Garden Route: what to do and where to stay

An itinerary that takes in the Cape and the Garden Route has got to be up there with the best ways to explore this vast and beautiful land as well as a wonderful way to unwind and relax. However, with so much to see and do on the Garden Route, it can be a little overwhelming when it comes to planning your trip so here are our recommendations. Get in touch and we would love to put a bespoke itinerary together for you.

Plettenberg Bay

Plettenberg Bay

How to plan your trip

The key to planning a trip up the Garden Route is to first consider your priorities and the time you have available. Are you keen to spend a few days in Cape Town beforehand? Do you also want to include the Winelands before you head up the N2? Do you want to explore all the main towns along the way or are you looking to go off the beaten track to more sleepy villages? And is a safari and sightings of the Big 5 also part of your wishlist? Pick your top priorities, work out the time you have available and that is a good start.

Think about the distances

South Africa is a huge country and whilst we all love a good road trip, you don’t want an itinerary that has you on the road driving for hours and hours each day. You also want a holiday; a chance to sip that glass of wine and take in the view and appreciate the wonderful accommodation on offer. Sometimes it is better to drive for longer one day if that gives you the chance to stay a few nights at a dream spot. Here are some estimated drive times to help:

Cape Town to Hermanus: 1 hour 40 minutes
Hermanus to Swellendam: 1 hour 40 minutes
Swellendam to Knysna: 3 hours
Knysna to Plettenberg Bay: 30 minutes
Plettenberg Bay to Port Elizabeth: 2 hours 30 minutes
Plettenberg Bay to Shamwari: 3 hours
Port Elizabeth to Shamwari: 1 hour

Birkenhead House, Hermanus

Birkenhead House, Hermanus

When to visit

The best time to visit the Garden Route is November to April. December can be very busy with the school holidays, particularly in towns like Hermanus, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Winter can be more risky weather-wise, but if you strike it lucky, you’ll see whales (July-October) and have the beach to yourself. There are also some great festivals that happen a different times throughout the year, like the Knysna Oyster Festival, which are well worth planning a trip around.

Key places on the map

There are so many places to see along the Garden Route or just slightly off it, that is is very difficult to pick just a few. What do we love? Watching whales in Hermanus and the elegance of the accommodation there; eating oysters in Knysna; stopping at all the quirky farm stalls en-route; a round of golf at Fancourt and the freedom that comes from a great South African road trip. Here are the most popular towns to consider:

  • Hermanus
  • Swellendam
  • Wilderness
  • Sedgefield
  • Knysna
  • Plettenberg Bay
  • Tsitsikamma
  • Port Elizabeth
  • Shamwari or similar malaria-free safari
Shamwari Wildlife

Shamwari Wildlife

What to do

There is a huge amount to do on the Garden Route – you could drive it five times and still have new areas to explore and places to visit – but these are some of the highlights. Get in touch and let’s talk about what you would love to include in your trip and we will make it work.

  • Go whale watching in Hermanus. The best time is between July and October.
  • Hit the beach in Plettenberg Bay.
  • Discover Tsitsikamma – a huge indigenous forest with deep river gorges. Hike or zip line through the forest.
  • Play Golf. Some of the best golf courses in South Africa are on the garden route.
  • Eat, drink and be merry. Here are 8 of the best restaurants along the way.
  • See the Big 5. Malaria-free and family friendly, go on safari.
  • Peer over the Knysna Heads.
  • Bungee jump at the Storms River Bridge.
Golf at Pezula Estate, Knysna

Golf at Pezula Estate, Knysna

Where to stay

The accommodation on offer along the Garden Route is truly spectacular. From boutique hotels to a more grand and opulent style, there is something to suit every taste and budget. Here are just a few of our favourites.

  1. Birkenhead House, Hermanus
  2. Marine Hotel, Hermanus
  3. De Kloof, Swellendam
  4. Rothman Manor, Swellendam
  5. Head over Hills Luxury Retreat, Knysna
  6. Pezula Resort, Knysna
  7. Tsala Treetop Lodge, Knysna
  8. The Plettenberg Hotel, Plettenberg Bay
  9. Fancourt Hotel, George
  10. Shamwari Game Reserve
Birkenhead House, Hermanus

Birkenhead House, Hermanus

Inspired to book that trip of a lifetime? Get in touch with us and we would love to put the perfect itinerary together for you.

About the Author
Richard is the Founding MD of Greatest Africa & Richard Hilton Vineyards. He lives in Somerset West with his wife and two daughters. He is passionate about the Cape, travel, global wines, wine education and sharing his experiences of this beautiful country that he calls home.

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