The Garden Route is one of the most spectacular areas in the Western Cape and has plenty to offer for every age and interest. Whether you like jumping off bridges or your more the sort to peruse antique stores, you’ll find something amazing to do every day. And when nighttime comes around, you’ll have a wide choice of backpackers, guesthouses and five-star lodges to choose from.
Here is what they got up to…
Ready to go? Whether you need flights to get to Cape Town or a car to drive the route, Cheapflights.co.za can help you find the best travel deals. So go on, what you waiting for?Search for flights, hotels and car hire
Day One – Cape Town to Swellendam
Head out on the N2 from The Mother City and turn off at Gordon’s Bay for a scenic alternative to the main drag. After winding your way between Gordon’s Bay and Kleinmond you’ll arrive at the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens in Betty’s Bay. This national botanic garden has various trails that will take you over dunes and past waterfalls with spectacular views of the ocean and gardens – remember to keep an eye out for baboons, tortoises and porcupines!
Giant butternuts nestled in tin bathtubs and bokkoms hanging from the door at the entrance welcome you to Dassiesfontein Farmstall on the N2. Step inside you and immediately be transported back in time with vintage items, leather goods, toys and collectables stuffed into every corner and spilling out onto the passageways. Once you’ve finished snooping through enamel mugs, biscuit tins and antique sewing machines, tuck into a plate of vetkoek and jam under the chandeliers before filling your shopping bag with crocodile pate, biltong, koeksisters, waterblommetjies and a few bottles of good South African wine!
Prepare to get messy at the best pie stop on the N2 when you stop in at the Ou Meul Bakkery in Riviersonderend. Their flakey pies are filled to the brim with the good stuff and they also have breakfast and lunch options and a good sandwich selection. Before you leave, pop next door to the biltong shop to stock up on meaty snacks for the journey.
When you arrive at Swellendam Backpackers prepare to be greeted by some rather large (but super-friendly) Lurcher dogs and a whole host of Venda chickens. This is no ordinary backpackers – it’s Stehanie Coetsee’s home that she has been sharing with travellers for over 20 years. In the evening, gather around a fire under the Elm and Oak trees for a braai and if you are there on a Friday, the Swellendam Spar also lights a braai where you can get burgers, chicken pieces and boerewors rolls.
Day Two – Swellendam to Sedgefield
After helping Stephanie feed the chickens in the morning, head back onto the N2 and stop in at Delish in Heidelberg for a truly “delish” breakfast! If you have time and love browsing through antiques, cross over the N2 and head into Heidelberg to Emporium van Nostalgia in Van Riebeeck Street where Glen Napier has been gathering collectables for over 10 years.
Another worthy pitstop, albeit a slightly macarbe one, is the Ou Tronk in Riversdale. The only execution in Riversdale took place here and today you’ll find jail cells crammed full of fascinating retro items. They also serve affordable light meals under giant avocado trees in a tranquil courtyard.
Make your next stop the malaria-free Garden Route Game Lodge where you can hop on a Land Rover for a 2-3 hour safari where you are almost guaranteed to see The Big Five. Then tuck into an a-la-carte lunch in the thatch-roofed Serengeti Restaurant while enjoying the view over the reserve.
Next up should be the Point of Human Origins in Mossel Bay – a series of caves where archaeologists made the most significant discoveries regarding the origins of man. Be sure to have a coffee break at The Green Shed Coffee Roastery in Wilderness, a bohemian tin-walled restaurant where you can tuck into muffins, scones and croissants with a good cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
Then pop into Eden Adventures by the Fairy Knowe Hotel in Wilderness and end your day with a paddle in a canoe along the placid Wildnerness waterways and a stroll along a boardwalk to a waterfall where you can swim. If you are intending to stay longer in Wilderness, they also offer Kloofing, a half-day adventure through the Cappuccino Canyon, with forest walks, boulder hopping and swimming in rock pools, while the truly fearless can take on two 45 metre waterfalls in the Kaaimans Gorge on their abseiling half-day tour.
