The term “road trip” generally conjures visions of classic Americana, cruising along Route 66 or CA-1 with the top down. But there is another road-trip destination that is just about as far away from the American West as one can get. We’re talking about South Africa, of course, and the country’s famous Garden Route.
Before we get into details about one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world, it is important to know that South Africans are unsettlingly polite drivers. Leave your aggressive, take-no-prisoners driving style at home and follow these key guidelines: Keep left, move to the shoulder to allow others to pass, and, when passing, flash your hazards as a thank-you.
This sunny seaport and tourist destination actually is South Africa’s second largest city in terms of population. It also is the perfect place to start your tour of the Garden Route. Don’t jump on the road too quickly; find a hotel and give yourself a day or two to explore the area.
In addition to the water sports–surfing, sailing, wind boarding, and diving–that you would expect from a temperate beach town, Port Elizabeth has plenty of culture to share, too. Prior to jumping on the road, make sure to take time to visit Route 67, an art installation containing 67 public works of art commemorating Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of work secure freedom in South Africa.
A view from the road along the Garden Route
“Plett,” as it is known in this part of the world, is positioned between the Tsitsikamma Mountains and the Indian Ocean–conditions that have allowed the town to build a reputation as one of South Africa’s most important wine regions.
If you need to work off the wine you drink, or you’re just up for a challenging hike with major pay off, head over to the Robberg Nature Reserve on the Robberg Peninsula. While the hike is very well-known, you will have no problem finding solitude and inspiration.
For a nearby and truly one-of-a-kind accommodation, we recommend Tsala Treetop Lodge. These are not the tree houses of your youth; instead they offer complete, approachable luxury (our favorite kind) with unrestricted views across the canopy of lush forest. Just make sure to keep your windows closed–the sneaky monkeys in this part of the world have a taste for mini-bar snacks. Trust us!
This enclave, often referred to as the “Pearl of the Garden Route,” boasts Mediterranean-like weather, loads of natural beauty (including South Africa’s oldest indigenous forest), and a thriving artist community. You don’t have to make big plans to appreciate this slice of the world; we recommend just taking some time to soak up the vibe.
Like most of the stops along the Garden Route, Knysna has a lot to offer adventure seekers, outdoor fanatics, and sports fans. If golf is your thing, Knysna is your place. The area is home to numerous PGA-rated golf courses.
Viewfinder Tip: Road trips are best when the pace is right; don’t try to move too quickly or pack too much into a day.
While not technically the end of the Garden Route (Mossel Bay owns that honor), George essentially bookends the scenic stretch of road. A trip to the commercial hub would not be complete without a stop at the The Old Slave Tree, a tree that stands as powerful symbol of the past and has become a national monument. Also make sure to pop down to Victoria Bay for some beach time.
On our visit, we chose to stay just outside of George in Wilderness, which is known for its long white sand beach and multiple lagoons. We chose Moontide, a very unique and homey series of cottages and rooms that sit right on the Wilderness Lagoon, just steps away from the beach.
Mossel Bay is the official end of the Garden Route. As the name implies, mussels gathered in the area are considered to be among the finest in the world. The town is well-known for nearly 40 miles of sunny beaches.
South Africa’s Garden Route is a road trip to rival any of the world’s famous drives. If you go, make sure to leave plenty of time to explore the area. Also make sure to bring some of that polite driving back home with you.
Where in the world would you like to do a road trip?