Garden Route and Whale Coast
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One of the prettiest driving routes in the world connects South Africa’s Eastern and Western Capes. The journey from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth is almost 750 kms of dramatic coastal scenery, hidden nature reserves and idyllic beaches. It makes for a superb self-driving holiday in South Africa, with numerous opportunities to explore wilderness areas, visit historic towns, and chill out on the coast.
About the Garden Route
Hermanus, George, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay are particularly enjoyable bases from which to explore South Africa’s coastal beauty and the Garden Route National Park. There are walking routes, wineries, whale watching and wildlife to discover during a trip in this region. The Eastern Cape’s private reserves are some of the best Malaria-free Big Five safari locations in South Africa and are a perfect addition to a Garden Route holiday.
Where to Visit on South Africa’s Garden Route and Whale Coast
Plettenberg Bay is a coastal with mountains, white sand and azure-blue water surrounding it. It’s scenic beauty and seemingly endless options for things to do make it one of the region’s most sought after stops for those travelling South Africa’s southern coastal routes. The town’s is friendly and relaxed and near to some of the best beaches and swathes indigenous forest in South Africa.
There is a variety of fun, exciting and educational activities that make a visit to the town affectionately known as ‘Plett’. These include adventure activities that range from such as walking, cycling and paddling boarding as well as wildlife experiences and culture visits.
Hermanus is the first major tourist town as you head east along the south coast from Cape Town. Once a small fishing village, the town is now a hive of activity and is widely regarded as the best place to see whales from land in the world. A day or two in Hermanus can also be spent enjoying picturesque cliff path walks or hiking in the local hills, as well as wine tasting, relaxing on the beach and visiting local markets or art galleries. For those with energy to burn there’s the chance to try sea-kayaking, go horse riding and explore the Klipgat Cave. There is a great choice of restaurants, bars, hotels and guesthouses suitable for all budgets and tastes.
For many years Swellendam was an active trading hub between travellers and the local Khoi-Khoi people. The town itself is located halfway between Cape Town and George and offers the perfect base from which to enjoy nature and history. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the numerous walking trails and their vistas of dramatic ranges and seemingly endless wilderness.
Nature walks in nearby Marloth Nature Reserve and Bontebok National Park are highlights of a Garden Route holiday in this area, the former being a birder’s paradise, whilst the latter is home to the rare Bontebok antelope. Other popular activities here include river rafting, cycling, lavender picking, township tours, sundowner cruises and horse riding. Within Swellendam, the 18th-century Drostdy preserved in its original form offers an insight into the lives of travellers of the past, and the museum is well worth a visit.
The Garden Route
Sitting on both the Eastern and Western Cape is 1,210 km² of natural beauty known as the Garden Route National Park. The area comprises Wilderness National Park, Tsitsikamma Forest and the Knysna Lakes Section, all popular sights on a tailor-made Garden Route holiday.
The Garden Route is a natural haven of winding waterways, tidal lagoons and beaches. These are thousands of acres of indigenous forest and fynbos to explore in the area, and in the summer large areas of the region bloom into a carpet of colourful flowers.
Dolphins can be seen playing offshore as can seasonal migrating whales, and boat trips are very popular. There are many beautiful hiking routes through mountains, forest and coastline, including the Otter and Dolphin Trails. A wide variety of adventure activities on the Garden Route is also available, from kayaking and mountain biking to rock pooling and bungee jumping from Bloukrans Bridge. Families will enjoy Knysna Elephant Park and boat trips to Storm River Gorge, whilst adults can indulge in a spot of wine tasting.
Tucked away between the Swartberg and Outeniqua Mountains is the town of Oudtshoorn, the capital of South Africa’s Klein Karoo region. Mountain ranges rise starkly out of barren semi-arid desert plains, where activities include hiking, nature tours and biking. Drives through this part of South Africa promise winding passes with dramatic views, and a hot air balloon flight over the Klein Karoo is something you won’t forget in a hurry.
Oudtshoorn was once the ostrich capital of the world and is still the home of numerous large ostrich farms. Visits to the farms allow visitors to learn why the largest bird on earth gave this small town in South Africa a place in global fashion.
Nearby are the Cango Caves, the largest cave system in South Africa at 4 kms long, with a quarter of them being open to the public. Meerkat colonies also call the Oudtshoorn area home and a sunrise visit to see them gives the best chances of seeing meerkat families emerging from the burrows.
George is the second-largest city on South Africa’s southern coastline and is the capital of the Garden Route. From here visitors can explore the natural beauty of the surrounding area, visit the Garden Route Botanical Gardens, play golf, surf and discover museums. There are also farm visits and plenty of opportunities for relaxing on the beach in the sunny afternoons. George Airport connects the town to other regions of the country.
Port Elizabeth is a beachside town and the ideal start or end point for those exploring the Garden Route and Whale Coast. The town has many good beachside hotels that provide perfect overnight stays for those departing early or arriving on late flights. For more information, please visit our Port Elizabeth page.
Safari Game Reserves
There are some excellent malaria-free Garden Route safari reserves located nearby, including Addo Elephant Park.
For more information about these, please visit our page on Eastern Cape reserves.
Hand-picked Camps and Lodges
For more information or advice on where to stay on South Africa’s Garden Route and Whale Coast, contact our experts today.
Best Time to Visit the Garden Route
The Garden Route and Whale coast is a year-round destination, with ideal temperatures and some of the best weather in the country. The peak season when temperatures are slightly higher is between November and April which is the South African summer. If you want to see whales on a Garden Route holiday, it’s best to go between July and October.
Weather During the Year
How to Book a Garden Route Holiday
Take a look at our recommended Garden Route itineraries and hand-picked Garden Route hotels and guesthouses for a bit of inspiration to get you started.
To discuss your South Africa safari holiday, Garden Route holiday packages and tailor-made itineraries, speak to one of our South Africa experts today by contacting us.