Garden Route, South Africa travel guide

Stretching from Western Cape to Eastern Cape along one of the world’s most dramatic coastlines, this is far from the world of gardens that many imagine. Think Chelsea Flower Show. On steroids. You can hop from the chi chi beach garden of Port Elizabeth to the wild garden of Addo Elephant National Park, home to the Big Five. Making that one grandiose garden. For the eco garden, Tsitsikamma National Park protects an eclectic mix of gorges, waterfalls and rugged coastline, with a natural playground for canopy tours, river tubing and other outdoor adventures. In total contrast, the semi-arid garden that is Klein Karoo has a sparse, wild feel.
A trip from the mother city, through Mother Nature and then toasting it all with many of this mother's favourites in the Winelands.
But for many, it is the produce garden that wins the gold medal, with prolific grape growers nurturing the mountain gardens of the Drakenstein and Hottentots Holland ranges for fine wines. As you will see from our Garden Route travel guide, this is no common or garden region of South Africa.

The Garden Route is...

much more than a driving route. The real adventures happen when you get out of the car and hike, go on safari or in search of whales.

The Garden Route isn't...

like a collection of National Trust gardens. Its landscapes range from forest, rocky coves, wildlife filled bush, lagoons and mountain passes.

Our top Garden Route Vacation

Cape Town and the Garden Route tour

Cape Town and the Garden Route tour

Travel along the dramatic coastline at the bottom of South Africa

From US $2879 to US $3449 12 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2023: 5 Aug, 26 Aug, 2 Sep, 9 Sep, 16 Sep, 23 Sep, 30 Sep, 7 Oct, 14 Oct, 21 Oct, 4 Nov, 11 Nov, 18 Nov, 16 Dec
2024: 6 Jan, 13 Jan, 20 Jan, 27 Jan, 10 Feb, 17 Feb, 24 Feb, 9 Mar, 16 Mar, 23 Mar, 3 Aug, 24 Aug, 31 Aug, 7 Sep, 14 Sep, 21 Sep, 28 Sep, 5 Oct, 12 Oct, 19 Oct, 2 Nov, 9 Nov, 16 Nov, 30 Nov, 14 Dec
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Garden Route or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Garden Route map & highlights

Choose a self drive vacation or a small group tour along the Garden Route, but however you travel along this 1,000km sublime coast, stretching between Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the Eastern, you will have some incredible experiences – from the grand old southern right whales off the coast of Hermanus which you can see from land between July and November, to the Big Five and, in particular the elephants of Addo Elephant National Park. Swap coast for mountains easily, taking in the coastal resorts of Mossel Bay, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, and then heading into the more elevated Winelands or Table Mountain itself, from where you can take in the Cape in all its glory.
Addo Elephant National Park

1. Addo Elephant National Park

The word elephant, and there are around 600 of them here, is slightly deceptive with this national park, which stretches all the way to the coast and is also an important protected area for birdlife, penguins, seals and other marine life, not least whales. Given that this park is home to both the largest land mammals and sea mammals, as well as rhino, buffalo and zebra, Addo is not somewhere to dash through.

2. Hermanus

Most of the year this is a quaint fishing village and then, between June/July and Nov/Dec, it all goes a bit wild. About marine wildlife, that is. Because this is whale watching capital during these months, particularly for southern right whales. You can also kayak among the greats at this time. For the rest of the year there are wine routes, horse riding and surfing. And a great local produce market every Saturday.
Klein Karoo

3. Klein Karoo

This is one of the wild, arid regions along the Garden Route, with many different ecosystems favoured by a range of wildlife, including mountain zebra in Mountain Zebra National Park, where you can go on a walking safari, and lions on the region’s dusty plains and dramatic ravines. In contrast, the bats of the Cango Caves are quite a sight.
Knysa and Plettenberg bay

4. Knysa and Plettenberg bay

This part of the garden route has everything going on – from glowing sandstone cliffs in Plettenberg Bay, or Plett as it’s known locally, to the sultry, calmer waters of Knysna Lagoon, where five rivers meet. Pump it out on Plett’s surf, abseil down cliffs or hike through Featherbed Nature Reserve, accessible by boat. This is also the place to discover Xhosa culture, touring Qolweni Township.
Tsitsikamma National Park

5. Tsitsikamma National Park

This beautiful name, given by the indigenous Khoisan people, means ‘clear water’ because, as well as being a coastal park, it has various rivers, Storms and Groot being the most celebrated. Hike on the trails along gorges with obligatory waterfalls, take a canopy tour, camp out, go horse riding, visit Monkeyland Primate Rescue Centre or go on an ocean safari. It’s all very surf and turf here.

6. Winelands

The grand cru region of the Garden Route, not only in terms of the fine wineries you can visit, but also the landscapes that nurture the grapes. Wineries here date back to the 1700s, with world class Sauvignons and Shiraz emanating from sandstone peaks and sweeping, green valleys. Although traditionally white Afrikaner led, there are now a growing number of black-owned vineyards around Stellenbosch.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Fitzsimage] [or: David Siu] [Map intro: Matt MacGillivray] [Addo Elephant National Park: Brian Ralphs] [Hermanus: Willem van Valkenburg] [Klein Karoo: Werner Bayer] [Knysna & Plettenberg Bay: David Siu] [Tsitsikamma National Park : Peter Chovanec] [Winelands: John Hickey-Fry]