Natural wonders, beaches, history, adventure, food and wine are all part of the hidden gems and top attractions along the Garden Route. And this stretch of road – running parallel with the coastline, fynbos-covered mountains, numerous rivers, lakes and an indigenous forest – is best explored on a road trip.
Hidden gems and top attractions along the Garden Route
Explore the top attractions along the Garden Route and see what you can get up to between Mossel Bay in the West and Tsitsikamma in the East.
Enjoy the wonderful walkways through the Tsitsikamma forest to discover the incredible flora of the region.The place of abundant water is also often referred to as the adventure capital of South Africa. Make your way to Storms River Mouth Rest Camp and hike the first section of the world-famous Otter Trail to a waterfall, don’t forget to do the short walk to the picture-worthy suspension bridge. Here you can also do a Kayak & Lilo Adventure up the gorge, snorkel and dive.Storms River Village forms the base for multiple adrenaline-pumping activities such as the Tsitsikamma Cape Canopy Tour where you glide from one tree to the next, there are Segway Tours, you can go on a mountain bike trail and the relaxing Woodcutters Journey where you will experience the indigenous forest and meet a tree that’s about 500 years old. In the village you will also find arts and craft shops and many eateries, including Tsitsikamma Micro Brewery and Marilyn’s 60s Diner where old Cadillacs and more are on display.There’s also the well-known Big Tree – a majestic 800-year-old Yellowwood tree – towering into the sky and a little further up the road, the highest commercial bungee jumping, Bloukrans Bungee, is counting you down – three-two-one – to take a leap into the valley below.
2. Nature’s Valley
Discover hidden beaches and private lagoons on one of Nature Valley's walking paths.Hidden, undiscovered and tucked away within an indigenous forest with a pristine beach and lagoon, Nature’s Valley is without a doubt one of the hidden gems and top attractions along the Garden Route. Here you can spend your time canoeing, fishing, swimming, bird watching and hiking. Don’t forget to taste some fresh dairy products at Nature’s Way Farm Stall.In the area more commonly known as The Craggs, you can visit the first free roaming multi-specie, Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary (home to previously captive monkeys) and Birds of Eden, a free flight bird sanctuary.
3. Plettenberg Bay
Escape from the hustle and bustle of the Plett restaurant and nightlife to enjoy it's picturesque beach.Locally nicknamed as Plett, this seaside town packs a plentiful punch when it comes to experiences, golf courses and festivals. With miles of pristine beaches to choose from, you can bet your sand dollar – or rather, the Pansy Shell, the icon of Plettenberg Bay – that ocean-time is a given. Besides lazing around the Blue Flag Beaches, you can also go diving, sea kayaking, fishing and more.For a fresh slice of nature, put on your hiking boots and explore the national monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Robberg Nature Reserve. The area, steeped in history with prehistoric rocks and artifacts from the Stone Age, has three hiking trails, ranging from 30 minutes to four hours and there are also viewing decks with picnic facilities.One surprising fact about the area is that it is recognized as one of South Africa’s “Wine of Origin” regions and home to more than 15 wine farms, producing wines such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Methodé Cap Classique (bubbly). You can go wine tasting at Bramon Wine Estate, Lodestone and more and enjoy the Plett Winelands on horseback, with a bicycle or on a guided hike.To get a local taste of artisanal foods and local produce, don’t forget to visit Harkerville Farmers Market.
The Knysna lagoon and marina are some of the most beautiful spots in South Africa.Known as the jewel of the Garden Route, the water-rich town of Knysna brims with natural beauty, from the coast to the lush indigenous forest. Take in the view of the Knysna Lagoon, Featherbed Nature Reserve and Indian Ocean from the infamous Knysna Heads or get sea level with these stand stone cliffs on a whale watching cruise. Explore Featherbed Nature Reserve on an eco-experience with a ferry cruise, 4x4 drive and a guided walk, and upon return head for a stroll, shopping and some yacht daydreaming at The Knysna Waterfront. For more water adventures you can also rent a SUP, or go to the secluded Coney Glen to picnic, swim and snorkel in the rock pools.The Outeniqua Forest – one of the biggest indigenous forests in South Africa – is filled with timber history and wild mystery; tackle one of the Elephant Walk hiking trails at Diepwalle, have a picnic at Jubilee Creek, go mountain biking, bid watching or go downhill on the eco-friendly Monster Mountain Scooter for the thrill of it.Knysna is also home to some of South Africa’s best golf courses, the oldest microbrewery, delicious fresh oysters and Mitchell’s Brewery. Petrol heads will enjoy The Motorcycle Room’s nostalgic display and to uncover more history, visit the Noetzie Castle.
