The best Garden Route road trip itinerary

Dre RoelandtTies Lagraauw

written by
Dre Roelandt, Ties Lagraauw

updated 20.05.2024

Thanks to its sprawling length, the Garden Route is the ultimate road trip playground, allowing you to soak up its myriad wonders at your own pace. Whether you're up for a scenic hike, eager to spot some wildlife, keen to hit the beach, or just craving some mouthwatering local cuisine, you'll find it all along this unforgettable route.

How long is the Garden Route?

The Garden Route, nestled along the coastline of South Africa, is a haven for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. Spanning roughly 300 kilometers (or 186 miles), this scenic stretch begins its journey from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape and winds its way eastward to the charming Storms River in the Eastern Cape.

Yet, pinning down the exact length of the Garden Route can be a bit of a guessing game. While the main artery is the coastal highway, N2, there's a plethora of side roads, trails, and attractions that contribute to its allure. Be prepared to take detours to explore inland forests, wildlife-rich nature reserves, and quaint coastal towns along the way.

On top of that, many choose to extend their Garden Route journey beyond Storms River — exploring further into the Eastern Cape or looping back towards Cape Town through the Klein Karoo region, adding even more distance to their route.

Want to be better prepared for your trip to South Africa? Read our useful travel tips for visiting South Africa.

garden-route-south-africa-shutterstock_556553086

Garden Route itinerary, South Africa © Shutterstock

What is the best way to travel the Garden Route?

The Garden Route in South Africa offers a breathtaking blend of coastal beauty, lush forests, and diverse wildlife, making it a must-visit destination for travelers. When it comes to exploring this stunning region, the best way to experience its wonders is through a combination of road travel and stops along the way.

Road trip

Renting a car gives you the ultimate freedom to chart your own course along the Garden Route. Cruise at your own pace, stopping off at scenic viewpoints, charming towns, and secluded beaches along the way. Plus, having a car gives you the freedom to veer off the main route to uncover hidden gems.

Guided tour

If you'd rather leave the driving to someone else, guided tours are the perfect solution. From day trips to multi-day adventures, there are plenty of tour operators ready to whisk you away on a journey through the Garden Route. With knowledgeable guides at the helm, you'll gain insights into the region's history, culture, and natural wonders, enhancing your experience every step of the way.

Looking for a luxurious guided tour? Our Cape Town and Garden Route luxury guided tour promises indulgent experiences like chocolate and wine tastings, thrilling safaris, and unforgettable game drives amidst breathtaking scenery. Crafted by local experts, our trips are fully customizable to suit your preferences, ensuring a truly unforgettable adventure.

Cycling

For the eco-conscious explorers and those who love to get up close and personal with nature, cycling or hiking the Garden Route offers a unique perspective. Follow the well-trodden paths through lush landscapes and along dramatic coastlines. It's a chance to slow down, soak it all in, and leave nothing but footprints behind.

Feeling overwhelmed by trip planning?  Our Cycling South Africa's Garden Route trip is designed for nature enthusiasts. This thrilling excursion leads you through lush forests and majestic mountainsides, allowing you to skip the hassle of planning and booking. Let our team of local travel experts take care of every detail, providing 24/7 support during your adventure.

bloukrans-bridge-tsitsikamma-garden-route-south-africa-shutterstock_458156305

Bloukrans Bridge, South Africa © Shutterstock

Where does the Garden Route start and finish?

The Garden Route, renowned as one of South Africa's most breathtaking stretches, sets off from Mossel Bay and wraps up its journey in Storms River. Mossel Bay, located in the Western Cape province, serves as the starting point of this iconic route. But it's more than just a launchpad; it's a hub of maritime history. While you're there, make sure to swing by the Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse and the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex to delve into the area's rich past.

