend, Swellendem, Heidelberg, Riversdale and finally starting at the Garden Route in Mossel Bay.
This is the quickest way from Cape Town to the Garden Route, where you can alight at any of the little towns or villages to stretch your legs. The drive from central Cape Town to Mossel Bay takes about 4 hours depending on traffic in the Somerset West area and how many trucks are on the road.
The next two options are recommended for those who have more than a week of travel, and don’t need to rush the journey.
The Whale Coast Route
The second option is to go through whale-watching paradise and the Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Wine Valley in Hermanus through the Walker Bay region. There are even options when driving to Hermanus, the first being a direct drive from Cape Town. The second option is to drive along the R44 to stop and eat some South African style fish and chips in Gordons Bay and then visit the penguins in Betty’s Bay and on through quaint Kleinmond.
After exploring Hermanus and the Hemel en Aarde, there is a massive culinary scene in Stanford with restaurants like Springfontein Eats and Marianas at the Stanford Hotel which must both be booked well in advance.
The route then meanders through the R43 and R319 to Cape Agulhas, the most Southern tip of Africa. Arniston, Bredasdorp, and the absolutely gorgeous De Hoop Nature Reserve are also great places to stop at and admire the beauty of African nature. Then the road winds back up north on the R324 ending near Swellendam to finally get back on the N2. The best time to take this route is during whale season which is around June to November, although exact dates cannot be specified.
The Wine Regions route
The third option is to take the lesser travelled N1 highway which starts in Cape Town, goes through Johannesburg and Pretoria and ends in Zimbabwe. Although it can be driven all the way up to Zimbabwe, drivers need to take the Worcester turn off at the R60 to get to reach Swellendam and the N2.
This route is for wine-lovers as it passes through the infamous Stellenbosh region which houses internationally acclaimed wines. After this there are so many amazing wine routes, each with their own distinctive eccentricities.
First are the Wellington and Paarl routes, then the Worcester and the Nuy Valley. South Africa’s first slow town Robertson, where life is lived at a snail’s pace, is also a treat with both mass producers and boutique vintners coexisting side by side. The beautiful towns of Ashton, McGregor and Montagu also lie in this region. These are all rare finds and cater for off-the-beaten-path adventurers looking to get off the grid.
Combining two of the routes mentioned above is also recommended for those with time on their hands. For example, combine Hermanus (without Agulhus) on the way up, with the Montagu hot springs on the way back. The places you select will be very much preferential.
After reading this guide you will have a much better understanding of what’s in store and can plan your trip accordingly. Now that you have a small idea of the bountiful journey ahead, we can get into more detail on where to stop and what to expect at each leg of your journey.
Here are your 3 options to get to the Garden Route from Cape Town.
How to drive from Cape Town to Mossel Bay (including stop-overs)
Here is the journey in brief of what to expect when driving the main route from Cape Town to Mossel Bay, where the Garden Route journey begins. The times next to the distance in the brackets below are an estimate. Driving during rush hour will alter these times considerably.
Cape Town to Somerset West and Strand (45km; ±1hr)
Leaving Cape Town behind, the first major towns are Somerset West and Strand. Leaving late will most probably end in traffic as there are a lot of traffic lights (called “robots” in South Africa) and people will be returning home from work in the city. This area has a large mall and is known for its golf courses and beaches.
Next is the scenic Sir Lowry’s Pass. If there’s time, stop at the top of the pass to take in the views of the Peninsula and Cape Point. Otherwise just look at the view from the car. Motorists deciding to stop are advised to drive cautiously and slowly and indicate early as the turn into the car park is at a bend. Do be careful of baboons, they are not the friendly Balinese type monkeys you feed in Ubud and can get fierce, so keep food in the car and if you see a baboon approaching get directly into the car and make sure the windows are rolled up.
Somerset West to Grabouw (25km; ±30min)
Down the pass and after Steenbras Dam on the right is Grabouw, known for its apples and table grapes.
