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A Guide to the Garden Route

Published 30 March 2016

Round the World Experts blogger Helen Winter

Helen Winter

Peru has the Inca Trail, Asia belongs to the Silk Road, and the USA’s Route 66 invites road trippers from all over the globe. But what about South Africa’s Garden Route?

‘South Africa’ and ‘Garden Route’ are often paired together, but it is yet to gain the iconic reputations of the trails aforementioned. Here is a guide to the Garden Route, and why it should be on your South Africa itinerary.

What is the Garden Route?

The Garden route is a 200 km road which stretches along the south-eastern coast of South Africa. The route stretches from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape.  The name ‘Garden’ comes from the diverse range of plants, vegetation, lagoons and lakes that you pass along the way.

This flourishing land was once use by Khoi herders to harvest food, who called the route Outeniqua – the man laden with honey. Devastatingly, in the eighteenth century the vast vegetation, wildlife and Khoi people were destroyed by Dutch wood cutters, and European hunters.

Years later in 1985, the Garden route was announced as a National Park, and is now preserved as land dedicated to restoring its long lost natural beauty.

Where does it go?

The Garden Route is the place to admire the natural beauty of the world. The route includes the former Tsitsikamma and Wilderness National parks, as well as the wonderfully blue Knysna Lake. All of which is located between mighty mountains and the glorious Indian ocean. Any amateur photographers are bound to get a collection of impressive images here.

The entire route is more of a grand voyage than a ‘route’. Starting at Mossel Bay, the trail goes to Great Brak, Gelentant, Victoria Bay, Wilderness NP, Sedgefield, Brenton-On-Sea, Knysna, Fisanthoek, Plettenberg Bay, Bitour Valley The Crags, Natural Valley, Tsitsikamma, finally finishing at Storms River.  The entire route takes nine hours to drive, but if you want to appreciate the scenery, a road trip spread over two – three days is recommended.

What is there to see and do along the way?

The Garden Route is all about becoming one with nature, enjoying the frugal life and working those legs on vertical hikes.  The Garden Route itinerary is impressively long, and the list below doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this barely tread path.

Villages and Towns

There are plenty of fisherman villages and towns to explore as you journey along the route. These include Knysna, popular for its boat trips, Plettenberg Bay, home to a range of animal sanctuaries, and George, the Garden Route’s largest city.

Adrenaline Sports

For the adventurous traveller, head to the Swatberg Pass; a popular cycle route that runs through the Swatberg mountain range. This road connects the towns of Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn, all the while taking you through striking mountain scenery whether it be on bike, motorcycle or car.

Fascinating History

To discover some history, the Klasies River is where you can find a number of sea caves full of pre-historic artefacts. In fact, excavations sites here have discovered stone tools and skeletons which could be from the San people, who arrived 20,000 years ago and the Khoi herders, who arrived 2,000 years BC.

Hiking Trails

Tsitsikamma National Park is a great place to find hiking trails with views that reward your aching legs. Tsitsikamma, a Khoi word meaning ‘a place of abundant or sparkling water’ is a dense forest, filled with river gorges, waterfalls and ravines.

At the beginning of the Garden Route is Mossel Bay, home to the popular St. Blaize Hiking Trail. This six hour trek follows the ridges of the seaside cliffs, offering striking vantage points to spot whales and dolphins. You can start the hike from Dana Bay to St Blaize, or vice versa, but make sure to pack plenty of water and sun lotion - it is South Africa after all.

Want to explore this incredible trail for yourself? Have a look at our South Africa: Garden Route & Safari Journey.


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