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Touring the Garden Route in South Africa

Updated on March 4, 2015
Johan Smulders profile image

Johan has travelled extensively in the USA and Southern Africa. He is a retired school teacher and evangelist.

Zebra at Addo Elephant Park
Zebra at Addo Elephant Park | Source
Strandfontein Cape Town
Strandfontein Cape Town | Source
Blue Crane-the National Bird
Blue Crane-the National Bird | Source
African Hoepoe- Wildernes
African Hoepoe- Wildernes | Source
Herd of Elephant at Addo
Herd of Elephant at Addo | Source
School group at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens-Cape Town
School group at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens-Cape Town | Source
Ostrich close up
Ostrich close up | Source
Beach at Stilbaai
Beach at Stilbaai | Source
Sunset at Stilbaai
Sunset at Stilbaai | Source
Fynbos flowers-Cape St Francis
Fynbos flowers-Cape St Francis | Source
Houtbay from Chapman's Peak-Cape Town
Houtbay from Chapman's Peak-Cape Town | Source

Visiting a great South African Route

The South Coast of the continent of Africa is known as the Garden Route. It cover about 1000 kilometres between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. This area enjoys some of the most beautiful parts of South Africa with spectacular scenery, great animals and birds and amazing vegetation. The Cape Fynbos, the Knysna Forest and the Karoo Shrubs presents it with unique and interesting vegetation. Beautiful stretches of rocky coastline are often broken by white stretches of beach as the warm Mozambique current caresses the coast. Towering mountains rise up on the edge of a narrow coastal plateau, often covered in cloud and their slopes providing places for Yellow-wood forests and other vegetation to prosper.

As a tourist destination it has much to offer including game reserves with the big five, or big six if you want to include the Wales or Great White as some do. It is Malaria free, the roads are good and accommodation freely available to suit every pocket. Along the coast there are National Parks that each provide a different aspect of natural conservation and accommodation options.

It is obviously possible to travel and explore the route from either point but for the purpose of this article we will start in Port Elizabeth and follow the N2 to Cape Town with an occasional detour to places of interest.

Port Elizabeth region.

This port city is known as the “friendly city” and you are assured of a warm welcome as you hire a car or camper at the airport. The nearby Addo Elephant Park is a “must see”. As one of the largest Game Reserve in South Africa it is the home of the big six as it stretches from the coast into the mountains and is only about 60 km away from Port Elizabeth. Many smaller private Game Reserves also offer the ‘big five” in luxury accommodation but come with a big price. Great beaches with a variety of adventure water sport is available in and around the town, but one needs to be careful not to be distracted as the road to Cape Town calls.

Jefferies Bay and Cape St Frances.

Only a stones throw away these holiday centres invite a visit. Stunning beaches and lagoons with the famous ‘Super Tubes” surfing spot at Jefferies all compete for attention. Game farms with quad bike rides rival the fishing and surfing spots as one is spoilt for activities. Like Port Elizabeth this is great birding country with the opportunity to discover a “rarity” in the many lagoons and wetlands during summer is always a possibility.

The Tsitsikama and Wilderness National Coastal Parks.

We are only a third of the way on our journey but a visit to the Storm’s River mouth is a must. If the weather is fine a swim in the sheltered cove to a raft anchored near the beach is an experience not to be missed. Pack in your snokling equipment if that is your thing but your camera will be considered essential equipment at Tsisikama. For birders the Wilderness Lakes National Park is a must visit with the excellent hides at Langvlei and Rondevlei guaranteed to provide some great photos. A detour to visit the “Big Tree” in the nearby Knysna Forest at Hoekville is strongly recommended.

George and Knysna.

Quaint coastal towns like Knysna are full of artsy folk and history. The famous Heads at Knysna is definitely worth a visit. The large town/city of George nestled against the towering Outeniqua Mountains provides the gateway to the famous Cango Caves. The Ostrich farms also over the mountains are of interest to tourists who will be entertained with an overview of the history of the industry, shown a working ranch and even Ostrich races. The Cango Caves are a spectacular place to visit for both casual and serious “spelonkers”.

Mossel Bay and the Little Karoo.

After a visit to the cave and swimming gullies at the point at Mossel Bay it is onward through the area known as the Little Karoo. Here the many roads to the coast invite visitors to places like Stilbaai, magic little holiday towns with kilometres of beach and the beginning of the famous Cape Wine Route. Here one is likely to see Blue Crane (South Africa’s National Bird) feeding in the fields next to the main road and many a Raptor perched on the telephone posts. Hermanus is a well-known Whale watching destination and the towns in the area offer shark cage tours for those who want a close encounter with a Great White. A visit to Cape Agulas will bring you to the southern-most tip of the African Continent and another National Park. The Bontebok National Park on the banks of the Breede River assures one with a peaceful stopover and a view of these endangered antelope.

Cape Town and the Wine Route.

Our journey ends in the “Mother City”, Cape Town, with its amazing history and breath taking beauty. A journey up onto the top of Table Mountain provides a view that is not beaten anywhere in the world. A drive over Chapman’s Peak will keep the camera’s clicking. The Penguin Colony at Boulders is well worth a visit as are the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. In fact the city offers a treasure trove of options. A short drive to Stellenbosch and Franshoek will provide the wine lover with a multitude of farms and cellars to choose from. Flying home out of Cape Town is certain to leave the visitor with a desire to return as soon as possible to see the rest of the Garden Route that was missed on a first visit.

Why is it called the Garden Route?

This is Gods garden. Beautiful coastline, interesting animals, birds and sea life. Add vegetation that is unique and beautiful. What more can one want? A trip along this route is like visiting a great garden that is waiting to be explored and enjoyed. Pack your hat, binoculars and hiking boots and book your flight.

Cost options.

One can choose a variety of accommodation options from luxury upmarket hotels and lodges to self-catering bungalows or even camping. Some hire a campervan that provides transport and accommodation. Camping grounds are available in the National Parks and in Municipal and private Camp grounds. It all depends on your budget and personal needs.

Tent Camping is obviously the cheapest. Rent a car and buy from one of the big supermarkets in Port Elizabeth a four man tent, two folding stretchers, two sleeping bags and two fold up matrasses. Add an electric kettle, a small camping table and a braai grid and you are on your way. Camp grounds have electricity points and so you can boil water for that cup of tea or coffee. Two deck chairs can be added if space permits. Camp grounds always have hot showers and ablution facilities and some National Parks like Addo a communal kitchen block. When you get to the end of your trip recoup some of your outlay at Cash Convertors found in all big towns before heading for the airport. Camp sites cost about R200-R300 for two people per night. ($20-$30) Fully equipped self catering bugaloes about R800-R1200 for two persons per night. ($80-$120) Approximate prices 2015. Food is available at restaurants along the way or from local supermarkets. Many choose this option as it makes their money stretch further and puts them into the environment. Those who can afford the luxury option go the way that us ordinary people can only dream of.


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    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Book your ticket-it is a great place.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sounds like heaven to me to "rough it," as you know what would be in the sights of my camera. Great synopsis on your part of the world.

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      There are some good ones-will do a hub on birds of the Western Cape.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Hi Johan. Great article and really great pictures. Would love to see more of the birds.

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      That is great Martie!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      3 years ago from South Africa

      Hi Johan, I am busy publishing a series of picture tours of SA. My next one will be from Knysna to PE. I will add a link to this hub of yours, as it contains information I don't provide in the picture tours.

      Voted up, awesome and informative!


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