From Mossel Bay, the Garden Route meanders eastward along the coast, encompassing picturesque towns, serene forests, and beaches straight out of a postcard. Our top recommendations? Knysna is a gem, with its famous lagoon and indigenous forests, while Plettenberg Bay is a beach lover's dream, boasting stunning sands and marine biodiversity.

The journey continues through the Tsitsikamma Forest, which is a bit like something out of a fairy tale. Here, you can wander amidst ancient trees and take on exhilarating treetop canopy tours.

Finally, the Garden Route reaches its conclusion in Storms River, where the Storms River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park unfolds dramatic coastal vistas. This is a great place for kayaking or hiking. 

The Garden Route in South Africa ©  LMspencer/Shutterstock

The Garden Route in South Africa ©  LMspencer/Shutterstock

How many days to spend on the Garden Route?

Knowing how long to spend exploring the Garden Route can be a difficult question, as there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The ideal duration really depends on your pace and the attractions you are keen to explore. However, roughly speaking:

For a quick taste of the Garden Route, a 3-day trip could hit the spot. This itinerary might include must-see highlights like Knysna's scenic viewpoints, the Tsitsikamma National Park for its forest walks and suspension bridges, and Plettenberg Bay for its stunning beaches and wildlife encounters.

Got a bit more time on your hands? Consider stretching your trip to 5 to 7 days for a more leisurely exploration. This extended itinerary opens up opportunities for additional activities like wine tasting in the vineyards of the Robertson Wine Valley, visiting the ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn, or exploring the charming towns of Mossel Bay and George.

If you're a true outdoor enthusiast or nature lover, you might want to linger even longer – perhaps 10 days or more. This allows for a deeper dive into the hiking trails, kayaking spots, and wildlife experiences that the Garden Route has in store.

South Africa, Tsitsikamma National Park, wooden bridge suspended above Storms River on Garden Route

Tsitsikamma National Park © Shutterstock

What's the best time of year to drive the Garden Route?

So, you're gearing up for a trip along the Garden Route in South Africa, but you're wondering when's the best time to hit the road? Here's a closer look at each season to help you decide when to hit the road:

Summer (December to February):

During these months (December, January, February), the Garden Route is basking in warmth, perfect for those beach days and outdoor escapades you've been dreaming of. Just be prepared for the crowds – it's peak tourist season, especially with South Africa's school holidays in full swing. Expect popular spots to be bustling, and prices may be a bit higher than usual.

Autumn (March to May):

As autumn rolls in (March, April, May), temperatures start to cool down, and the crowds begin to thin out. This is often touted as one of the prime times to explore the Garden Route. The weather remains pleasant, making it ideal for leisurely hikes, wildlife spotting, and exploring quaint coastal towns without the hustle and bustle of peak season.

Winter (June to August):

Don't let the cooler temperatures scare you off – winter (June, July, August) in the Garden Route has its own unique charm. The landscapes transform into lush, green wonderlands, and it's prime time for whale watching along the coast. Plus, with fewer tourists around, you'll have more room to enjoy the beauty of the region, and you might even snag some great deals on accommodations.

Spring (September to November):

Spring (September, October, November) brings a burst of life to the Garden Route, with warmer weather and colorful wildflowers painting the landscape. It's the perfect time for outdoor activities like hiking and birdwatching, and the crowds are still relatively light compared to the busy summer months. The scenery is vibrant and alive, offering plenty of opportunities for that perfect snapshot.

Robberg 5 Beach from Robberg Nature Reserve near Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route, South Africa © Shutterstock

Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route, South Africa © Shutterstock

Best places to stop along the Garden Route itinerary

With so many things to do, it can be hard to choose what to include on your Garden Route itinerary. Here’s a pick of our favorites, as chosen by our South African travel experts. 

Surfing in Jeffreys Bay

If you're a fan of catching waves, Jeffreys Bay, or "J-Bay," is the place to be. Renowned globally for its legendary surf breaks, this coastal town is a mecca for surfers of all levels. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, the consistent swells here offer an exhilarating experience. Be sure to ride the iconic Supertubes or sign up for lessons at one of the local surf schools to test your skills on the waves.

