Classic Drives – The Garden Route, South Africa

The Garden Route, South Africa

The stunning Garden Route runs from South Africa’s most popular tourist destination, Cape Town, for 800 km along the scenic coastline between this city and Port Elizabeth. The area enjoys a Mediterranean maritime climate and the trip is regarded as one of the world’s truly classic coastal drives.

As you drive along the well-forested coastal plain, you’ll find freshwater lakes, lovely lagoons filled with water birds, indigenous forests of giant yellowwood trees and fields covered in colourful wildflowers. It’s easy to see why visitors are drawn to this beautiful region year-round.

One of the highlights of a drive along the Garden Route is a stop at the sleepy coastal town of Hermanus near the southern-most tip of Africa. The town is situated next to a 12-km path that runs along the cliff top, right next to the ocean. From May to December, pods of Southern Right Whales swim to within 20 metres of the cliff as they travel along the coast.

The more adventurous traveller can try some heart-stopping shark cage diving, sea kayaking, abseiling, scuba diving, sand boarding, and paragliding. Those looking for something more relaxing to do can visit the vineyards in a nearby valley and do the short drive to the southernmost tip of Africa, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean.

You will have to drive inland to visit Oudtshoorn, which was built in the early 1800s, in the centre of the Klein Karoo, a semi-desert area wedged between the coastal mountains to the south and the spectacular Swartberg mountain range to the north. The town was the world capital of the Ostrich feather industry during Victorian times, and many grand houses from that era are still standing today. There’s plenty to do in Oudtshoorn – you can try riding an ostrich at an ostrich farm, take a tour through the magnificent Cango Caves that stretch for kilometres throughout the mountains, visit the vineyards, and even stroke a Cheetah at Cheetahland.

Back on coast, the Garden Route takes you to George, located on a 10-km plateau that runs from the majestic Outeniqua Mountain to the Indian Ocean. Besides enjoying whale watching, surfing, swimming, scuba diving and paragliding, you’ll find three of South Africa’s top golf courses are also located here. The Fancourt Golf Estate is especially popular, with an 18-hole course designed by Gary Player, a golf academy, exclusive hotel and conference centre, restaurants, and numerous sporting facilities.

Further along the coast toward Port Elizabeth is the town of Knysna, also a very popular tourist destination. This laid-back town is situated between a lush indigenous forest, home to the last of the forest-dwelling elephants in Africa, and a beautiful lagoon teeming with birds and other wildlife. The oysters grown in this unpolluted lagoon are among the tastiest in the world. The closest beach is in nearby Buffalo Bay, a favourite spot for fishing, surfing and swimming, as well as whale and dolphin watching. The entire area surrounding Knysna, with its incredible biological richness and beauty, is a paradise for the eco-traveller, with plenty of places to camp, hike, canoe, kayak, and observe the unique wildlife.

At Plettenberg Bay, there are ten important nature reserves as well as marine reserves. The endangered Southern Right Whale calves in the bay from July to December, and seals and dolphins live here all year round. In the bay you can snorkel and scuba dive on unique soft coral reefs, and on the beach you’ll find a wide range of water sports on offer, including fishing, surfing, swimming and sailing. Nearby, there are superb hiking and mountain biking trails, horse riding, kayaking and canoeing in scenic Nature’s Valley and Stormsriver.

Your drive along the Garden Route ends in Port Elizabeth, on the shores of beautiful Algoa Bay.