15 Reasons to Explore South Africa’s Garden Route

Covering a stunning 100-odd-mile stretch of Indian Ocean coastline just east of Cape Town and west of Port Elizabeth along the N2 motorway, South Africa’s Garden Route is probably the country’s most famous drive. Here are 15 reasons to stop and explore along the way.

This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.

1. Oysters in Knysna

Probably the most popular stop along the Garden Route, Knysna is a bustling town with a holiday atmosphere on the edge of a large lagoon. It isn’t known for its beaches, but is famous for its oysters, which get their own annual festival in July. For a taste of everything oyster, pay the Knsnya Oyster Company a visit. They’ve been growing oysters in the lagoon since 1949.

2. Watery adventures

Watery adventures are the other main reason to spend a night in Knysna. Offshore are some of South Africa’s best dive spots and there is even a snorkeling trail. Since this is the Indian Ocean rather than the Atlantic, the water here is warmer than in Cape Town.

3. Township tours

Knsyna’s townships are interesting to tour because they are built mostly from wood rather than the traditional corrugated iron, giving them a distinct look. In the Rastafarian township, the government allows the cultivation of marijuana for personal consumption in accordance with Rasta religious beliefs (at least that’s what tour guides say). If interested in touring, Eco Afrika Tours offers a highly recommended trip.

4. Surf and sand in Plettenberg Bay

Moving east from Knysna, Plettenberg Bay is also worth a pause. It is an upmarket resort town where the rich come to play–think of it as South Africa’s Laguna Beach. The kind of place where posh homes dot the hills above the ocean and upscale boutiques and fancy restaurants make up the town center. The long white-sand-meets-deep-blue-ocean beach is the main draw, and it’s known for its consistent surf breaks.

5. Speaking of surfing, hit up Mossel Bay

The official start town of the Garden Route isn’t super easy on the eyes (it’s the site of offshore oil drilling and has a decidedly industrial facade), but if you’re a surfer you won’t care. That’s because the Mossel Bay peninsula is home to no less than five excellent and consistent reef and point breaks that few tourists think to ride. Check with locals about conditions and where to go, and you could end up surfing waves that many people–including South Africans–can only dream of!

6. Hike the Otter Trail

One of the country’s most famous walking routes, the 41km Otter Trail stretches from Plettenberg Bay in the West to Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape Province. The easy five-day walk hugs spectacular coastline, which is part of the protected Tsitsikama Forest and Coastal National Park. You have to book the hike in advance through South Africa National Parks, and there is basic accommodation along the way.

7. Peruse roadside craft markets

While driving between Garden Route towns, keep an eye out for local handicraft markets, which can change locations or spring up at anytime (tweet us at @AFKTravel if you find a worthwhile market!) One of the best markets is located along the N2 just outside Knysna. The tall wooden giraffes are especially popular.

8. Get your adrenaline pumping in Storms River

Storms River is the adrenaline junkie headquarters of the Garden Route. If you’re itching to hang by your ankles at the world’s highest bungee jump (at Bloukrans Bridge, 21km west of Storms River) or take in some black-water tubing, then don’t miss this tiny and scattered hamlet with tree-shaded lanes at the extreme eastern end of the Garden Route. The surrounding landscape isn’t hard on the eyes either–the pointy green mountains here roll right into the town.

9. Hike through old growth forest

The Garden Route coastline also has some of the most significant tracts of indigenous forest in the country and the narrow coastal plain is often forested and bordered by lagoons running behind dunes and superb beaches. Stop in Tsitsikama National Park to experience 50 miles of hiking through forested ravines that plunge down cliffs into a churning sea.

10. Plenty of transport options

The backpacker transport of choice is the Baz Bus, which makes stops at all the fantastic hostels along the 100-mile or so long Garden Route. You can buy a hop-on, hop-off ticket at www.bazbus.com. South African coach buses also plow through the route at least daily, stopping in the major towns. If you’re not inclined to bus it, there are plenty of rental car companies who can rent you a vehicle for a day or a week.

11. Canoeing through Wilderness National Park

Wilderness National Park is a virtual paradise for watersports, being comprised of a series of rivers, lakes, estuaries and beaches all against a magnificent mountain backdrop. Canoe trips are an easy way to get closer to nature, and you’ll be sure to see some amazing birdlife, as the region is a birdwatcher’s dream. From Dolphin Point, you can easily spot dolphins and whales in the water.

12. Whale and Dolphin watching at Plettenberg Bay

Swap the car for a boat or kayak while in Plettenberg Bay. The bottlenose dolphins are around all year, and from July to November, the humpback and southern right whales can be seen almost daily. Choose a boat trip who supports the local township and conservation work in the area, such as Ocean Safaris or Ocean Blue.

13. Visit a winery or two

Cheers for the designated driver! Although the best known wineries are further west, there are some on the Garden Route who are producing excellent vintages. Try Bramon Wine Estate, for example. And if you’re getting weary from all that driving, why not relax for an afternoon on a daybed or around a table set in the vineyards, soaking up the wonderful food and the view of the Tsitsikamma mountains.

14. Emily Moon River Lodge

Settled on a meandering river, Emily Moon River Lodge looks like it might have escaped from another more elegant time. It’s an intimate and accommodating guesthouse and you’ll be sorely tempted to stay the night in the comfortable surroundings, soaking up the peace and tranquility. So why not stay a night or two?

15. Take a cheetah for a walk

Here’s one for the cat lovers, or just any animal lover really! At the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre, they rescue and rehabilitate cheetahs and other wild cats–and twice daily, visitors can “walk” an adult cheetah. But it might be more accurate to say that the cheetahs are the ones in charge. The guests hold a leash, but have instructions to drop it if the cheetah takes it into its mind to run. And the big cats certainly love their walk – they purr in anticipation.

Related content on AFKTravel:

Going Slow On The Garden Route: Exploring Wilderness, Sedgefield And Nature’s Valley
Romance Among The Trees: Enchanting Forest Escapes On The Garden Route
South Africa On A Budget: 15 Free Things To Do Along The Garden Route

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