the land of
The Garden Route is located on the southern coast of South Africa, roughly between Heidelberg in the west and Stormsrivier in the east. There is plenty of lush land between the rugged coastline and the Langeberg, Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains in the north. If you are a fan of indigenous forests, mountain passes, high peaks, a rugged coastline and countless hikes, than this is the place to be.
The only national park in this area is the Garden Route National Park (GRNP) which consists of 3 separate sections; Wilderness, Knysna Lakes and Tsitsikamma. Besides the GRNP, there are a great number of nature reserves and even a few game reserves with the Big 5 animals in this region.
The main attractions here are the suspension bridges in the Tsitsikamma section, the lush area of Nature’s Valley, the Robberg Nature Reserve at Plettenberg Bay and the Knysna Heads. But be aware, the Garden Route is packed with an abundance of natural beauty that your are always going to run out of time here.
A tip for the Garden Route is to plan a couple of hikes in several areas. These often take you to places you would otherwise not go to and they really let you experience the full potential of this lush and rugged place.
heidelberg & riversdale
This is the widest area of the Garden Route and is about 50km between the Langeberg Mountains and the coastline. In between the mountains and coastline it is mostly agriculture.
The coastline stretches from Witsand to Still Bay and houses a lot of private nature reserves. These reserves host a variety of beautiful Fynbos with plenty of bird species. It is no surprise that there are many different walks and trails in this area. Along the coastline you will find many pristine beaches and rugged shores.
St Sebastian’s Bay, in front of Witsand, is also called the ‘whale nursery of South Africa’. It has one of the largest concentration of Southern Right Whales, that come to nurse their calves here between July and November. Land based whale watching can be very successful here with up to 100 individuals in the bay. Sometimes as close as 100m to the shore.
The town Riversdale is often referred to as the ‘floral paradise of the Garden Route’. During the winter months, the area around the town transforms into a flower show due to the Proteas and Ericas that are grown here for export.
Up in the Langeberg Mountains you will find the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve and the Boosmansbos Wilderness Area. These are lush mountainous areas with indigenous forests and Fynbos. With a couple of trails, bird hides and around 200 different birds species, these areas are well worth the visit.
You would probably not think so, but this area is home to 3 different game reserves, the Gondwana Game Reserve, Indalu Game Reserve and the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. Indalu is the smallest and this is where you can get close to tame Elephants. Botlierskop is larger and home to 4 of the Big 5. Gondwana is the biggest, has the Big 5 and offers the best safari-experience.
When in Mossel Bay, you might want to visit the southern coastline. It is a rugged stretch of beauty, from the Cape St Blaize Lighthouse to Dana Bay, and home to the St Blaize Hiking Trail. Many caves, a couple of sandy bays and beautiful views along the trail. Halfway, you will come across the Point Of Human Origins. An archeological site with early evidence for modern human behavior.
To the west of Mossel Bay you will find the Fransmanshoek Conservancy and the Gourikwa Nature Reserve. Fransmanshoek stretches along the coastline from Boggomsbaai to Cape Vacca and is an unspoilt coastline with unusual orange rocks and large sand dunes. Gourikwa has a rich variety of indigenous flora and fauna and some scenic for hiking and mountain biking. The Zebra’s and Elands in the reserve really finish off the experience.
Situated in the north are the Outeniqua Mountains. They act as a beautiful backdrop from where ever you are in this area.
george & wilderness
To the southwest of George, you will find a beautiful stretch of coastline. Roughly between Glentana and Herold’s Bay lie a couple of beaches, rocky cliffs covered in lush Fynbos vegetation and many caves. These cliffs are excellent for dolphin and whale watching. If you are near Herold’s Bay, the secluded and pristine Gwaing Beach is a recommended visit.
Just north of George, the Outeniqua mountains begin to rise. This is where the Outeniqua Pass cuts through the Outeniqua Mountains, to the city of Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo. Together with the Montagu Pass, you can make a roundtrip through the beautiful mountains, the Outeniqua Nature Reserve and the Witfontein Nature Reserve. For this roundtrip it is advised to take the Outeniqua Pass to the south because of the easy access to all the viewpoints along the way.
