South Africa: The Beautiful Garden Route

by | Africa

Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Garden Route in South Africa takes you along one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Traditionally starting in the west in Heidelberg and ending in the Tsitsikamma National Park in the east, the route boasts towering mountains, breathtaking waterways, tall indigenous forests, and golden beaches.

In no other place in Africa, and maybe the world, can you find 200km of coastline that offer such scenes and adventure. Whether you enjoy active or restful holidays, you will find something to love in the Garden Route. Hikers can be challenged by untamed trails or stroll through meandering ones. Forests invite long, scenic drives. Lakes and rivers lend themselves to swimming, boating, and fishing. Beaches bid you to come and relax, snorkel, or surf. A wide range of leisure options, spectacular scenery, and a mild climate guarantee an unforgettable holiday experience when visiting the Garden Route.


Magnificent towns dot the coastline in a region that has a well-developed tourist infrastructure. The area boasts two national parks, Tsitsikamma, Wilderness, and numerous other provincial and private nature reserves. Travelling from Cape Town (west) to Port Elizabeth (east) the main towns are:

Heidelberg – Gauteng Province of South Africa 

Heidelberg offers incredible natural beauty and genuine country hospitality in a tranquil little village on the banks of the Duivenhoks River.

Southern Right Whale in South Africa

Southern Right Whale in South Africa


Witsand – Western Cape, South Africa

On the Western Cape province of South Africa, sitting on St. Sebastian Bay, Witsand is a popular seaside resort offering water sports, angling, deep sea fishing, and whale watching. St. Sebastian Bay is one of the most important nursery areas in the world for the Southern Right Whales, so that that whale watching may be at its best here. Witsand can also be a hub for exciting points away from the Garden Route, such as Malgas Pont, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Swellendam, the Bontebok Park, Barrydale, Ashton, Robertson Wine Route, and Montague.

Offering much in the way of natural splendor — such as magnificent flora, fauna, hiking trails, rivers, and mountains — Riversdale also offers appealing exhibits of native art and fine antiques.

Riversdale – Western Cape, South Africa

Offering much in the way of natural splendor — such as magnificent flora, fauna, hiking trails, rivers, and mountains — Riversdale also offers appealing exhibits of native art and fine antiques.

Still Bay – Western Cape, South Africa

Another one on the Western Cape province of South Africa is Still Bay- a popular holiday resort. It has long stretches of white, sandy beaches that are ideal for relaxing. Fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling are just some of the many watersports that can be enjoyed here. The area boasts shopping, family-friendly restaurants, and cycling and hiking trails when you are ready to get out of the water. Still Bay has been an excellent place for centuries, as evidenced by the remnants of ancient man that can still be found there.

Still Bay Coastline - Western Cape, South Africa

Still Bay Coastline – Western Cape, South Africa

Albertina – Western Cape, South Africa

Situated between the Indian Ocean and the Langeberg mountain range, Albertinia is a peaceful country village that has retained much of its old-world character. It offers breathtaking views of the Gouritz River and a unique collection of local fauna, including many species that grow only on the South African coast.

Mossel Bay – Western Cape, South Africa

With pristine beaches and a mild climate year-round, Mossel Bay is the quintessential seaside resort. Watersports are found in abundance here. Area attractions include the Point, famous for its surfing, natural swimming pools, and whale watching. If you are brave, you can try bungee jumping or shark diving. Mossel Bay takes pride in its 18-hole golf course, with ocean views from every tee.

Mossel Bay also has a rich archaeological and cultural history that dates back approximately 350 years, much of which is on display at the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex. One interesting local story is about the “Post Office Tree.” In the 16th century, mariners left messages for passing ships in an old boot under a milkwood tree in Mossel Bay. Outside the maritime museum, part of the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex, you’ll find a tree with a plaque optimistically claiming, “This may well” be the same tree. The museum itself is worth a visit for the life-size recreation of Dias’s tiny ship, a testament to the bravery of these early Portuguese explorers.


Mossel Bay View - Western Cape, South Africa

Mossel Bay View – Western Cape, South Africa

Oudtshoorn – Western Cape, South Africa

You may find that a trip inland off of the Garden Route is worthwhile to visit the arid, sunbaked landscape of the Little Karoo, a region of sparsely populated valleys with quiet, old-fashioned towns surrounded by rugged mountain scenery. Oudtshoorn is the only significant town in this area, dubbed the “ostrich capital of the world,” and is notable for its “feather palaces,” showy sandstone buildings built by the ostrich barons of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. If you don’t fancy visiting one of the touristy ostrich show farms, you’ll still see hundreds of these bizarre birds on roadside farms.

Don’t forget to inquire about ostrich racing and riding. Situated outside Oudtshoorn are the Cango Caves. An important geological feature, the caves are a series of caverns and chambers naturally hewn out of limestone. The standard tour walks you through breathtaking, dramatically lit caverns. Take the “adventure tour” to strike deeper into the hot, airless inner recesses along ever-narrower tunnels, until finally, you have to squeeze yourself through a frighteningly tight slit. Adventurous children will be in their element. Adults might be less happy – don’t try it if you’re claustrophobic.