Explore Storms River Mouth

Prepare to be wowed by the natural beauty of Storms River Mouth in Tsitsikamma National Park. Take a trek along the rugged coastline, admire the towering cliffs, and get lost in the ancient forests. Feeling adventurous? Hop on a kayak or boat tour through the river gorge for a close-up look at the diverse marine and birdlife.

Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa © Shutterstock

Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa © Shutterstock

Drive over the Bloukrans Bridge and continue to Nature's Valley

As you drive over the Bloukrans Bridge, soak in the stunning views of the Bloukrans River gorge. Then, head on to Nature's Valley, a peaceful retreat nestled amidst lush forests and pristine beaches. It's the perfect spot to unwind and reconnect with nature.

Visit Plettenberg

Make a stop at Plettenberg Bay, or "Plett" for short, where relaxation meets adventure. Lounge on the golden beaches, feast on delicious seafood, or go on an ocean safari to spot dolphins, whales, and seals. Don't forget to explore the nearby Robberg Nature Reserve for some scenic hikes and wildlife encounters.

Skip Knysna and continue to Wilderness

For a quieter experience, consider skipping Knysna and heading straight to Wilderness. This hidden gem boasts tranquil lakes, winding rivers, and dense forests teeming with birdlife. Spend your days leisurely canoeing along the Touw River or hiking scenic trails for a peaceful getaway off the beaten path.

Road Trip

Driving is great way to spend your Garden Route itinerary © Shutterstock

Tips for driving the Garden Route

As you prepare to hit the open road, these essential tips will ensure you make the most of your exploration through this beautiful region.

Plan your itinerary

Your journey along the Garden Route is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, so it's essential to plan your itinerary meticulously.

If planning isn’t your strong suit, you may want to consider hiring a professional. Our tailor-made trip service makes traveling easy by taking care of the planning and booking. Our trips are designed by local travel experts and are customized to your every preference. 

Stock up on supplies and fuel

Before hitting the road, make sure you're well-prepared with all the essentials. While bigger towns like Knysna and George have got you covered, smaller stops along the way might be a bit sparse. Load up on water, snacks, and fuel to keep your adventure running smoothly, especially if you're aiming to explore off the beaten path.

Explore off the beaten path

Don't be afraid to veer off course and discover the hidden treasures that the Garden Route has to offer. Explore charming coastal villages, wander lesser-known trails, or dive into local markets for a taste of authentic culture. The real magic happens when you step off the tourist trail and into the heart of the adventure.

A girl is standing on the suspension bridge in Storms River Mouth national park in South Africa © Deyan Denchev/Shutterstock

Storms River Mouth National Park in South Africa © Deyan Denchev/Shutterstock

Rent the right kind of car

Choosing the perfect wheels for your journey is crucial. While a compact car might do the trick for paved roads, consider upgrading to a 4x4 or SUV if you're planning to tackle rough terrain. Whether you're cruising mountain backroads or seeking out secluded beaches, having the right ride will ensure you're ready for whatever the route throws your way.

Be mindful of wildlife

As you journey through the Garden Route's diverse landscapes, keep a lookout for the incredible wildlife that calls this region home. Drive with care, especially during dawn and dusk when animals are most active. 

Stick to speed limits, avoid disturbing wildlife, and always respect the natural beauty of the area. By doing so, you'll help preserve this stunning environment for future adventurers to enjoy.

Planning your Garden Route itinerary

Looking for inspiration for your Garden Route itinerary? Don't miss our pre-designed itineraries for inspiration, created by local travel experts. Or see our Rough Guide to South Africa for tips and insights for your Garden Route trip and beyond.

Dre RoelandtTies Lagraauw

written by
Dre Roelandt, Ties Lagraauw

updated 20.05.2024

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