Garden Route self drive vacations

While the lush valleys and glorious rocky coastline of South Africa’s Garden Route technically stretches around 300km from Mossel Bay in the west to Storm’s River in the east, in reality Garden Route self drive vacations extend the gamut of gorgeousness to include Cape Town, the Winelands and spectacular whale watching at Hermanus. You might also slip away from the pounding surf into the arid, yet spectacular Little Karoo, where ostriches rule the roost and giant stalactite-filled caverns tempt you underground.
The easy-to-drive, well-maintained roads in this part of the Cape make self drive vacations a popular and convenient way to explore the Garden Route and the bounties scattered just beyond its boundaries. For families, the Garden Route is an adventure playground and self drive tours give you all the flexibility you need for unexpected snack breaks. Even driving in the major city of Cape Town is a doddle compared to London and other big European cities, while outside the city limits you can expect smooth, well signposted roads with light traffic.

The Garden Route self drive highlights

Big Five safaris

Between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth there are a number of safari options, including the excellent Addo Elephant Park and some private game reserves offering luxury lodging and Big Five safaris. Some are spectacular, although you need to ask question if you’re visiting a private reserve to ensure it doesn’t offer popular ‘walking with lions’ experiences which fuel the canned hunting industry. Alternatively if you’re happy to fly, you can reach reserves in the Eastern Cape, or Kruger National Park within an hour or so from Port Elizabeth.

Cape Town

Don’t be daunted by the thought of driving in a major South African city, Cape Town is relatively small, easily navigable and parking is plentiful. That said, as your international flight will usually arrive here you’ll find your self drive specialist will usually give you a couple of days to settle in before delivering your car to you at your accommodation. Once behind the wheel your options are almost endless – drive the beautiful Cape Peninsula circuit or stay in the city for an eye-opening township tour with a local guide.


Often the final stop on self drive itineraries before you hit the Garden Route proper, this coastal town two hour’s drive south of Cape Town is one of the best places to see whales in the world. Head to Hermanus between July and November to see southern right whales breaching in Walker Bay – the town’s famed ‘whale crier’ will let you know when they appear and you don’t even have to step foot on board a boat as you can see them from shore. Alternatively enjoy spectacular hiking, boat rides, surf lessons or kayaking.

Our top trip

South Africa vacation

South Africa vacation

Explore Cape Town, the Winelands and the Garden Route

From £3395 15 days inc UK flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailormade throughout the year and can be adapted to suit your interests, budget and requirements as necessary
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If you'd like to chat about South Africa self drive or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.


Birdlife abounds in Knysna’s lagoon, while this laid-back Garden Route town offers boutique shops and a selection of waterside restaurants specialising in fresh oysters. Arrive in late June and you might catch the town’s famed oyster festival, while more active adventures can be found on the hiking trails through the forests surrounding the town. Take a boat ride out to the beautiful cliffs of the Knysna Heads and you may be lucky enough to spot dolphins along the way.


The glorious R62 road – the ‘longest wine route in the world’ and one of the world’s best road trips – takes you from the Winelands via quaint, rural villages and jaw dropping mountain passes into the heart of the dusty Little Karoo. Once the ostrich feather capital of South Africa, Oudtshoorn is still overrun by these gigantic flightless birds. Visit an ostrich farm to learn more about Oudtshoorn’s unique history or head underground at the spectacular Cango Caves, home to ginormous stalactites and stalagmites dating back millions of years.

Plettenberg Bay

Pretty ‘Plett’ is just half an hour along the Garden Route from Knysna, nestled on a sweeping stretch of golden sand and backed by indigenous forests. Boutique beachside lodges abound, or stay out of town in a private nature reserve overlooking the Matjies River Gorge – self drive itineraries can be tailored to your preferences. Visit the world’s largest free-flight bird sanctuary, take a canopy tour across the treetops of Tsitsikamma National Park, or go sea kayaking along the rocky coast.


Just an hour and a half from central Cape Town, vineyards backed by botanical gardens in the shadow of Table Mountain produce some of the best wine in the world, and open their doors and cellars for tastings and tours. Expect whitewashed Cape Dutch architecture in Stellenbosch, one of South Africa’s oldest colonial towns, while the hop-on-hop-off wine tram through the Franschhoek Valley unveils vineyards backed by lush mountain views. Don’t miss tastings at some of South Africa’s first black-owned vineyards while you’re here.


You’re going to need at least two weeks for a Garden Route self drive trip, there’s so much to see and do that it’s just not possible to get it done in less time, and you will want to limit the number of one-night stays you make to maximise your enjoyment of the trip and make the driving worth it. As with everywhere else in South Africa you’ll be driving on the left – so no adjustment period (if you’re in the UK at least) – and the roads are generally tarmac and in good condition.

Your international flight is likely to arrive into Cape Town, and many self drive specialists will transfer you into the city, and give you a couple of days to settle in before delivering your hire car to your door. Driving in Cape Town is easy so getting out and about into the Cape Peninsula, or off to the Winelands is usually fairly straightforward. You can expect detailed route maps between your pre-booked accommodations with plenty of advice and ideas on the best things to see and do along the way. And your specialist bespoke vacation company will be on hand should you have any problems at all as you explore.

Best time to do a Garden Route self drive vacation

If the beach is calling to you during your Garden Route self drive vacation (and why wouldn’t it – the beaches here are glorious) then you’ll want to travel between October and March, when the weather is at its hottest and driest. Be aware that December, the height of summer, can get busy along the Garden Route as this coincides with the school vacations – so book early to secure accommodation.
Autumn, between April and May, brings more comfortable temperatures, clear skies and beautiful fall colours, while the November spring sees Cape Town and the Winelands famed botanical gardens, and the Garden Route itself, in full bloom.
Whales visit Hermanus between July and November and while you can still expect temperatures to be warm (around 18-19°C) during the day at this time of year, it can get chilly and you’ll need to pack a brolly, just in case.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: Devon Janse van Rensburg] [Whale breaching: Daniel Knieper] [Big five: joel herzog] [Oudtshoorn: Willem van Valkenburg] [Garden Route drive: Christopher Griner]