Cango Caves - Western Cape, South Africa

Cango Caves – Western Cape, South Africa

George Western Cape, South Africa

Known as “The Gateway to the Garden Route,” George graces a coastal plateau in a fertile area of lush greenery at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains. It is a picturesque town with streets lined by majestic oak trees. George is home to a few museums, one of which displays the history of the railway in South Africa. Golfing enthusiasts will enjoy any of the courses in the George area, two of which are among the best in the country. For other sports, George offers gliding, horseback riding, and a variety of hiking and mountain biking trails.


Outeniqua Mountains

Outeniqua Mountains- George, South Africa

Wilderness Western Cape, South Africa

The sparkling white beaches, lakes, and rivers of Wilderness draw visitors from all over to the banks of the Touws River Estuary. The Wilderness National Park is a charming world of lakes, rivers, estuaries, and beaches that gently unfolds against a backdrop of lush forest and lofty mountains. Its mix of coastal and hill scrublands, lagoons, and wetlands attract 250 species of birds, including kingfishers and the colorful Knysna Lourie.


On the banks of the Swartvlei estuary is the small town of Sedgefield. In the heart of the Lakes area, it is a peaceful holiday resort surrounded by forest, making it a destination great for fishing, sunbathing, hiking, and bird watching.


Wilderness National Park Swartvlei Beach

Wilderness National Park Swartvlei Beach


Between the Outeniqua Mountains and the sea, Knysna is surrounded by indigenous forests and plantations. It is one of the Garden Route highlights and a popular destination for those who love history and the arts. Over the years, Knysna has embraced many well-known creative people, such as writers, sculptors, potters, painters, and jewelers. The art-lover will delight in browsing through the many arts and crafts studios, galleries, and shops.

The town is on the banks of South Africa’s only National Lake, a protected marine reserve better known as the Knysna Lagoon. The lagoon opens into the sea between the well-known Knysna Heads and is home to the endangered Knysna seahorse and over 230 bird species. The Parks Board regulates watersports in the area, but you will still find Knysna an excellent spot for scuba diving, snorkeling, canoeing, and kayaking. The magnificent natural surroundings are perfect for scenic drives, biking, hiking, and bird watching.

The area is best known for its unique industry, oyster farming, and promises sheer delight for oyster lovers, especially during the Oyster Festival in July. Enjoy the oysters with a tankard of the local draught beer, another Knysna delicacy. Thousands of Knysna elephants once roamed the forests in the area. Hunting and habitat destruction saw numbers dwindle to a handful, but searching for elephants is still an excellent excuse to explore the beautiful Yellowwood forests.

Plettenberg Bay 

Surrounded by the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains and engulfed by indigenous forest, Plettenberg Bay abounds with hotels, restaurants, and shops to suit every taste. With 20km of beaches, it is one of the most fashionable holiday destinations along the Southern Cape coast. “Plett” may be one of South Africa’s best seaside resorts, but in addition to the flashy hotels, there is also good-value family accommodation. The greater Plett area is home to vast expanses of unspoiled Cape flora, delicate eco-systems in wetlands and lagoons, and forests of unsurpassed beauty. As if to add their stamp of approval to the gorgeous coastline, the great whales of the southern oceans appear regularly in these waters.

Horse trails, bicycle trails, golf, tennis, diving, sailing, canoeing on the lagoon, and lovely walks are available for energetic visitors. The more relaxed visitor can visit one of the many excellent restaurants and shops or just lounge around the pool at one of the hotels. Near Plett, close encounters of a furry kind can be had at Monkeyland, where rehabilitated primates roam in huge walk-through natural enclosures. Guided walks allow children and adults to interact with the tamer residents while learning a little about them.

Tsitsikamma National Park 

Tsitsikamma National Park covers some 100km of the coastal area and is Africa’s oldest and largest marine reserve. Hikers from around the world visit the site known for its rugged, unspoiled coastline. It even has an underwater nature trail from which you can snorkel. The park offers two rest camps: Nature’s Valley and Storms River Mouth.

You can visit various cultural heritage sites:

  • Caves to the ruins of small fisher settlements
  • Remnants of past forestry industries
  • Grave sites. 

The park is internationally recognized for its indigenous forests of giant trees and ferns and is a haven for birdlife. It boasts one of South Africa’s best long-distance hikes, the 42km Otter Trail, offering five days of superb coastal walking with rivers to ford and plenty of time to swim, snorkel, or relax. You overnight in basic huts and must carry everything you need. It’s hugely popular and often booked a year in advance.


Tsitsikamma National Park  - South Africa

Tsitsikamma National Park


What does an Inspired Vacation really look like? Let me share with you a custom itinerary to see all the special touches that go into a tailored journey. From luxurious hotels, to VIP access, exclusivity, privacy and seclusion that you fancy – I will gladly help you with all that. How about we schedule a consultation and chat. I cannot wait for you to have that immersive, inspired and extraordinary experience by Inspired Travel Designs. Book a free call here.

Credit: Hills of Africa: Luxury Travel Experiences