Doing the popular Garden Route road trip has been on my bucket list for a while. Incredible coastal views, farm-to-table dining, and extraordinary encounters with wildlife are what make South Africa’s Garden Route worth the hype.
Technically, the Garden Route stretches along the coast from the Western to the Eastern Cape, but being the ambitious travellers we are, we decided to squeeze in a few extra stops along the way – the Cape of Good Hope (because penguins), then into Little Karoo (because ostriches), before going eastwards to Addo Elephant Park (because elephants). So, from sipping on world class wine, to feeding ostriches, here’s what to hit up on the Garden Route in a week.
Day 1 – Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach
Cape Town is the obvious place to pick up your motor for a Garden Route road trip. Once you’re behind the wheel, head south via the back of Table Mountain National Park toward popular surf spot, Misty Cliffs, so-called because of the clouds of mist that hang around the beach year-round.
From there, Cape Point is only a 30-minute drive. Entrance to the park is R135 ($10/£7.50) per person, and there’s enough to do in the Cape Point Nature Reserve to fill the whole day. The hike to the iconic lighthouse at the tip of the peak was our highlight – but watch out for the enormous baboons!
On the way home, drive up the eastern side of the peninsula and stop at Boulder’s Beach, home to hundreds of penguins. Spot the little creatures sheltering behind the granite boulders, before making your way to the Brass Bell in Kalk Bay for fish and chips. What better way to end day one?
Where to stay: Moonglow Guest House
Day 2 – Cape Winelands
Around 40 minutes east of Cape Town is South Africa’s world famous wine region, and the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The unreal hills provide the ideal microclimate for vines, and the whole area is a feast for sore eyes. Wines have been produced in this region since 1659, and now it’s also become a culinary hotspot.
To really enjoy the area, consider parking the rental car for the day and jumping on the Wine Tram in Franschhoek. It’s a hop-on hop-off, customisable wine tasting experience, and there are five ‘tracks’ that pass several of the best vineyards in the region.
Regardless of what vineyards you end up at during the day, Babel in Babylonstoren is where you should go for dinner. Donkeys, chickens and ducks run around amongst the 300-plus varieties of plants, fruits and vegetables, and they even have their own rice patch! Babel is the most sincere application of farm-to-table I’ve ever seen, and the food is spectacular.
Where to stay: Babylonstoren
Day 3 – More of winelands / Route 62
The vista-rich winelands are so spectacular that they deserve two full days. But with 148 wine farms in the Stellenbosch region alone. How does one choose? We let food dictate our decisions.
For lunch, we ended up at Noble Hill’s Cosecha restaurant, for the fresh South American and Mexican cooking, and delicious wines. For dinner, nothing beats Indochine at Delaire Graff estate. Chef Virgin Khan creates art you can eat in the name of Asian Fusion, served under a ceiling of 1000 little birds.
Where to stay: Delaire Graff estate
Day 4 – Route 62, Ronnie’s sex shop and Ostrich farm
The saying, “it’s about the journey, not the destination” couldn’t be truer than on Route 62. Leave the winelands via the Franschhoek Pass, and drive into the semi-desert region of Little Karoo. The landscape changes dramatically, turning into something that best resembles the Australian outback.
In the middle of this absolute nothingness is Route 62’s most popular tourist attraction, Ronnie’s Sex Shop. It’s a roadside pub with graffiti on the walls and t-shirts hangings from the ceiling. It was originally just called Ronnie’s Shop and then his mates added “Sex” to the sign to attract customers – and it works! While cruising along Route 62, you may also spot some ostriches on the side of the highway. For a closer look, head to the Ostrich Safari Farm in Oudtshoorn. It’s home to more than 2,000 ostriches and a guided tour explains all aspects of ostrich farming, and even lets you feed them.
Where to stay: Oubaii Hotel Gold Spa
Day 5 – Plettenberg Bay
Head south from Oudtshoorn towards beautiful Plettenberg Bay, a.k.a “Plett”. A good place to grab a bite on the drive down is Timberlake Village, located just east of Wilderness. It’s an adorable oasis hosting an eclectic collection of independent businesses and eateries. Coffee enthusiastics will be pleased to find the coffee shop Pause, an independent roastery serving delicious brews.
Once you hit Plett, you’re properly on the Garden Route, with nature on your doorstep. Don’t miss out on hiking in the Robberg Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site just 8km south of the town. Expect steep inclines and jagged rocks, but there’s a world class beach to cool down at the end.
Where to stay: Phantom Forest Eco Reserve
Day 6 – Tsitsikamma National Park
Forests, oceans, beaches, cliffs – Tsitsikamma National Park has it all. The park stretches over 80 kilometres along the coastline and offers spectacular views of ocean breaks on one side, and lush, evergreen bush on the other. Hike the world famous Otter Trail, which starts at Storms River Mouth in the east and ends at the Nature Valley in the west. Along the way, you’ll get a chance to spot some otters (duh!) and even whales if you’re lucky.
Where to stay: Tamodi Lodge & Stables
Day 7 – Addo Elephant Park
There’s no better way to end your Garden Route road trip than spending the day at Addo Elephant Park. Located 70 kilometres from Port Elizabeth, Addo became a national park in 1931, with only 11 elephant. There are now more than 600 elephant, and in fact, Addo boasts of all the big five: elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and black rhino. Since it stretches into in open waters on the coast, there have also been great white shark and Southern right whale sightings.
It’s R248 ($18/£14) per day to enter the park for a self-guided drive, but spending the extra R370 ($27/£20) for a guided drive is well worth it. The drivers are fact-dropping machines and have the insider knowledge of where to spot wildlife.
Where to stay: Gorah Elephant Camp
And that’s it – the Garden Route in a week, covering a huge chunk of the wonderful landscape of South Africa.