Are you planning a Garden Route itinerary and wondering which Garden Route highlights not to miss? If so, you’re in luck! In this guide, I’ll cover the best places to explore on the Garden Route and help you plan the perfect self-drive Garden Route trip.
The Garden Route is world-renowned as one of South Africa’s most spectacular drives. And for very good reason. Here, you will be surrounded by natural beauty. With the Indian Ocean’s cool waters on the one side and the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountain ranges on the other, this unique 300-kilometer stretch of road is simply stunning.
The Route, which stretches from Mosselbay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the Eastern Cape, is home to ten nature reserves with varied ecosystems, excellent beaches, and numerous outdoor activities, making it a perfect add-on to your Western Cape itinerary. For those of you coming from Cape Town, here are a few other things to do before heading down to the Garden Route.
Ready to make the most of your South African adventure? Let’s dive right into the best places to explore on the Garden Route!
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Garden Route Highlights: Best places to explore on the Garden Route
Storms River Mouth Nature Reserve
One of the most revered Garden Route highlights is undoubtedly the Storms River Mouth Nature Reserve. The reserve lies in the heart of the Tsitsikamma National Park and boasts fynbos, lush forest vegetation, rugged rock formations, and spectacular ocean views.
There are many great activities to do at Storms River – from hiking, adventure sports, or simply relaxing. The very first place to see is the beautiful little beach. Here you can watch the crashing waves, swim, or snorkel. Those looking to get close to nature can choose from several hiking trails ranging in length and skill level!
Another great draw to the area is its slightly scary suspension bridge. So, if you are brave enough and would like to get a bird’s eye view from a unique vantage point, don’t forget to head over to the bridge for amazing views of the river mouth.
For those of you looking to experience the charms of the Tsitsikamma Forest sans the crowds, be sure to head over to the Garden Route’s best kept secret spot Natures Valley.
Alternatively, spend a few nights here. The Storms River Mouth Rest Camp has a cozy camping area and cute bungalows nestled in front of the ocean. For more information on accommodation types and the most current prices, be sure to visit the SAN Parks website.
Opening hours: 7:30 am – 6 pm Monday to Sunday.
Entrance fee: Adults ZAR49 and children ZAR24, per day (SA citizens) | Adults ZAR196 (US$15) and children ZAR98 (US$7), per day (tourists)
If you want to get away from the crowds in Plettenberg Bay, Keurbooms Beach is a Garden Route must do. The area sports white sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see and is a playground for boating, windsurfing, and fishing enthusiasts. If luck is on your side, you might even spot dolphins playing in the water or whales during whale season.
One of our favorite things to do after meandering on the beach is to pop in at Enrico’s. This amazing little restaurant is an absolute must-visit and a popular hot spot among locals and visitors alike. They serve mouth-watering seafood and excellent cocktails, accompanied by gorgeous ocean views.
Robberg Nature Reserve
Just 8 kilometers south of Plettenberg Bay, hikers and nature lovers can enjoy the beauty and rich ecosystems of Robberg Nature Reserve.
Recognized as a World Heritage Site, the reserve is home to a unique variety of fauna and flora and a popular hub to spot Cape Fur seals, dolphins, whales, and even the rare blue duiker. Moreover, it’s one of the best Garden Route attractions.
There are three trail options, ranging in length and difficulty, allowing visitors to experience the reserve’s beauty at their own pace and skill level. We followed the Witsand Circuit (5.5km) and the views were spectacular! The hike should take about 2 hours (depending on your fitness level), but make sure to bring water and pack some snacks to enjoy along the way.
If you aren’t much of a hiker, consider bringing along a picnic basket on your visit. Then, head down to the cute little beach, just behind The Gap, for a relaxing afternoon and a swim in the somewhat chilly waters.
Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm Monday to Sunday.
Entrance fee: Adults ZAR50 (US$3.26) and children ZAR30 (US$1.96).
Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden is a unique wet forest situated between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna. It forms part of the lush Tsitsikamma forest and is a great place to take a relaxing stroll. In fact, it’s one of our favorite Garden Route highlights. So, definitely add it to your list of Garden Route things to do!
Several wooden boardwalks lead you through a lush forest filled with all kinds of forest types, like stinkwood and cute bridges over gentle streams. The walk is entirely wheelchair friendly, and because it only runs for 1km, both young and old can enjoy the gorgeous forestry here.
Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm Monday to Sunday.
Entrance fee: Adults ZAR12 (US$0.70) and children ZAR7 (US$0.50). Visitors can enter the grounds after hours, for free.
The Knysna Heads
Visiting the Heads is a must for visitors planning a Garden Route itinerary. Two cliffs line the entrance of the Knysna Lagoon entering the Indian Ocean. The Eastern Head offers terrific views of the lagoon, Leisure Isle and Knysna.
The best part? The Eastern Head Lookout Point is open 24/7 and there is no entrance fee, making it one of the best free things to do in Knysna. However, if you want to visit the Heads at night, please remember to be aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables safe. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend visiting here after dark. South Africa has been struggling with high crime rates over the past few years, so keep that in mind.
If you would like to visit the Featherbed Private Nature Reserve on the Western Head, tours depart daily from the Knysna Waterfront, and the trip takes around 4 hours. For more information, visit the reserve’s website here.
Have we missed any of your favorite places to explore on the Garden Route? Do you have any other Garden Route highlights to add to this list? If you have any tips for travelers planning a Garden Route itinerary, let me know in the comments below.
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