Spend the night at Afrovibe Adventure Lodge in Sedgefield, housed in a funky old-world-hotel-style building where their private rooms and dorm rooms on the top floor will give you fantastic views of Myoli Beach and the ocean from the balcony.
Day Three – Sedgefield to Knysna
After breakfast, Afrovibe’s Slow-brewed Beer & Coffee Tour is a great way to see some of Sedgefield while tasting a few of the local craft beers and a selection of slow-roasted coffees. Then, head to Timberlake Organic Village along the N2 between Sedgefield and Wilderness where you’ll find a mish-mash of quirky shops, restaurants and bars.
Next up, with its grassy roofs, braai-pit and outdoor seating right on the river, the Riverdeck Restaurant in Buffalo Bay has a casual African-bohemian feel that’s definitely worth a stop. Hire a canoe for a nominal fee and paddle down the Goukamma River or indulge in a a spa treatment. They offer various types of accommodation from camping to cabanas. Alternatively, with its white cottages, swimming pool and a magnificent view of the Knysna Lagoon, the historical Belvidere Manor Hotel in Knysna is a beautiful place to spend the night.
The Bell Tavern, situated on the Belvidere Manor Hotel grounds is Knysna’s smallest pub and it’s utterly charming with its yellowwood ceiling, ironwood block floor and wine cellar viewed through a glass panel in the floor. It has won a Garden Route Culinary Legend award and with good reason – the meals are superb. However, if pub grub is not your thing, Caroline’s Bistro in the main building offers a slightly posher and more elegant evening option with two and three-course dinners available daily.
Day Four – Knysna to Plettenberg Bay
After a caffeine fix at Café Throbb, an urban organic café with surfer-bohemian decor, drive up to the viewpoint at Knysna Heads where you get a great view of The Heads. Down below you can grab a Gelato ice cream from the Ice Palazzo or enjoy cocktails and seafood pizzas with a view at the stylish Senza restaurant. The East Head Café with its bright cushions, quirky décor and seating right on the water’s edge comes highly recommended for a café lunch where you can tuck into burgers and seafood while enjoying a cocktail or craft beer.
There’s a smorgasbord of restaurants to choose from on the Florida Keys-like Thesen Island. At Freshline Fisheries you can tuck into a plate of scrumptious seafood, or meat-lovers can head next door to their Rib & Rump restaurant for A-grade steaks and surf n’ turf. Tapas & Oysters has a vast range of tapas to choose from – try their uniquely South African tapas including frikkadel entjies and “Phat” Koek. Quay Four has excellent views over the lagoon and is renowned for its oysters, Sirocco and sushi. Motorbike enthusiasts should head to the newly opened Motorcycle Room that has over 80 bikes, ranging from Harley Davidsons to scooters, along with miniatures.
Don’t leave Knysna without taking a tour of Mitchell’s Brewery, South Africa’s original craft beer brewery, where you can enjoy a tasting all seven of their beers afterwards. Included is a 500ml draught of your favourite beer, or a bottle to take home if you are the designated driver.
Steak-lovers should skip a meal or two in Knysna so as not to miss having dinner at Nguni Restaurant, an award-winning and hip restaurant situated in a historical monument near the beachfront in Plettenberg Bay. Their steaks are downright delicious and butter-knife tender.
With a full tummy, collapse on your bed in your gigantic room at Buffelsdam Country House and fall asleep to the chirping frogs in the dam below your window. It’s hard to believe that the guesthouse was built from scratch by the owners – even the doors are handmade! Take a walk through the grounds (possibly accompanied by their dogs), have a swim in the pool and look out for their impressive greenhouse where they grow their vegetables – and the only way they can keep them safe from marauding baboons!
Day Five – Plettenberg Bay
Start the day at AfriCanyon – their four-hour canyoning experience will see you swimming in mountain pools, sliding down natural water slides, abseiling down gorges, ziplining across rivers and jumping off cliffs into rock pools. Afterwards you can take a stroll (when your legs have stopped shaking!) through the shops at the back of the centre where you’ll find mohair products and locally made arts and crafts.