Where the coastline west of George is rugged and beautiful, the coastline to the east is just as beautiful. Ballots Bay, Victoria Bay, the Kaaimans River Mouth and the long beach of Witsand are just stunning. West of Wilderness lies the Map Of Africa viewpoint. It will provide a beautiful view of the Kaaimans River Valley and the Outeniqua Mountains in the back.
To the north of Wilderness lies the Wilderness National Park, which is a part of the Garden Route National Park. This is a very active and outdoorsy park with lots of activities, beautiful hikes and lots of water like rivers, lakes, estuaries and beaches.
knysna & sedgefield
Along the coastline, between Wilderness and Sedgefield, lie the Garden Route Lakes. It consists of the 5 lakes; Eilandvlei, Langevlei, Rondevlei, Swartvlei and Groenvlei. Often these lakes are connected to each other or the ocean via rivers and create a large wetland area. The coastline is pristine, has long secluded beaches and is very lush. Gericke’s Point and the Goukamma Nature Reserve are excellent places to experience this rugged beauty.
The same can be said about the greater Knysna area. With beautiful seaside villages like Buffels Bay and Brenton-on-Sea, large sandy beaches and rocky shores, the Featherbed Nature Reserve, Knysna Forest, the famous Knysna Heads and the impressive Knysna Lagoon, this area has it all.
To the east of Knysna, the natural beauty continues. Knoetzie Beach is a sheltered bay of the Knoetzie River and lies on the edge of the Harkerville Forest. With a couple of hiking trails through the forest, the Kranshoek Viewpoint and trail along the beautiful coastline with its orange rocks and green vegetation.
When it comes to scenic drives, this area has no shortage. Between Knysna and Uniondale lies the Prince Alfred’s Pass that cuts through the Diepwalle Forest and the mountains. Plenty of hiking trails and viewpoints along this pass. The Seven Passes Road, between Knysna and George, might be a scenic alternative to the N2. Both of these roads are mainly gravel.
plettenberg bay & nature's valley
Around the city of Plettenberg Bay, there are plenty of diverse activities. The most famous is the Robberg Nature Reserve, a small peninsula to the south of the city. Excellent for hiking 1 of the 3 trails, observe the local seal colony, spot whales and dolphins, or just relax. To the north of Plettenberg lies the Keurbooms River, the Lagoon and Keurbooms Nature Reserve. An area with beaches, shallow waters, a river with organized boat cruise and lush mountains all around you.
The other major tourist attraction is Nature’s Valley. The name needs no explaining because this place is exactly that. The town of Nature’s Valley is located on the coastline and is completely surrounded by forests. The R102 in and out of the town is a beautiful drive, the trails through the forests are an absolute must and Mermaids Cove might be the that little piece of paradise you were always looking for.
The forests surrounding Nature’s Valley are home to a lot of wildlife such as leopard, blue duiker, bush buck, porcupine, baboon, Vervet monkeys, caracal and more.
It might surprise you, but there is plenty of animal activity in this area. The Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve is home to the Big 5 and many more and the Knysna Elephant Park specializes in elephant encounters (these are relocated, orphaned and rescued elephants). On top of that, there are countless sanctuaries in the area.
This is the narrowest section of the Garden Route. The distance between the coastline and the Tsitsikamma Mountains is just a handful of kilometers. Alongside the main road N2 you will find mostly forestry areas. The rugged coastline, riverbanks and towards the mountains, the vegetation becomes more natural.
Fun stops on the main road N2 are the Storms River Bridge, the Bloukrans Bridge and the Tsitsikamma Big Tree. The bridges provide beautiful views on the gorges and river beneath, sell beverages and snacks and for those who want, Bloukrans has the highest bungy jump in the world at 233m. The Tsitsikamma Big Tree is an Outeniqua Yellowwood of about 36m tall and some 1000 years old. Among its peers, this truly is a giant. There is also a small trail around the tree that really gives jungle-feel whilst it runs through the thick vegetation.
The main attraction here are the suspension bridges in the Tsitsikamma National Park, part of the Garden Route National Park. These suspension bridges are located at the Storms River Mouth and can be accessed via a trail. On the other side of the bridges, the trail continues up the cliffs to a viewpoint. This trail might be hard to spot, but the views are spectacular. The national park also has a couple of other small hikes that are perfect for day visitors.
The Tsitsikamma NP is also the starting point of the famous 5-day Otter Trail. From the national park, alongside the rugged coastline, to Nature’s Valley.