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Exploring South Africa's beautiful Garden Route

by Martha Hales

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South Africa has some seriously impressive landscapes, but the Garden Route is justly one of the most celebrated areas. Named for its lush greenery and awesome vistas, it’s a corner of South Africa that should be high on your wishlist. Stretching for 200 kilometres east of Cape Town, this is a great region to cruise through behind the wheel, stopping off to see the coastal scenery, enjoy convivial towns and explore natural wonders on foot. Whatever your priority on holiday, you will find it on the Garden Route. Great food and wine, superb hikes, stunning wildlife and lots of places to kick back and relax are all signature features of this tempting coastal haven.

Beach at Robberg on the Garden Route

One of the most appealing aspects of the route is the wild beaches, where the Indian Ocean waves are mirrored by the sweeping crest of the mountains behind the shore. There are many lagoons scattered along the coast, as well as rivers rushing headlong towards the sea, so there’s no shortage of adventurous water sports to experience. Officially spanning the coastal stretch from Mossel Bay to the Storms River Mouth, the Garden Route encompasses a hugely diverse stretch of coast where wildlife thrives, adding opportunities for spotting marine and land mammals as well as exotic birdlife to the list of attractions.

Southern Right Whale breaching off Garden Route coast

We’ve rounded up five of our Garden Route highlights to inspire you to get your South Africa trip booked ASAP. This is a destination that deserves the hype.

Wilderness National Park

The whole of the Garden Route is a natural playground for the adventurous, but Wilderness National Park is extra appealing because it is home to numerous lakes, rivers, streams and lagoons which host a huge array of marine and avian wildlife.

Wilderness coastline, South Africa

There are plenty of options for watersports and hikes in the park, which spans the whole area between the Touw River mouth and the Swartvlei estuary. The Touw River itself connects 3 of the Wilderness National Park’s lakes, Langvlei, Elandsvlei and Rondevlei, which together are recognised as a Ramsar wetland - meaning it is of great importance to the ecology of the region. As well as hiking, there are popular spots within the park for canoeing, fishing, and birdwatching.

Cormorant and African Darter in Wilderness National Park

Nature’s Valley

The Garden Route is hardly undiscovered and often you will share the beauty of the landscapes with fellow visitors. Nature’s Valley, however, is an off-the-beaten-track corner of the route which is blessed with a stunning combination of forested glades, wild, white beaches and peaceful lagoons. Nature’s Valley is part of the Tsitsikamma National Park, tucked into a craggy section which hasn’t ever seen major development because of it’s inaccessibility.

Nature's Valley Lagoon in South Africa

Rivers have carved deep clefts into forested ravines, and the beaches remain untouched and blissfully empty. There is a small village near the mouth of the Groot River which serves those who brave the hairpins to get here, and though facilities are minimal they are no less charming for that. Nature’s Valley marks the end point of the Otter Trail, a flagship South African hike which winds west from Storms River to the end point five days later at Nature’s Valley.

Natures Valley Beach, south africaq

Tsitsikamma National Park

This stretch of the Garden Route should not be missed by keen hikers or birdwatchers, or indeed anyone who enjoys the great outdoors. It’s a stunning coastal region of humbling scenery and extensive wildlife, and merits a visit especially if you are keen to explore the marine environment of the Garden Route. The boundary of the protected zone extends 5 kilometres out to sea, including pristine reefs ensuring there is plenty for divers to get excited about.

Coastline of Tsitsikamma National Park, South Africa

For visitors who prefer their marine thrills from the shore, there are often dolphins playing in the bays and, in the right season, pods of Southern Right Whales frolic in the waves just offshore. Canopy zip lines in the forest are yet another exciting diversion available in Tsitsikamma National Park.

Walkway and bridge in Tsitsikamma National Park

Addo Elephant National Park

Located in the Sunday’s River sector of the Garden Route, Addo Elephant National Park is the perfect solution if you wish to combine a Garden Route trip with some big game viewing in a safari setting. The park is home to around 550 individual elephants, as well as rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. There are plenty of options for getting out into the park to look for these intriguing species, from self drive safari routes to guided game drives and horse riding trails.

Baby elephant in Addo National Park, South Africa

Birdwatching is also a major activity in the park, with up to 450 species present, specialised birding trails and hides set up at key locations. This should be your number one destination on the Garden Route if you are keen to see some of South Africa’s wonderful wildlife.

Goshawk landing in Addo elephant reserve

Towns on the Garden Route

Plettenberg Bay is typical of the lovely, laid back small towns scattered along the Garden Route, and the bonus of staying here is that there are lots of spacious beaches right on the doorstep. Plenty of activities are available in and around Plettenberg Bay, too, such as boat trips, Robberg Peninsula Nature Reserve, whale watching and the primate sanctuary at Monkeyland.

Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

Knysna is another gem of a town, centred on its bustling quays where options for wining and dining are excellent. There is no beach directly accessible at Knysna, but it retains its popularity because it has an abundance of waterside charm, easy access to the countryside and hiking trails, plus several top quality golf courses. It also enjoys a great climate all year round. Storms River village is our final favourite Garden Route charmer, with a peaceful and picturesque atmosphere that could easily tempt you to stay a while.

Knysna, South Africa

Make it happen

Get your Garden Route holiday plans fixed up with the help of our knowledgeable local experts. There’s so much to see and do in this beautiful region, they are true specialists who can help you prioritise what to do and how to fit it all in to your South Africa trip. To see what your bespoke itinerary might look like, send them a few details today. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.

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