Just down the road you’ll find Monkeyland – home to over 500 monkeys, it is the world’s first multi-species free-roaming primate sanctuary. Hour-long tours take place every 20 minutes where you’ll have the opportunity to get up close to 11 different types of monkeys, apes and lemurs happily eating from the feeding stations. Afterwards, hop across the road to Birds of Eden and take a self-guided stroll through the world’s largest free-flight aviary that houses over 3 500 birds.
All that morning action calls for a glass of wine! At Bramon Wine Estate, wine and tapas fans can enjoy sitting amongst the vines overlooking the Tsitsikamma Mountains. Note: Wine is served by the glass or by the bottle. If you wish to do a tasting first, stop in at their wine tasting centre on the way to the restaurant.
Then, at Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve, you can spot antelope on a game drive, along with the rare golden wildebeest, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, rhino, hippo in the dams and rescued elephants. They also have lion, wild dog and cheetah. It’s not a wild bush reserve, more like a giant wildlife farm, but you will get the chance to get up close and personal.
Spend the night at the colonial-style Baroness Lodge, a luxurious and historical lodge built in 1822. Watch the sun set from the lapa while watching terrapins glide through the water lilies in the dam. If you are lucky and the wind’s blowing the right direction, you could also hear the roar of a lion! Tip: Book room 1 for best view of the dam.
Day Six – Tsitsikamma
Start your day with a three-hour, two-fold Kayak & Lilo adventure with Untouched Adventures. Look out for sting rays and small sharks below and marvel at the towering cliffs above where tanins seep from the rocks and birds sing from the peaks.
After that gentle start to the day, visit Bloukrans Bungi – the highest bungi jump bridge in the world, where you’ll freefall over 200 metres into the gorge below. Book online to guarantee a jump and save R50 at the same time.
In Storms River Village you’ll find Papa Afrika African Pizza, where you can tuck into simply-made wood-fired pizzas and enjoy a drink or two (including quarts and cheap shots) from the bar. If pizza isn’t your vibe, just across the road is Marilyn’s 60s Diner, one of the most authentic diners in South Africa that was started by Elvis impersonators and it’s filled to the brim with 50s and 60s memorabilia.
Spend the night at Tube & Axe Backpackers with cabins and safari tents scattered throughout their lush gardens. The massive swimming pool deck surrounded by hammocks is the most impressive feature, but they have a fairly impressive fire every evening in the fire pit too! There’s a small restaurant offering affordable meals or you can also use the communal kitchens and have a braai outside your cabin.
Day Seven – Tsitsikamma to Jeffreys Bay
Beer is the breakfast of champions so get to the Tstitsikamma Micro Brewery in Storms River Village where you can taste four of their nine beers from 9am in the morning. Then it’s time to whoosh your way over ravines and waterfalls along 11 ziplines at Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures, where the longest zipline is 211 metres long.
Then it’s on to Jeffreys Bay, famous for surfing, surfer wear factory shops… and wind! The Billabong, Roxy and Quicksilver factory shops can be found in the J-Bay Surf Village, along with surfboards for hire, surfing lessons and surf art. J-Bay Bru Co, just down the road from the surfwear factory shops, in Da Gama Street, is an eclectic restaurant and craft beer spot worth popping into for a light meal, beer and wine. If fresh fish served with a view better suits your palate, then stop in at the award-winning Kitchen Windows Beach Restaurant for delicious seafood and meat dishes.
“Vibe” is definitely what you’ll get if you stay at Island Vibe Backpackers! This funky and laid-back backbackers, with one of the best ocean views in town, will soon make you feel like a surfer, even if you are not one! There’s murals on the walls, menus on surfboards, cocktails in the bar and surfing lessons to help get you into the J-Bay vibe. Accommodation wise, they have something for all tastes and pockets with plenty of dorm rooms, beach houses with ocean-views and even flashpacker double rooms with jacuzzis.
Then it’s an easy hour’s drive to Port Elizabeth Airport, so make sure you book your flight for later in the day to give you more surfing and shopping time. Handily, you can filter your search on Cheapflights.co.za to find the best evening ones!