When traversing the Garden Route in South Africa, our journey unfolded from the south (Cape Town) to the north (Pretoria). So, the following sites we highlight will follow the same itinerary.
Mossel Bay: The Inaugural Stop on the Garden Route
Approximately 400 kilometers east of Cape Town, Mossel Bay marks the initial encounter with the Garden Route. This port city, home to around 60,000 people, holds historical significance as the landing site of the first Europeans on South African soil—a moment commemorated at the Diaz Museum complex.
For those seeking golden beaches and a laid-back atmosphere, Mossel Bay is an ideal retreat. Renowned for having the world’s second mildest climate (second only to Hawaii), you’ll find comfort in whatever activities you choose here. Explore the vibrant market at Hartenbos Beach or embark on a boat trip to Seal Island to witness these amusing creatures basking in the morning sunlight.
George: The Gateway City on the Garden Route
Nestled conveniently between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, George is often referred to as the “gateway to the Garden Route.” As the largest city on this route, with a population of 157,000, George serves as an excellent spot to stock up on supplies for your onward journey.
George is more than just a pit stop for provisions; the city offers a range of activities. Visit the Outeniqua Railway Museum if you have a penchant for trains. Alternatively, take a hike behind the museum to the Outeniqua Mountains for panoramic views of the city and its surroundings. Nearby trails, such as George Peak or Cradock Peak, offer 18 kilometers of scenic hiking starting from the forestry station.
Wilderness: The Third Gem on the Garden Route
En route to Wilderness, consider a brief stop at Victoria Bay. If you’re a surfer, catching a few waves here might be irresistible. Even if you’re not a surfer, planning a stay during one of the country’s surfing competitions could add an exciting twist to your visit.
Wilderness, in our opinion, stands out as one of the must-visit locations. Situated between the Kaaimans River and the Goukamma Nature Reserve, Wilderness is renowned for its tranquil seas, expansive beaches, natural lakes, pristine lagoons, and, of course, the breathtaking wilderness!
Rich in diverse wildlife, it’s an ideal spot for extended hikes, paragliding, horseback riding, and some of the country’s most scenic drives.
Knysna: A Charming Stopover on the Garden Route
This quaint town with a population of 50,000 makes for a delightful stop on the Garden Route. Originally Khoikhoi land, Knysna gained global attention in 1878 when a massive gold nugget was discovered near Ruigtevlei, putting it on the world map.
Explore the Knysna Lagoon, an 18-square-kilometer water body teeming with at least 200 species of fish and numerous bird species. This lagoon leads to “The Heads,” two enormous sandstone cliffs resembling—you guessed it—heads.
Plettenberg Bay: The Penultimate Stop on the Garden Route
Also known as “Plett,” this is our second-to-last stop on the Garden Route in South Africa. Named Bahia Formosa (Beautiful Bay) by early Portuguese explorers, Plettenberg Bay is an excellent location for both marine and land-based wildlife adventures. The Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve is a prime spot to observe lions, rhinos, buffaloes, hippos, and more. Having your own vehicle during the drive-through safari ensures an unforgettable experience. Consider embarking on a “self-drive safari adventure” in any of the national parks and reserves in the region, and when you find a 260-kilogram male lion just a few meters from your car, the hair on your neck will stand on end!
If you’re up for maritime adventures near Plett, check out Ocean Safaris and set sail on one of their numerous marine-friendly excursions. During whale-watching season (around June to July), don’t miss their whale-watching tours, guaranteeing sightings!
While the areas surrounding Plettenberg Bay are fantastic for wildlife spotting, the Garden Route might not be the optimal destination for observing the “Big Five.” If you’re keen on that, exploring South Africa’s wildlife reserves is recommended. Again, having your own vehicle during wildlife reserve adventures is the best way to experience the country’s wildlife and national parks.