• Don’t forget to stop at the Peregrine Farm Stall for a break and some amazing coffee, lunch and treats. There are fresh fruits, bread and other curios to purchase. The quiches are delicious.
• Elgin Valley is behind and is known for their cool climate wines that have a hint of ocean freshness.
• Further down the road is the Hickory Shack Smokehouse for some American style Southern comfort food in a gorgeous setting.
Next up on the journey is the Houwhoek Nature Reserve where you can go for a little hike or stop over at the charming Houwhoek Farm Stall, Coffee Shop and Hotel. Fill up with gas at Botrivier if you’re running low. The following are all very popular places to stop for a relaxing lunch:
• Forage at Wildekrans
Grabouw to Botrivier (23km; ±25min)
Between Botrivier and Caledon there are a few quaint and rustic places to stop:
• History buffs are encouraged to pop into the Caledon Museum that houses historical exhibits covering the years 1840 to 1900.
Riviersonderend is another popular place to stretch your legs, fill up with gas, and stop at:
• The hip Ou Meul bakery, who also make “lekker” pies and burgers (“lekker” means good or great in Afrikaans).
• Mom-and-pop Padloper
• SA favourite fast-food chain Spur Steak Ranch.
Botrivier to Swellendam (130km; ±1h30min)
Swellendam is the next small town. I was really surprised by Tredici, an Italian-inspired patisserie, boulangerie and delicatessen. It is totally out of place as a two-storey building, standing tall with stone columns, yet it’s quite lovely instead with multiple choices on the menu, a boutique wine store and all the curios you could dream of. There is also a hospital if you are in need. Bontebok National Park and Marloth Nature Reserve are also fantastic excursions for hikers and nature lovers. Just after the main town is the best stop on the Garden Route for families called Oude Post Bistro. It is a bistro with outdoor seating and part of a BP petrol station. There are also live animals to pet and a play area for the young ones.
Swellendam to Heidelberg (55km; ±40min)
Heidelberg is about halfway between Cape Town and Knysna, so you know you’re almost at the Garden Route when you reach the recognisable three pillar structure. If this is where you decide to stretch your legs and fill up with gas, then you can try:
• Inspired Creations is also a fun little stop for the whole family.
Visit the following places in Riversdale:
• Ikigai Artisan Coffee Bar and Deli
• Die Rooi Aalwyn Padstal which is attached to the Bali Trading factory store. Bali Trading is a house and home store selling everything from coffee mugs and ceramics to aprons and hammocks. Pop in for a delightful treasure hunt for homeware at discounted prices.
• To learn more about local art visit the Julius Gordon Africana Museum.
Between Riversdale and Albertinia, known as the largest exporter of thatch and aloe, has:
• Oppie Plaas Padstal serving up South African comfort food like pies and a range of home-made jams. Something different if you enjoy sampling local dishes like I do.
• Stop at Tuinplaas for a local Afrikaans experience.
• You can also visit the Garden Route Game Lodge if you’d like to experience a safari. You may not see all the Big 5, but you will definitely see elephants, buffalo and rhinos.
Heidelberg to Mossel Bay (116km; 1h15min)
The final stretch before Mossel Bay is breathtaking. Surrounded by panoramic views of the veld almost at the beginning of the Garden Route. So keep driving steadily and enjoy the leisurely pace. You will pass Gourits River where there used to be a bungy jumping site, but has since terminated operating.
There is also Indalu Game Reserve if you’ve driven passed Garden Route Game lodge where you can take a walk next to some saved elephants. The next landmark is the massive Gourikwa Power Plant to your left and you are just about to enter the turn off to Mossel Bay. You will know you are near when you see the Engen Petrol Station coming up on your right.
Remember to make the left turn toward George if you do not want to go through Mossel Bay. The turn comes up quick and is often missed.
