Driving the Garden Route from Cape Town
One of South Africa’s top tourist destinations, a Garden Route Self Drive is essential to any traveler’s holiday to this beautiful country.
Named for the amazing beauty of the area – it’s a natural garden of mountains, forests, fynbos and water – the Garden Route is one of South Africa’s favourite holiday destinations.
Largely untouched by industry and boasting only one small city – George – the area retains a rural charm. Much of the land remains relatively undisturbed even by agriculture, and numerous nature reserves and National Parks protect its more sensitive environmental treasures. As befits a region which has been welcoming guests for generations, the people of the Garden Route are hospitable and welcoming – and, happily, you’ll find that they’ve largely been able to avoid the temptation to commercialize the many attractions of the area.
Suggested Self-drive Routes
Coastal Route East N2
Driving distance: Approximately 600 – 800 km.
Suggested minimum traveling time: 4 Days
Cape Town – Stellenbosch:
From Cape Town, travel eastwards on the N2 and turn off on the R310 to Stellenbosch. Here you can visit the museums, art galleries and wine route and relax in the quiet atmosphere of this peaceful academic and agricultural centre.
This is where the Garden Route starts. From here you have 2 variations of routes to take. You can either:
- Travel along the coast through Somerset West and up the Sir Lowrys Pass for one of the most stunning panoramic views of the ocean and passing through Hermanus, known for its annual blue whale season.
- Travel on the Cape’s most notable wine route, passing through the peaceful country towns of Franshoek and Caledon.
1. The Whale Route
Stellenbosch – Somerset West:
Follow the R44 to Somerset West – stopping to stretch your legs on one of the walks at the Helderberg Nature reserve or on some of the golf courses in the area and cross the N2 again en route to The Strand for a swim at its long, sandy beach.
Somerset West – Gordon’s Bay:
Drive along the coast via the little harbour town of Gordon’s Bay, returning to the N2 at the foot of Sir Lowry’s Pass.
Gordon’s Bay – Elgin:
Follow the Pass to Grabouw and Elgin – the country’s largest fruit exporting area, it supplies more than a third of the fruit we sell to foreign countries. Visit the Elgin Apple Museum and sample the quality of the produce.
From Grabouw you could detour along the R321 to Villiersdorp, where the wildflower garden boasts a collection of more than sixty varieties of protea. Continue via the R43 (gravel road) to the Genadendal Mission Station and on to the village of Greyton. Alternately, return to the N2 and take the turnoff to Genadendal and Greyton just before Caledon via Houw Hoek and Bot River – an important protea producing area. Greyton is a small village known for its artists and outdoor activities.
Botrivier – Hermanus to Gansbaai :
From N2, at Botrivier, turn to the coast along the R43, stopping at the resort town of Hermanus for excellent whale watching in season (June to November), to enjoy the long sandy beaches, golf courses, wellness spa’s and to explore the nature reserves of the area.
2. The Wine Route
From Stellenbosch to Franschoek
Franschoek in South Africa. Out of the R44 in on the way to Klapmuts take the R310 the Helshoogte Pass and follow the road to Franschhoek our historical France town in the wine lands close to Cape Town. Drive straight through the town and turn left R321 to Villiersdorp over the Franschoek Pass with spectacular panorama views an all along the Theewaterskloof Dam. Just before the town turn right on to R43 and follow the road trough the Viljoens Pass to the N2 turn right to Hermanus or left to Caledon.
The iron-rich mineral springs at Caledon were once (in 1893, at the Chicago World Fair) adjudged the best spa waters in the world and are still a great spa to visit. Visit the flower garden and the local museum where displays depict a typical South African household of the Victorian era.
Return to N2
From Caledon follow the N2 east to Riviersonderend, Swellendam, Heidelberg and Riversdale. Riversdale is celebrated for its wild flowers. The collection in the van Riebeek Garden is especially striking when the aloes flower in May and June.
12 kilometres after Riversdale, turn right onto the R305 to the resort town of Still Bay to enjoy water sports and whale watching. From here you can return to the N2 on the R305 or follow the gravel coastal road via Gouritsmond.
If you do take the R305, you’ll turn right onto the N2 and drive towards Albertinia – one of the world’s largest suppliers of aloe juice for the medicinal and cosmetic industries. Just outside Albertinia is the Gouritsriver Bridge, famed as the bungy jumping and bridge swinging capital of the Western Cape.
Continue with the N2 to Mossel Bay, a harbour town with a long white sand north-facing beach. Stop here for an absorbing visit to the museum complex, whale watching in season and a host of outdoor adventures.
George – Knysna:
Drive via the resort town of Hartenbos back to the N2 and Little Brak River to George – the commercial centre of the Garden Route and home to one of the best golf courses in the country. The local museum boasts a fascinating herbarium and a forestry museum which is well worth visiting – particularly as the area between George and the Tsitsikamma contains South Africa’s largest indigenous forest complex. From George you might want to detour on the Seven Passes Road via Barrington to Knysna – but be aware that this is a gravel road: please check conditions before you depart.
Alternately you may wish to take a romantic scenic ride on South Africa’s last steam engine in daily use, the Outeniqua tjoe-choo. The trip takes you from George to Knysna and back.
Back on the N2 east, travel via the Kaaimans Pass to the resort towns of Wilderness and Sedgefield. This area is known as the Lakes District, and water sports, golf and other activities – like hiking, mountain biking and birding – are popular here.
Outeniqua tjoe-choo on the Garden RouteKnysna, about 25 kilometres after Sedgefield, is a National Lake Area and its lagoon, guarded from the ocean by the Knysna Heads, is biologically one of the richest in the country. Take a boat cruise, go fishing or enjoy a drive into the indigenous forests at Goudveld or Diepwalle. Visit the Featherbed Nature Reserve for a guided walk with unmatched views of the ocean and the lagoon. Don’t leave Knysna without enjoying some of the local oysters and seafood.
If you’re looking for a challenging and scenically dramatic detour, drive about 6 kilometers past Knysna and turn left onto the R339 and follow the Prince Alfred’s Pass to Uniondale (this is also a gravel road, so check conditions with the local tourism office before you depart).
Continue along the N2 to Plettenberg Bay – a beautifully positioned resort town with miles of sandy beaches, great restaurants and numerous nature reserves – and finally to Nature’s Valley.
Back to Cape Town:
We suggest you return to Cape Town on the Inland RouteEast – Route 62: (a) continue on the N2 for about 105 kilometres and turn left onto the R62; or (b) back track to Knysna and drive over Prince Alfred’s Pass to meet the R62 at Uniondale, or (c) if you prefer to remain on tar all the way, drive via George and the Outeniqua Pass to join the R62 at Oudtshoorn.
Bonnievale on the Garden Route in Cape Town
Activities to do on the Garden Route
South Africa Kruger Safari
21 Dec 2016
4 Day Kruger Safari - Honeymoon
United Kingdom - self drive
21 Dec 2016
United Kingdom - Self Drive package with flights from Johannesburg
Caroline Steward - Namibia 3 day Sossusvlei Shuttle