Escape to the quiet and easy going beaches of Sedgefield.Sedgefield was the first town in Africa to be awarded ‘Slow Town’ status and one of the top attractions along the Garden Route, attracting people from all over, is the Wild Oats Farmers Market taking place every Saturday. Shop for treats, fresh produce and head to the next-door Mosaic Outdoor Market for arts and crafts.Sedgefield is perfect for surfing, paragliding and SUP excursions and Gericke’s Point is great for a beach walk where you will find interesting rock formations and some of the highest fossilized dunes in South Africa. The abundance of lakes attracts a variety of birds and in Goukamma Nature Reserve you can hike, ride a horse, fish and explore the water on a canoe.
The serene camp sites of Wilderness are perfect for family trips out of the cities.The small picturesque town of Wilderness situated between a beach, lake and the forest, is tranquility at best. Rent a canoe and paddle up the Touw River which is part of Garden Route National Park, and explore one of the many hiking trails with the Giant Kingfisher Trail leading to a waterfall. The whole area – from the bush to the lakes – is excellent for bird watching.Wilderness is the king of excellent viewpoints; go to Map of Africa (also an excellent launching spot for paragliders) and see how the Kaaimans River and indigenous forest come together to make the shape of Africa.For an adrenaline rush, escape into nature for a kloofing and/or abseiling adventure next to a beautiful waterfall.
George and its surrounds hold incredible sights and history.Often overlooked because it is more of a small city, than a small town, George does not disappoint and feature numerous top attractions along the Garden Route within its borders.Just as the name suggests, Redberry Farm is all about sweet strawberries and not only can you pick your own, but there are also family activities such as a maze and mini train ride on offer, as well as restaurants and a tasting room for Houtbosch Wine.Visit the Outeniqua Transport Museum to view 13 different steam trains from a bygone era, and spend some time outdoors on one of the golf courses, or meander through the Garden Route Botanical Garden where you can hike and bike and get a close-up view of plants endemic to the Southern Cape region.Explore the back roads and the well known Seven Passes Route between George and Knysna, as you go through the forest’s twists and turns with its romantic old bridges. If the ocean is calling you to spend some time in the sun, travel a bit further down to Victoria Bay, an excellent place for swimming and surfing.
8. Mossel Bay
Mossel Bay is a local favorite amongst South Africans over the December holidays.Mossel Bay, a favorite vacation spot for locals, is synonymous with the outdoors, salty ocean air and adventure.Get a glimpse into the lives of yesteryear’s sea explorers who dropped their anchors in and around Mossel Bay at the Bartholomeus Dias Museum Complex. Here, you can board the Diaz Caravel replica and visit the oldest post office in South Africa (which is a tree). Keep your explorer’s hat on and visit the Point of Human Origins as you trek down the 200 steps to the renowned Middle Stone Age Pinnacle Point Cave, an archaeological site with early evidence for modern human behavior.Your visit in the seaside town is not complete without visiting The Point, admiring the ocean views and taking a walk up to the historic Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse. Go beyond The Point and enjoy Mossel Bay’s pristine coastline and the incredible panoramic sea views (with possible dolphin and whale sightings) on the 6-hour St.Blaize Hiking Trail; the trail starts at the cave below the St. Blaize Lighthouse and ends at Dana Bay.Mossel Bay’s beaches are water enthusiasts’ playground, and with the world’s longest over-ocean zipline you are in for a thrilling adventure. The area is also home to a large population of Cape fur seals, and you can admire these loud, inquisitive sea mammals up close on a boat trip.For something different, visit the area of Friemersheim and explore the Fragrance Route. Some of the stops include the Shweshwe Shop, Lavender Nursery and the historic Friemersheim church dating from 1870 .End your day with a sundowner you have crafted yourself; at the Inverroche Gin School you can learn how to make your own gin and add personalized special touches and unique flavors.
Map view of the vacation spots on this list