Beyond the Garden Route
The next small town you’ll pass when driving the N2 through Tsitsikamma is Humansdorp. After that is surfers’ paradise Jeffrey’s Bay, then St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis. Keep driving and end up in Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth), the next major city with easy access to Addo Elephant Park.
Logistics and other important information
There are small local farmers’ stalls or cafés called padstals all along the garden Route, or in fact any of the highways in South Africa. Pad is road in Afrikaans and stal means stall – so, roadside stall. If you see one, stop by and have a look, you may find a treasure like the best boerewors (sausage) roll or the most sumptuous homemade jams that you can only purchase at that padstal.
Traffic cameras are everywhere, but especially in the small towns. If you do spot a speeding camera and think you’re safe, don’t fool yourself. Passing a speed camera does not mean you can speed up, a traffic officer may be waiting before or after, sometimes hiding behind a tree with another camera ready to chase those breaking the speed restrictions.
Capetonians are impatient drivers. If they feel you are going too slow, they will drive right on your tail with no give until you let them pass. Be aware of tailgating and gently pull over into the emergency lane, slowing down but not stopping, to let irritated drivers pass. Don’t be stubborn and stay in the lane, driving slowly (i.e. in this case, the speed limit), be the bigger person and let them through.
Watch out for animals along the way. There won’t be any dangerous animals walking around like they do on safari, but baboons and deer are known to run across the road at times causing major accidents. Also look out for guinea fowl, a small pheasant that darts across the street randomly and is known to run back and forth in a zigzag and in a flock. Just slow down and drive past them.
If you are parked and a baboon jumps on the car, do not wind down the window, they are very strong and will do anything to get food. Do not feed them! This makes them think that humans are a source of food thereby making them more dangerous as they learn to attack humans for food.
Similar to anywhere in the world, do not drink and drive. First, it is dangerous which goes without saying. But second, South Africa has a Zero Tolerance policy to drinking and driving. The legal blood alcohol limit for driving is less than 0.05g per 100ml of blood. The legal breath alcohol limit is less than 0.24mg in 1 000 ml of breath (Source). That is around a 350ml beer. Please be safe and careful and plan ahead if you plan on drinking heavily.
South Africa is known for its high crime rate. To lessen your chances of being a victim, do not leave anything unattended on the seat of your car. They are usually not malicious crimes, but if you do leave a jacket on your back seat, even for five minutes while you purchase something from a convenience store, you may come back to a broken window, jacketless.
Driving in the day is also much safer than driving at night as there are more people on the roads. If you have the option, drive in the day. If you have to drive at night, drive straight and avoid pulling over for anyone.
Live by the motto “stash, don’t flash”. I have personally experienced petty theft in one of the towns where a wallet was snatched right in front of our eyes from a baby’s stroller. Keep your valuables in your pockets and away from seeking eyes.
What to pack
Your packing list for driving up the Garden Route will depend on the activities you are looking to participate in.
For the car, make sure to purchase a 5l bottle of water, for emergencies. Check that the car is equipped with spare tire, spark plugs and jack. Make sure that your car comes with an audio jack to connect to your phone or audio device, otherwise your playlist will be traded in for the radio. Also remember your charging cable and cigarette charging jack, like these.
You will most likely be going on various hikes around the area. You won’t need heavy duty hiking boots, unless you’re planning on doing the Otter Trail or something similar. So a comfy pair of trail running boots or sandals will most likely be sufficient. Here are some of our favourites:
We find that a pair of flip flops is also convenient for the beach. Brazilian-made Havaianas are the go-to South African choice:
For the beach you’ll need a quick dry towel and loads of sunblock for the harsh African sun. A sturdy water bottle will also be helpful for hikes:
If you have the budget, you’ll want to get a GoPro and drone. The drone laws in South Africa state that “If you’re only interested in flying your hobby drone for private use (no commercial interest, outcome or gain), you won’t need to register the drone or obtain any licences, but the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) (Part 101) Regulations still apply” (Source) . For read, read this article.